Zambia with the Leica M8: Cropped CCD sensor still produces the goods
Mike’s recent article about the M8 set me thinking. I bought mine in 2013, with about 500 frames ‘on the clock’. We were moving to Zambia and I wanted convenience. Now well used, the M8 is still my main camera for street photography and occasional weddings.
So what do I like about it?
First, the sensor: Before moving to digital, for many years I used an M3, loaded with black and white film. So I love the sensor, with its CCD chip. Converting raw files to black and white is a pleasure. Some basic adjustments in Lightroom produce a clear, crisp image, although sometimes the result looks clinical to me. That’s when I use Silver Efex Pro – applied sparingly, I find the presets and film effects excellent. But with Google no longer supporting Silver Efex Pro, I shall have to look at alternatives.
Second, the simplicity of the menu settings: I know this isn’t unique to the M8, but I still appreciate the simplicity. At a wedding last year the official photographer was late and a friend thrust a Fuji X-E1 into my hands. All went well until I pressed a wrong button and upset the autofocus – then I was lost. With the M8 I’ve no such worries — I can just concentrate on taking pictures.
Third, its reliability: Perhaps I’ve been lucky, but my M8 is still working perfectly. I’ve had no issues with the sensor and the rear screen is as clear as ever.
But what about the M8’s shortcomings?
First, the performance in low light: I’m happy with the results up to ISO 640 (especially in black and white), but after that they’re not great. For me though, this is a limitation, not a deal breaker. Before the M8, I was satisfied with Tri-X rated normally at ISO 400. And outdoors in Zambia, I can normally leave the M8 set at ISO 160.
Second,the sensor’s notorious inability to cope with infrared light: I got caught out several times, before fitting IR filters to all my lenses. In the dusty conditions of Zambia, a protective filter is essential, so this hasn’t been a major issue for me.
Third, the low resolution of images on the rear screen: Not clear enough to check critical focus, the screen is only good for checking composition. But since it discourages ‘chimping’, I suppose the low resolution can be counted as a plus.
Fourth, the viewfinder magnification: At 0.68 I find it a challenge. After an M3, with its 0.91 magnification, 0.68 took some getting used to.
With its good build quality and straightforward handling, will I be keeping my M8? Definitely. And would I buy one now, when full frame sensors are the norm? At the right price, I would. Beware though – like all digital cameras, one day the M8 will just be an expensive paperweight.
Postscript: I still use my M3 occasionally. And when I recently burnt a hole in the shutter curtain, a new one was found and installed. At nearly 60 years of age, the M3 is still a pleasure to use.