Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs


 

Leica M8 Experience Report

A review diary by Uwe Steinmueller @Digital Outback Photo

Also photos by Bettina Steinmueller

 

 

 
This review will be written again in the form of a diary. Most recent findings last.
 
 
 

Diary Index

 
 

Note on image processing:

As usual we work only with raw files. This time we use mainly LightZone 2.0.

 

 
 
10/20/2005 Diary Start
 

At Photokina the Leica M8 was clearly a highlight. This legend film camera made its digital debut. The design goal by Leica was to keep the look and feel as close to the Leica M7 film camera as possible. We think they succeeded. It is hard to resist the feel and aesthetics of this camera. Many aspects of this camera are different than all the other digital cameras (mainly DSLRs). The exception is the Epson R1 rangefinder camera which we unfortunately never got to use.

M8 is a rangefinder camera without auto focus

In the past we have never really used any rangefinder camera but started with reflex cameras (Dual Rollei and later mainly Nikon and Canon SLRs). The decision to use a rangefinder camera is a very personal one. One thing for sure the rangefinder cameras allow easy and precise manual focusing. On the other side auto focus can help in life. Because the M8 is our first rangefinder experience we need to practice a bit.

M8 sensor has no AA (Anti Alias) filter

Most medium format digital backs use no AA filter in front of their sensors. The same is the case for the M8. This has clearly advantages and disadvantages:

  • Sharper images are possible without AA filters (add the excellent sharp Leica lenses and you get the picture)
  • You need to live with some aliasing and more moires than other cameras that use AA filters in front of the sensor

Some random first impressions

  • Camera is easy to use
  • We would like to see exposure and ISO steps in 1/3 increments
  • The M8 could make more use of the LCD (see the new Canon 400D as an example)
  • Histogram hard to read in sunlight to check for some overexposure
  • Very well built
  • Menus well organized
  • We consider a Leica M8 mainly a camera for handheld photography
  • Framing is not as precise as with a DSLR that features 100% view

 

Los Gatos test shots

Since over 6 1/2 years we only use RAW for all our cameras if feasible. The Leica M8 uses the Adobe DNG standard to store the RAW files. This opens these RAW files for many RAW converters without too much tweaking.


Ristorante @ISO 160


Crop @100% magnification

We used for this test the Leica Summicron-M 50mm, f/2 (the M8 has a multiplier of about 1.3x which gives the 50mm lens a field of view of a 65mm lens). The camera and of course especially the lens produce very sharp images and need very little sharpening (here actually processed with LightZone).

Note: We really did not expose for the strong highlights at the car (our focus for this test was the building) and the purple fringing at these highlights does not bother us at this point. In our normal work we try to avoid extreme contrast scenes with all cameras but for this test scene we have to take what we get.

You can download the original RAW DNG file from here (10 MB).

Note: Remember that the service we provide is financed by selling our e-books and PS tools.

Note: This time the antique store image is missing. We were not used to the M8 focusing and got it wrong :-). Maybe we add this shot later.

ISO Test

We converted with LightZone 2.0 (no noise removal at all).


Bear Coffee Shop

Leica M8
 

ISO 160
ISO 320

ISO 640

ISO 1250

 

Up to ISO 320 noise is no real issue. The color noise at ISO 640 is not that difficult to remove (many RAW converters do this by default, LightZone allows full user control). Even the ISO 1250 images are very usable if you remove the color noise (see below).

Note: Removing noise is easy. Removing noise and keeping detail is the hard part. We mention this because we see often images with low noise that also show hardly fine details. We will use the M8 mostly up to ISO 320 and in some case ISO 640. Also don't forget that Leica lenses are normally excellent even wide open.

Here is the ISO 1250 sample processed with the standard LightZone 2.0 noise tool. LightZone removes the color noise with very little damage to fine detail:

 


ISO 1250 processed in LightZone 2.0

Note: Don't forget is that you see a 100% pixel view of an image taken with a 10MP camera. Noise will only be an issue if you print at larger sizes. If you convert the images to B&W (many Leica users will do that) the noise may actually look more like grain and give the images a Tri-X feel. We plan to show some B&W samples once we use the M8 for real work.

First conclusion

After reading some comments on the net we thought the noise would be more an issue with this camera. Overall the M8 can produce very sharp and detailed images. The noise levels are not like a Canon 5D but still very reasonable in our opinion. This is the first camera for many years that we really have to learn to use. Actually we only have get used to the rangefinder aspect of the M8. Over the next 2 weeks we will use the M8 as one of our main cameras. We keep you posted.

 

Leica M8 Wish List for future models (or are we just dreaming :-))

  • Live histogram (there maybe heat issues with the current sensor though). On the other side there is no mirror in the way.
  • Live Preview (see above)


10/31/2006 At the Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Today we started to get a hang on the M8 while not just taking test shots at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk (near the famous pier).

Again the images show excellent contrast and B&W conversions are just a pleasure. Somehow the images look more 3D than with other camera. We attribute this mainly to the following factors:

  • Leica lenses
  • No AA filter (we rather live with the aliasing than lose the extra sharpness)

For more pictures check out our Leica M8 Gallery.

To no surprise to us we like to use the 50mm (65mm equivalent field of view) lens over the 35mm (we are more into normal and tele photos), If we decide to buy this camera we would likely use it with only a 50mm f/1.4 (should also minimize dust).


11/1/2006 Aperture Priority Mode

The M8 features a very well working aperture priority mode. Inside the viewfinder you select the aperture and then you can see the selected shutter speed in the viewfinder. We check the shutter speep only to verify that we don't get camera shake or unwanted movements of our subjects. Some initial tests indicate that this mode is very well implemented in the M8 (measuring through the lens). Likely our mode of choice from now on. In case of some overexposure you can set EV compensations in 1/3EV increments.

 


11/3/2006 M8 "Auto" WB issues

We got used to the fact that most of today's digital SLRs record pretty good and consistent white balance if used in "auto" mode. You better not rely on the M8 "auto" WB.


Very different WB recorded for these shots in a row

The above images show the thumbnails recorded by the M8 of two shots (both RAW with different exposures) taken one after the other. The first is much cooler than the second one. We checked it in LightZone and a few other RAW converters. We also got the same effect in other sequences (interestingly enough mostly the first shot was cooler than the second shot).

Our advice would be to avoid auto white balance if possible (we know that it is too easy to forget changing the WB settings if the light source changes).

Note: It seems to be related to the exposure because the lower exposed shots show warmer.

The good news is that the recorded white balance in RAW files can easily be fixed in most RAW converters.


11/4/2006 M8 in Carmel and Monterey

We added to our M8 gallery some shots of our last trip to Carmel and Monterey. The first time somebody spotted that camera from a far distance (he owns a M6 and shoots mostly digital now). The light was strong sunlight but we managed to get a few keepers.


Beautiful architecture in Carmel


Painted house on Monterey Pier

Kind of interesting is that we planned to use the M8 mainly for B&W. It turns out that we like both. Quite often some images work in color and B&W equally well:


Monterey Pier


Converted to B&W in LightZone 2.0

Hard to say which is better. They are likely just different.

11/4/2006 Digital Outback Photo has a M8 on order

This can become a long diary because we plan to get our own M8. We feel that a digital range finder camera like the M8 adds to our way to explore the world around us.

 


11/5/2006 Leica statement about "WB issues"

We quote from a Leica note to us:

"White balance ensures neutral rendition of color in any light. It is based on the M8 being preset to reproduce a particular color as white. The AUTO WB provides neutral results in most situations.

Leica is currently working on fine-tuning the Auto-White-Balance. Future Firmware updates will show the improvements achieved.

For the best image quality, Leica recommends the use of the RAW mode (DNG). When working in the DNG mode, customers have the option to change the Kelvin temperature to their desired WB.

For best results, it is further recommended that the specific lighting situation within the WB setting is selected.
Capture One is the ideal software for converting the Leica DNG files."

As said before we had been spoiled by good auto WB of other cameras but we would never really depend on the "auto" WB results. For this purpose we shoot gray cards or use "click on neutral" to correct color casts.

 


11/9/2006 Leica statement about "IR issues"

We quote again from a Leica note to us:

"„Background information on the IR barrier filter of the LEICA M8 and its positive effect on color fringing, image resolution and the rendering of black synthetic fibers”

The glass cover of the image sensor of the LEICA M8 is a combination of the IR barrier filter and a specially coated protective glass. The transmission in the red and infrared region of the spectrum can be controlled by the layer thickness of this filter. In the case of the Leica M8, which is a very compact system, the thickness of the filter, 0.5 mm has proved to be ideal. The short back focal length is the base for the compactness and the high quality of the standard and wide-angle lenses. However, the resulting oblique angle of the incident light on the sensor requires special adaptations of the filter.

