From Steve: Today I have a treat for you guys! A wonderful article on the M8 by Micky Faas, a 21 year old artist living in the Netherlands. This one is heavy on the photos, just how I like it! I hope you enjoy it as well. Micky obviously has loads of fun with her “Hello Kitty” M8 and it shows in her superb photographs. Thanks Micky for the fun and informative article!
Is the Leica M8 a women’s camera?
By Micky Faas
The presumption that photography is a men’s thing should well belong to the past by now. As a female member of a local photography group, I can say that about half of it’s members are actually women and that they are also among it’s most active participants. The one thing where men do have an edge over women, is when it comes to expensive gear. At a retail price of € 3000.-, the M8 really falls into this category. It is also a highly specialized instrument that is only for a very small group . But what the heck. I tried out if could be something for me.
I shall first introduce myself before getting away from the topic to much. I’m a 21 years-old self-taught photographer and painter living in The Netherlands. I do both as a hobby, while study is consuming most of the time. I’m not new to photography though. I’ve been making pictures for several years now, having owned a lot of cameras too, including two digital SLRs with countless lenses (I guess I’m some sort of a collector-type). I make pictures of basically everything and I print them myself. No, my memory isn’t that bad, but I simply LOVE pictures!
Since the time I read about the Leica M8, I’ve been intrigued by the little thing. I liked its minimalistic approach (I guess I’m a purist too) and its nostalgic looks as well. Moreover, I always hated the weight of my current camera, which weighted more without lens, than an M8 with lens attached! Of course, I couldn’t afford it as I was 18 at the time! So well, maybe when I ever get rich…. (which probably won’t happen).
However, when the second-hand prices for the M8 began to sunk, I started to think seriously about the ‘first digital M’. I tried it once at a local dealer (still unable to afford it) and fell immediately in love with it. My father who was with me at the store, instantly declared me nuts (among other things, which I won’t repeat here).
Windmills. Some hate their appearance. I think they make great pictures! M8 + Voigtlander Color Heliar 75/2.5
I few months later though, I responded to an ad from a German guy who was selling off his M8. I decided upon it and the same evening I sent him a whopping € 2000.- without ever seeing the camera. That was about a year’s salary for me! WAS I indeed going crazy? Well, it was definitely among the most stupid things I ever did. I didn’t tell anyone, of course. The man told me that he had sent the camera to me, but nothing happened. Two weeks passed and I had a total nerves breakdown! Oh my….how was I going to explain this? However, finally, after many nights bad sleep, I received the package. I was SO happy! Read on to find out if I still like it that much!
Traditional houses in Northern Holland. M8 + Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar 15/4.5
M8 + Voigtlander Color Heliar 75/2.5
Dutch mill. I didn’t code the 15mm, which gives those awful blue corners. M8 + Super Wide Heliar
If such thing as a handsome-looking camera exists, than the M8 is definitely one. It does away with all the button clutch of DSLRs that make them look like cheap calculators. It also lacks such things as a meaningless handgrip, which is to big for my hands anyway. I really hate those grips and I always thought that it was wasted space until I found out that in most DSLRs, it is where the battery goes – oh well. However, the M8 proves that it really is unnecessary when it comes to ergonomics, because it still holds really pleasant – if not better.
The M8 also has a cute retro look. Well, it isn’t a retro look, because the M8 actually inherits its appearance directly from its ancestors like the M6 – that’s long before my time anyway. This appearance means there’s no shiny plastic, but rather a robust looking metal (that feels so cold in the winter!). There’s also a rubber (or faux leather) strip that is wrapped around the entire camera. It give a nice soft feeling and makes sure the camera won’t slip out of your hands. For the same reason, a thin strap is provided to hang the camera around your neck. It’s definitely not the most handsome part of the kit (black nylon?). It also has some sort of rubber dots at the back that prevent it from slipping off your clothes. That tears the skin in your neck, however. I found it really unpleasant to use and replaced it with a wrist strap.
I doubted long between the silver or the black version of the M8. In the end, I got no choice at all, because I bought it second hand. I think both of them look cute, with the silver one being even more ‘retro’. It’s a pity there’s no silver version of the M9 (which I won’t be able to afford anyway, but still).
The M8 is also a wonderful camera to pimp. If there’s something you dislike about its looks, why not just change it? It easy to change the neckstrap, so that’s one problem less for me. I’ve also seen people put black tape on it in order to make it draw less attention or even change the faux leather with a crocodile print. Personally, I prefer Hello Kitty 🙂 but your mileage may vary. Although the M8 doesn’t fit in a purse, I manage to squeeze it in my coat pocket with a small lens. I keep mine in a small red shoulder bag most of the time, which wasn’t possible with my D200 because it was way too heavy!
Cute yes. Practical nope. I prefer the plain M8. It already looks gorgeous when naked.
Abandoned fishing barn, shot at dawn. M8 + Voigtlander Nokton 35/1.4
For me, the ergonomics of a camera are largely determined by its weight. Luckily, the M8 weighs ‘only’ 580g without a lens. That’s still a lot more than an average compact-camera, but then, it makes much better pictures too! On the other hand, my Nikon D200 almost weights one kilogram. Because the lenses recess deeper into the camera than with a SLR, they can be much smaller too. Lenses such as the Voigtlander 15mm or the 28/3.5 are really tiny beings compared to their SLR equivalents.
These lamas are probably held for their wool. M8 + Voigtlander Color Heliar 75/2.5
Like I said earlier, the M8 has no handgrip. This makes it (for me at least) better to hold than a SLR. It has nice round corners that make it really comfortable in your hand. It feels a lot ‘harder’ than my SLR though, which has some sort of soft rubber all around it. Another drawback of the metal is that it is extremely cold in the winter. When it freezes, you almost can’t get your hands off the thing. However, because of the big (and few) buttons, the M8 is easily usable while wearing gloves.
Winter can be gorgeous at times, but why does it have to be that cold? M8 + Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar 15/4.5
Because the M8 is a manual-focus camera, you always need two hands when operating the camera. This can be a problem sometimes, especially when you want to influence your scene with one hand (here kitty kitty) and take a picture with the other.
With animals you have to be quick, there’s no time for focusing. M8 + Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5
I make my own prints and enlargements with an (rather old) Epson 2100 printer. It can make prints up to 13” wide (A3+). Though it can be expensive at times, I find it really enjoyable to make my own enlargements. With the M8, there’s plenty of detail in the pictures to print even a lot bigger.
There’s already a lot written about the image quality of the Leica M8, so I won’t duplicate all that stuff right here (besides, I don’t feel I have the proper knowledge to do so either). However, I’d like to invalidate some strange myths that I heard about its quality. For example, when I told at my photo group that I had bought an M8, people were surprised and asked why I would spend so much cash on a camera with such a horrible image quality. ‘I though the M8 was a complete failure’ or ‘it’s bad because it’s only 10 megapixel’ they said. I’d like to prove the opposite, however.
Here’s a picture that was shot under ‘studio conditions’ (tripod & flash) with a Voigtlander 75/2.5 Color Heliar. Following, there are three cropped images of 700×500 pixels. One at 100%, one at 200% and one at 400%. The enlargement was done in Adobe Photoshop. The photos were imported from DNGs files from the camera.
BELOW, A 100% CROP
A 200% CROP…
and finally, a 400% crop
Alright, I assume one would print at a typical resolution of 300ppi and that your monitor has a pitch of 96dpi. This means that you’re looking at these crops as if you were looking through a 3x magnifier.
The 100% crop would print to about 13”x9”. Look at the amazing detail of the fabric! You can also see all the tiny bits of texture in the eggs (not shown here). Of course we’d like to print larger than this! The detail, especially at higher ISOs, is much better than my D200 – which also has 10 megapixels. This shows that the amount of megapixels cannot be used as a measurement of quality!
The 200% crop would print to about 26”x 17”. That’s around A2 size I think (bigger than my printer can do). The detail is still magnificent, even when seen from close-up. Remember, you’re looking with a 3x loupe here!
The 400% crop would translate to a size of 52”x34”. That’s a real museum-sized print! The detail starts to look really muddy right now, but it still has an unprocessed, analogue feeling to it. I think I wouldn’t hesitate making a print this big. And again, you’re looking with your 3x magnifier right now! You’re probably going to view a print this big from a larger distance as well.
My conclusion: up to 26”x17”, the M8 is producing excellent prints that leave nothing to be desired. If you want museum sized prints, they will be coarser, but still great. Period. If you want that plastic, grain-less kind of image, you’ll need to look further!
I’ll leave the rest of the pixel-fondling to the tech guys right now 🙂
Having used two different SLR camera’s, I wanted a rangefinder camera for a very specific reason. Before I decided I wanted to buy an M8, I initially went looking for a good compact camera. I tried dozens in the store, but unfortunately none of them pleased me (apart from their low weight). This was mainly due to the lack of an optical viewfinder. I find an LCD insufficient for taking pictures.
SLR vs. phone camera vs. RF? M8 + Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 at 1.5
The viewfinder of an M camera (or any RF-camera) has some special qualities to it that no other camera has. With a SLR, you have a narrow, tunnel-like vision that is limited to the attached lens. An M gives a HUGE bright vision that includes most of your surroundings (the M8 gives the equivalent to a 28mm lens on a SLR). Inside the frame, you see exactly (well, that’s debatable) outlined what portion of the world you’re capturing. You have the feeling that you’re inside the world, instead of looking at it from a distance. I find that this unique experience of photographing isn’t offered by any other type of camera.
It was HOT here. Without an IR-filter, the coals would have been white. M8 + Voigtlander Nokton 35/1.4
Of course, a rangefinder won’t let you use long telephoto lenses, which can be a pity some times (I like to shoot animals!). You’ll always have to use a SLR to these things, which is why I kept mine with only one lens 🙂
One type of photography I’ve been discovering lately, is taking pictures of people while they don’t notice (yes, that’s pretty much called street-photography). These portraits usually come out more natural and spontaneous than a posed picture.
I definitely don’t want to end up in a suit like this. M8 + Voigtlander Nokton 50/1.5 at 1.5
I’ve been surprised by possibility of being unnoticed when using the M8. Because of its small size and sober design, it doesn’t draw nearly as much attention as an SLR does. On the other hand, the M8 isn’t a quiet camera. Even with the ‘silent-mode’ enabled, it still produces a fair amount of sound when pressing the shutter release. When it gets noticed though, people tend not to take it that seriously. Or maybe they don’t take ME seriously? Well, for most people, it looks like a cheap compact camera. Now that’s a real advantage!
I find it sometimes scary to photograph people without asking them, but the results can be so rewarding. In this case, it’s just my mom and our dog…
In the dark
I have always liked shooting pictures with as low light as possible. I know that the M8 has a reputation of not quite being the perfect low-light camera. It’s actually far from that. However, it’s about one ‘stop’ better then my D200 and with a good lens, I can’t complain. In low light I use both the Voigtlander ‘Nokton’ 50/1.5 and the ‘Ultron’ 28/1.9. I really love these lenses as they give such beautiful images. I especially like the blurring of the background that these lenses give at bigger apertures. Steve will agree with me 🙂 (Oh yes, I do!..Steve)
My grandma posed for this one, albeit a little unwillingly. Taken at ISO 1250 1/30s
Well, as you’ll probably know, the M8 isn’t a camera that everyone will appreciate. That is largely due to it’s high price, but also because it is such a specialized instrument. That’s why I can’t really answer the title question, but for me, it’s the best camera I’ve ever owned.
How the M8 changed my style of photography? Well, a lot I think. Because of it’s smaller weight, I tend to take it with me much more often. It also inspires me to try other types of photography as well, such as portrait photography which I didn’t try earlier (people tend to hate my big Nikon flash). The image quality combined with the wonderful Voigtlander lenses I have (I know Leicas would have been even better), simply give so much fun that it is hard to put it away. Lastly, because of its manual operation, it really slows you down. This can be frustrating at times when you miss a shot because of the lack of auto focus, but it can also force you to think more about your decisions. Although that won’t make you a better photographer right away, in the end it does lead to better pictures.
It’s a pity that it’s still a very expensive camera, haha 🙂
4s exposure in almost complete darkness, I love the star-shapes in the lights!
- Size and weight
- The huge viewfinder
- The style of focusing, even if it’s manual
- Images are gorgeous
- It looks so cute 🙂
- It’s plain fun to use!
- It’s loud
- I want ISO 100,000!!
- It’s SO expensive
- Silly dust keeps getting onto the sensor 🙁
- One tends to want more and more lenses for it
Valves of an old steam train. M8 + Voigtlander Nokton 35/1.4
Train interior. M8 + Voigtlander Nokton 35/1.4
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