Leica M8
Digital Cameras

Leica M8 – (Finally) Falling in love with this aging digital – By Taffy Ledesma

June 26, 2020

I bought my Leica M8 used in 2012. After dabbling in all sorts of digital cameras – Nikon, Fuji, and Olympus — I was looking to replicate the joy of my old Leica M4-2 so I finally mustered up the courage (and the money) to buy the M8. I had never spend so much money in one go on photography gear till that day. Things did not start off smoothly. After a few months with the M8 the shutter failed.

I had to pay an extra $400 to have this fixed and when it came back I found myself constantly disappointed with what are known limitations of the M8: performance at high ISO, the buffer, the freezing and how slow it was as a camera. And for the life of me, I never got along with Lightroom. The negative reviews of the M8 were making me feel like a fool for spending so much money on a first-generation dud. Up to that point it never had the magic my M4-2 and little by little it saw less and less action. I tried selling it to no avail. To “salvage” my M lenses I bought the Sony A7ii at the end of 2014 and an adaptor. Long story short: no magic here either (although paired with the 55/1.8 lens it is pretty good, but I digress).

April 2019: The Turning Point

At this point the M8 was 13 years old and I told myself I’d give it one last go. We took a holiday to celebrate my son’s second birthday. I took only the M8 and the last M lenses I had (Leica 35/2.5, Zeiss ZM 25./2.8, and 7Artisans 50/1.1) and gave myself no other option to shoot with. Then this happened:

Playing by the beach

Enjoying the last bit of light before sunset and my first experience of 3D pop in an image  (ISO 160 + ZM Biogon 25)

I was blown away by the quality of the image for such and old camera and was that 3D pop I was seeing?

What happened next was the perfect antidote for my dwindling passion in photography. I shot with the M8 with interest and curiosity. I took photos to understand it’s quirks— when it does well, when it performed like the M8 I hated, and what look it was creating. This was one of the happiest times as a photographer because I was eager to learn again and I was figuring out the M8 and I was falling in love with the results.

scenes from a temple in china town

The B&W look of the M8 really appeals to me (ISO 320 + Summarit 35)

harbor scene

This new lens got me standing straight up balancing on a tiny outrigger (ISO 160 + ZM C-Biogon 35)

4x4 in the sand

In the Sea of Sand in the Bromo National Park, Indonesia. (ISO 160 + ZM Biogon 25)

playing in the pool

Water is his happy place and I’ve waded in the water with the M8 several times (ISO 160 + VM Nokton Classic 35)

What many M8 users past and present say is true: it was a good camera back then and it remains a good camera today (if you know how to use it).

For a whole year I shot 90% at ISO 160 which is crazy talk these days. For the remaining 10% I shot at ISO 320 and if I did crank up the ISO to higher levels I would do it with the intention of creating a certain look. I didn’t bother shooting it in conditions where it would suck. I paired it lenses that gave me the look I liked: Nokton Classic 35/1.4 SC for the more classic look and the ZM C-Biogon 35/2.8 + ZM Planar 50/2.0  for 3D pop. I shot in DNG + JPG black and white because the monochrome output is fantastic (better than the M10 IMO).

With the M8, I shoot slowly and more intentionally just like with my M4-2 many years ago. I tend to know what I’m looking for based on what the camera can and can’t do.

snap of my wife

The M8 and Voigtlander Nokton Classic 35 make a lovely pair. I totally love the tonality and look (ISO 160 + VM Nokton Classic 35)

baby in the big chair

The few times he sits still. loving this soft color palette of the M8 (ISO 160 + VM Nokton Classic 35)

kid and pool table

When pushed to high ISOs the output isn’t so bad provided you try and expose well (ISO 640 + VM Nokton Classic 35)

kid in school

The M8 teaches you to smile despite a little camera shake. (ISO 160 + VM Nokton Classic 35)

Postscript:

This past year the M8 has taught me a lot and because of the renewed enthusiasm it brought, I’ve been able to take a lot of photos my son growing up.  To try and sum up the lessons of the past year:

  1. Set up your gear for success. Learn where it shines. Don’t ask it to do what it can’t do excellently otherwise you’ll be left wanting another piece of kit (expensive for most of us).
  2. Figure out what you like and get tools based on those likes. I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing makes me happier in photography that shooting a rangefinder, hence the upgrade path will lead to another rangefinder. I also prefer the classic look over the modern look and people over landscapes this is my I have Nokton Classic 35. I value simplicity so I use Luminar over Lightroom.
  3. Enjoy the process. Sometimes reading reviews and the opinions of others based on their preferences can lead to premature Buyer’s Remorse (I am guilty on serval occasions). Immersing one’s self in the learning first might put all the other opinion’s around in a better perspective later on.
  4. The M8 is a very capable and enjoyable camera even today if one can sidestep its limitations. I do regret not figuring this out sooner becuase I could have taken this to so many interesting places instead of another camera.

(While I’ve enjoyed one full year of the M8, I’ve decided to move on to the M10. And while they are several generations apart I’d say there are things where I prefer the M8 over the astounding M10. I will be very sad to see it go when the right buyer comes along. )

kid on the beach

Again the soft color palette of the M8 capturing my son back in the same place where the M8 magic began 10 months prior (ISO 160 + ZM C-Biogon 35)

mom and child

A few days before the first official Corona virus case was reported. Looking forward to better days. Heal up, world. (ISO 160 + ZM Planar 50)

Thanks for reading!

You can find me (and even more photos of my son) on Instagram.

More articles can be found about the Leica M8 on 35mmc here, including Hamish’s review here

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25 Comments

  • Reply
    JWu
    June 26, 2020 at 5:41 pm

    Amazing review, I too have an m8.2 that is collecting dust over other film Leicas. Feeling the need to pull it out again. However, I can tell my shutter is starting to fail as well, it sometimes grinds when it recocks. Where did you get yours repaired?

    • Reply
      Taffy Ledesma
      June 26, 2020 at 5:54 pm

      Thanks! I still prefer the M8’s BW jpegs to over the M10’s. I sent the camera to Schmidt Marketing in Hong Kong.

      • Reply
        CJ
        June 26, 2020 at 6:47 pm

        Good review! I rarely use the my M8 as I had gotten so used to shooting full frame. I still use the M9 though as well as the M240. I’m also saving for the M10.

        • Reply
          Taffy Ledesma
          June 27, 2020 at 3:18 am

          When I was considering my next digital M, I was choosing between the M240 and the M10. The price difference was significant but also I felt the 240 photos had a more organic feel to them (can’t put a finger on it) which led to a bit of buyer’s remorse with the M10. I’m
          over it now and enjoy the M10 but what you own are cameras I’d really enjoy. Good choices!

  • Reply
    Huss
    June 26, 2020 at 6:24 pm

    Lovely photos, very nice colour, and that Toy Land Cruiser! Jealous.

    Biggest compliment I can give is it made me try out my digital M again. It had been collecting dust while I shoot film.

    Best regards
    Huss

    • Reply
      Taffy Ledesma
      June 27, 2020 at 3:11 am

      Hi Husss! I appreciate the compliment! Have fun! I sold my Bessa R2A to partially fund the M10 but and I miss it already.

  • Reply
    James Evidon
    June 26, 2020 at 8:14 pm

    I had a Leica M8 and loved it so much that when the conversion to v 8.2 came out, I paid Leica to do the conversion which gave me a Sapphire LCD screen which was scratch resistant as well as a near silent shutter conversion. The frosting on the cake was the sensor which captured light well into the infrared zone. That is why Leica included IR/UV filters. Leaving those filters off and using an IR red filter, I captured some very pleasing infrared images. As much as I loved the M8, I succumbed to the M9 which was also a great camera until the sensor needed replacing ( for free) due to the dreaded M9 sensor corrosion. I now shoot with the M240.

