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100 in 100/IV Look under the hood of the first digital Leica rangefinder camera
100 in 100: Day 32
Today we continue with our week of high-end reviews and tours with a guided tour of the unique Leica M8.
The Leica M8 at a glance
• Unique: Leica's first digital rangefinder camera
• Manual and Aperture Priority Metering
• Records DNG Raw & JPEG
• 10MP sensor
• Compatible with all Leica M-mount lenses
• Lens focal length compensation 1.33x
• Illuminated rangefinder lines for 28, 35, 50, 75, 90mm lenses
• Each lens 35mm equivalent is 1 full size higher (28mm=35mm, 35mm=50mm, etc.)
• Quiet shutter
Best Suited For
• Documentary photography
• Street photography
• Any candid photography
Not Recommended For
Read Our Field Report, Lab Test and view our Portfolio of street photos shot with the M8!
As you'll see in this tour of the M8, the camera bears a striking resemblance to its film siblings until you look at its back. That's when it becomes distinctly digital.
In keeping with the M-series tradition, the M8's control array is relatively simple and clasically Leica. The most frequently-used controls--aperture and shutter speed--are on dials on the lens (aperture) and on the top plate (shutter speed) next to the shutter release. The shutter speed dial is clickable in half-stop increments, so you could set it to 1/500 sec, 1/250 sec, or split the difference by leaving it in between the two settings for 1/360 sec. Note that the flash sync speed is a zippy 1/250 second! (On the M8.2, oddly, it's 1/180 sec.)
The shutter release looks much like a typical Leica M release, but is missing the film winder! Holding the camera without the winder may take some getting used to, and Leica has introduced an optional handgrip that gives you a bit more to hold on to. Surrounding the shutter release is the on/off switch, which also lets you choose between single and continuous (burst) modes, and self-timer. (You can set the self-timer's wait time in the menus.)
In the center of the top plate is the flash hot shoe. Leica has dropped the PC outlet, so you can only use compatible flash units such as the Leica SF-24D TTL. The left side of the top plate has a small circular LCD that displays the number of shots remaining on your SD or SDHC memory card, plus a batter life indicator.
Turn the camera upside down and take off the bottom plate by turning the lock counterclockwise and lifting it off. For film M-series users, this is a familiar feature but if you've never used a Leica before, you may find this a bit odd. However, when you remove the bottom plate it reveals the battery and memory card compartments!
To replace the bottom plate, simply hook it over the small extruding tab on the left bottom corner of the camera, then turn the lock clockwise. It's a snug fit.
Back of camera
The M8's viewfinder, as with all previous M8s, has a brite-view finder, with illuminated borders indicating the edges of the frame (see illustration, left). These are set auotmatically when you mount the lens. The M8 uses a smaller sensor, so each lens's angle of coverage is a bit smaller than on a 35mm film camera. Fortunately, Leica made sure that the multiplication factor bumps you up to the next standard focal length. So, a 25mm lens becomes a 28mm, a 28mm becomes a 35mm, a 35mm becomes a 50mm, etc. The lines in the viewfinder mark off each lens's smaller sensor angle of coverage.
Look through the viewfinder and you'll notice at the bottom the current shutter speed (if you're using aperture priority metering) or a dot, or an arrow. A right-facing arrow indicates underexposure; a left-facing arrow means overexposure. Turn the aperture ring and/or shutter speed dial until you see a dot. That indicates the correct exposure. This illustration shows how it works:
While the front, top and bottom of the M8 ooze Leica-ness, the back looks more like a typical digital camera.
To the left of the 2.5-inch LCD monitor are five buttons:
Play plays back recorded images. When in Play, press the Info button to see the photo on its own, or with exposure and histogram information. Press the Delete button to delete the photo you're viewing. In order to confirm a delete, you need to also press the Set button.
Protect prevents a photo from being deleted. If you try to delete a protected image, the camera won't let you do it.
The Set button is the one button on this camera you will probably press the most (besides the shutter release!). It finalizes any mode changes, and accesses the most commonly-used camera settings.
To access the most commonly-used controls ISO, EV, White Balance, Compression, Resolution, User Profile), press "set". Use the up-down buttons on the toggle switch to the right of the LCD monitor to navigate, and the "set" button to access any changes. Once you have accessed the sub-menu, again use the up-down buttons to navigate and press "set" again to make any changes.
To the right of the LCD monitor is the Menu button, which we'll look at next. Below that is a round dial surrounding a four-way toggle switch. This is used to navigate photos in play mode (and to enlarge and move around detail areas of individual shots), as well as to navigate through the camera's various operational modes.
On the left side of the camera is a rubber door that's a bit hard to open. This door guards the USB port that you use to connect camera to computer to download images.
Lens Detection: Automatically determines lens being used. You can leave this on.
User Profile remembers your current camera settings when you assign them a number. You can set 3 different user profiles. You can recall your User profile by hitting "Set" then scrolling down to User Profile then selecting the desired profile by number. (Of course, you'll have to remember what each profile's settings are.)
Selftimer lets you choose either a 2 or 12-second delay when in self timer mode.
Auto ISO Setup determines the limits when you choose Auto ISO in the ISO option in the SET menu. (Access Auto ISO by going to Set > ISO and choosing the top choice, Auto ISO). Max ISO lets you determine the highest ISO you would leet the camera automatically choose. Slowest Speed lets you decide which is the slowest shutter speed you'd allow the camera to choose when in Aperture Priority mode. If you choose "Lens Dependent" it will choose the lowest recommended shutter speed for handheld photography for that lens.
Sharpening lets you set the camera to automatically sharpen images. You can choose low, standard, medium high and high sharpening, or you can turn this feature off.
Color Saturation lets you pre-set the amount of saturation--medium low, standard, medium high, high, and Black + White.
Contrast lets you vary image contrast in five steps--low, medium low, standard, medium high, and high.
Monitor Brightness lets you vary the monitor's brightness. Remember: no matter which setting you choose, you cannot determine exposure accuracy based the image displayed in the monitor. That information comes from the Histogram display, or by carefully determining exposure.
Histogram gives you the option of presenting information with or without clipping, in standard or RGB color space.
Picture numbering lets you choose the numeric sequence of pictures.
Auto Review lets you automatically look at preview images. You can either look at them full-frame (and once you've decided that, the camera prompts you to choose 1, 3, or 5-second durations, or until you partially depress the shutter release) or with a histogram superimposed over the image. I recommend choosing this preview mode so you can immediately determine if exposure is accurate.
Auto Power off automatically turns off the camera after 2, 5, or 10 minutes of inactivity. This conserves battery use, but if you're trying to get the shot in the heat of the moment and forgot the camera was off, you may miss the shot so I recommend choosing 10 minutes to decrease the chances of this happening. If the camera is in C or S mode, simply press the shutter release to quickly turn it back on.
Flash sync lets you choose first or second curtain flash.
Auto Slow Sync lets you change the automatic flash sync setting to 1/30, 1/8 or 32 sec. The default flash sync is 1/250 sec. Alternatively, you can simply manually move the shutter speed dial to any speed that's less than 1/250 sec when shooting flash.
Color Management lets you choose the working color space from sRGB (the camera's default) to Adobe RGB or ECI RGB.
Reset changes all of the camera's settings back to their defaults.
Sensor Cleaning inspects the sensor for dust particles. If dust is present, you can either clean the sensor yourself using currently available sensor cleaning products. Read about how to clean your sensor. Leica will also clean the sensor for you, but this service isn't covered by the warrantee, and is expensive.
Date and Time should be self-explanatory.
Acoustic Signal lets you choose a signal for key presses and shutter release, and even though these signals are subtle they defeat the purpose of using an camera that's designed to be unobtrusive. I recommend keeping the sound off.
Language lets you set the menu language to English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese or Chinese.
Format SD-Card lets you reformat your memory card--a good practice.
Firmware indicates the firmware version currently running in the camera.
Advance lets you choose the amount of sound the camera produces when shooting. In practice, there is no discernable difference. Leave it alone.
There are fewer controls overall on the M8 than on most other digital cameras, in keeping with Leica's philosophy that less is more. Navigation is straightforward, once you get used to the idea that the Set button is really the most important button on the camera.