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Leica M8 Digital

After years of rumours and wishful thinking, the Leica M8 was formally announced in early 2004, then confirmed in January 2006 when LFI 1/2006 published an interview with Leica's Stefan Daniels.

Specific details about the M8 were released nine months later in September 2006, just prior to the camera's public debut at Photokina 2006. After much anticipation, the first batch of @ 2000 cameras reached stores in Europe and the USA in early November 2006.

However following the release of the Leica M9 Digital in September 2009, the M8 and M8.2 were dropped from the Leica catalogue.

Official M8 links

M8 Digital specifications overview

2008 M8.2

Announced in September 2008 and available between October 2008 and September 2009, the M8.2 was the upgraded version of the M8 and had the following features:

Please note: the M8.2 still had the same cropped Kodak KAF-10500 sensor and output exactly the same quality 8-bit RAW DNG files.

For more info see this hands-on review by Tim Ashley.

Upgrade a M8 to M8.2 spec?

Yes it is possible, but you won't get all the M8.2 features, especially the delayed shutter cocking. See Leica's M8 upgrade page for details and prices.

Selected M8 reviews

Photo Techniques Magazine
"The Long-Awaited Leica M8" by Mark Dubovoy (PDF download).
American Photo Magazine
"Extreme Field Test: Leica M8 in Iraq" by photojournalist Ashley Gilbertson.
Chris Uber Blog
"Making Photos with the Leica M8" by Chris Weeks, Sept 2007.
DP Review
"Leica M8 Hands-on Preview" by Phil Askey and Simon Joinson. Review
"Leica M8 and Summarits Review" by Kirk Tuck, Oct 2008.
Rapidwinder Review
"Leica M8 Review" by Tom Abrahamsson (of Rapidwinder and Softie fame).
Digital Camera Info
"Leica M8 First Impressions Review" by Patrick Singleton.
Digital Outback Photo
"Leica M8 Field Report" by Thomas Hoepker (Magnum).
Erwin Puts blog
"Camera Testreports: Leica M8" by Erwin Puts.
Luminous Landscape
"Leica M8 Hands-on Field Review" by Michael Reichmann.

Interestingly, none of the early reviewers mentioned the M8 bugs discovered by camera purchasers after only a day of use. This has led to heated discussion online and even tut-tutting by the regular press.

"Zebra Stripe" lens-mount coding

From 2006 onwards, new Leica lenses have 6-dot encoded lens-mounts to allow the M8 to non-electronically identify which lens is being used. The scheme enables the camera to note the focal-length and estimate taking aperture, as well as provide additional firmware correction for chromatic aberration and vignetting.

  1. Leica June 2006 6-bit coding news release
  2. Leica 6-bit coding PDF (180 KB)
  3. Quotes from the Leica 6-bit brochure
  4. <>
  5. < #1483>
  6. <>

Because no ROM chip is involved, older lenses can easily be 6-dot retro-fitted; the upgrade simply replaces the lens-mount ring with an appropriate zebra-stripe version. Leica offers a service for € 169 Euro — see the table in the official Leica PDF (link "ii" above) and the discussion at < #44426>.

Is it worthwhile getting all your lenses converted?… Probably not. In June 2006 David Young noted the following:

Perhaps […] identification of the lens allows some post processing to improve colour fringing, on the ultra wides, where the angle of incidence is rather extreme in the corners.
If this is true, it might be worthwhile to have your 21 and [24] mm lenses converted.
Otherwise, all you'll gain is to have the focal length recorded in your meta data. It won't record the aperture used when the shot was taken. You'll still get shutter speed, ISO, etc. Hardly worth the conversion cost, let alone justifying buying new lenses! (Do your "M" based film bodies record the focal length/f stop/shutter speed? Have you managed to live with this serious lack of vital information, so far?)

BTW, the zebra-stripe news was originally leaked on 6-6-06. Makes you wonder doesn't it?… 6-bit lens-mounts, the "666" M6TTL a few years back…   Maybe it's time Solms was paid a visit by a Special Commission from the Vatican?…

Camera menu option to set lens identity?

You wish. Leica policy dictated that the only way the M8 could know which lens was mounted was via the 6-dot lens code. No code = no lens ID = no firmware correction. After incredible pressure from photographers, Leica sheepishly fixed this for the Leica M9.

DIY 6-dot encoding

Why spend €169 for a new ring mount and then wait thirty days? Following successful experiments by Leica users in Nov 2006, all you have to do is draw an appropriate sequence of dots onto your existing lens-mount ring using a black marker pen. Seriously.

Carsten Whimster has put together a table of 6-bit codes for different lens types at:


If you are looking for a more professional DIY 6-bit result, see the "Coder Kit" sold by match Technical Services for $US 70.

Use any SLR lens you like!

A useful feature overlooked by most M8 reviewers is that you can mount any SLR lens with a simple lens-mount adapter and — aside from having to scale-focus — it will work as normal.

Why bother? Aren't M lenses inherently superior?… Not always. See for example the 28mm PC-Super-Angulon shift lens, or the 19mm Elmarit with built-in filters. Ditto the Nikkor AI 8mm ƒ2.8 fisheye. Moreover, with a simple lens-mount adapter you can continue using your favourite lenses with a brand new digital body.

The main objection to using SLR lenses on (film) M's — again aside from focus — was a lack of control over exact framing and composition. This is no longer an issue with the M8 because you get immediate feedback via the LCD. You can even zoom in to check the shot's focus, after the fact of course.

Because there is no aperture linkage between M lenses and bodies, non-M lenses will work just as well with the built-in lightmeter. Obviously you won't get rangefinder coupling or 6-bit encoding, but focus is moot for super-wides, while zebra-stripes can easily be added with a felt-tip pen :?)

Which brand of lens-mount adapter should you get? I suggest avoiding the cheaper alternatives and instead buying one of the Novoflex rings. I have the Novoflex Leica-R-to-M ("LEM/LER") adapter and have used it with my film Ms for years. Yes it is expensive, but it's rock solid and reliable. The Novoflex Nikon-to-M adapter is called "LEM/NIK", while the Contax-to-M is "LEM/CONT". Apparently Leica will also release their own R-to-M lens-mount adapter soon eventually.

Not full-frame…

Nope. With a 1.33x crop the M8 wasn't even close.

Cropping is an irritating PITA and yes, everyone wanted a full-frame rangefinder. Unfortunately the technology just wasn't available at the time. As noted by Michael Agel (Leica AG Public Relations) in Oct 2006:

[…] When designing the M8, we had one big problem. We had to build an image sensor where you can use all M-lenses on it. The lenses of the M-series are very close to the sensor or film. That is one of the reasons why we don't offer a full format sensor. The other reason is that a full format sensor would make the camera too expensive […]
Ok, the crop factor of 1.33x is a problem if you want to use ultra-wide angle. We definitely wanted to have full frame. But it is better than nothing. […]

So your options were: sit paralysed and wait; use something else (such as a full-frame DSLR); or use a crop-frame rangefinder and adapt, experiment & get over it.

It is all a moot point though, as the full-frame Leica M9 was released in September 2009.

1.33x focal-length equivalents

Applying the M8 1.33x cropping factor to various M lens focal-lengths provides the following table of results (rounded to the nearest mm):

M lens focal length Cropped Equivalent
12 mm 16 mm
15 mm 20 mm
21 mm 28 mm
24 mm 32 mm
28 mm 37 mm
35 mm 47 mm
40 mm 53 mm
50 mm 67 mm
75 mm 98 mm
90 mm 120 mm

Black = Magenta

Take a photo of someone in a black suit and most likely it will come out purple, mainly due to extraneous infrared light causing the sensor to give false colour readings. This the #1 design-issue with the M8, and for many it's a deal-killer.

Inadequate IR filtering

In order to address corner-artefact issues from deeply recessed M lenses, the M8 has an unusually thin infrared filter in front of its sensor. Unfortunately the 0.5mm glass doesn't completely block the IR spectrum, causing some IR to leak through. Consequently black-coloured objects (typically synthetic fabrics or paint) acquired a false-magenta cast.

As you can imagine many photographers are "unhappy" about this. Yet the M8 wasn't the only digital with IR over-sensitivity — see for example the Nikon D2H and Nikon D70, plus the Nikon D1x, Epson RD-1 and Sony VSC-1 samples by Jonas Yip.

Leica dedicated about a third of their "FAQ Leica M8" (January 2008) PDF to discussing the problem. Obviously they were concerned about it, but due to limitations in sensor design they were stuck with having to use auxiliary lens IR filters for the M8.

IR-Cut filter(s) required

According to the "FAQ Leica M8 / Jan 2008" (see above), the problem could only be rectified by using IR-Cut filters screwed onto the front of your lenses — eg. B+W 486, Heliopan 8025 or Tiffen Hot Mirror Filter.

Unfortunately there was no alternative solution. It was either a case of using IR filters, or shooting monochrome, or doing selective-colour adjustments in Photoshop.

Some people are satisfied by using custom "magenta reduction" ICC profiles during the RAW conversion stage, but this didn't really fix the problem because you physically have to prevent IR from reaching the chip in the first place. Only IR-Cut filters can do this. Custom-profiles also don't work for JPEG shooters, as they can only be applied to RAW images.

For more information on IR Cut filters in general, see "Infrared basics for digital photoraphers".

Cyan corner vignetting

Solve one problem, create another. IR-Cut filters fixed the black-magenta issue, but they also cause a slight amount of cyan-coloured vignetting in the image corners with wide-angle lenses. This is mainly due to off-axis IR-filtering efficiency issues, which are more pronounced at wider focal lengths.

One way to fix this problem is in Photoshop. Select the image Red channel and then manually lighten the corners using the Dodge tool. For a more automated approach, use the vignetting correction options built into software like "Panorama Tools" (again, only on the Red channel).

Luckily, firmware v1.102 onwards allows for…

Automatic compensation of colour shifts at the edge of images resulting from the use of LEICA UV/IR filters on Leica M lenses with focal lengths of between 16 and 35mm.

You tell the camera via a menu setting that you are using a IR-Cut filter, and provided you also use 6-dot encoded lenses, it will automatically rectify the "cyan drift" before writing the DNG or JPEG file.

Sandy McGuffog's "CornerFix" application

For those who don't want to go down the DIY Photoshop cyan-corner correction route and/or don't have 6-bit encoded lenses, there is also the free "CornerFix" application:


To de-vignette your images, download them from your camera, run them through CornerFix and then RAW develop them. Pretty simple really, although there is a lot of technical-trickery going on under the hood to ensure the converted 16-bit RAW images are readable by most popular RAW developer applications — see the Dec 2007 discussion at < #41331>.

High ISO, low light…

How does the M8 compare with the Canon EOS-5D when it comes to low-light high-ISO work? Prompted by Tina Manley's controversial test shots under tungsten light and 1250-3200 ISO in December 2006, Clyde Rogers did a more carefully exposed + WB "mini-test" at:


Commenting on the Tina Manley samples, Guy Mancuso summed up the M8/5D differences thus:

The EOS-5D may be the high ISO queen, but trust me in no way does it even come close to the micro-detail of Leica even at the high ISO's. So you have a nice noise free 1250 shot that is mush. Sorry I hate the whole 5D comparision stuff to begin with. [The Tina Manley exposures are] not even in the same ballpark. But I will die before any 5D owner will accept that fact. […] The 5D produces a nice file but does not have the exposure latitude of a M8 and does not have the detail.

Despite this, there is a vast amount of whinging about the M8's "poor" high-ISO performance. Apparently a lot of people wish to shoot hand-held at EV -6, and expect the kind of resolution and grain-free result typical of 4x5 100 ISO film. I'm sorry guys, it just ain't gonna happen.

Up until ISO 640 the M8's results are pretty smooth. Anything beyond that may require noise-reduction during post processing. The good news is that firmware v1.092 onwards managed to reduce the chroma noise at ISO 1250 & 2500, while firmware v1.107 onwards improved ISO 1250 even more.

M8 "focus-shift" and back-focus "errors"

At widest aperture your lens focuses where it is supposed to (assuming your lens cam and RF mechanism is up to spec.), but when you stop down the point of sharpest focus appears to shift a few centimetres towards the camera. Another design flaw in the M8?…

No. Leica lenses have always behaved like this. It's a compromise between the lens optical design and RF mechanism, and while it works reasonably well, it was and never will be micron perfect.

As noted by Howard Cornelsen in May 2007 at < #24784>

Solms responded […] that (for the most part) the behaviour you describe is normal.
Generally speaking, lens and rangefinder should match wide open. As you stop down, point of best focus will move away from the camera but should stay within the depth of field, which is also growing as you stop down. (The focus shift is caused by spherical aberration; the more you stop down, the more of the aberrant rays you mask.)
See also E Puts' article at Testreports.
Basically, we've never been able to take a picture before and see it 30 seconds later at 1:1 or 10:1 or greater. What you're becoming aware of is what has made these lenses so insanely good for years. (Some people have some focal lengths that exhibit these tendencies in very unsubtle and exaggerated ways, but your description makes it sound as if things are actually working correctly.)
And if I'm interpreting Alan's results correctly, after his surprise results with the M8, his film tests show that the behaviour has always been there, but unnoticed.
[…] We've grown too picky for the most part. We finally have a sensor that shows exactly what the lenses are doing — we never had that ability before, and now we're surprised to find out just how the lenses perform their magic.

From the outset rangefinder cameras were designed with the assumption that they would be used for hand-held reportage or candid work, not bolted onto a tripod to photograph newspapers on a garage wall.

As Rex Vaubel put it:

[…] In ordinary non-tripod sort of photos, your body and head sway is around +/- an inch or two. Now combine that with subject movement, even a portrait, and the total deviance from what you would get from a tripod set-up and a test target is more than any back-focus irregularities. On top of that, pixel peeping is a extremely deviant form of photography that in no way represents real life inspection of real prints. Not that I don't enjoy pixel peeping as much as any other form of self gratification. But really, although very interesting, and fodder for innumerable forum threads, the practical implication for all this angst is really minimal. Like I said before, the chances are almost 50- 50 that the back-focus of a lens might bring a real life subject into BETTER focus.

DIY M8 Focus adjustment

Not convinced and still worried about your "back-focus"? Then see the instructions on how to adjust the M8 focus armature using a 2mm hex key at < #13933>.

M8 Bugs & Snafus

Please keep in mind this is a "Version 1.0" product, so bugs are inevitable (Canon EOS 5D MKII anyone?). People should also be careful to distinguish between genuine faults and mere fumbling by digital-newbies (eg. "My M8 files won't open in Photoshop!" or "My M8 files have been corrupted! Oh, false alarm, I think I have a faulty PC card-reader!").

Nevertheless when the first batch of M8's shipped in early November 2006, many users reported the following issues:

Inadequate IR filtering causes a false magenta cast
See discussion above. Although some people are happy using custom ICC colour-profiles during RAW conversion, the only proper solution is to use IR-Cut filters on all your lenses.
16-bit / 8-bit Controversy…
The M8(.2) DNG RAW file-size is only half the 20MB created by the 16-bit DMR. Some people smell a rat in this, for how can these files be so small and still be 16-bit?…
Leica's blurb proudly claimed the camera was "16-bit", but after months of ambiguity and low-level controversy (eg. see < #8895>), Solms finally admitted the camera only captures images in 16-bit, but actually writes them as 8-bit files! Yes you read that correctly: 8-BITS PER CHANNEL. See the Mar 2007 discussion about their Leica website M8 FAQ download at < #20924>, as well as this detailed article by KammaGamma.
The 8-bit image down-sampling is performed via a square-root algorithm, and was done to "… double the speed of saving and halve the space needed for the files". Why? "[… because] during testing with prototypes, a 16-bit version was tried, but did not show any visible improvement of the image quality …" (or more honestly, because they wanted to save on battery juice and stay within SD-card write-speed limitations). Luckily the data-stream from the chip is still 16-bit (actually 14-bit, but we won't quibble), with the 8-bit conversion only a final step enabled in firmware. Hopefully a future F/W upgrade will let users decide whether they wish to save their RAW files as 8 or 16-bit. Until that far-off day, even the cheapest-junk DSLR has a greater RAW bit-depth than Leica's M flagship.
Inconsistent Auto White Balance
When multiple images are taken of the same scene using identical exposure settings, the resulting images may exhibit varying colour casts if the camera is set to "AWB" — see the discussion at < #27958>. ETA for the fix is unknown, although more recent versions of firmware have improved reliability substantially. In the meantime work around the issue by setting the WB manually (generally a good idea with DSLRs anyway).
No manual lens ID
The M8(.2) uses the 6-bit "zebra stripe" pattern on lens-mounts to detect which lens is being used. What about older lenses which don't have the 6-bit encoding? Currently — tough. There is no camera menu option to let you manually identify your lens. Although not really an issue with longer lenses, it can be a problem with wide-angles because the camera needs to correct for corner and cyan vignetting. ETA for the fix is unknown and unlikely. Meanwhile either have your lenses 6-bit retrofitted by Leica, or DIY with a marker pen (see discussion above).
Moiré artefacts
To improve image fine-detail, the M8(.2) and DMR don't use use an anti-alias (or low-pass) filter. Most of the time this is not an issue and the resulting enhancement in image sharpness is welcome. But Moiré can bite when shooting scenes with closely spaced geometric patterns, such as fabric or mesh, distant buildings, balcony railings, corrugated roofing etc. Luckily these artefacts are easy to fix: either during the RAW conversion stage (eg. C1's anti-moire option) or else in Photoshop.
Horizontal banding at high-ISOs
Similar to the Nikon D200 when it was initially released, early M8's at ISO 640-2500 streaked horizontal lines from intense light sources into dark areas of a photograph — see the examples at < #8672>. Luckily it wasn't a problem at low ISOs or for typical shots in bright or evenly illuminated light. Solution? A hardware fix by Leica at their main plant in Solms (see their 11/24/2006 press release below).
Ghosting by intense lightsources
Caused by internal reflections between the sensor protective glass and lens rear-element — see the examples by Ian Watts at < #8642>. Another hardware issue addressed by an upgrade at Solms (again, see the Leica 11/24/2006 press release below).
Leica's Response?
See Leica's Press Release dated 11/24/2006: "Upgrade for the Leica M8 available". In a nutshell: banding and ghosting was fixed under warranty by returning the camera to Solms (new M8's shipped after 27th Nov 2006 have the fix incorporated); IR sensitivity was addressed by IR cut filters, Leica will supply two free filters to every M8 purchaser. Unfortunately there was no mention about addressing erratic AWB or other snafus.
Then in March 2007 Guy Mancuso posted a "laundry list" of M8 Leica bugs/issues to the LCU forum, with detailed responses from Leica AG — see < #20079>. In late 2007 Leica also made the Q&A available as a PDF download from their website.
LFI 2007/1 dedicated thirteen pages to analysing the M8's faults, along with how Leica intended to address them. The article was only available in print-form to magazine subscribers, but there is a short introduction online.

More M8 Information

Memory Card Type?
Secure Digital (SD) cards loaded via a slot inside the camera's base. Initially there were compatibility issues with higher capacity SDHC cards, but they were resolved after firmware v2.0. YMMV! Nowadays most M8 shooters use 4GB or 8GB SDHC cards without too many problems. Get the fastest professional-quality cards you can afford, Class 6 or faster (say 100x).
RAW file format?
The same Adobe DNG format as the DMR. You will have to update your RAW converter software to utilise any vignetting/CA correction settings stored in the EXIF data. Luckily the M8 is bundled with a specially updated version of Capture One LE, so you can start processing CA-corrected RAW straight away (provided you shoot with 6-bit encoded lenses!) Currently the files are 8-bits per channel (see discussion above), although in future they may be 16-bit.
A Lithium-Ion 3.7V 1900 mAh rechargeable, which is different to the Digilux-2 (7.2V 1400 mAh). According to David Farkas, a new battery is good for @ 550 (RAW) shots before recharging. This number was confirmed by other Leica users in June 2008. Obviously shot-capacity will depend upon temperature and how much "chimping" you do.
What does the "blue dot" do?
For a while there was endless speculation about the reason for having a small blue lens at 11 o'clock to the red Leica badge on the camera's front plate. According to the discussion at < #6254>, it is an auxillary light-meter which: (i) helps estimate the lens taking aperture for CA + vignetting correction; (ii) assists in flash TTL exposure and (iii) controls the viewfinder LED brightness. Apparently the aperture estimate is also stored in the image EXIF data, althought not all RAW converters make use of it — see M8 Metadata Project.
Improving focus accuracy
Having trouble nailing wide-open shots with your Noctilux or 75mm 'lux? Use a 1.25x viewfinder magnifier! Unsurprisingly the Leica item is quite expensive (€250 Euro), but Hong Kong Supplies sell a clone version for $US 50. See their eBay store and specify "leica magnifier" in the LHS "Store Search" panel. If you need built-in dioptre correction then have a look at the ¥17K Megapearls MS-MAG 1.35x magnifier. Supposedly it isn't available for sale to the USA or Germany due to patent restrictions, but read their cop-out clause about being able to sell it "for use on other optical equipment" (nudge-nudge, wink-wink…).
Tethered Shooting
To improve studio work productivity, the M8 ships with Leica Digital Capture 1.0, which allows you to remotely acquire photographs when the camera is hooked up to a computer. Mac OSX users can also use the (less buggy) Image Capture app which comes with OSX — see the discussion at < #43922>. The bottleneck however is that you are always limited to a USB2 connection speed (~35 MB/s), resulting in a long delay for each image to show up on your computer after taking a shot. You really need Firewire 800 (~55 MB/s) or even eSATA (150 MB/s) for a more practical workflow.
Tripod thread-mount socket
For the first time with an M series camera, the M8 has a centred tripod socket, although not exactly aligned with the lens-axis. Because the tripod socket has been moved, you will have to upgrade your quick-release tripod plate or M-hand-grip. FWIW the new €160 Leica Handgrip M8 (#14471/2) also replaces camera's base-plate.
The camera base
Like other film-based M's it is removable, the only difference being the placement of the tripod socket. Once you remove the base, you gain access to the SD card and battery. Although generally a good idea to keep the dust at bay, it's a nuisance for tripod shooters.
Auto-exposure bracketing?
There is no menu option to take a sequence of shots at different exposure settings (say -2, 0, +2 EV) by only pressing the shutter button once. You have to vary the exposure manually and press the shutter for each different setting. Yes it's annoying. Presumably Leica and Jenoptik have never heard of HDR digital photography! Hopefully this feature will be added in a future firmware upgrade.
ISO range?
160—2500, which is slightly better than the DMR's conservative 100—1600. The following manual ISO settings are available: "160 - 320 - 640 - 1250 - 2500". That's right, you can only adjust the ISO in one-stop increments. What's more, you have to set the value by using the camera menus because there is no dedicated ISO dial. Some users really hate this. OTOH firmware v2.000 introduced an additional "Auto ISO" function, where the camera chooses an appropriate ISO depending on scene brightness. Maybe this will result in less ISO menu fiddling…
How quiet is the shutter?
There have been claims the M8 motor is "silent" due to the use of a "special rubber-coated wheel". DP Review have supplied a sound recording of the M8 vs an M7, both fired at 1/125th (see Page 5 of their M8 review, and scroll down to the "Shutter/ release sound" heading). To my ears it sounds like a shorter version of the M4-P + Compact M-motor at the "I" low-torque setting. Not loud or harsh, but definitely a longer duration than the standard M "snip". At any rate the slower-shutter upgrade in the M8.2 claims to have fixed any "loudness problem". FWIW see also the discussion at < #17272>.
Cleaning dust off the CCD
There is no built-in ultrasonic chip vibration (like the Panasonic or Olympus 4:3 or Canon EOS-400D), so you have to DIY clean the chip by opening the shutter and reaching in from the front. Remains to be seen if this is a Big or Non issue. At least the DMR provided easy access by letting you completely remove the camera back!
Does the M8 work with Visoflex III + Viso lenses?

M8 digital-related accessories

RAW Conversion; CA Correction; Image Noise Reduction; Portable Storage Devices; LCD Protectors; Erased File recovery etc. See this topic elsewhere in the FAQ.

Digital M discussion links

News, updates, rants:

Other articles/ discussion/ speculation:

Leica M8 FAQ reader polls

A note about possible broken links

This FAQ has over 900 external links. Over time it is inevitable some of them will break. If you are bothered by this, see this detailed topic elsewhere in the FAQ.

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