Grumblings about the Leica M8

So the big question (at least for me) is: Will the new Leica M8 (digital) be worth the money? There are some things about the design that bother me greatly, assuming all the prerelease rumors are true. I’m not referring to build quality, because, let’s face it – Leica products are chock full o’ that, and I’m sure the overall image quality will be just as delicious.

There are “other” supposedly-confirmed design features that have me worried. I’m referring mainly to the fact that it does not have a full frame sensor (1.33x crop factor) and also that it uses the same metal shutter assembly found in the R9 body. There is no film rewind crank, which doesn’t surprise me on a digital body, but there is also no film wind lever! You may wonder why you would need one of those on a digital body, but keep in mind that the M shutter needs to be cocked to fire, and there is no built in motor to perform this task – or is there? Yes, the M8 has a built-in motor to cock the shutter.

“So what?” you may ask. Indeed, to the casual observer, these new features may seem like logical inclusions to the design of a digital M body, but not to me, and not to many faithful Leica users, for a few simple reasons.

Reason One: Noise. Yes, noise. Most people are used to cameras that make noise when used, and in fact, many consumer-line digital cameras have little speakers in them that belt forth a prerecorded shutter sound when they are fired, simply because generations of snapshot artists have learned to expect a certain sound from their cameras when they push the button and it’s weird when they don’t get it. Even the camera in your mobile phone makes a shutter noise, but like hell there’s an actual shutter in there.

The M8 will give you that noise, though. In fact, with a metal shutter and built-in motor, the M8 is sure to make tons of noise, which is the problem.

Leica users expect very little noise. My Leica is by far my favorite of all my cameras, but I use it especially when I need to shoot quietly. The M bodies have cloth shutters for that very reason. In fact, I once photographed the first act of a play while sitting in the front row, center. During intermission I asked the woman who was sitting next to me if my shooting was bothering her, to which she replied, “You were taking pictures?” Case in point. (The positive side to the metal R9 shutter is a much faster max. shutter speed of 1/8000 sec.)

Reason Two: Crop factor. One of the beautiful things about Leica glass is the amazing bokeh you get when shooting them at wide apertures. With a smaller sensor you will have to use a wider lens to shoot any given subject and your depth of field will suffer by becoming deeper. For instance, to get the same coverage on the M8 (1.33x) that a 35mm lens provides on a traditional M body, you would have to use a 24mm lens instead (because Leica doesn’t make a 26.3mm lens!). A 50mm angle of view would require a 35mm lens, and so on. Wider lenses mean a deeper depth of field, and this is bad (to me it’s very bad. See my latest photos on deviantART to see why it would cramp my shooting style – I love a shallow DOF).

It’s the same reason why everything is in focus when you film a scene with a video camera, but film cine cameras have a noticably more shallow depth of field when shooting the same scene… You need a really wide lens to get the same view on a 1/3-inch sensor that you would get on a 35mm frame.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’m sure the M8 will be a badass camera, but I can tell you now that it won’t live up to the reputation of the M bodies that precede it. With a metal shutter, a noisy motor, and a sub-size sensor, there’s no way that it can. But for five thousand dollars, it bloody well should.

A couple recent Leica shots from my dA gallery:

Patient Father



~ by peakaction on July 16, 2006.

55 Responses to “Grumblings about the Leica M8”

  1. exactly my thoughts – im very disappointed by the fact that it wont feature a full frame sensor. but the fact that its no cloth shutter is like a punch in the face. shame on you leica, shame on you.

  2. And a Kodak sensor, LOL

  3. All I can say is that todays mail came a brochure from Tomankin in New York that a M8 was to be introduced….and during the summer I fanasized that a Leica would come out taking all the Old M manual focus lens’….I have a 21mm F3.4 Super Angulon that ought to be incredible to use…now using a Nikon 200, a great camera, but, damn, heavy and big…but, to imagine a Leica M Digital….out of the park with this one….all that old Leica stuff out there since the late twenties and early thirties….using a seventy year old lens on this baby…imagine…fantastic.

  4. What is most disappointing is the lack of a full frame sensor. My standard lens is a 28mm and I have little or no interest in long lenses. So the 1.33X factor is a major disappointment. My 15mm becomes a 20mm and my 21 Super-A a 28mm. While better then the 1.5X facotr on many SLRs its still a let down. And it reduces my desire to shell out $5K for a Leica Digital.

