Digital Cameras

Leica M8 – A Year with an Ageing Digital Rangefinder – By Rui Hu

December 6, 2019

The Leica M8 was the first digital Leica I’ve ever shot with, and was also the most film-like digital camera I’ve ever used. I fell in love with a camera for the first time, and a year later, it also broke my heart. These photos are from a few of my most memorable experiences with this camera.

I first came across the Leica M8 several months after acquiring the M2, the first Leica that I’ve used and bought. At this point, I’ve become affectionate to the minimal and distraction-free photographic experience Leica camera users have come to love, but I was also wondering if this experience existed on the other side; the side of digital Leicas. Needless to say, when a deal popped up on a M8 here in Toronto, I bought it, fully aware of all of the quirks and potential pitfalls of the camera.

From one of my first outings with the M8, by lakeshore Oakville. I find waterfronts and beaches to always have bountiful potentials for minimal compositions.

I struggled quite a bit in the first couple of weeks using the camera, both with me returning to a kind of “digital mindset” where I turned away from the deliberate approach with shooting film, and also from unrealistic expectations of a more reliable performance and output with the M8 (just me experiencing a case of cognitive dissonance). But shortly after buying new batteries, UV/IR filters, and re-shifting to a more careful and pre-visualized approach, I have found the output from the M8 to be very desirable with a distinct filmic look under the right conditions.

Taken in Cape Breton near the beautiful Cabot Trail by Keltic Lodge. It is also perhaps one of the most generic photos I have shot with the M8.

My first major trip with the M8 was on a road trip to the East coasts of Canada. My dad and I drove from Toronto to Newfoundland, Cape Breton, and Prince Edward Island. Thinking back today, I am still mesmerized by the kind of raw coastal landscapes I saw in Newfoundland, where upturned strata clashes beautifully with pockets of unapologetically utilitarian architecture (often times painted in saturated colours). Unfortunately all of the photos of what I have just described have been shot on film with the M2. Perhaps I will save it for another article. What I have taken on the M8 though, are several scenes after sunset as I will show in the following.

Taken by the cabins which I was staying at, in Rocky Harbour, Newfoundland. This was a tripod photo, with an exposure time of 24 seconds. I still remember waiting for the camera to de-noise and process the image as I crouched in dark on the wet grass.

Taken through the window of a motel in Cape Breton from my east coast Canada road trip. I’ve found that photos of blue hour/twilight renders beautifully on the CCD sensor of the M8. Handheld at 1/15th of a second at 640 ISO.

In perhaps my favourite photo excursion with the Leica M8, I stumbled unexpectedly into one of the densest fog that I’ve seen in the city that I study in. It was right after our final term review at the school, where all stresses from the students have dissipated. Around midnight when I was about to walk home, the visibility suddenly dropped to under 30 metres. My friend and I both picked up our cameras and went for a stroll around the historic downtown of the city. This part of the city is usually sparse in activity by 10pm. One can imagine that by midnight, there is not a soul in sight. The only sounds were that of our footsteps and the clicks of our shutters (actually, just my M8’s, he was shooting a leaf shutter camera). In this shot here, I saw this perfect blend of warm and cool light from halogen and LED bulbs. Right after taking the photo, I could tell that the M8 captured it beautifully and filmic-ly through the rear LCD (it looks decently bright at night, as expected).

Taken by the parking lot of a theatre in Cambridge, Ontario. It was shot at f1.4 with the Voigtlander Nokton 35mm, and 1/15th sec shutter with 640 ISO.

Blanketed in fog, these warm lights revealed a streetscape that took me back in time to a period before Leicas… 1/15th, f1.4, 640 ISO.

To prevent light pollution, some of these street light covers created an umbrella-like falloff in the mist, 1/15th, f1.4, 640 ISO.

In the first several months of owning the Leica M8, I was hesitant to shoot portraits. This was mostly fuelled by fears of missing moments due to its slow operation and buffer. But just like before, I realized if I shoot like it’s film, everything will be fine. In fact, I was rather surprised at how well the M8 handled high contrast scenes at base ISO. In this scene here, the subject was backlit from the sun, and he stood in-front of a white wall as a reflector.

Shot at 1/6000 second at f2. Whether myth or not, I was afraid to use speeds above 1/4000 second in case it wore down the shutter as some have described online.

I enjoyed the matching yellows here, and was hoping at f2 there would still be a separation between subject and background.

I found blue hours to be once again the preferred meal of the M8. I used the flashlight feature on a iPhone to act as fill, and brought up the overall exposure in Lightroom afterwards. This was f1.4 at 1/15th of a second, 640 ISO.

The M8 has followed me through every outing, and every day on my commutes. I have developed a trust and understanding with the way the camera is to be operated, and the rendering of images that it creates.

Taken by the walk to Union Station’s GO bus terminal, in Toronto. This was right after a summer thunderstorm around sunset. The M8 captured the subtle and soft hues of the atmosphere perfectly.

Captured in my last major outing with the M8, by the Yellowhead highway along the Athabasca river, in-between Jasper and Hinton in Alberta, Canada. I believe this was shot around f5.6 at 1/30th of a second, 320 ISO.

In my last trip with the Leica M8, I drove to Banff and Jasper national parks in Canada, once again with my dad. This time I decided to play to the strengths of the M8, and only shot it during hours where the sun is low or below the horizon. At this point in my relationship with the M8, I started to drift away from the 46mm frame of view from the cropped sensor. Instead I found the 28mm on the Ricoh GR to be a more exciting balancing act in composition. Nonetheless, the M8 was always by my side. Whenever I saw a view that could be explored with the M8, I used it.

I went back to the same area as the previous photo. This time the water level rose, but the sunset was still as spectacular as before.

Taken on a tripod at the famous Vermilion Lakes beside the town of Banff. This is a composite of several photos taken with the M8.

And as if on cue, just after over a year of usage, my M8 ran into the Shutter Fault error. I was really quite shocked, sad, disappointed, and in denial. (I would check the camera every few hours to see if the fault persisted). Needless to say, my trust and bond over the camera was broken. But now in hindsight, I am thankful that the camera broke down when I least needed it. The camera is now under repair at Leica NJ, and will be going to a friend of mine once it returns. I have since then purchased a used M type 240 in hopes of a longer term relationship.

So this is a concise look at my year with the M8. Thinking rationally through my earlier difficulties with the camera, I realize that maybe it’s not always about buying tools that adopt to my familiar means of operation. Sometimes by learning a new (old) tool, there is a possibility to strengthen my appreciation and approach for the craft that I thought I knew.

Just a quick disclaimer, all of the photos in this article have been edited by me through exposure, colour and sometimes perspective adjustments in Lightroom or Photoshop.

You can check out more Leica M8, M2, and M240 photos on my instagram:Β ruihui_photo
Check out Hamish’s review of the Leica M8 here:Β The Leica M8 – A simple, digital, rangefinder

Thanks for reading,

Rui

Support & Subscribe

35mmc is free to read. It is funded by adverts. If you don't like the adverts you can subscibe here and they will disapear.

For as little as $1 a month, you can help support the upkeep of 35mmc and get access to exclusive content over on Patreon. Alternatively, please feel free to chuck a few pennies in the tip jar via Ko-fi:

Become a Patron!

Learn about where your money goes here.
Would like to write for 35mmc? Find out how here.

17 Comments

  • Reply
    Neil
    December 6, 2019 at 12:59 pm

    Great article and beautiful pictures, seriously impressed! Will follow you on instagram. I too had a bad experience when I first bought an M8 and returned it swapping it for an M6. I’ve never trusted digital Leica’s since.

    • Reply
      Rui Hu
      December 6, 2019 at 2:25 pm

      Thanks Neil. The M6 / MP is definitely on my bucket list. In the meanwhile the M240 has been pretty reliable so far, fingers crossed.

  • Reply
    Ed Lara
    December 6, 2019 at 5:59 pm

    Rui – thanks for sharing your experience and photos with the M8; your architectural training and sense of design come through, by the way, in the way you compose your photos, well done. I owned an M8 for a short bit and never really liked it, but a year after selling it, I found an M8.2 which I found far better to use, although the same limitations still existed with the sensor. I have always loved the shooting experience with Leica rangefinders, and like you, death with the shortcomings of the M8.2 by treating it like a film camera. I was very happy with my experience, loved how the color files rendered in a very film-like way, but also appreciated the richness and contrast of the DNG files when converted to B&W. I eventually sold off the camera after a long period of low usage. That said, i got an M9 earlier this year, and find it as enjoyable to use. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Reply
      Rui Hu
      December 6, 2019 at 6:20 pm

      Thank you for the kind words Ed. I still regret not going for the M9 when buying the M8, as there was a great deal on a sensor replaced unit. By the looks of reviews it seems like the M9 is going to be a digital classic, I will definitely have to give one a try some day. Enjoy it!