Absence of color fringing / Image Resolution
The extremely thin layer of the filter, 0.5 mm prevents color fringing at the corners of an image. This phenomenon, which is also known as astigmatism and is frequently encountered with digital SLR cameras, is not a problem for the LEICA M8 because of the thin glass cover on the image sensor. This feature, plus the particularly high imaging quality of Leica M lenses, is the reason for the high corner-to-corner image resolution.

Rendering of black synthetic fibers
The elimination of color fringing and the improvement of image resolution results in higher IR sensitivity. This causes some synthetic textiles to appear an artificial-looking purple.

If the higher IR sensitivity has a disturbing effect in certain applications, e.g. fashion photography, LEICA Camera AG offers its customers a special IR barrier filter. This is screwed on in front of the lens and is an ideal combination of IR, UV and protection filter.

The use of the additional IR filter in front of the optical system has big advantages, as the filter does not create reflections inside the optical system. This enables the reproduction of the finest tonal values even in shadows.

The filter is supplied as an accessory with a special firmware adjustment, which will be available shortly after the planned market launch of the camera at the end of November 2006.

The IR/UV filter is only suitable for use with digital M cameras and 6-bit coded lenses.

The high IR transmission may also be a creative advantage for applications in the area of infrared photography."

Using an extra IR filter is expensive (different filter sizes needed) and not really convenient.

Leica may have chosen a weak IR filter to get a bit more gain out of the Kodak sensor. In many cases it may not be a real problem but in some cases you would need some extra IR filter. We expect Leica to clarify this issue over the next few weeks.

Related links:


11/17/2006 Can Profiles fully fix the M8 "Magenta Blacks"?

We asked Thomas Knoll (original creator of Photoshop and author of Adobe's Camera Raw) whether profiling or ACR color calibration could fully fix the M8's Magenta casts due to a weak IR filter. Here is his answer:

"Profiles cannot fix IR sensitivity issues. The problem is the camera sees the world differently than humans do. It is possible to have objects in the real world that the camera sees as exactly the same color, but humans see as different colors. That is impossible to fix with a profile.

There is are also cases where the camera sees two objects as different colors, but humans see them as the same color. A profile could "fix" this, but not with out messing up other colors.

For example, the Leica M8 sometimes renders some black objects as purple. A profile could just map all purples to blacks, but that would mess up all photographs of of objects that really are purple.

The only way to really fix this is with a better IR filter."

You be able to rescue quite a few images that show a magenta cast using special profiles (read this article at Luminous Landscape). If you like the result all is fine. Unfortunately this is not a solution for all situations.

 


11/18/2006 Erwin Puts on "Magenta Madness"

The big discussions on the net about the M8 Magenta/IR issues reach the dimensions of modern soap operas. Here is a more rational take by Erwin Puts. We will post soon a solution based on Capture One profiles and also expect Leica to react soon. Many will be able to create great pictures even with this flaw in the camera.

 


11/19/2006 New Profiles to fix the IR magenta cast

The web can be hell (e.g. if some people are too fast to blame other people to do a bad job). Overall it is so often also a place where nice people help others out. In this case our reader James Roberts created a solution to help with the M8 IR magenta cast (this will not fix the cause of the IR problem but it will help in many cases).

He wrote to us:

"I believe the camera color originates not in profiled RGB space, but in something more like LAB:CIE.

As you know, if you map an "imaginary colour" to a "visible colour" in a profile (LAB-->RGB) then you won't affect other similar colours. This is what I believe is happening with the magenta, or something like it, luckily enough for Leica.
It's also possible that the bandwidth of the IR produced magenta is just very narrow, and profile is just luckily mapping neutrals to neutrals.
I also want you to know I've actually hand-tuned a set of the original Phase tungsten profiles for better colour response with the M8...I'm not a colour guru at all, just someone who wanted to make the M8 work more effectively!"

James sent us two profiles (normal and low saturation variations) and we tried them in Capture One 3.7.6 (should work in LE as well). He also sent us the sample image we use to show the effect.