    Also it is my understanding that we are looking at a 7.5MB camera. What’s up with that? If Nikon can produce a cheap 10.2 MB D-80 why can’t Leica produce a high quality 10 0r 12MB digital?

    Very disappointing.

  5. Don’t judge the noise until you’ve heard it…

    It’s also a 10MP+ sensor

  6. What amazing whinging – even a non-leica owner as myself was perfectly well aware that the company has repeatedly stressed that a full frame sensor was NOT possible with current technology that would deliver the expected quality. Where have you lot been?

  7. Think I’ll vent some thoughts as a non-Leica owner about the M8 – or maybe the M9. Why not try giving it live-wiew – then you open the “beyond 135mm telephoto” world or even the close-up realm to the RF genre – no parallax error through the LCD. Of course you’ll be manually focusing and need an enlarged LCD view for accuracy, but that is mere software.
    All it takes is a new sensor and some new lens designs – but that’s what a customer base is there to pay for!

  8. >>”Why not try giving it live-wiew…”

    That’s like slapping a GPS navigation system and DVD screens into a classic Porsche Speedster. Sure, they’re useful features, but that’s not why you drive the Speedster in the first place.

    People who shoot Ms do not want to focus via the screen, and they certainly don’t want live view; it’s akin to heresy and there is no way it would be as accurate as the rangefinder method anyway.

    If you want those features, buy a Casio.

  9. Instead of complaining we should all be happy that Leica is releasing a digital range finder camera.
    It will be a small matter to get used to the differences/new features.

  10. It would appear that I need to send my Leica / Leitz lenses in for the 6-bit modification, starting with the 21mm…

  11. Would any of us really complain once first full res sample shoots are made available? Apparently, overall quality is higher then what you get with D200 nikon (it’s not just a matter of million pxs as it make sense with Leica digital filtering philosophy) Actually, I’m much more conceirned with display low quality and 4 Mb SD card limitation. Shutter?release sound issue: pls listen to mp3 on the following web page:
    Also, I’ve been waiting in vain for a Contax G digital body… it seems will never show up, unlikely.

  12. Ironically, the metal shutter will at least let you shoot wide open more often. For many, this will more than offset the loss of depth (comparable to stopping down half a stop) as result of the crop factor.

    This is is especially true for those using (cough) fill flash (cough).

  13. Why complain, guys. I gladly take a Digital M in my collection. What a great choice to be able to change between a cloth shutter MP or a fast 1/8000 shutter digital M, whatever you need for the day? Nobody said you can only own 1 Leica camera!! To tell you the truth, the 1.33 factor is the same factor as I have on the Digital R and after barely a week, you barely notice the difference.

    Come on, Leica. Keep the innovations coming. Don’t listen to the eternal complainers.

  14. i think that i will just continue to use my m6 and m4, slap the film thru a dedicated film scanner and no one will know that i have been there and done that…



  15. i think that i will just continue to use my m6 and m4, slap the film through a dedicated film scanner and no one will know that i have been there and done that…



  16. At the moment the camera can only be judged by “previews” rather than “reviews” and by Leica’s reputation. Am glad that it has the look-and-feel and likely the solidity of the traditional M cameras. Frankly am not very impressed by the DSLR offerings from an Island Kingdom in the Pacific Rim…they look like baby hyppos, and their marketing focuses on resolution rather than image or optical quality. The adoption of CMOS by some manufacturers is, in my opinion, questionable. Am glad that Leica chose CCD technology and find nothing wrong with Kodak being the supplier (they probably know more about digital imaging than any other organization).
    A few months down the road there will be “reviews” based on hands-on experience with this camera and side-by-side comparisons with other cameras. Am betting that Leica is back in a big way with a camera that will nor depreciate faster than an ice cream cone on a hot summer day.

  17. Very good point. One this *is* for sure: The M8 will hold its value like a champ.

  18. Oh my!

    Just when I was wondering about my M2 – should I sell my old film-based stuff ( and concentrate on digital – along comes the M8! Now, if I keep the 1.4 Summilux, would the M2 body be a trade-in on the M8?


  19. Ha! What a joke! The M8 will be a wonderfully crafted piece of hardware that outclasses everything out there, and costs $5K and is out of date inside of two years? Yeah right. I love my M6 because it goes places other cameras can’t and take pictures other cameras can’t because of its outstanding optics and because it’s tough, small and quiet. And 20 years after I bought it it still is a compellingly useful piece of hardware compared to what else is out there.

    By contrast, my two-year old Canon G5 can take pictures this Leica never will, at a tenth the price. It’s optics are good – not as good as the Leica, but then, it’s mostly for the web. If I need the super-resolution on paper I’ll use the M6.

    If it was maybe $2K I could understand, but even for us Leica freaks, this is too much money for something that will be outdated that soon. I wanna believe, but I’m having trouble…

  20. Uh, wait ’til you got your hands on it!
    And why complaining about the price? Is a Bentley charging exactly the difference to a Merc?
    Earn more money faster – with a Leica M8 !

    Of cause your Canon G5 can take pictures a Leica will never – e.g. when you’re in sports. That’s not the point. The point is, you will take pictures with the M8, none of the other cameras will.
    Come to my place -right now Jakarta/Indonesia- and put your Canon or Nikon gear into the faces of the people here. Maybe one of these zoom-lenses? Good luck!

  21. Well yes, I’ve used my Leica in places like Indonesia and India, and it’s wonderful for taking pictures of people. But so is this Canon; it has a fold-out screen so I can shoot waist-level, at 90° or another unusual angle, and very quietly. The G5 is about the same size as my M6 – this isn’t some huge digital SLR with a giant whirring zoom lens.

    So I find the M8 appealing for the same reasons that I love my M6 – big, bright viewfinder, bright sharp lenses, and small, quiet and tough. But why no fold-out screen? And only 10 megapixels? At that resolution those beautiful lenses are going to be partly wasted – maybe they should have made it upgradeable in the future? And finally, no autofocus option – autofocus on an M you say?!? Well, it’s no longer a mostly mechanical camera, so why not? Manual range-finding focus is great for lots of situations – a wide-angle lens at hyperfocal distance is almost autofocus anyway, but sometimes, sometimes, autofocus gets the shot when manual doesn’t.

    You’re probably right, it’s like comparing a Bentley to a Merc – the Merc-buyer is willing to spend extra money to get a beautifully engineered piece of machinery that will last a long time; the Bentley buyer is willing to spend even more money to get the status symbol. Like I said before, beautiful camera, but too much money, even for a Leica.

  22. Suggest that some people read “The Ins and Outs of Focus” by Harold M. Merklinger….the fact is that an area imaged at a certain f-stop will produce the same DOF regardless of focal length! DOF looks deeper using a wide angle simply because a larger area is covered from the same vantage point. The fact that the M8’s sensor is NOT full-frame is actually a plus since the image comes from the central porion of the image circle and is less likely to suffer quality fall-off at the edges common to even the best quality optics.

  23. Nope, I’m afraid I have to disagree with you. At any given aperture, a longer lens is going to produce a more shallow DOF than a wider lens, no matter it’s coverage on the back end. The problem (it’s not really a “problem”, it’s just user preference) is that with sub-FF sensors, you have to use wider lenses to get the same field of view that you would with a FF sensor.

    If I put my 24-70/2.8L on my 5D, and take a shot at 70mm at f/5.6, and then put the same lens on my 20D, but zoom out to 42mm to achieve the same composition, then the 20D photo will have more depth in focus than the 5D photo, because of the wider focal length, period. I’ve proven this to myself time and again.

    The larger you go on the format, then the longer lens you have to use to take the same photos. That’s why the larger formats are so striking… After all, it’s all the same emulsion. 🙂

  24. A bit of misunderstanding here. If you change the sensor size (5d is 43 mm diagonal and 20D is only 27 mm diagonal) then the reproduction ratio changes and the circles of confusion on the image plane are larger with the 5D…more bokeh. I was talking about the same camera with the same sensor: imaging the same scene full-frame on the sensor will procuce equal depth as a function of f-stop regardless of focal length !

  25. If $5,000 seems a lot of money to anyone complaining about the M8 price — TRY MAKING ONE YOURSELF!

  26. Furthermore — try calculating the projected film/chemical/contact-printing costs for, let’s say, the future 20-year career of a Leica M6 user (who would probably fill a small warehouse with needed supplies) as opposed to an M8 user – who would have endured none of these costs!!

    Consider, also, the environmental impact of the average M6 user’s consumption and discarding of photo chemicals over the next 20-years.The M8 user can feel confident that his/her tool will no longer be contributing, chemically, to the environmental degradation of our biosphere – the Earth.

    Leica shows GREAT foresight and intelligence in developing the M8 camera — They deserve amazing respect and support from us humble ‘concerned’ artists – rather than shallow, small-minded criticisms.

