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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Official Leica M8 Early-Verdict Post

Welcome to TOP's official Leica M8 early-verdict post. I hope this will stem or slow the tide of e-mails I get requesting my opinion about the M8. I've never seen one, so my opinion would be pretty useless.

My friend Kent, however, was among the earliest of early adopters, plunking down cash money as soon as his dealer would accept it and subsequently taking delivery on one of the very first ones to land in his home city.

Weeks had passed with nary a word from him, so I send him the following e-mail:

It's gotten awfully quiet from down there.

Check one:

[ ] It's love--throw-caution-to-the-winds, risk-anything love
[ ] Early romance (too busy shooting to do anything else)
[ ] We're feeling each other out slowly, liking each other better as time passes
[ ] The infatuation is fading
[ ] Omigod, what have I done? It seemed like such a great idea when I was sh*tfaced
[ ] We're locked in mortal enmity. I can't stand her.

Of course I'm talking about your little metal German mistress, not anything that would upset the missus....


Here's his reply:

[X] It's love—throw-caution-to-the-winds, risk-anything love

[X] Early romance (too busy shooting to do anything else)

In my world, this cam falls into your current TOP Dream Camera syndrome. Aside from the Call-Your-Cardiologist pricing, this is the closest thing I have seen in the digital world that could possibly be viewed in old fashioned 20th century film camera terms. Everything about this camera makes an old 1970s student photographer like myself want to throw caution to the wind (along with the mortgage money and kids' college fund) and fill out the system with those over-the-top expensive, but over-the-top-fabulous, M lenses.

I have been using Leicas seriously since I bought my first M4 in 1973 in Cambridge, Mass. Since the M8 arrived I have come to the conclusion that in all that time I have never seen what these lenses can do. Ever! They are simply flat out the best I have ever used. And, mind you, I am using a rather pedestrian set of current 35 and 50 Summicrons and a 90mm Elmarit. Expensive by any standards--budget by Leica standards.

On a tripod, writing to a raw file and converted in Phase One Capture One, the files are revealing themselves to be among the best I’ve ever worked with. They require little in the way of tonality adjustments, and way less sharpening than my Canon 1Ds Mk. II files. The only work so far is all color related. Color balance out of the box is not as guaranteed bulletproof as the Canon 5D. This will change with time and updates. I can live with it easily.

The entire package, however, walking around with a little M sized camera and coming home with 1Ds Mk.II- type files (or better!) is...what’s not to like? I am a goner. I am ready to cast-off most other stuff in my arsenal. This camera begs to be used in all situations, whether rangefinder-appropriate or not. It is simply a pleasure to use, especially for one who has spent any time in the mechanical pre-auto-anything days of yore. There may be a motor and aperture preferred AE on this box, but in use, in the hand and at your eye, this could be any Leica M from the past 50 years.

This is all good.

...And there you have it, an actual view from behind the viewfinder.



Blogger eolake said...

Nice review, lovely pictures.

Back in the day I couldn't even think of affording a Leica, so I am not familiar with the mystique surrounding both the feel of the camera, the use of the viewfinder, and the picture quality. But maybe I should look into it.

6:22 PM  
Blogger m. said...

Looking at the price tag, Eolake, I know I shouldn't.

9:28 PM  
Blogger JackMacD said...

Ok Mike,
If you want to try a M8, I live 18 minutes from your house. But I am not doing you any favor because then you will want to keep it and I can't let that happen. Forget the mystique, if it said Casio you would like it.
Admitedly, if you haven't already long ago invested in lenses for film M's the total cost of this package is a stopper.
Some people call this a medium format camera. I can't say that. I can say that carrying an M8 instead of a Canon EOS1Ds is a light weight, compact delight that motivates me to have the camera with me on all occasions. That has already led me to some interesting photos. Again, any camera that's with you is much better than one left at home.
However, It's not a replacement for a DSLR if you need telephotos, shift lenses, or are shooting sports from a distance.
Let me know if you want a bit of time with it.

11:09 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Oh dear. This sounds potentially dangerous to my financial health. But how can I refuse?

Please write another comment including your e-mail address (I won't post that one) and I'll get in touch. We'll see if we can go photographing sometime soon. At the very least, I'll be able to write my own impressions of the already-famous M8.


1:32 AM  
Blogger Player said...

Wow, those creamy delicious pictures scream "SUMMICRON"! There's nothing like Leica glass. I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between say a picture taken with Canon or Nikon lenses, but Leica lenses are truly in a class by themselves. And if that isn't enough, the bokeh is to kill for.

I have a couple 11x14 pictorial shots, taken with a 35 Summicron, hanging in my livingroom, that look like larger versions of the pictures you posted. Spectacular!

If photography is about pictures, like music is about songs, then Leica lenses make some beautiful music.

Mike, I've been looking forward to hearing your unique observations about the digital M system, and it looks like that could happen soon.

Cool stuff!

3:36 AM  
Blogger fogg said...

