Is the M8 Still a Good Choice?

Contents

  1. The M8 Camera Today
  2. Things to Consider
  3. Potential M8 Benefits
  4. So What's the Verdict?
  5. The M9 by Comparison

The M8 Camera Today

Anyone getting into a digital Leica today will likely ask themselves if a used M8 is still a good choice. It was introduced in 2006 and only recently in 2009, was discontinued in favor of the M9. During its three year run, there were a few variations. The original, or so called "classic" M8, followed by the M8.2 which saw several minor updates. Owners of the original could purchase piecemeal upgrades from Leica such as a sapphire LCD cover, an upgraded shutter mechanism, etc. Visually, the versions are nearly identical - one of the more obvious is the new vulcanite body covering and black Leica dot/logo on the M8.2, which came in black paint rather than black chrome (as well as the silver chrome). The sensor remained the same throughout at 10.3MP.

At the time of this writing, even the oldest M8 is only five years old. If we were talking about film cameras, it would be a baby... But in the digital world, five years is a lifetime - a generation. Considering the price of the M9 and the relatively few alternatives in this market such as the Epson R-D1 series, the M8's price on the used market is attractive and worth considering. The cameras still take the same incredible pictures they did back in 2006, and 10.3MP is in a real sweet spot between resolution and file size manageability - easily being capable of 8x10" prints without maniupulation, and over twice that or more without much fuss. The lack of an AA filter and a plethora of excellent lenses ensures that the images are very sharp. As the Leica M film bodies that came before it - and the M9 that follows, it takes the same M bayonet mount lenses.

Things to Consider

The M8/8.2 are good, solid cameras. No less so than the M9 that replaces them, but perhaps not as refined - and obviously not a full frame sensor. But they're still very capable and relevant today. Let's take a quick look at some of the things to know about when getting into the M8:

  • Resolution of 10.3MP (native 8x10" prints, but can easily double or more)
  • A crop factor of 1.33x (a 50mm lens is effectively a 65mm)
  • Must use UV/IR filters (to combat odd colors due to infrared contamination)
  • Coding lenses <50mm necessary (to avoid cyan corners from UV/IR filters)
  • High-ISO performance is weak (limited to around ISO 1,250)
  • Non-upgraded shutter a bit loud (though capable of 1/8000s!)

Other issues you'd normally worry about such as having a good supply of replacement batteries are mostly a non-issue. The same batteries are used in the M9 and you can still get them new. Anyone that's owned older cameras and accessories will know the particular pain an old, hard to find battery can be - it can literally mean the end (witness the DMR batteries). Shutter life is not an issue yet on all but the most heavily-used M8s. Scratches on the rear LCD cover are overrated as is body wear. As long as everything functions, maybe you'll want to clean the sensor. Make sure the rangefinder is in alignment. Leica will still fix your M8/8.2, so there are no worries there, either.

Potential M8 Benefits

In some cases, the M8 might actually be preferred over the newer M9. Some things to consider:

  • If you like to shoot infrared, the M8 has a practically non-existent IR filter
  • Arguably, the M8/8.2 images are sharper than the M9 because of this
  • It makes lenses effectively "longer" in focal length; great for tele shooters (portaits, nature)
  • It costs less than half of an M9, and...
  • It makes a great second body to another M8/8.2/9!

No matter how you look at it, it has its pros and cons. But then, doesn't everything really?

So What's the Verdict?

If you find one at a good price, do not hesitate to consider an M8/8.2! As mentioned, they're excellent cameras. Sure, they have a few "issues" based mostly on their design, but none of them are showstoppers. As it has since day one, the M8/8.2 cameras take excellent photos. If you cringe at the cost of an M9, do not feel that you're "missing out" on anything. That's not to say the M9 isn't worth it; it is for many reasons. But unless you specifically need those improvements you'll get along just fine with the M8/8.2.

The M9 by Comparison

So what do you get with the M9 that would justify the large increase in cost? For double the price of the M8/8.2, you get primarily a full frame sensor at 18MP. This is the single largest difference. Image quality is very similar to the M8, but in a much larger file. The "look and feel" if the images are quite similar. Another much-welcomed change is the new, slightly more effective infrared filter - the M9 no longer needs to use UV/IR filters. If you already have them for your lenses, this benefit is lessened, the money spent - but you can sell them now to recoup some of the cost if you're upgrading. Advantage to the M8/8.2 if you like shooting infrared, though! One more improvement that's on the major side is a one to two stop improvement in high-ISO capabilities. Whereas the M8 peaked at about ISO 1,250 for best quality, the M9 is fully usable at ISO 2,500 (its max).

The M9 also offers improvements in the ergonomics of the camera; an INFO screen for battery/remaining shots/ISO indication, dial-in exposure correction, a handy ISO button (with more ISO options), soft and discrete release modes, the ability to adjust the self-timer time (and even disable it!). Some other minor changes include mostly visual changes. A slight change in body shape due to the removal of the M8/8.2's top-mounted battery indicator LCD, and two new finishes. Black chrome is gone in favor of black paint and the regular silver chrome has been replaced by a gray/steel paint. The former has the new vulcanite (as the M8.2) whereas the latter has the "sharkskin" of the original M8. The M9 also returns to the red Leica roundel/logo. A little confusing, and mostly trivial in the grand scheme of things.

That, in a nutshell, is the M9. Only you can decide if this warrants the cost for you. No matter which of these bodies you choose - and for whatever reason, you're in for a treat. So relax, enjoy what you can afford and don't feel like you're missing out on anything.