    As I said earlier — TRY MAKING ONE YOURSELF!

    (for less than $5000)

  27. @Taras
    Do you work for Leica? If not… You should. I would hire you for a PR position in a heartbeat.
    But only if you made sure that Leica tattoo of yours was visible all the time. 😉

  28. There’s rangefinder photography and non-rangefinder photography. In the digital domain only Epson and Leica are rangefinder players, and Leica has a quality advantage plus the fact that you can use a wide variety of your M lenses plus some Zeiss lenses. So far the images I’ve seen from the M8 look as good as those from many top-of-the-line DSLRs. If you don’t like them then you’ll have to forego the rangefinder and opt for a DSLR where there are several well-known players copying one another and ensuring that their products depreciate at an alarming rate.

  29. When shooting everything besides sports, I’ll opt for a rangefinder nearly every time.

    If I had my druthers, Mamiya would come out with a digital version of the 7 II with a 645 sensor. Give me that and an M8, and I would be happy for a long, long time.

  30. Yes! A digtal rangefinder with a “large” sensor area would be terrific! Such large sensors already exist (Hasselblad has one). Perhaps Hasselblad or Zeiss or even Pentacon might consider this route if Leica doesn’t.

  31. Oh, I can tell you that Leica will never make a medium format rangefinder.

    Recently, I had the opportunity to test out some of Hasselblad’s new backs on the H2D as well as another back on a Mamiya 645 body.

    During this seminar I asked the rep, who was a Hasselblad and Mamiya reseller, if he thought there was any possibility of Mamiya releasing a digital version of their big rangefinder, and he essentially said, “No way.” Apparently, the market just wouldn’t be able to support the R%D that would be needed to develop such a machine. I don’t know about that, though. It is my opinion that if they tried to make these things more affordable to the pro-am shooter, they would sell a lot more.

    But, I can still get my hopes up if I like… 😛

  32. No — I do not work for Leica

  33. lol, I know, man… Just messing with you. You do good work.

  34. Thanks — just ‘keepin the faith’

  35. One thing I would ask about the design of the M8: (even though I do fully consider this to be an AMAZING camera) — why on earth would Leica not align the flash hotshoe with the axis point of the lens? — strange.

  36. Back in September I grumbled about my disappointment with the Leica M8. Well I was wrong it is a 10.3 mot a 7.5MP camera. But as you all know there have been problems with the M8 requiring both software and physical fixes (add-on filters).

    My main problem with the M8, and other digitals, is that the focal length factor works against those of us who need and use wide angle lenses. And while Nikon, Leica and others use film lens mounts so older non-digital lenses can be used on the digital bodies the FL factor increases the EFL.

    Of course you can buy a new-made-for-digital wide angle but these often cost more than the digital SLR itself.

    So for those of use who need to be up close and personal, right in the middle of fast moving events, I repeat my disappointment and my grumble about the lack of full frame sensors in high end digtial cameras.

  37. I too find it strange that more manufacturers haven’t jumped on the full-frame bandwagon. Canon is the only mainstream company that I know of that offers them, in the EOS-1Ds MkII and also in the EOS-5D.

    A friend of mine spoke to a Nikon rep at Photo Plus Expo in New York, and asked him about the possibility of Nikon coming out with a FF camera in the near future. The rep’s reply was somewhat disappointing. He said that Nikon didn’t really think it was that important, but they were going to have to, just to get people to stop asking about it!

    That doesn’t fill me with confidence on Nikon’s plan for the future, but as a loyal Canon SLR shooter, I really don’t care anyway. 😉

    Regardless of all that, though, I would still love an M8 around my neck, 1.33x crop factor or not.

  38. Manufacturers don’t always supply what clients really want. There’s “technology push” and “demand pull”…since the dawn of the digital photo era we’ve had mostly the first. Canon’s dslrs have been more successfull than those of another well-know Japanese manufacturer because they also follow the second principle.

  39. Is the chip the same proportions as a 35mm frame?

  40. If you want jewelry buy a nice watch not a over priced camera. Leica has been producing jubk digital from the beginning at exagerated prices. The exception is the little C-lux pocket camera as long as you don’t exceed 100 ISO.

    This camera is not for the pro who is making a living from thier photography. Why? Because it is out prformed in every arena but a great number of better and cheaper cameras.

