The Leica M8 was the first Leica M digital camera released in 2006.  As has happened with every new digital M released, two years later a Leica M8.2 was released with certain upgrades.  The Leica M8.2 was short-lived only being produced from 2008-2009.

The single largest problem with the Leica M8 series became a cherished benefit after several newer models of digital M’s were released.  The issue found after production was releasing public units revolved around the sensor.   As the title suggests, the benefit of the flawed sensor was increased sensitivity to black and white tones.  After we look at the sensor, we’ll see what happens in the black and white world.



Leica M8 and M8.2 CCD Sensor

The sensor used in the Leica M8 series uses a 10.3 mp Kodak KAF-10500 CCD sensor.  There are two things that are important about this sensor choice.  First, the size is 18 x 27 mm, which is smaller than a standard 35 mm frame (24 x 35 mm).  The effective pixel count is 3,936 x 2,630.  This produces what is known as the crop factor which no other Leica M digital camera has.  The crop factor is 1.33 which means you can use a 50 mm lens and it behaves like a 66.5 mm lens (50 mm x 1.33) and a 35 mm lens behaves like a 46 mm lens, which is close to a standard 50 mm.  There has been much written about the depth of field affect when using lenses on a cropped sensor.  The simplest item to remember is that wider angle lenses on a Leica M8 or M8.2 seem like larger focal lengths, but the bokeh is based on the wider angle lens.  To understand the effect, think in terms of using a 21 mm lens versus a 50 mm lens.  The depth of field at f/2.0 for a 21 mm lens might be 4′ or 5′ at a given distance.  At the same distance, f/2.0 for a 50 mm lens might be only 1 foot.  So, the bokeh is based on how the lens might look on a full frame sensor, it is just pre-cropped to a smaller sized image.


Cookie Monster

Second, and more importantly, the CCD sensor used in the Leica M8 and M8.2 is the same type of sensor used in the Leica M9 and M9P.  Many have found the M9 sensor to produce results they prefer over the newer Leica M Type 240 CMOS sensors.  While I think post-processing has a lot to do with the character of the sensor, it is clear that the CMOS sensors have better high ISO dynamic range and less noise.  However, for purposes of this discussion, know that the sensor in the Leica M8 is a great CCD sensor.

The problem with the Leica M8 was not the sensor, but a covering over the sensor.  Leica made an early decision not to put an anti-aliassing filter over the sensor.  This typically provides better sharpness, but at the expense of moire depending on the detail and patterns in the image.  The problem, however, was that the infared filter put over the sensor was too thin.  The results were that the sensor in the Leica M8 series is very sensitive to the infrared spectrum and color images that contain black may not reproduce well.  The black may show as purple, which is very difficult to fix in post-processing.  Leica offered a solution to use UV/IR filters on the front of any lenses, but that does restrict some types of photography.  I have found, for example, that the Leica Noctilux f/1.0 will have very bad reflections if taking point light sources at night – like a street lamp.


Rooftop Art

The Black and White Benefit

Black and white photography with the Leica M8 and M8.2 is in many ways similar to the Leica Monochrom (CCD version).  Remember, it is the same sensor, just smaller.  However, it has more sensitivity than the Monchrom albeit probably a smaller dynamic range as well.  The Leica M8 series uses the processor in the camera to compress the dynamic range before the RAW file is written to a DNG format.  This has caused some to dislike the non-purist RAW format from the Leica M8, but there is also a secret key-press that unlocks the ability to write a native format DNG with no compression of color bits.

I do not use that ability and in fact, do not use the RAW files from the Leica M8.  This will surprise many, but I set the camera to JPEG only.  Besides the fact that the camera writes faster to a memory card, the in-camera processing for the black and white JPEG images is tremendous!  Every one of the images here is from a black and white mode JPEG written by the Leica M8.2 and the most current firmware.


Apartment Buildings Replacing Woolworths

JPEGs, Really?

Yes,  JPEG images can blow the highlights and boosting shadows too much can cause noise.  However, I’ve found that metering well and accepting either loss of shadow detail or blown highlights work fine if you control which end you want.  If a subject is severely backlit, I make a choice about whether I want the background well exposed or the subject.  I have many images with black outlines of objects in front of storm clouds.  With the Leica M8.2, I cannot get both detail in the clouds and the objects in the scene – the dynamic detail in the sensor isn’t there and the JPEG doesn’t help.  However, I get rich tones throughout.

I leave the settings on standard for the JPEG.  I do not add or remove contrast.  I do not add any toning or any sharpening.  Note that adding sharpening darkens the JPEG and you will lose shadows.  However, sharpening is not needed.  Remember the sensor has no anti-aliassing filter and the black and white JPEGs come out incredibly sharp.  I even add some additional sharpening in Lightroom.  I also find I can add some additional contrast as the JPEGs come out rather grey, much like the Monochrom.  This is a benefit because the JPEG has plenty of room for additional contrast, it’s removing contrast that causes problems.


Concrete Construction

If you like the idea of the M8 or your budget prefers it, I suggest looking at the M8.2.  You will most likely have to send it to NJ to get it cleaned up, lubricated and some things fixed.  Mine needed some motor tweaking and Leica fixed the sensor columns and pixel issues.  It came back with new leather covering like the Leica M Type 240.  I prefer the black over the silver and the black Leica dot, very quiet shutter (compared to the original M8) along with the quartz glass back make for a sturdy camera.

I encourage you to find some sharpness settings in Lightroom that you like and then save the settings for the camera body.  Then, when you import new images, Lightroom will apply those sharpness settings to every image.  You can set just the sharpness and then press the ‘ALT’ key.  While holding the ‘ALT’ key down, you will see the buttons at the bottom of the develop settings to say ‘save settings.’  Pressing this button with the mouse will save it for just the M8, not other cameras you may use.

I think the proof  is in the images here.  It’s an oldie as far as digital cameras go, but a great Leica M to have some fun with.


Surfer on Folly Beach


About The Author

David taught film photography and development for 3 years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1989-1991). He began using Leica cameras in 2000 and still shoots 70-100 rolls of film through a Leica M3 and Leica MA while enjoying the challenges of the Leica Monochrom and the new Leica MD 262. David has written about photography and is working on several volumes documenting changes and artistic merit throughout Old Town in Rock Hill, South Carolina, USA. His full-time job is as a CPA, but spends free time with a camera at the ready.

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