I’m not far off publishing my thoughts on the M8… As I’ve been rambling my usual way through the process of writing it I’ve had this nagging feeling about what to write about its CCD sensor. It feels like it wouldn’t be right to review the M8 without mentioning the lauded CCD contained within it… But really I’m not sure I believe what’s so frequently said about it is entierly right.
The use of a CCD is very often stated as a big factor in the way the M8 renders an image. In fact, the amount of times I’ve read online people stating that they prefer the CCD in Leica M8 to modern CMOS sensor cameras is almost unfathomable. What I wonder is just how many of these people know enough about sensor technology to make that claim, or if instead it’s one of those things that’s just being repeated verbatim on assumption.
People like the look of the older cameras, the older cameras have a CCD, therefore it’s the CCD that makes all the difference… Right?
But just how much does this use of a CCD in the M8 actually translate into “better” files?
I remember having conversations with customers when I worked in a camera shop as the manufactures started using CMOS sensors in DSLRs and higher end cameras. We used to get the know-it-alls come in shaking their heads at the use of the inferior CMOS sensors. They just wouldn’t have it that as the CMOS technology was becoming mature it could now seemingly close to match, if not better the slower older CCDs in terms of both image quality and functionality. But despite their insistence, not one of them ever provided me with conclusive evidence that the CCD specifically makes for better photos.
What really makes me chuckle is that these days you only really hear this sort favour being levelled at the M8. When was the last time your read someone saying they prefer the look of the files from the CCD in Nikon D100 compared to the modern CMOS Nikon D500? I’m sure there are people out there, but I’d challenge them with the same question as I have about the M8’s CCD. How much of the benefit can be pinned on the CCD, and how much is something else?
The fact is, there are many processes that happen within a digital camera. Light is filtered even before it hits the sensor. Once it hits the sensor it has to be measured in intensity and colour. It has to be converted from analogue information to digital, and interpreted and processed by the camera’s computer. These computers aren’t even all made by the same companies. Nor of course are the sensors. All of these processes variable are going to have an impact on the resultant image, so to pin so much advantage specifically onto the use of CCD over CMOS to me at least doesn’t make a huge amount of sense.
Of course the use of a CCD likely does have a impact on the files. CCD sensors are still used to this day in some medium format digital cameras. Phase One claim ultimate tonality from their CCD cameras, though I think it’s worth acknowledging that to get this ultimate tonality Phase are taking advantage of significantly high bitrates than the M8 is capable of – and of course much more mature technology than that found in the M8.
As you will read in my review, I’m more than happy to indulge, and even agree with the perspective that the files the M8 creates have advantages or at very least nice results for some purposes, but I’m yet to read any conclusive report that convinces me any meaningful part of this is down to specifically the sensor technology and not something else. How can any single advantage or look to an image reliably be separated from the other variables enough to quantify the positive claims made?
For reference, I’m not extolling the virtues of CMOS sensors here, short of their technical advantages with regard to things like live view, I simply don’t know which is “better”. I am just trying to challenge this so often stated favour for the CCD specifically in the Leica M8.
Share your thoughts!
As always, I’m very happy to be informed! Can you convincingly prove to me that it’s the use of a CCD that makes the difference in the Leica M8 and not something else within the wider light to digital-picture making process?
If you have an opinion I’m all ears (eyes), but ideally I want facts. Please state, and if possible link me to references. This post will become the reference for this topic in my M8 review.