      • Reply
        Carlos
        January 2, 2020 at 5:41 pm

        M10-P will be the classic, M9 will be the classic sensor failure, as the M8 is the classic struggle. M240 (I own one, too) is a top all rounder, only. M10-P will give you silence, classic color, classic feel, more use, leaving video to your smartphone or other camera.
        M11 will be a new transitional model, like the M240, Leica figuring out how they want to handle a pixel monster sensor in a RF and how to handle EVF in the future. M12 will be required to have it figured.
        I’m waiting for an M11 to see if I’m right with my assumption or not and then move from the M240 to M10-P or M11-P or just stick with it, seeing that Leica loses track on their RFs. Does it really matter? the M240 is great, so is my M6. Both relate well with each other… πŸ˜‰

  • Reply
    Per Wilhelmsson
    December 6, 2019 at 6:39 pm

    Great to read your Leica-story. I must ask – is it the VoigtlΓ€nder 35/1.4 you used for the pictures with short depth of field?

    • Reply
      Rui Hu
      December 6, 2019 at 7:25 pm

      Thanks, and yes they’re all taken with the VoigtlΓ€nder 35 1.4.

  • Reply
    Mark fisher
    December 6, 2019 at 6:47 pm

    Hi.Great read can you tel me when the shutter failed.How many shots had it taken.Mines on 19000 hopefully it will last a while longer M8

    • Reply
      Rui Hu
      December 6, 2019 at 7:26 pm

      Thanks Mark, mine failed at just a bit below 10,000

  • Reply
    Peter
    December 6, 2019 at 7:22 pm

    Sorry to say but compression ruined these photos for me. Anything after 3rd photo is a blurry pixelated mess.

    • Reply
      Rui Hu
      December 6, 2019 at 7:28 pm

      Hi Peter, you’re right, on the computer it’s very compressed. I’ve been viewing it from my phone and surprisingly you can zoom in without seeing the compression, weird. Let me see if it can be fixed.

      • Reply
        Peter
        December 10, 2019 at 6:53 pm

        I think this is an issue with the hosting or the website itself. Other posts also affected by it so I assume it must be some sort of “mobile optimization” that ruins the desktop experience.

  • Reply
    Taffy
    December 7, 2019 at 4:24 am

    Loved this article, Rui Hu. I myself shoot the M8 and my shutter died within a month of owning it but got it replaced by a repair center in HK. I’ve owned it for 8 years but never got along with until this year– 13 years since it came out! But it has been a joy since I stopped expecting it to behave like modern digital camera with the ISO capabilities etc. Now I’m comfortable shooting 90% at IS0 160, not expecting a lot from it in low light, and being more deliberate with waiting for shots considering the buffer. I don’t really crave for the change to upgrade and I hope it doesn’t break down just yet. It’s been quite the photography “happy place” for me with the M8 these days. Most of the recent shots on my IG are by the M8. @thesmalltalker

    • Reply
      Rui Hu
      December 7, 2019 at 4:48 am

      Thanks Taffy. I’m glad to hear that you have bonded after all this time. Better now than never πŸ™‚

  • Reply
    Dave
    December 7, 2019 at 5:17 pm

    Lovely. A question, though. If you loved the CCD sensor on the m8 and how it renders film-like images, why did you get an m240, which has a completely different sensor architecture?

    • Reply
      Rui Hu
      December 7, 2019 at 6:15 pm

      Hi Dave, personally I find the differences between CCD & CMOS negligible, especially since I edit the raw files to a certain degree for all the photos I want to keep. My preference for the M240 is more biased towards factors regarding reliability.

  • Reply
    David Kieltyka
    December 7, 2019 at 7:51 pm

    I’ve had a pair of M8.2s since 2014 and use ’em quite a bit. (Bought the 2nd as backup to the 1st but have always used ’em with equal frequency.) One is the 28mm camera while the other usually sports a 35mm. I too treat ’em as ISO 160 cameras with 1- or 2-stop push capability when needed. When I got an M10 a bit over 2 years ago I thought the M8s might languish in their bags, and that did initially happen…but only for six months or so. The “weird” color rendering has never bothered me (if desired I can usually dial it down in post) and I love being able to take handheld infrared pics with a 720nm IR-pass filter. The M8’s per-pixel image quality is as good as I’ve seen from any sensor-based camera, so when necessary the files handle up-resing really well.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.