    Enjoy your M8. While IQ cannot measure up to the M9 and M240, it is truly a unique and wonderful camera within its limitations.
    Try shooting IR. No other camera can do that without paying for an IR custom conversion.

    • Reply
      Taffy Ledesma
      June 27, 2020 at 3:19 am

      Thanks for the tip! I shall try this out before I to put the M8 up for sale (somehow there is So much inertia keeping me from doing it) to cover the cost of the M10.

  • Reply
    Kodachromeguy
    June 26, 2020 at 11:16 pm

    Lovely photographs! And I like the little guy – he will keep you and his mother busy, that’s for sure. Enjoy your M10.

    • Reply
      Taffy Ledesma
      June 27, 2020 at 3:25 am

      Honestly I think having my son played a big part in rediscovering photography and I don’t mean it in a G.A.S. sort of way. However, it did lead me here and I blame Hamish for sending me down the Zeiss 3D rabbit hole!

      I photograph my son a lot and now he’s showing interest in taking pictures. He has a plastic toy camera and he likes playing with my P&S cameras.

  • Reply
    Hugo
    June 27, 2020 at 11:54 am

    Congratulations, very nice and personal review. It inspire me to take my M8 and go for a walk. Great photos by the way!!!

    • Reply
      Taffy Ledesma
      June 27, 2020 at 12:25 pm

      Thanks Hugo!

      To the M8 fans, Hugo has a nice YouTube channel about his experience with the Leica M8. I enjoy his content a lot.

      My Leica M8 on YouTube

  • Reply
    Brian Sweeney
    June 27, 2020 at 2:34 pm

    I’ve had my M8 for over 10 years now, bought it when the M9 first came out. It had 400 clicks on it, and as $2500 with two batteries and a Leica half-case. 10 years later, zero-defects on the sensor and working well. I’ve used it with M8RAW2DNG since that software was made available, and shot it along side of my M Monochrom.

    https://cameraderie.org/threads/leica-m8-set-to-iso-ludicrous-speed.38677/

    For Infrared- the M8 is inique.

    https://cameraderie.org/threads/experiments-in-leica-m8-and-m9-conversions.38737/

    Combined with M8RAW2DNG- you can shoot with an Orange filter and get some of the same results as IR Ektachrome.

    If Leica had stored true RAW pixels instead of the stupid compression algorithm that ruins the output of the CCD Sensor, the M8 would have been praised for high-ISO performance. The KAF-10500 has a 50% higher saturation count than does the sensor in the M9, and is higher than the newer sensors used in the M240. That means retaining highlights in the image.

    And if you can’t tell,

    https://cameraderie.org/threads/i-dont-like-lossy-image-compression.38716/

    So- some idiot at Leica made the decision to use a truly bad image compression scheme and screw up all the hard work put into this camera by the hardware engineers. They fixed it on the M9, the main reason that I bought it. Then some 5 years ago, Arvid fixed it with the button dance.

    https://m8raw2dng.de/

    • Reply
      Taffy Ledesma
      June 28, 2020 at 3:17 am

      Thanks for sharing this Brian! Indeed the additional step will get more out of the M8. Does this process also improve the OOC B&W (or color) jpegs too?

      • Reply
        Brian Sweeney
        June 28, 2020 at 12:43 pm

        This process only applies to RAW files, has no effect on the OOC JPEG. In this “service mode”, the “.RAW” and Jpeg files are both stored to the SD card. If you are shooting mostly JPEG, are happy with the results- this process adds a number of steps. If you shoot DNG, and do post-processing, having the .RAW puts the M8 on the same level as the M9 for post-processing.

    • Reply
      Simon
      June 28, 2020 at 11:10 am

      Brian….. if only this was easier to use. As a computer user, but non IT person, I tried downloading M8RAW2DNG, but like others found it impossible to get it to work, plus programming the camera every time you turn it on, it a real hasle…

      Its a shame though……,If someone could just make a user friendly piece of software, it would be great. I think its best to just use my M8 like as film camera, and actually, I realize how rarely I actually need high ISO.

