Return to Boxed Light  
  Leica M8  
 

My Photography with the Leica M8
Jim Radcliffe

It's Here!
January 2009
The Leica M8 is a camera that I have been dreaming of owning since I first read the press release in 2006.  It took me until January of 2009 to finally own one.

Why did it take so long?  The M8 is a very expensive camera and as a hobbyist, there is only so much money I can allocate to quell my photographic desires.  I bought mine used but in like new condition for half the price of a new M8. 

I had the camera almost a full week before I put a lens on it.  I ended up choosing the Leica Elmarit 28mm aspherical because it fit my budget and also because the lens is quite compact and I can leave it mounted on the camera all the time.  It is also has the 6 bit coding for the Leica M8. 

To be honest, my first lens for the M8 simply had to be a Leica, otherwise, I would be missing the full experience of shooting with Leica gear.  A less important reason is that I did not want any grief from the various forum pundits regarding my use of a non-Leica lens on the M8.  Trust me, there are those who consider using anything but a Leica lens on an M body as blasphemy.  This is punishable by burning forever in Hell.

First Impressions
The camera is extremely well made and quite intuitive in use.  I only had to read the manual once to understand the controls and operation of the camera.   This is in contrast to having to read the manual several times for my D-Lux 4 but then the D-Lux 4 has a number of features lacking in the M8.  The M8 is just about as bare bones of a camera as you can find anymore and that is one of the most appealing aspects of the M8. What more should I expect from a manual focus camera bearing the Leica name? The build of the camera lives up to everything Leica is known for.

The shutter sounds louder than previous M cameras but it is still much quieter than my Canon 5D but not as quiet as my totally silent D-Lux 4.  Someone sitting 10 feet away might not hear the shutter release at all, in particular if there is any ambient noise in the setting.

The M8 is bigger than its film brothers but it's just the right size for my hands.  It is light compared to my Canon 5D and L glass.  One of the reasons I desired the M8 so much was to shed the weight and the bulk of my DSLR without sacrificing image quality.

The Nostalgia Factor
My first 35mm camera was an Argus C3, bought for twenty dollars in a pawn shop in the mid 1960s. Now I have come full circle and it feels great to be using a rangefinder again.  I had forgotten many of the things that I loved about using a rangefinder but they all came flooding back to me after using the M8 for just one day of shooting.

Using a manual focus camera is not for everyone but it is a rewarding experience.  I have said in the past that even the most expensive DSLRs are (when you really think about how they are used) Point & Shoot cameras.   The M8 is not and that is part of the appeal of using the M8.  You are responsible for the final image with very little help from the camera itself.

The One Bad Thing
I hate crop factors.  The M8 does not contain a full frame sensor.  The crop factor is 1.33.  Therefore my 28mm lens acts like a 37mm lens on the M8.  I find this to be the most bothersome issue with the M8.  I just like my lenses to perform as they were designed to perform.  Here's the math: 1.33 x 28 = 37.24mm

I Miss Having Zoom
I must also admit that I miss having a little zoom capability.  The Leica D-Lux 4 and the Canon 5D have spoiled me.  The M8 has no zoom but there are options like the Tri-Elmar.. but as usual, it comes at a price many may not wish to pay.  The other option is to have several primes of varying focal length.. still pricey.  What can one say? It's Leica glass and workmanship.  The best solution is tried and true and the price is right.... zoom with your feet.

The Files
They're good! I have chosen to shoot DNG only with the M8.  I can't see spending a good amount of money on the camera body and glass to output lossy JPG files.  Plus DNG gives you so much more control over the final image and things such as white balance are not an issue. The files are each 10.3 MB in size.  The amount of information you can pull from the DNG output of the M8 is surprisingly large or maybe I should say deep.  A number of photos I thought could not be salvaged due to under-exposure on my part were easily adjusted and usable running them through Adobe Camera Raw.

High ISO
Well, I have mixed emotions.  The M8 can not compete with my Canon 5D when it comes to shooting above ISO 800.  But the thing I have noticed is that the M8 files shot at high ISO settings result in noise that becomes very film like when the images are converted to BW photographs.  The M8 is a very good BW machine.

Side Note
Google's free photo program, Picasa, also does a great job with the M8 files both JPG and DNG.  Not as good as Adobe Photoshop but Picasa is impressive and for quick edits and output, you can't beat it.  It imports all your images, catalogs them, does BW conversion, soft focus, sharpening, cropping, straightening, burning to CD and more.  Don't knock it until you've tried it... and the price is right. I use Photoshop CS3 rather than Lightroom or Aperture but there are times when Picasa is perfect.

The IR Issue
The M8 requires and IR Cut Filter or some objects may not render properly.  They may have a magenta cast.  So far, I've been lucky in that this issue has not arisen.  I'm sure it will eventually but I feel that I am good enough with Photoshop to correct for it.. we'll see.

Update on IR Issue.. Feb 9, 2009... in this shot the knit hat should be either black or dark blue. I ordered  the IR Cut Filter today. I could not fix it in Photoshop.

So Where Is The Review?
At this late date, does it really matter?  I'm not a GearHead.  I use my cameras to take photographs.  I will not attempt to give you a GearHead review of the M8.  The reasons are simple, I am not qualified to give you a technical review and I don't want to do a technical review.  Pixel-peeping bores me to death.  So, I will simply show you some of the photographs I have taken with the Leica M8 and the single lens that I could afford to hang on it, the Elmarit 28mm Aspherical f2.8.

I hope you enjoy my efforts with the M8 and find my observations, opinions and comments useful.  If you take issue with anything I write here just remember, I'm an amateur and I certainly don't know it all.  I just like to take pictures.

Jim Radcliffe
Dallas, Texas

These are only my opinions.  They carry as much weight as a grain of dust in the wind. - Jim Radcliffe


Update: November 22, 2009
The M8 has produced some great images for me and in many ways it is a wonderful camera but I have to say that after 10 months of using the M8 I am finding it a bit limiting.  I have come to the conclusion that a rangefinder simply can not be my main camera.

The main reason is Manual Focus.  I just don't enjoy it as much as I used to and I have missed some shots due to my inability to achieve critical focus.   This only occurs when movement is involved or a quick shot is needed to capture the moment.  If focus is not achieved the shot is worthless to me.  This may be more my problem than that of the camera.

I felt I owed everyone who has been following me with this camera an update on my feelings about the M8.

Update: December 1, 2009
I sold my complete M8 kit today.  No regrets as I realize now that the M8, as desirable as it is, is not the camera for me.  It was becoming a tool I could not use in various situations and so I had to let it go.  Maybe if I could have afforded better and more glass things might have been different but the cost was too high.

There will be times I will miss it but those times will be tempered with the knowledge I gained from using it for almost a year.  The M8, due to some limitations, just could not be my main camera.

Update: January 21, 2009
Do I miss the M8?  Of course.  I may even buy an M9 one of these days.  I still enjoy using a rangefinder for some of what I shoot and love the size of the camera as well as the lenses.  I am still a Leica fan, just not currently an M owner.


Related Interest: 
Click here for my Leica D-Lux 4 gallery
Click here for my Leica D-Lux 3 gallery
Click here for my Sigma DP1 gallery

The Rodeo
Another place I enjoy shooting is the Cowtown Rodeo in the Fort Worth Stockyards.  The rodeo runs every Friday and Saturday night in the Cowtown Coliseum.  Normally I would not think of the Leica M8 of being very capable of doing any kind of action sport very well but I was quite surprised by the results I was able to obtain.  I was shooting wide open with the 28mm Elmarit as the lighting is not the best inside the coliseum.

Random Shots
Well, I guess they're all random but below are a few that I could not categorize with the rest of the shots.

The Railroad Museum
I have always loved trains.  I can remember traveling from Lacrosse, Virginia to Chester, South Carolina via a train when I was six or seven years old.  I am just drawn to anything railroad related.  Since I only have a 28mm lens most of what I shot here was part of the trains and not a full view of an old locomotive or passenger car.

 

The Dark Carnival
I visited the Carnival that is part of the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo only to find it literally deserted.  It was the strangest thing.  Almost no one was there but me and the carnival operators.

Cross Canadian Ragweed Concert
I use a Canon 5D for concert work along with a 24-70L and 70-200L with IS. I wanted to see how the M8 would perform in a concert setting so I offer a few shots for you here.  They don't compare to my 5D but they are much better than I thought they would be.

Random Shots 

Farmers Market - Dallas, Texas

When I want to look for color in Dallas I go to the Dallas Farmers Market.  The light is diffused and the colors of the fruits and vegetables are amazing.

Emmett

The lens arrived too late in the day to be put to use so I entertained myself taking shots of my computer monitor, a lamp, wall unit and the TV. 

The next day I vowed to take my first portrait with the M8.  Now if I could only find someone willing to pose for an impromptu portrait.  Meet my boss, Emmett.  He became the subject of my first real photograph with the Leica M8.

Valentine's Day - Feb 14
A strange day.  It started out fairly warm but a cold front moved in creating some very strange cloud formations and strange light as well.  All in all, an interesting day.  Can't help but believe the IR Cut Filter influenced some of the color in the clouds.

Keith - Feb 18
There is a photograph on this page that I took of my boss, Emmett.  It was literally the first photo I took with the M8.  Since I also have to work with the VP of the company I have to keep peace in our corporate family.  So here is a shot of Keith taken today when neither of us wanted to do any work.   I warned him that I was going to stress the image in post processing.  Some will like the treatment, some will not.  I like it. 

Today's Best Shot  - Feb 15
Some days you can go out and shoot all day long and come back with only one or two that you really like.  I didn't shoot all day today but I did come back with one and only one shot that I really loved the look of.  The light, the color, the timeless nature of an old thing all came together for this one shot.  It's what remains of an old gas pump that probably dates back to the late 40s or 50s. 

Mardi Gras Dallas -  Feb 21
I took the M8 with me to the Dallas version of Mardi Gras.  Most of the shots were taken after dark and I was not prepared for the lack of light.  I wanted to post this one photograph which I really like.  It's dark, noisy and absolutely beautiful to me.  One of my online friends said it looked like the skin was about to fall off due to the post I put into this.. but still, I find it appealing.. there's just something about it that I really like.  You have to understand that this guy was dancing by himself to a band I was photographing.  I motioned for him to come to me and as he approached me I took this shot without changing the settings I was using for the band.. underexposed it big time.  However, it is my favorite of the evening.. warts and all. 

Below are a few of the other shots I took. but the single BW above remains my favorite and most memorable of the evening along with the one of the single, lone soldier at the bottom of this series.

Mardi Gras New Orleans - Feb 24
Having had a slight taste of Mardi Gras in Dallas I decided I owed it to myself to experience the real thing again.  It has been over 20 years since I last went to Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  Happy to say it has not changed.. still a big party with people letting their hair down and dancing in the streets.  I could have posted pictures of the mobs of people but I chose to post a select few that I found appealing to me.

 



To View The Images
Click on any thumbnail image on this page to view a larger image.   Return to this page by clicking on the larger image.

A Note About The Images
I post process all images in Photoshop CS3.   In short, I use a digital darkroom.  I am not one of those who believes that  what comes out of the camera is the final product.  There is nothing you can do in-camera that can not be done better and with greater control in Photoshop. The digital darkroom let's me do everything I used to do in the wet darkroom but without the chemistry, paper safes, print dryers, and working under safe lights.  The bottom line is that every image you see here was taken by me using the Leica M8 and was post-processed in Photoshop CS3.

The Taco Stand
Another dreary rainy day in Texas but I found this taco stand to be inviting a closer look.  I liked the color in contrast to the dark clouds all around the scene.

Landing At Love Field - Dallas, Texas

October 17, 2009 - Fire In The Sky
Taken in a park not far from my home where a hot air balloon was tethered for the public to see up close.  The flames from the burner were beautiful.

October 12, 2009 - Oil Rig on the Kansas Prairie
Taken while on a return trip from Kansas.  I've never stopped to look at one of these "Knodding Donkeys" before but decided to rest a bit during the nine hour drive back by stretching my legs and walking into a field that contained a number of these.

Old Piano - Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel
I have a fascination with shooting "Old Things".  Maybe that's because I, myself, have something in common with those old things.  This old upright piano certainly had seen better days but I loved the quality of the light on the old wood. 

The State Fair of Texas
I decided to take the light rail system to Fair Park rather than fight the traffic.  Wise choice.  I'll never drive to Fiar Park again.  Unexpectedly, the crowds were very light.  This was the opening weekend and I expected a mob due to the good weather.  Maybe the economy is worse than we thought and no one can afford to go to the fair.  These were all take with the M8 and the 28mm Summarit.

 

High School Marching Band
I've been taking photos of our High School Band for years but last night was the first time I used the M8 rather than the 5D.  Here are a few from the evening's festivities.  Yes, there were a number of times I wished I had brought the 5D with me but all in all the M8 did a good job despite the lack of a telephoto lens.  These were all taken with the 50mm Summicron.

Corn Dog Stand At Dusk - Grapevine, Texas
Grapevine, Texas has a number of festivals throughout the year.  This one is called Grapefest and has been held for 23 years in this small, Texas town on the outskirts of Dallas.  As dusk began to fade into night the light was just right for this shot.

At The Diner
Took the family to an old diner that used to be located in Albany, New York.  It now resides in Wellborn, Texas.

An Early Morning Visit To The Lilly Pond
Just playing with the M8 and the 50mm Summicron.  Trying to do a few nature shots.  I felt they worked well as BW conversions.

Ironic Isn't It?
Every single camera I own is made in a country that my father fought against in World War II.  Leica from Germany, Sigma, Panasonic and Canon from Japan.  I drive a Japanese car as well. How far we have come in that short period of time. It's just a thought as the 4th of July, the US Independence day is drawing near and the old bunting is coming out of storage to adorn buildings all over Texas and the United States.

I Hate Shooting In The Middle of the Day
Everything is too bright, too contrasty, heavy shadows, just very un-appealing light.. but I hate not shooting at all even more.

50mm Summicron Street Portrait
I don't do a lot of  street photography but I often look for people on the street who have a unique look or character about their faces.  Instead of doing "Street Photography" I do what I call "Street Portraiture".  I simply ask them if I may take their portrait.. just that bluntly.  I explain that I find they have a lot of character in their face and that I am a photographer and would like to photograph them.  I offer them my card and ask them to email or call me if they would like a copy.  Rarely does anyone refuse to let me photograph them.  Here is one I took today using the M8 & 50mm Summicron at f2.0.  I offer the color and the black and white.

The Storm Light In Dallas
When a storm moves in from the Northwest in Dallas, especially at sundown the light can be very dramatic.  I was watching the radar and saw a storm approaching so I jumped in my car and drove to downtown Dallas.  Dramatic light was there.

Idle Hands & The Rubber Band Man
Today was hot and boring.  One of those days when you just can't get excited about anything.  So I am sitting at the office and noticed someone had created a huge rubber band ball.  I looked for a co-worker with large hands and had him hold it in a room illuminated with filtered, indirect sunlight.  Boredom can be good.

New Orleans Revisited
When I can't find anything to shoot or it's too hot or raining or I'm just lazy but still want to do some photography I revisit shots I have already taken and review them.  Often I find some that I overlooked as is the case with the photos below from my visit to New Orleans during earlier this year.

Big Sur Sunset
There is no place I have ever visited that makes me feel like I do when the sun is setting in Big Sur, California.  I look at these photographs and I can almost hear the ocean, fell the breeze and smell the Jasmine in the air.  I've just now gotten around to working on these two photos from my trip to California during the first week of May.

Memorial Day 2009
Contrary to the forecast of the weatherman the sun was out and the predicted rain was nowhere to be seen.  I ventured out for a few hours into Dallas in search of something to photograph.  I found myself in the Farmers Market again, looking for Memorial Day color.

Pirate Weekend at Scarborough Faire
My son was home from college with his girlfriend and they wanted me to take them to the Renaissance Festival.   So, for the third time this year, off I went to photograph pirates, orks, Scottish Guards, ladies, winches and gentlemen.  Here's a couple of people and things.

A Few From California
I took a lot of photographs while on a recent trip to California.  I have no idea how many I will post here but here's a few to get started.

A Few I Forgot To Post Here
Here's a few recent images I failed to post here.  I sometimes post them at DPReview and then forget to put them up here.




At The Auction House  - April 21
Long story short.. I ended up in an auction house today that contained so many wondrous things that I could never afford but I was able to take away a few images for free.