Still enjoying my Leica M8 By Jochen Utecht

Still enjoying my Leica M8

By Jochen Utecht

Dear Steve,

It has been a while since you published my latest “inspirational” email ( This time I would like to share a few images taken with my Leica M8, which I love and hate at the same time. If I had to decide which camera to keep, it would be the Fujifilm X100s. But the M8 is capable of outstanding quality. It only is a slow and quirky device, which sometimes is a good thing.

You can hardly push the ISO beyond 640. There is too much noise showing up. Focusing often takes too much time for snapshots. But prefocusing can make looking through the viewfinder obsolete. Compared to the X100 it is a heavy piece of metal. But it feels soo good!

I don´t have Leica lenses, because I am by no means rich if money matters. But I could get hold of a few nice lenses second hand:
Voigtländer 21/4, VC 15/4.5, Minolta 28/2.8 and Minolta 40/2.0. The Minolta´s are the same in quality as Leica glass. And the 15/4.5 is fantastic. Very sharp lens. I use the 21 and the 28 most of the time.

Usually I shoot RAW (DNG). The wide-angle lenses from Voigtländer get a treatment with CornerFix first. Then I develop a bit with Photoshop (Camera Raw). After that I go into Picasa and make some adjustments to the jpg´s. (First I try the I´m-feeling-lucky-button) That works well enough for me at least.

VC 21/4, edited in PS (correction of converging lines)


They don´t earn much money, but are really childloving people.
Minolta 28mm/2.8, prefocused image.


The forbidden city is always a joy to walk around. I usually hate images taken from behind. They are cowardish and mostly don´t say anything than that the photographer was there and didn´t have the guts to ask for permission. But sometimes you cannot do anything else and the picture still works.
VC 21/4.


The same goes for this one. This Panorama was also with the 21/4. I stitched it from 6 portait-style images. There is barely any distortion in the VC21/4, so PS didn´t have problems putting it together. I don´t mind that some people appear as doublettes. Next time I might bring a tripod and blur the people.

Pano_Verbotene Stadt copy

First of all I asked for permission to take a picture of these beauties. After a posing picture was taken they immediately went back to watching their smartphones and I could capture the scene I had been seeing before.
Minolta 28/2.8


Sometimes you get nice results if you hand the M8 to a stranger to have your picture taken. This was on the first of May. I even had to tell that chinese fellow which button to press, but made the settings prior to handing the camera over. It would have been a fun pic if my face had been replacing Mao. I will try that next time. That might not be possible with a rangefinder camera though.
VC 21/4


I hope you enjoyed the pictures and if you don´t want to show all 6 pictures, feel free to choose three of them.

Thanks, Jochen

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  1. You think every street photographer that does not ask the people for permission is a coward ? hmmmm …
    I would think that it is essential not to get in contact with your subject and shoot without them knowing that you take a picture. i know it is against law in a few countries but street photography does not work any other way.

    • I am not a street photographer. But maybe I am if I make photographs of people in the streets?
      I only don´t like (to take) pictures from behind. They don´t mean anything to me. No face, no expression. But I regularly photograph people without them knowing to preserve the situation.
      Everyone has to see and find out for him/herself.

  2. Excellent photos Peterm -no need for new camera gear ! – I have heard the Fuji Xpro is a pain to focus manually but I have no experience with the camera just what guys I know have told me -a few people I know have traded them in for various cameras ? not sure what they ended up with !-maybe have a look at the new Sony?
    I agree with you that the M240 is the” mature ” camera in the Leica line up. Steve did a very fair review of it some time ago is which he indicated the same general idea.
    I would wait a get an M240 but I am a rangefinder nut ! whose favorite Leica M is the Monochrom a camera I feel Leica should continue to develop as it is a brilliant concept which will always appeal to the Mono shooter rangefinder types .
    Either way keep shooting and please post a selection of your work for us to enjoy.

    Best Wishes

  3. Further to my comments above. I certainly do not wish to detract from anyone else’s enjoyment of this camera. But I believe that anyone contemplating buying an M8 should enter into these things with their eyes wide open. (Appropriate since this is photography we are talking about – ha ha). I think at least part of my disappointment stems form the fact that I had expectations that turned out in the event to be unreasonable for a first generation camera by a small boutique company. It is only with the M9 and now the M that these issues are being addressed and a fully mature camera that deserves the name Leica is being made (IMHO). My disappointment in turn was generated by the fact that I owned and shot film Ms and found that the M8 is not really comparable with those cameras which were a delight to use. But my film shooting days are long gone and I no longer will shoot film as my workflow is now dedicated to digital. So I must commit to digital one way or the other.

    I fully acknowledge that wonderful shots can be gained with this camera. But the sad thing is that the compromises in using the camera so impinge on this that they are the exception not the rule. For me at least. Maybe not for others. You have to decide.

    In case you doubt that I have gotten some reasonably nice shots I have posted my link to my M8 “album” on Flickr. But these are way in the minority. Most of my shots on Flickr nowadays are shot with a DSLR or maybe an M4/3 camera. One thing I am considering is the purchase of a Fuji X Pro 1 for my Leica M lenses (several Leica lenses and some Voigtlander ones) to see how well that goes………………..

    My Flickr album for my M8 shots

    My general Flickr shots (photostream)

    Many of these that are not in the above album, I would have loved to have taken with my M8. Sadly it is not so as I just could not have gotten most of these. c’ est la vie. Incidentally I mainly shoot color nowadays. I started out shooting in black and white almost exclusively but found that I enjoyed color too much, so monochrome is now the exception not the rule.But its not run of the mill every day color – I post process in an attempt to get that little extra something in the richness of the color..

    • I’ve been using 16-bit Raw mode and M8RAW2DNG since November, find it preserves shadow detail much better than DNG-8.Yesterday, took the M8 out to the Marine Museum in Quantico, Virginia- set to Base ISO and -3EV compensation for an ISO 1250 equivalent. Used a 1952 Minolta Chiyoko 5cm f2 lens for this FLICKR album.[email protected]/sets/72157645039735000/

      Processed in Photoshop CS2, Auto-Levels + some quick corrections using “Curves”.

      • Hi Lens Hacker thanks for that. I have looked a couple of times at M8RAW2DNG but having red the instructions several times and determining that it reads like another language I have not even tried. In short for mere mortals who are not computer types its far too complex to even contemplate using. (And I regard myself as being reasonably literate in this respect). If someone would create executables to install and run it that would be great. Otherwise its an unrealizable dream.

        • If Steve’s interested, I could probably put up a short “how to”. I did not write the software, but have used it. At this point, I simply copy the files to disk and run the command line “m8raw2dng -c”.after that, Lightroom recognizes the DNG files that are created.

  4. Thanks for your input Karim -sorry to hear about your issues with the M8 and thanks for that timely reminder about the image quality as per Steve’s test. The vital thing for any prospective M8 purchaser to do is to be aware of the possible issues that may be present on the camera as not all sellers are going to be as honest as you were. Check the camera out !

    Using non Leica lenses I consider a bonus but I would try to get my hands on an old Leica lens or a cheaper Summarit than consider a VC or Rokkor. You could of course add an exotic to your collection later on. That 90mm Summicron you have is supposed to be superb -but if portraits and short tele is your thing -I have a 75mm Summarit (100mm on M8) that is excellent as is the 90mm Summarit apparently.

    Best starter lens for the M8 is supposed to be the 28mm Elmarit 2.8 though I once had a Zeiss ZM 28mm 2.8 which was heavier but was an excellent lens.

    I used to shoot Jazz concerts on my old M6 and used to use ISO 1600 Neopan black and white film using a 135mm f2.8 Elmarit (the one with the goggles) . Results were good but focus was difficult. Is this the lens you have? It would be a 180mm lens on the M8 and uses the 90mm frame lines on the M8.
    I would like to hear about your experiences with this lens?
    Mine was not a a stellar lens though for concerts with an M9 or M240 -the lens might be very useful as it can be acquired reasonably cheap.
    So bearing the above in mind perhaps this lens may increase in value?

    Best Wishes

    • Fergus, I have seen this lens on eBay ranging from about $400 to over $1,000. It was a bit cheaper before the M8 was released. Yes, it´s the one with the goggles, but I can´t tell you about my experiences with it because I have sadly never used it. I will be testing it with a Sony NEX camera eventually, though. And as I said above, I think I might buy an M8 – a good one, this time!

      FWIW, Ken Rockwell considers the Zeiss 28/2.8 ZM as good as the Leica. I believe him! I recently bought a Canon 135/3.5 LTM, though I have not used that, either. I can´t use it on an M8 (or the Voigtlanders) but it´s usable on just about everything else. I think that the 90/2 is necessary on the M8 and M9, but on the M240 I think you could use a Summarit or Elmarit and still be ahead in image quality despite the one-stop gap.

      I have noticed that the M system is amazingly good for live music (though not theatre). The lack of 300mm+ lenses is almost irrelevant.

  5. Jochen, thanks for sharing your story. I had an M8 once but the focus was out and the sensor had a flaw so I sold it not long after I bought it. (NB: when I sold it, I was honest about all the flaws – as we all should be – and I still got 80% of the amount I paid for it!)

    I still might buy one (a good example) and try again (I have a few M lenses from the VC 21/4 to the 135/2.8).

    For what I shoot most of the time, the M8 isn’t quite ideal. However, I did take the M8 and 90 Summicron to a live music venue. Sadly, this was soon after I bought the camera and the previous owner didn’t tell me that the battery was tired and that the focus was off. I also didn’t have time to buy an IR cut filter.

    Still, I managed to take a few decent shots before switching to my trusty NEX for the next two acts. I think I shot at ISO 1250, 1/30 and f/2.0. The crop factor was helpful and the 90mm was just long enough. I found that the colour was great and the noise was not too bad.

    The M8 is an underrated camera. I dismissed it for years before realizing how good it was. Steve Huff himself shows how sharp the images are compared to a camera with a more Mpx:

    Look at the 100% crops. And this is ‘only’ a 10Mpx sensor!

    The CCD is not as flexible as the CMOS in the M240, but it still has its strengths. I did a test that shows how to expose for the shadows and bring down the highlights in post. The post is not too long and there are links to a couple of DNGs from the camera:

    The basic point I made was that you can set compensation to -3, and with that, expose for the shadow areas of the scene. I found it a bit safer to do this rather than use base ISO and expose for the highlights, but I cannot remember everything I did. If I get another M8 or an M9 I’ll do more experimenting.

    A final word: if you are responsible for a job, it’s better to have two cameras than one. So, maybe two M8’s are better than one M9 for the same cost. A compromise could be one of each. But here is an interesting proposition: slower (and cheaper) lenses with an M9 or M240; or faster (and more expensive) lenses with an M8?

  6. Hi just a few words in response to Peterm’s comments regarding the M8. I have used an M6 previously and did not find any major differences when using my current M8. OK- I know some people have had the issues that he refers to in his post but I must say I have had zero issues with my M8 and I use it and do not pamper it.I have a thin plastic protector on the screen and IR filters on both my lenses. I would like the shutter to be a bit more like the M6 but that is all.
    I think Leica were trying to make a minimalist digital camera like the film M6 so they would not scare off their “traditionalist” market too much. Perhaps they should have gone full speed ahead and done something like the M240 with CMOS sensor, live view,focus peaking,video,and slr type visoflex viewing as well! The problem is that might have alienated some people?
    I know some Leica shooters who by the way are neither rich nor are they street photographers ! -most have M9’s and one or two have M8’s some still use their film Leicas and none that I know of have had issues with anything except not being able to afford a new Summilux -join the club!
    As a former film camera user I’m sure Peterm knows that the ISO range in the M8 is a HOMAGE to the old film days of Portra and TRI-X (as photogs used to rate it).
    I will say two things that are almost universally agreed about the M8 -it produces excellent files at base ISO and produces wonderful tonality in Black and White conversions. Jochen have added a further bit of positive news -it can be used to advantage with some vintage lenses including OLD Minolta lenses.
    I would not recommend it for rangefinder enthusiasts as they would be better off trying to get an M9 or an M240 and be done with it- unless of course they can get a really good deal.

    Best Wishes

  7. Hi the M8 really works great at base ISO and I think of mine as a film camera so am used to low ISO . I think you have produced some nice pictures above and beyond normal tourist shots more like travel photography. Love the photo of the people in the tunnel with the white hats contrasting with the darkness. So your next camera will be an M9 -no just kidding no need for a next camera !

    • Thanks for the compliments. And I really don´t know. The M9 is EXPENSIVE. More so the M240.
      Some of my pictures are good regardless of the camera I use, be it Nikon, Leica or Fuji. Some are not, so I don´t show them around.

  8. Hi
    Read your comments on the M8 with much interest. You dont often find people still using it.
    I used the M8 for 2 years and soled it for the M9 only because of the Full frame.
    I loved the camera and had some great pics taken with it. Until today it is a great camera for street photography .
    I dont agree with the saying: Voightlander lenses are as good as Leica lenses, they are good but not as agood as…..
    As for focusing. It ‘s either you like rangefinders or not. If it is hard for you to focus get a DSLR
    The M240 has the same focus
    I did like your first b/w photo
    I did not like the others. Sorry my friend

    • That´s fair enough, you don´t have to like them.
      I did refer to the Minolta lenses, not the Voigtländer, though they´re not bad.
      Focusing with a DSLR is not easy either. (I have a D7000 as well) I wish it had a split matte screen like the FM2 or AE1 which is manual focusing heaven to me.

  9. I am glad you enjoy yours but I am afraid I really struggle to enjoy mine. It just has too many flaws and compromises especially by comparison with Leica film Ms. Here is a short list of the principle flaws as I see them.
    – The finder is small and pokey by comparison with either film Ms or the M9. The image viewed through it is tiny tiny tiny making it hard to focus, focus, focus. For someone like me with aging eyes this is a serious barrier.
    – The mechanism of having screw in diopter adjustment lenses is primitive at best and its both hard and expensive to find the right lens for a person’s eyes (especially if your eyesight continues to change over time necessitating investment in new diopter lenses).
    – The shutter button is poor both in terms of operation and the sound of the shutter. The button feels a bit gritty by comparison with the film Ms – one of the joys of using them was the lovely silky feel of the shutter which was both quiet and smooth to operate making it feel like a piece of high class equipment. The shutter button half stop on the M8, which is supposed to lock exposure using a half press is so indistinct that its virtually unusable – usually I end up pressing too softly (and half stop does not work) or too hard which fires the shutter before I am ready.
    – The sensor is also primitive – more primitive than any sensor I have used before on any camera I have owned. Leica Ms are supposed to be superb at low light and existing light photography but the crappy sensor which produces bucket loads of ugly color noise in anything but perfect lighting ruins this and effectively limited shots to ISO 640 or below. (Incidentally why this weird range of ISO settings that NO other camera uses?) The sensor is also exceedingly poor in terms of dynamic range which further limits the ability of the camera to make good images in existing light.
    – The rangefinder is strangely inclined to get out of whack from time to time and require adjustment. Believe me I baby y cameras they get the rolls royce treatment and never get bumped or banged. But have a look at the internet by Googling “M8 rangefinder adjustment”. There are hundreds if not thousands of posts on the subject. I have had this problem too – with the camera seeming to produce front or back focus at a whim. And the cost of having it adjusted from time to time is not cheap. I think it was Dante Stella who acknowledged this problem as being particularly bad with digital Ms when lenses were changed out frequently.
    -This problem adds further to the other problem noted above with the viewfinder which results in lots of fooling about to find focus, lots of missed focus and lots of missed shots either because the camera is too slow to focus or because focus was incorrect when the shot was made. By comparison with an M lens on say a Sony NEX with focus peaking the Leica M8 is like using something from the 12th century.
    – The LCD is also about the most primitive I have used. It is good for viewing the menu but as for viewing images its a big steaming pile of cow poo. Try using it outside when the sun is shining brightly (as it must be to get an image) and you will see what I mean.

    I have experienced problems with all of the above and have to say I am really very very disappointed with the M8. I was asked the other day by my camera guy if I would be prepared to trade it for an M9 he has. I have to say I would not. In fact I really think that I would not buy a Leica M anymore. It is not easy for me to say this as I have been a Leica shooter for perhaps 25 years.

    This is not to say that I cannot get good images with the camera. I can but its rather that I simply do not find the process enjoyable as its too much hard work and too many compromises when I compare it to the joy I used to have shooting with Leica film Ms.

    • The finder is exactly the same as the M9 and M Monochrom, not “small and pokey”. The frame lines are smaller, because the lenses have narrower field of view.

      Want a similar framing experience to an M9 with a 50mm? Use the M8 with a 35mm lens.

      • Never the less by comparison with film Ms the M8 finder is difficult to use especially if one’s eyes are less than perfect as are mine. If you doubt me try it. The M8 has a finder magnification of 0.68. This is far less than perfect for many users and one presumes was done to provide for 28mm finder lines which are on the outer part of the finder.

        • Invest in a 1.25x magnifier. I have the Leica and”Chinese Ebay” version. The latter works just as well, produces a crisp image, and was under $100.

  10. Most importantly – excellent shots! The orange workers with the child and hammer is great. I also like the men in hats walking through the gate.

    For daylight shooting, ISO 640 or less is fine! My old Olympus EP-2 was the same. It’s when the sun goes down that you need to grab something else.

    I also live in East Asia, and it’s nice to shoot a small camera for security reasons. DSLRs draw way too much attention, especially in urban China or SE Asia. But most people think my X100S is a cheap old film camera and nobody looks twice 🙂

  11. Nice share goes to show it’s more than the equipment, also nice work in being able to hand off the camera and get a usable shot from it. What in particular makes the m8 frustrating, other than your ISO reference?

    • Peterm below lists the flaws with lots of words better than I can. Only I didn´t have to get the focus of my M8 be aligned so far. Well, I don´t have f=1.4 lenses.
      My DSLR gives far more misfocused shots as it wanders forth and back while recomposing.

  12. Your experiences are similar to mine that I had in my first visit to China in ’06. Your shots are just plain fun. I like the B & W, and your shots of people. Now that I have a Leica M, I want to go back!

    Best regards, Jim Fowler

  13. You know Jochen at base iso and that’s what I mostly shoot, and I have a Lux 50 permanently attached I still have not seen better images produced.

    • I fully agree. Never seen better photographs than with the M 8 at low ISO.

      There is a clear tendency that newer designs with higher ISO are no longer very
      good at the lower end of the ISO range.
      Example: I also have a Canon D 5 Mk.II. Which I am going to keep as the Mk.III
      loses out at low ISO.
      As a rule: for every ISO-step which is added on top of the possible ISO spectrum,
      you lose quality at the lower end.
      The latest Sony A 7s has only mixed ISO 100/200 qualities, there is a fine layer of
      noise over every single photograph.
      The whole ISO-Mania has no physical foundation. Nothing new has been invented,
      the sensor technique stagnates since years, apart from some small steps.

      • I think that you’re mostly right. Those medium format digital backs (and of course the CCD Leicas) look so good because they are clean at low ISO. Okay, they suck at high ISO but that is not why you buy them.

  14. Beautiful photos Jochen, they really ilustrate the atmosphere .
    Have you been to the palace of heaven, my favourate place in Beijing.
    Thanks for sharing


  15. Greetings

    Lovely photographs and comments too.

    Despite the issues you describe with the camera, you still managed to capture a few moments that say a lot, which at the end of the day, is the purpose of the photograph, to document and illustrate what you have seen. Excellent job.

    Thanks for posting

    All the best


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