R8 versions and serial numbers
In Sep 2000, Bill Caldwell noted the following about the various versions of the R8:
It has been reported on the Leica User's Group (LUG) that there have been four generations of the R8 camera body. The R8 in black chrome finish is No. 10081, and in silver chrome is No. 10080. There has been no change in the stock numbers since the R8 was introduced. The different versions generally reflect improvements in the electronic components and their resistance to static electricity. The versions by serial numbers are:
First: SN 2285000 - 2422000
Second: SN 2427001 - 2435800
Third: SN 2464101 - 2477300
Fourth: SN (Higher than 2477300)
R8 version reliability
In Dec 2001, Dr Joseph Yao noted the following:
If I recall correctly, even the very early R8s were reliable when introduced in late 1996. I had not encountered much problem with this model until 1998, when the Winder R8 was introduced. On fitting the R8 Winder, many previously reliable R8s began to develop problems. I have kept a log of the common problems encountered:
1. camera locked up after a few exposures: the camera back had to be opened to reset the camera
2. a small number of cameras seized altogether
3. with the Winder on, some cameras continued to fire even the shutter release was no longer pressed
When questioned, the local Leica importer offered the following explanations for failures:
1. Poor contacts between camera base and winder - the base plate contacts were too recessed and the pins from the winders were not tall enough
2. Sensitivity to static electricity - the camera was inadequately sealed
3. The winder circuitry had 'corrupted' the EPROM of the camera. In such case, even removing the winder would not return the camera to normal
I am not entirely sure what they meant by 'corrupt', but it was revealed to me that the Winder was designed and manufactured by a 3rd party hence some incompatibility issues arose.
I understand that these problematic cameras had been reworked extensively with much new, updated electronics fitted. German made R8s from #247xxxx have been very reliable and the ones from Portugal (#272xxxx and beyond) have also been very reliable. In 1999 and 2000, I came across a number of R8s bearing very early serial numbers #228xxxx with updated electronics and latest papers. I believe the factory had updated these early cameras prior to releasing them for sale.
It is worth noting that the Motor Drive R8 has not given any significant trouble at all. There was one incident when a dealer had returned fifty sets of Motor Drive to me, claiming none of them worked. It turned out that someone had not bothered to read the instruction and failed to remove a red insulating tape over one of the battery terminals. The motor drive battery charger, however, could be better. It is cheaply made and I have come across a few units with non-functioning LEDs. Its manufacturing standard falls short of what I expect from a Chinese factory today.
In all fairness, I think the R8 has come a long way as far as reliability is concerned. When purchasing new, make sure it is from the latest production batch. The latest cameras are from Portugal with serial numbers in the #275xxxx range. They all come with a five year warranty so the buyer is well protected.
A word of warning about R8 serial numbers
As Leica do not ship R8s in a first-in / first-out basis, if you are not careful you could end up buying a brand new R8 in a sealed box with an ancient serial number, indicating it may have been in storage for years prior to shipping.
No I am not making this up, contact Tom Henson for his experiences with the "brand new" Leica R8 he bought in April 2001!
Ditto David Young in Aug 2002:
[My R8] serial is 22922xx - which puts it, I believe, amongst the first 5000 built (Germany). It's been sitting around in warehouses, until I got it - new - in mid March 2002.
So my advice is to always ascertain the serial number of the R8 you intend to buy before paying any money. Unless it is a 247xxxx or newer, politely refuse to accept the camera. Of course Leica will repair any R8 problems under the five year warranty, but why make your life unnecessarily difficult by getting the older version camera?
R8 viewfinder display colour
Finally, the colour of the in-finder digital display has changed throughout the years. It was originally yellow, but at some point it was changed to the current green. As noted by "Jay" in Jan 2002:
At some point in production (the 22x's were early production, then there's sudden jump to the 24x's and then another jump to the current 275's) there was a change made in the background color for the display. My guess is Leica changed suppliers. There is no difference in function.
In Oct 2002, Sean Simpson sent me the following explanation:
I talked to someone at Leica USA about the color of the viewfinder's display. I was hoping to get one of the bluish ones, but the #255xxxx R8 I wound up with has the yellowish one instead. The rep explained that they ran out of yellow ones at some point and had gotten blue ones to fill in until yellow ones were available again. I didn't get any serial number ranges for the blue displays, and this is just based on a quick question over the phone, so regard it as hearsay if you like.