I would love to see someone put up some photos taken with canon, nikon, KM, or pentax glass; label them as from a M and wait for the comments to pour in either painting it as the fruad it is or as that beautiful leica glass.

I've never used an M, I would think this would be a very interesting test; you never know what you could find.

Sort of a photographic "can you tell which soda is which" blind taste test.

7:28 AM  
Blogger Albano Garcia said...

I know Shel Belinkoff from PDML posted some pictures made with a 50mm Takumar (screwmount Pentax) in a Leica forum and told them they were shot with a Leica lens. Everybody raved about the unique Leica look, etc, etc. They weren't very happy when he told them the truth :-)

9:51 AM  
Blogger Geoff said...

Ahhh, M8 impressions from the TOP camp... thanks fer throwin' us a bone, Mike! Beyond fiddling with (and drooling on) one at Photo Plus Expo a month or so ago, I've yet to have one in my hands for more than a few minutes. But, whenever I see something around the house that I haven't used in awhile (vacuum cleaner, kevlar oven mitt, laserdisc player, first born), I automatically compute what percentage of an M8's price tag it would bring if I sold it. It's too early to say what kind of a romance it would be, so I guess at this point I'm just a stalker :).

10:23 AM  
Blogger Peterbkk said...

Very exciting however an awful lot of money it seems.
I guess the "economy" version would be the 5D, at least judging from reviews here and there.

11:01 AM  
Blogger thigmo said...

I dunno...

I didn't chime in with the dream camera post, but since you've posted this, I'll mention that I'm still enamored with my Bronica RF645.

A digital version of that would be sweet, even with a sensor size conversion. (I like the 3:4 ratio and the vertical aspect.)

It's just too bad it was discontinued - although the "resurrection rumors" persist, as mentioned in a previous post not too long ago by another Bronica fan. :)

11:31 AM  
Blogger Richard Sintchak said...

Nice photos. Way too digital-looking for my taste---too smooth and clinical looking in terms of tones, color, etc. But that's just me. I know the smoothness of digital is something that can work great for many subjects and tastes. I simply still prefer film no matter how little grain, how high the resolution is, etc. of these wonderful digital cameras. Ok, enough of my opinion on digital vs. film.

One issue I'd have, even assuming I loved it's B&W rendition, is carrying around such an expensive camera. I often hesistate to take out my Leica MP since it cost me over $2200 and I worry that it might get ripped off or I'd get waylaid in an alley or something (I like to shoot in industrial areas and seedy neighborhoods sometimes). I just cannot imagine I'd be relaxed enough carrying a camera worth $5000 even before you add the lenses to the equation.

1:23 PM  
Blogger stephen best said...

It's curious how some good looking images (and these are indeed very fine) that could have been taken with any P&S ... who's to judge from such web-sized images? ... can get you fired up about a camera you don't need.

9:26 PM  
Blogger Boris said...

Mike, I should tell you - I am not entirely sure here. The images you showed are fine, but they don't look any particularly more Leica than similar shots made by top Nikon, Canon, or Pentax glass. They do look a bit digital but that's known in advance, so I digress.

I still maintain that camera is just an instrument in taking pictures. Thus it shouldn't cost $5K just because of the tag.

I do admire Leica lenses for pictures I've seen made with them, but mostly on film. I do think that if I were to jump systems from Pentax, it would most probably be a range finder system, potentially Leica.

But since I haven't used older Leica cameras, in fact I haven't used any Leica gear personally, I cannot truly appreciate all that appeal of M8.


5:08 AM  
Blogger kevin said...

i use an M7 with Leica and other lenses. i was really looking forward to getting the M8, had saved my pile of money, and have been on a waiting list with a dealer since last summer.

my plan was to get back into using digital with the M8, since it was a camera modeled on the M7 which i truly love. i would finally have a digital camera i would _want_ to use.

then when the specs of the camera were officially announced, i was slightly dissapointed with some of the design choices Leica had made(to change or _display_ iso and ev compensation requires acessing a menu on the back lcd, there is no weather sealing of the body, etc).

i think the general bugginess of the camera, as a new release, was was to be expected and i was sure firmware would fix the initial release problems. BUT i was really dissapointed with Leica's response to the M8 "magenta" problems.

i believe Leica had to know of the magenta/IR issue prior to release, as the problem is somewhat the result of the design choices they made for the M8, and i feel like they just kinda tried to get over on their extremely loyal customers. total turn off.

i can't see there being any other digital camera i want(besides maybe the sigma dp-1) being released in the near future, so i think i will stick with the M7. i can wait for an "updated" digital M, or the "fixed" M8 to be proven as reliable.


9:55 AM  
Blogger Peter Smith said...

It appears that everybody succumbs to the catastrophe theory syndrome, that is exacerbated response to change. Early observers of M8 files like its apparent sharpness - in great part caused by aliasing effects which tend to produce fake-sharpened edges. After the initial wow factor, looking in detail, one will be disappointed. I've seen shots where low frequency zones of the image were beautiful (aliasing-free), but high-frequency areas (like small text on a banner) were horribly aliased. Choose well!

12:38 PM  

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