  41. Professionals use Nikon, Fuji, and Canon pro DSLR. They produce better images, less expense and time. Ahh, before you empty you banks account compare the Finepix S3 or S5

  42. See the above comments as to why some pros need an M body over a big DSLR. There are some instances where the stealth and accuracy of an M rangefinder cannot be duplicated.

    Speaking as a pro who uses the pro Canon DSLRs, as well as Leica Ms, I can say that there certainly is a need for a digital M.

  43. So here’s a question, I’m not a pro and am about to embark on a photo course. Beeeg beginer!!! Have always wanted a Leica and am very interested in the M8. I heard that the first batch have had some teething problems and have been recalled??? In your esteemed opinion, is the M8 a good choice or is there another Leica one would be advised to start with

  44. I have no doubts about the quality of the M8, but I don’t know if you want to be dropping five-large for a photo course. Unless, of course, you have the money to spend, and want to get one anyway.

    If you need digital, then of course the M8 is the only Leica rangefinder choice, but if you can also use film, you might consider a used M6 TTL or something like that.

  45. …and is the chip the same proportions as a 35mm frame?

  46. Yes, it works out to be the same aspect ratio as a 35mm frame, albeit with a 1.33x crop factor.

  47. great — thanks! — I suck at manth! haha!

  48. and spelling! — MATH — long live the typo!

  49. This M8 camera is majorly screwed-up in sooo many ways and so loveable in so many others – The hotshoe is STILL misaligned with the lens axis, none of the focal lengths make sense any more, the situation with the corresponding short-focal-length external viewfinders is nothing short of a mess (thanks to the 1.3x thingie), the removable base-plate is still VERY dropable-losable-misplacable, and it’s limited close-focusing range still has it’s drawbacks! — Even it’s basic shape is a carry-over form a device originally designed to hold 2 spools of motion picture film (remember, the M camera had it’s humble beginnings as a light meter!) — It’s a complete dog’s breakfast of design compromises — but — I TOTALLY love it!!! — and I’m totally devoted to it’s future use.

    Soon – probably within the next 5-10 years – there will be a technological shift where the electronic guts will also produce simultaneous COLOUR and B/W frames (Canadians spell colour with a ‘u’) making an ‘artistic choice’ obsolete. We must also remember that the camera world’s R & D people are also putting video capabilities into virtually every consumer camera out there – albeit, for now, semi-crappie video. We are now seeing a slow reconverging of still and motion-picture technology. It’s all just a matter of time.

  50. Plus – as further testament to this jewel of a camera’s history of debatable quirkiness, leica has had to, essentially, cut holes in many of it’s wide angle lens hoods over the years so that we photographers can see what we’re shooting through the viewfinder. And we simply accept it — because of it’s beauty, and because it has the clout of having been the among the first tools on the planet that allowed us humans to see candid still images — something long ago taken for granted. The M camera is a study in evolutionary process — There will always be Rolex and there will always be TIMEX. Long live diferent animals!

    For anyone unfamiliar with the potentials of the Leica M camera, the obvious place to start is Capa and Bresson — then look to Alex Webb and Salgado. — This should convince anyone of this amazing tool’s potential. As a digital camera this M8 tool is INCREDIBLE!

  51. ATTN AUTHOR: respectfully — could you please add you byline (name) to the top of this page — people are Googling me and finding this page — and think the opinions above are my writing — maybe others are also encountering this?

    I do respect your opinions, I’m just trying to avoid confusion – and encouraging clarity. Many thanks.

  52. ATTN AUTHOR: respectfully — could you please add your byline (name) to the top of this page — people are Googling me and finding this page — and think the opinions above are my writing — maybe others are also encountering this?

    I do respect your opinions, I’m just trying to avoid confusion – and encouraging clarity. Many thanks.

  53. plus — $200 for a grip!!! which is attached to the famously dropable-losable-misplacable base plate! — perhaps a hinged door and an ergonomically contoured body may have been a consideration – or are we still so in love with the shape of what our beloved first M camera actualy was — a dual film spool container – shaped out of necessity – then developed to what it is now.

    Still — I am in love with this camera – probably because it’s the best thing out there (so far) for pure reportage photography — albeit far from perfect! I already await the M9 – hopefully, with some of these and other considerations addressed.

  54. I would happily donate my time to Leica’s next serious M re-design meetings as devoted documentary photographer with loads of experience using M cameras in the field under a very broad range of conditions — I am not short of opinions on how to improve this camera for the devoted professional user, etc. As it stands now, there is a clash between the camera’s traditional design and the advance of modern technological methods.

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