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: