Photos & Projects

An evening of abusing the Leica M8 in low light

March 25, 2016

If you follow this blog, you might recognise Tom (in the foreground above). He’s one of the unfortunate people I know who frequently has me pointing a camera in his face. It was his birthday the other week, so we all went for a night out down the pub.

As per usual I took a camera; unusually it was a digital camera in the form of a Leica M8. I wanted to see just how far I could push it in terms of shooting in low and fairly rubbish light. The pub we had a drink in is really quite dark, so I knew the M8 would struggle. Even at 1/45, 2500iso and f1.4 the camera was mostly reporting a stop or two of underexposure. I don’t really mind this level of underexposure in such low lit circumstances as these, I just mention it to give you an idea of the level of light I was working with.

This first couple of photos were shot at 1250iso. They were even more underexposed and then pushed a bit in Lightroom. It’s fair to say, there is a lot less room for manoeuvre with the files off this old sensor than the files I’d get from my modern digital cameras – noise does increase quite drastically if you push the files even slightly. You can already see some banding in the noise on the side of Tom’s face in the first photo.

Tom's Birthday

Tom's Birthday

These next photos were shot shot at 2500iso. There was less need to push the files to get the exposure/contrast I wanted, but the banding is even more prominent in some of them.

Tom's Birthday

Tom's Birthday

Tom's Birthday

Tom's Birthday

Tom's Birthday

Tom's Birthday

Tom's Birthday

I imagine it sounds like I feel quite negative about the Leica M8 in low light? Well actually, thats not quite the case – I wouldn’t say I’m impressed by the low light capability of this camera, but I’m not all that disappointed either. I had my expectations set quite readily by plenty of M8 reviews, so wasn’t expecting perfection, far from it in fact.

Whilst these photos are indeed far from perfect, for what I was trying to achieve with my evenings photography, I don’t think they are that bad. They capture the atmosphere of the pub and our evening out quite adequately. I now at least know the limitations I’m working with too…

The funny thing was, I had more people ask me about the camera in one evening than I think I’ve had on any outing ever… They soon regretted it mind, it got me talking about photography…

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15 Comments

  • Reply
    Blinx
    March 25, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    The last shots look like old newsprint photos, with a coarse dot screen, which is quite nice. With digital photography the clean, low ISO look, or with speed pushed to the limits and the noise as a “medium” in its own right, both look interesting. It’s the in-between stage where the eye begins to register noise that’s unattractive, to me at least. I prefer the pushed film look any day, and have yet to see it reproduced successfully in a digital photograph.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      March 25, 2016 at 7:44 pm

      yeah, I suppose that makes sense…
      I’ve literally just realised how odd it is to be talking about digital on this site – it all of a sudden seems so out of context. So many elements of the digital world that just don’t interest me really… I just want a camera that I can snap with that feels like a film camera – thats the only reason I bought this thing, and now I feel like I’m opening a can of worms

  • Reply
    Ben
    March 25, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    Hi Hamish, In my experience M8 & M9 files work best at max 800 iso then ‘pushed’ in post to up to 2500.

    Cheers,
    Ben

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      March 25, 2016 at 7:45 pm

      Thanks Ben, I shall bear that in mind!

  • Reply
    Gary
    March 25, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    The good thing about the M8 in low light is the viewfinder. There is no blackout (which is especially annoying with non rangefinder cameras and long shutter times) and the view is clear (no EVF smearing or lag).

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      March 25, 2016 at 7:46 pm

      Yes indeed – I shall be talking about such things in my M8 review when the time comes I suspect

  • Reply
    Frank Lehnen
    March 25, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    Hamish, in these situations you would normally shoot some Tri-X pushed to 1600 or even 3200, and the results would be a bit like those M8 photos. With those darn digital things we are so indoctrinated to reject anything a bit grainy (or noisy). New iso 100000 sensors with virtually no noise will only worsen this.

    We film people know what we have with our noisy, grainy high speed films – that’s part of the fun. so I can easily accept those pictures!

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      March 25, 2016 at 8:25 pm

      I completely agree!! – I’m going to email you the post that this nearly was. I decided I’d include it in the review instead of publishing it sooner… But I’ll give you a sneaky peak, just because its so on point.

  • Reply
    Nic Franco
    March 26, 2016 at 8:29 am

    When it comes to low light picture with the M8, i use the M8raw2dng program. With this clever tool you can push photos shot with base ISO 160, underexposed 3-4 or more steps.
    I was super surprised with this combination, M8 RAW files with the M8raw2dng program, and it’s for free. If you have trouble using it, you can always contact the programer for help.
    I know it’s limited with the button dance but …….

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      March 26, 2016 at 9:29 am

      Yes, I’ve looked at that – I probably need to spend a bit more time with it as after I downloaded it I got a bit lost. Does it make a lot of difference does it?

  • Reply
    Brian Sweeney
    June 24, 2016 at 2:36 am

    I’ve been using M8RAW2DNG with my M8 for 2 years now. The difference is huge for High ISO.

    The banding in the photos comes from the 8-bit DNG compression scheme that Leica uses. It’s pronounced at High-ISO where sensor noise bounces the image between contours in the compression map. I did some side-by-side comparisons with the M8 shooting raw mode and my M Monochrom.

    Not sure if a link can be posted-

    https://www.leicaplace.com/threads/leica-m8-set-to-iso-ludicrous-speed.1081/

    I did a test with M8RAW2DNG going up to ISO5000, matched up with the M Monochrom. Also wrote custom RAW convertor for using the M8 for color Infrared, use an Orange filter to eliminate Blue. Looks like Infrared Ektachrome. The M8 is a fun camera.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      June 24, 2016 at 9:20 am

      Thanks Brian – You can add all the links you like! This is the internet – linking information is its purpose! (or at least I thought it was supposed to be) 🙂

      You mention in that thread about documenting the workflow – is that something you got around to doing?

  • Reply
    Brian Sweeney
    June 24, 2016 at 10:16 pm

    I did a write up last year, probably should update it.

    Loaded it to Dropbox:

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/ye4dcb9fdzr4qez/LeicaM8_High_ISO.pdf?dl=0

    I’m a PC user- it is written for Lightroom and the free version of Adobe Photoshop CS2.

    My M8 gets all the “hacked lenses”, the crop factor makes it easier to convert SLR lenses- you can use a tube for an RF cam. The Konica 50/1.7 AR-Hexanon, Minolta 50/1.4 MC, Canon 50/1.4 FL, and Pentax 50/1.4 Super-Tak are all adapted for it.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      June 25, 2016 at 3:50 pm

      You’re a proper tinkerer aren’t you Brian!
      You’re going to have to show me a converted SLR lens now – I had no idea it was possible to RF couple SLR lenses??!

  • Reply
    Nigel Cliff
    May 31, 2018 at 5:37 am

    I always find discussions on noise and high iso interesting as I shoot a lot of non league football at iso’s up to 12800, yes the results can be a bit iffy and need work in Lightroom but I always work on the principle of better a noisy shot than no shot at all

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