      • Reply
        Brian Sweeney
        June 28, 2020 at 1:02 pm

        The software was originally written to run in a DOS window at the command prompt, I’ve not used the Apple version of the code.
        Under Windows 7 and 10, I just copy the file to the SD card and convert everything to .DNG there. I transfer the .DNG files to the computer, process in Lightroom. I use DOS (real-mode) for embedded processors- so easy for me. I’ve just recently converted my custom DNG processing codes to run under a DOS Window.

        I did a write-up of my “work-flow” when this software was introduced. Uploaded to Dropbox if anyone wants to try this. It is for Windows.

        https://www.dropbox.com/s/8e65bpa9afkmmrz/LeicaM8_High_ISO.docx?dl=0

        I use LR6 now, and convert the files on the SD card- but otherwise this is still the process.

    • Reply
      Andrew
      June 29, 2020 at 6:02 pm

      I also used M8RAW2DNG, due to a reference in a previous Hamish article here and what I have read from Brian’s writing on using the program. It’s really good and pulling out a couple more stops from ISO 160 or 320. Just a few more clicks to the process once I figured it out and set it up.

      And I do love using the M8, with the Rollei 40/2.8 you have your basic ~50mm, and with 50/1,5 Sonnar you have your slightly longer setup.

      I just pretend to use the M8 like I’m using slide film and the output usually pleases me.

      Just had to answer Brian because I found his writing very informative and useful.

  • Reply
    Sunny Shah
    June 27, 2020 at 9:42 pm

    Great review!

    I bought my M8 2 years ago with the same feelings you had. Slowly it grew on me and I loved the learning process and it made me appreciate my own decisions more.

    Gotta learn to live with your mistakes, helps you grow!

    • Reply
      Taffy Ledesma
      June 28, 2020 at 3:04 am

      I agree 100%! Immersive Learning 🙂

  • Reply
    Simon
    June 28, 2020 at 11:18 am

    Taffy great review and thank you…… its great to have another M8 review out there……. For me I just like the CCD colours and the fact that I hardly need to edit them out of the camera. For me its been a journey to discover that its the CCD sensor in these cameras I like the most. I loved my Epson Rd-1, the colours, the handling – but what worried me was it suddenly becoming an expensive brick. So I saw a good deal on a M240 and ‘upgraded’ but it lost all the magic. It was heavy and the colours were flat as dull. I know you can edit, but I missed that ‘ccd magic’. So I swapped for the Leica Q which has great was much better…. but fixed lens…. i found limiting. Almost thankfully, my wife also fell in love with using the Q, so its now her camera, and I got an M8….. which I love….. I shoot and I hardly need to process the files at all on lightroom, and I can just enjoy the act of taking photos. I still miss the Epson Rd1 though…

    • Reply
      Taffy Ledesma
      June 28, 2020 at 11:27 am

      Hi Simon! I just offloaded a few files after shooting with the M8 this morning and I’m still smiling! I don’t think I’m going to be able to sell the M8!

  • Reply
    simon
    June 28, 2020 at 12:31 pm

    Hi Taffy…… I don’t think the M9 is necessarily that much better than the M8 in terms of ISO and noticeable image quality – so unless its breaks…. keep it

  • Reply
    Brian Sweeney
    June 28, 2020 at 1:14 pm

    Taffy-
    Beautiful images, and a reminder that a 14 year old camera produces real keepers. I’m glad you’ve fallen in love with it after all these years. Your boy is adorable, and your wife is beautiful. You are lucky.

    I’ve shot the M8 along side the M9 and M Monochrom for 8 years now, and know its strong points. “Way back when” in the 1980s, I used to write the firmware for early digital imagers- and wish I had written it for this camera. I’ll always keep mine, it gets all the cool lenses. Like a Konica 50/1.7 and Pentax 50/1.4 converted to M-Mount.

    • Reply
      Taffy Ledesma
      June 28, 2020 at 1:42 pm

      Thank you, Brian! I do feel fortunate to have them – the wife, the son, and the camera! Cheers!

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