My Time With the wonderful Leica M8.2
By Justin Halim
Hello everyone! I’m a long-time reader of Steve’s site and I’d like to share my experiences with the most influential digital camera I ever owned – the Leica M8.2. I really can’t describe just how excited I am to write this post, as nothing I am about to write about would ever have happened if not for Steve’s site.
First some background:
A few years ago, I was starting to really get into photography with my new Canon T2i. I loved that thing and was shooting mainly macro and still life, just learning the basics about exposure. However, one day I was rummaging around and happened to find a Leica M6 and 50mm Summicron (in perfect condition) in my father’s cabinet. He had completely forgot he had it, so he gave it to me. I had always heard about Leica and its status, so I couldn’t have been happier, or luckier for that matter. After putting a few rolls of film put through it, I was in love.
Fast-forward a couple of years; I was finishing my sophomore year of high school. The M6 had followed me everywhere, but it was getting difficult to justify the cost of shooting primarily film (I didn’t have a job), and using the Canon just wasn’t the same after using the Leica. So, I began toying with the idea of a digital M to get the best of both worlds – the convenience of digital, and the experience of shooting a Leica rangefinder. I researched the M9, and was immediately turned away by the price ($6000 at the time). Discouraged by the M9, I looked into the M Monochrom, thinking a B&W camera would be cheaper (I was pretty naïve). Let’s just say I was disappointed once again. I had never felt so discouraged, until one day I remembered that, numerically speaking, there must have been an M8!
With newfound hope, I did more research, but was again discouraged to find countless reviews bashing the M8, particularly for its “lack of features.” I lost hope of ever owning a digital Leica. But one day, I found Steve’s site, which had many glowing reviews of the M8. As I read them, I began to realize that these were the first “real-world” reviews I had found of the M8, from real photographers, and not some clinical spec chart from pixel peepers. And every single one of those reviews praised the M8 for its unique shooting experience, which was exactly what I wanted. However, what really sold me were the pictures taken with it, which looked so much like the images I took with my M6. Now I had my mind set on an M8.
So over the summer before junior year, I got a job and worked 60 hours/week to save up for an M8, which was a much more realistic $2000. By the end of the summer, I had saved enough not only for the M8, but an M8.2, which I found for a great price. I also managed to scrape enough for a Voigtlander 15mm 4.5 II (for landscapes) and Voigtlander 35mm 1.2 II (general purpose), to accompany my 50 Summicron (for portraits).
I won’t go too in-depth with this, as just about every other M8 (and every other M) review covers this, but this was perhaps the most solid and attractive camera I have ever owned, aside from my M6. Compact, sturdy, and beautiful. I had the M8.2 black version, which adds the sapphire screen, black paint, and quieter shutter. The M8.2 just exudes stealth and beauty. No one would see or hear me shooting with it, which made it the perfect street photography/candid camera. If people did notice it, they were always intrigued by it and loved having their pictures taken (Leicas are a surprisingly good way to make friends). One especially nice quality was how clear the rangefinder was, which was much brighter than the one in my M6. But what was most important was how surprisingly versatile the M8 was. With the 15mm Heliar, the M8 makes an astounding landscape/architecture camera – the rangefinder is especially useful when using ND filters since the viewfinder doesn’t black out when filters are mounted, which can be a problem for SLRs.
The M8 practically introduced me to street, portrait, and landscape photography. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you Leica M’s are not practical cameras – I used the M8 for just about everything except video and macro, and got much better results than with any other DSLR I used, as well as having a lot more fun.
Picking up an M8 after using the M6, I felt almost no difference. The M8 is astoundingly similar to a film camera in both look and feel. At its heart is the infamous CCD sensor that records in that unique, Leica-film way. Even with the luxury of unlimited digital frames, I still found myself being picky about which shots I took, taking around the same number of shots as with a film camera. Anyone who writes about M cameras mentions their zen-like experiences, and as much of a cliché as it must be at this point, I just have to emphasize this – THE M8 HAS SOUL. It’s indescribable, and it can’t be put in a spec chart, but it is there, and it makes all the difference. It’s why we put up with manual focus, manual exposure, and limited focal lengths. With the M8, there is nothing between the subject and how I portray it. And that’s what makes the M8 so versatile, just set your exposure and take the picture – no distractions, no worries or second-guesses, just confident shooting – just like with film. I take the picture, not the camera.
Of course there were many “issues” brought up by others – 10MP, no IR filter, poor low-light capabilities, and low-resolution screen. Honestly, I hardly noticed them:
· – 10 MP is more than enough for me, and if anything, it forces me to get the composition right the first time around to avoid cropping later.
· – The lack of an IR filter was never a problem – Leica gives two free IR/UV filters with every M8, even if it’s pre-owned. But having no IR filter has its perks too: the M8, with decent glass, is blindingly sharp, and makes for a fantastic B&W and IR camera.
· – The poor high ISO performance did get to me sometimes. The M8 really maxed out at ISO 640, but could be pushed to 1250 if it was in B&W. To avoid extreme post-production noise, you really have to nail the exposure at higher ISO’s. However, my Voigtlander 35mm 1.2 (a fantastic lens) solved all my problems.
· – The low-res screen is a very overrated “problem,” even for the M9 I suppose. It’s perfect for working the menus, and it gives a decent view for image playback. But the M8 is so much like a film camera that I often wouldn’t even look at the image playback.
· – In my experience, one could easily learn to work around the M8’s supposed issues, and, if anything, become a better photographer in the end. To anyone wanting to get into a digital Leica system, the M8 is still a great choice even 8 years after being released.
I had the M8 for a little over a year, and I took it everywhere – out into the sands of the Jersey Shore, into the bustling streets of New York City, into the festive alleys of Barcelona, and into the rainy, overcrowded streets of Shanghai and Beijing. I used it to photograph all my family events, and even used it for the school yearbook. Unfortunately, I sold it because my neck strap broke and the camera fell, which ended up damaging the shutter. When I got it back from repairs the circuit board failed and it wouldn’t turn on. I sent it back again, but decided it wasn’t worth keeping anymore. I sold it and moved onto a Canon 6D and a Hasselblad 500CM, as I needed a video camera and wanted to try medium format. But that doesn’t change the fact that an entire year of memories was recorded, quite beautifully, by my M8. To this day I still regret selling it – when it worked, there really was nothing that could compare to it. While I’m only a teen with limited experience, I definitely learned more than I ever thought I could with my M8, and that makes it all worth it.
Now I am saving up for the day I can purchase an M9.
Thank you everyone for reading, and thank you Steve for letting me write for your awesome site!