Converted with the C1 Leica M8 generic profiles


Converted with the new profiles

The new profiles may not create a perfect black but they improve the image a lot.

We then also used the new profiles on some images from our Summit 2006 trip and also got much better results from our own Leica M8 shots (this means these profiles may be great replacement for the C1 M8 profiles for all of your pictures).

You can find the new profiles here and also the RAW test photo.

As said before this is not a 100% fix of the problem. Here we need to use an IR filter (announced by Leica).

We want to thank James Robert a lot for his kind contribution to the Leica M8 community. People like Robert help to make a difference.


11/24/2006 Leica posts a note about a needed "Leica M8 Update"

We quote from the note:

"

Issues reported as "Banding" and "Mirror/Ghost images"


Our engineering teams thoroughly investigated the root causes of these effects. They have developed and tested a robust remedy - an upgrade for the M8 - to eliminate any re-occurrence. We have taken extra precautions to not only make sure that the problem does not surface again, but that this remedy will enable every M8 to meet and exceed Leica performance standards.


Cameras shipped from our factory as of November 27th, 2006 will be equipped with the upgrade. Therefore, and because they will be tested thoroughly, we are confident that they will be defect-free.


All customers having received their LEICA M8 before this delivery date will be offered an upgrade free of charge in Leica Camera AG's Customer Service in Solms. To upgrade your camera please, register yourself on our website as of December 6th, 2006. After you have registered you will be contacted by Customer Service to make an appointment to send in your LEICA M8.


Please note that even without this upgrade all cameras delivered before this date are in working order and can be used normally. Even so, we recommend you to have the upgrade performed.

Above-average sensitivity for infrared light (synthetic fabrics are rendered with a slight magenta offset)

During the development of the LEICA M8, we made important design choices to insure that the camera delivers the quality in images the Leica M System is known for. Keeping the protective glass cover on the sensor as thin as possible on the one hand has the benefit of allowing the full potential of Leica lenses on the LEICA M8 to be utilized with respect to their sharpness and contrast rendition, but it also absorbs less of the infrared light. In everyday photographical use the resulting above-average sensitivity for infrared light may lead to a faulty color rendition, especially in the case of synthetic fabrics which - depending on the ambient light - cannot be rendered fully black but only with a slight magenta offset.


Our solution: We will offer special screw-on type UV/IR filters for all Leica M lenses. With respect to the Leica M's compact build the combination of a thin absorption filter on the sensor and a screw-on interference filter on the lens represents the best technical solution. It completely eliminates the color offset caused by infrared light. When using lenses from 16 to 35mm, we suggest opting for the 6-bit coded ones, in order to prevent a color offset towards the edges. No disadvantages must be expected for the images when the LEICA M8 is equipped with the latest firmware (from 1.10; available as of early December 2006).


Leica Camera AG offers every LEICA M8 customer a basic kit of two UV/IR filters with diameters of her/his choice and free of charge. Delivery will commence as of early February 2007. In order to receive the two free IR/UV filters, please register yourself as of December 6th, 2006, including your name and address as well as the camera's serial number. After your registration you can order two filters of choice which will be delivered to your address. Additional filters will be available from your Leica dealer.


Continuing improvements through firmware updates

As is common with digital products, Leica Camera AG is constantly working on improving firmware details such as in the case of the automatic white balance. All improvements will be made available for our customers as downloadable firmware updates.

We are confident these corrective technical measures will fulfil every expectation of even the most demanding customers."

We will check into these solutions once we receive an upgraded camera (then our own by the way).

 


12/18/2006 M8 Field Report by Magnum Photographer Thomas Hoepker

Read this critical real world report from a highly respected Magnum photographer who used the Leica a lot in his past.


12/25/2006 M8 on tripod

At first we thought to use the M8 (now our own camera) only freehand. Today (XMas Day 2006) we worked the first time from a tripod.


M8 on Tripod

  • Gitzo Explorer Carbon
  • Acratech V2 Ball Head
  • Arca Swiss style plate

Here you can find more information about our tripods, heads and plates. Actually it is quite nice to work with the M8 on a tripod (using the self-timer). We still have to get used to the fact that the framing is not as precise as from our DSLRs.

This is one of the shots we like:


Dry Reservoir (M8, 50mm f/2, IR filter)

 

We used this workflow (except the first two steps in Photomatix).

 


1/15/2007 Special M8 Profiles with IR filter and RAWDeveloper

There are now experimental IR profiles available for RAWDeveloper. You can find the profiles here. Check the readme file for more instructions. We did a brief test and they look ok to us.


1/21/2007 M8 Field Report by Elwood Spedden

We met Elwood Spedden ("Woody") at our last summit in Page, AZ. We asked Woody as a long time Leica user to share his personal opinion about the new Leica M8 (he used both the Leica DMR and the M8 at the summit).


2/5/2007 M8 Gallery: Oak Trees

We start to get a hang on using the M8. Here is a new gallery. All B&W and colorized images were created using LightZone 2.1 and the Flash galleries was produced in Lightroom 1.0. We will soon publish how LightZone and Lightroom can work together.

M8 Galleries: Oak Trees in B&W and colorized (click on images to launch the galleries)


B&W version


Colorized version


2/20/2007 Hack: How to use Apple Aperture for M8 RAW files

We quote a hack published by Eoin Kavanagh at the Leica Forums (we post this with Eoin's permission):

" ** WARNING ** Do this at your own Risk

If like me you have been missing the Aperture interface for playing around with your M8 images, here is a little hack (a variation on one for the LX2 / D-lux-3) I found worked.

. I downloaded the free Adobe DNG Converter app (ADC) from Adobe's website. Using The settings to use for the converter (available in the ADC's preferences) were:

  • JPEG Preview->None
  • Compression(Lossless) checked
  • Image Conversion Method->Preserve Raw Image
  • Original Raw File->Embed Original Raw File->unchecked
  • You'll also need to point to the source M8 DNG folder and where you want to output the Adobe DNG's to

2. If you try to import an Adobe converted M8 dng file into Aperture. It imports, but says that it is an unsupported image format.

3. I started up my plist-editing application. I used PlistEdit Pro.

4. In the finder, I navigated to
System/Library/Frameworks/ApplicationServices.framework/ Versions/A/Frameworks/ImageIO.framework/Versions/A/Resources/Raw.plist and copied (not moved) that file to the Desktop in case I made a mistake. I then opened the original file in its original location in PlistEdit Pro. You may have to unlock this file to allow you to save it depending on your security setup.

5. After opening in PlistEdit Pro I found the entry for the Nikon-D200 in the upper panel, highlighted it and clicked on duplicate. A new entry is created called Nikon-D200 2. If you click on the name and edit it to read Leica Camera AG-M8 Digital Camera, the name must be entered exactly as I have typed it here. It's probably easiest to cut and paste it.

6. I saved the edited Raw.plist file in its original location, closed all my apps, started up Aperture, and imported the Adobe converted DNGs without a hitch.

What you will find is aperture is able to display and edit the Adobe converted DNG file like any other raw file. The only thing you may notice is the colour saturation will need to be increased slightly if you happen to like the what I consider over saturated C1 profile.

I find the conversions to be excellent and what's more I'm enjoying being back within the Aperture workflow.
I'd recommend keeping all your original M8 DNG's safe for use when ever apple get their finger out and provide proper M8 DNG support within OSX.

** WARNING ** Do this at your own risk"

We tried the hack ourselves and have to say that the the results are quite good. We found:

  • Aperture shows less aliasing than in most other RAW converters


4/12/2007 New M8 Firmware 1.102

Leica just released the long awaited new firmware. The best place to lear about all the issues with this new firmware is to read the Leica Camera User Forum (very busy and qualified forum about the M8).

We personally also got our IR filters. We are not sure to switch because the IR issue does not bother us too much. In most cases where the synthetic blacks would be a problem we use the camera for B&W anyway.


7/13/2007 LEICA TRI-ELMAR-M 28-35-50mm f/4 ASPH discontinued

Note from Leica: "The LEICA TRI-ELMAR-M 28-35-50mm f/4 ASPH. is one of the most complex Leica M lenses. It is extremely demanding in terms of assembling the individual mechanical and optical parts. Sadly, one of the key parts cannot be acquired in the quality necessary for the lens performance any longer. Every attempt to replace this part with an alternative only resulted in a lens with a rendition quality well below the Leica standard. Therefore, we were forced to discontinue the lens".


 
 

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