Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs


Leica M8 Field Report 2

Field notes for Digital Outback Photo by

by Elwood Spedden

All images copyright Elwood Spedden


What is unique and good about Leica's new M8?

It would seem that everyone on the planet is now aware of Leica’s new M8 Digital Rangefinder Camera what all the press, forum topics, professional reviews and such. Or perhaps I should say that everyone knows of the problems, faults, and Leica’s responses to them. I won’t waste valuable space here since it is so well covered by now but suffice it to say that issues with Infrared response, magenta colorations where it is supposed to be black, Automatic White Balance (AWB) defects and banding and streaking in the presence of high intensity point source lights dominate the defect conversations.

It is sad though that the desire for a “perfect” successor to the great M lineage has angered many to the degree that the “good” points of the M8 seem to be almost totally overlooked. I would like to try here to present my personal observations of using the M8 since November 6th 2006, the day of first shipments to US dealers.

I had a very short period of time with the camera before journeying to Page Az. to attend the Digital Printing Summit. But I knew enough that I intended to use it for Fine Arts Landscape images while in Page and at Horseshoe Bend and Lake Powell as the major photo opportunities.
What made me so certain that this camera was worth this commitment?
The first thing I noticed was the remarkable raw files it produced straight from the Raw Converter using the default settings of “Raw Developer” without further processing of exposure or additional sharpening. The only processing I found necessary was White Balance corrections to get the color I remembered from the scene. Metering was exceptionally good as was both micro and macro contrast. Some of this is without question due to the marvelous M lenses, particularly those with the latest aspheric and apochromatic corrections, but the M8 captured the essence of those lenses very well indeed.

The second thing I noticed was the remarkable, to me, three dimensionality of the images. One image that I believe captured this effect well is the one I call “Clinging to Life,” which is a scene of pure rock outcropping with a small yellow bush the only sign of life. This scene from Horseshoe Bend provoked much discussion at the Summit. It certainly is not the iconic view of the Island around which the Colorado River flows.

The third thing is how well the images can be upsized to product large prints. I have the Epson 7800 so I am limited to about a 22 inch wide by 37 inch long print. The image above was printed at that size and there was virtually nothing lost in the process. I have since mounted and framed this image and have gotten rave reviews from all who have seen it.

What makes the M8 so “unique.” Well of course it is a digital rangefinder, one of only two such products for the 35mm market. The other is the Epson RD1, an older 6 megapixel design that show its age. The M8 includes firmware that allows for Leica coded lenses to be “corrected” for vignetting, color shifts from use of Infrared (IR) filters and perhaps more to come. Plus the design team from Solms knows the M lenses better than anyone in the world and developed the M8 to take full advantage of their strengths. In fact some of the design considerations led to the use of an ultra thin IR absorption filter in front of the sensor to preserve the detail of the lenses and this tradeoff mandated the use of external IR cut filters to prevent black objects from turning magenta. The operative phrase here is “tradeoff”, not design failure.

Most of the attributes of the film M bodies have been translated to the Digital M. The most obvious deletions are the advance lever and rewind crank of the Film M’s and the addition of the large LCD screen on the back of the Digital M. Apart from that the only thing that distinguishes the two is the whirring sound from the Digital M following exposure as the shutter is recocked. I don’t find it at all difficult to switch between my M6TTL’s and the M8 which is very helpful in scenarios where you may want to be shooting with both media types.

So am I “sold” on Leica’s Digital M, the M8. Yes indeed I am and I am still using the camera the way it originally came from the factory with version 1.06 firmware. I point this out because Leica has been continuously addressing the issues that have surfaced and now have a hardware solution to the banding and streaking problems and new firmware to address that hardware. There will be a significant firmware upgrade announced for February 2007 called version 1.1. Here a number of the issues that can be remedied by firmware will be done. These should include the issues with AWB as well as others. So folks who want the ultimate in the 21st century rangefinder will be able to purchase it with virtually all of the issues addressed following the 1.1 release.

Personally I also want the perfect solution from Leica. But in my 69 years I have yet to find a perfect solution to almost anything technological and I made my living producing automatic test equipment for the semiconductor industry so I have seen a lot in all of those years. But like the semiconductor industry the primary issue is how you respond to the issues created at the birth of a product. Leica has responded very well in my opinion although their PR department could use a lesson or two about humility. But technologically they have come far in only a month since official release. I expect this process to continue until all of the issues are addressed. Perhaps it was unwise, looking retrospectively, to have insisted on having the product launch at Photokina. Perhaps the birthing process was a little behind schedule. But it was all of us who made clear our demands for the product that caused the premature birth. And I, for one, am so delighted in what the camera will do, right now, that I am glad to have been one of the demanders. My advice is to get the eyes off the computer monitor and onto the optical finder of the M8 and be delighted.

By the way, I have no affiliation with Leica, Leica U.S. and have never worked for Leica. All I have done, like many others, is to have donated a large percentage of my discretionary income to them for the pleasure of owning the M system and the DMR/R9 DSLR system. I have been using the M since the late 1950’s starting with a double clutched M3 and have a number of M bodies through the years. Nuff said



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