Sunday, November 05, 2006


Leica M8 - finally shipping, some thoughts

This much hyped digital rangefinder camera body from Leica with M-Mount and 10MP CCD based 1.3 field of view crop sensor has finally begun to hit the streets, and the new users are wasting no time posting their first photos on photo forums, and picture hosting sites.

Several reviews on this new camera have been posted on the following, covering the good, bad, and ugly points:

I have been reviewing the first impressions of the initial owners, and am also looking at many of the photos taken by users from production M8 cameras. Although I own 2 Leica film cameras, and have owned over a dozen digital cameras since 1995, I am not impressed with the M8's value, or the quality of photos that are coming from this first digital offering from Leica. To me it seems like an expensive piece of jewelry, whose function of taking a decent 10MP image could easily be rivalled or surpassed by digital point and shoots, and DSLRs costing one tenth the price.
Here are the basic features of the ~$5000 USD Leica M8 camera body:

A rangefinder coupled body, similar in size and looks to Leica's previous film based rangefinders avalable in black or chrome, with the ability to mount most all previous M-Mount Leica and 3rd party lens. Previously only the 18 month old Epson RD-1 6MP camera was able to utilize these lenses with a 6MP digital sensor.

The M8 sports a 10 Megapixel Kodak CCD sensor, with a 1.3 field of view crop factor. This means that the sensor is smaller than a 35mm 24x36mm negative size, so lenses from previous Leica M cameras will give a 33% longer focal distance than when used on a film based Leica. In other words, a 50mm Leica M lens gives a 67mm equivalent 35mm field of view, and a 35mm lens will a 47mm field of view, so previous "wide angle" lens, have now become "normal" lenses, and "normal" lenses have now become slightly "telephoto" sized. This means that most M8 uses will need to purchase an ultra-wide lens to use with their M8 if they want to have a "wide angle" lens.

Ability to save files and 10MP compressed JPGs or in the DNG raw format, bundled with Capture One LE software. Uses SD cards, proprietary lithium ion batteries.

The ISO sensitivity equivalents for this camera are odd, instead of the usual 100 to 3200, with 200, 400, 800, and 1600 in-between, the M8 provides 160, 320, 640, 1250, and 2500. Perhaps this was to avoid direct noise comparisons with other cameras. Reviews already indicate that the sensor is noisier than that found in the Canon 5D, although 3rd party noise reduction programs have been recommended.

I think that within 12 months, this camera will be seriously outdated by all but the hardest core Leica rangefinder fans who want Leica lens interchangeability. I think better alternatives for this type of camera might be the point and shoots including the Ricoh GR-D with fixed lens and 6MP sensor, reviewed here by dpreview:

or the upcoming Sigma DP1 with fixed 28mm (35mm equivalent) lens, and 14MP sensor coming out later in the year, announcement by dpreview here:

Or if one can tote a slightly larger sized DSLR camera, which of course is not the target market for the M8, I think any of the entry level 10+MP offerings from Nikon, Canon, Pentax, and others will take better photos, at a significantly lower price, and have more affordable lenses available.

It will be interesting to watch the early adoption of the M8, and the photos it produces.

I must admit, I haven't even paid attention to the m8 samples, since I have no interest in getting one. But is the noise increase vs. the 5D proportional to the sensor size difference? Or is it disproportionately high?
Hi Allan, thanks for checking this site out. I don't really know the answer but I based my statement on the noise comparison images with the 5D side by side images on the luminous site.

I did not take into consideration the sensor size, which is a good point you bring up, but will be difficult to isolate, since I have read that the Kodak CCD may have been tweaked for usage in the M8.

Other variables with noise are the amount of suppression applied by the firmware, or in many newer digicam models, user defined levels of noise suppression.

I know that several vendors, at least with certain models or firmware releases, have been critisized by review sites like dpreview for over doing the noise suppression.

Dpreview for example has x-y graphs comparing different digicams for chroma channel and RGB noise levels at various ISO equilvalents.

They regularly make note that on certain Lumix models (LX1 and LX2), the noise suppression is too high, giving up sharpness at some levels, while working at other levels.

Also the Pentax *ist series went through some revisions where due to user feedback, they backed off on noise reduction. I don't know if their modifications were in the sensor or associated hardware, or purely firmware changes.

If one is using only a raw workflow, then the 3rd party (or maybe included) tools may possibly work very well, but I at currently biased at evaluating the in-camera processing (JPG) output.

It's interesting to note that a few P&S's actually output raw and even tif -- LX1 (tif and raw), LX2 (raw), Powershot S70 (raw, but removed in S80 :( but S80 got a 28mm wide lens ?!).

Watch for future reviews on P&S ramblings here. I really want a 28mm wide, which I've identified about 10 models of (4 Lumixes), the Powershot S80, etc., but also want great low light performance like the Fuji F30. Can a balance be found??
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