Leica claimed pretty often that it would be almost impossible to build a digital M camera that matches Leica’s high standards, due to various technical reasons. As you might know, Leica doesn’t like making compromises. In 2004 Epson introduced the RD-1 camera: a digital rangefinder camera with Leica-M lens mount that was actually based on the Voigtländer Bessa camera, produced by the Japanese manufacturer Cosina. Cosina could do it- but Leica not? I think sooner or later it was evident that Leica had to come up with a digital M camera.
Around 2005, Leica was under pressure. There were even rumours that Leica may run out of money. Leica sold lenses with up to 300 EUR rebate. In this context, the M8 was a big change for Leica. Before, a Leica was forever. Leica needed around 15 years for an innovation cycle: the M6 was introduced in 1984, and the M7 in 2002. Finally, the Leica M8 was announced at photokina 2006.
The Leica M8 is a digital camera with integrated rangefinder/viewfinder, just like any other Leica-M before. The M8 has a black chrome finish, whereas the M8.2 has a black paint finish. The sensor is a Kodak CCD sensor, 18x27mm size with 10 mega pixels resolution (3936×2630 pixels).
- The Leica Noctilux 50mm f/1 has less vignetting on the M8 (1.5 f/stops) compared to the M9 (3.5 f/stops). The Noctilux is THE reason to own a Leica!
- The M8 has no anti-aliasing filter, which gives the images more sharpness.
- 1/8000s shutter speed, whereas the M9 comes with 1/4000s shutter speed.
- Images are saved in Adobe’s DNG format. That doesn’t sound like something important, but others such as Sony still use proprietary raw image file formats on their cameras. Nobody knows how long you can get updates and new releases for a Sony camera software that matches your operating system.
- The sensor has a 1.33 crop factor, that turns for example a 35mm focal length lens into a 46mm lens. Ok that’s not nice, but still worlds better than other formats such as APS-C or Micro-Four-Thirds.
- The camera firmware has no manual lens selection, lenses need to have a 6-bit coding on the lens mount in order to be recognized by the camera. The lens detection is relevant for wide angle lenses, but 35mm focal length on the M8 is already wide enough for me.
- The M8 has good ISO performance up to 640 ISO, higher ISO adds noise to the images. ISO 640 is really sufficient for me. I never understood why photographers need 1250 or even higher ISO levels.
- UV/IR filters are need to be used to avoid odd colors, black may appear as magenta if no UV/IR filter is used. I own two E46 UV/IR filters for my lenses, but I shoot primarily landscape and I noticed no difference when shooting landscape with just a usual UVa filter.
- The shutter of the M8 is a bit noisy compared to other Leica-M cameras. To me that doesn’t count much. When you shoot you hold your camera relatively close to your ears. Probably this is why the photographer himself is much more sensitive to the shutter noise. However, when I gave my M8 to friends for shooting, I noticed that even the shutter of the M8 is pretty silent compared to SLR cameras.
Camera guru Ken Rockwell doesn’t consider the Leica M8 as a real camera at all. But as you know, many things in life are compromises, and the Leica M8 is still a really good compromise.
Btw, the German film director Wim Wenders did a nice advertisement to introduce the Leica M8: