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Thread: M8 Loaner: First Impressions

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    M8 Loaner: First Impressions

    A few months ago, with Guy's help and blessings, I approached Leica with a proposal that they lend me an M8 to evaluate and write about during a documentary trip to Nepal.

    I'm on that trip now, and I've had the M8, along with the spectacular 28mm and 75mm Summicron lenses on loan from Leica.

    Since I received the camera in mid-March, I have been shooting pretty regularly and somewhat dutifully recording my impressions. With the preparations for our documentary and trek, I have been remiss in posting these. That's about to change

    Guy & Jack: I'm about to post a slew of long-winded, unscientific responses to my time getting to know the M8 as a camera and as a system. It is not my intention to take over GetDPI.com, nor do I hope to change anyone's mind.

    If the posts (or the links to my blog or pages of gallery links which I hope will follow) are out of order, I'll respect your decision to remove the stuff.

    Thanks for looking.

    My Site: http://www.nonfictionmedia.com
    My Blog: http://www.nonfictionmedia.com/blog
    My Current Project: http://www.littlesistersfund.org

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    Seriously: A Digital Leica M?

    SERIOUSLY... A DIGITAL LEICA M?

    For years, since well before I first bought a digital camera (Canon 10D, probably in 2003), I've struggled with the usual set of film v. digital arguments:

    Digital=convenient / Film=tangible
    Digital=flexible / Film=beautiful
    Digital=fast / Film=durable
    Digital=emergent / Film=dying
    Digital=clean high ISOs / Film=charismatic grain at high ISOs
    Digital=easier, cleaner, more efficient workflow / Film=je ne se quoi, but there's a certain artistic cred associated with its use

    Et cetera. That whole thing. Round and round in my head: 'I love to shoot low light, and that Summilux 35mm at f/1.4 on 800 Fuji is so sweet. Yeah, but a 1DII with Canon's 35L at 1600 is pretty dang nice too, and no scanning. Yeah, but look at the tonality in the film... Yeah, but what would it be like to be able to produce usable files at f/1.4 and 12500ISO? Ouch, look at the beautiful grain in the film...but check out the low noise in this file, and the detail, and, and, and....

    And of course, I also had (have) a bad case of the round-and-rounds about shooting with a film rangefinder v. digital SLR as my main camera. The Leica cult. Small camera, unobtrusive, 'people just think it's some old point-and-shoot, not like when I raise this giant aluminum brick and glass thing to my face'--that whole thing.

    {more to come}

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    Gearhead Angst

    GEARHEAD ANGST

    So Leica releases a digital M. What's the opposite of the sky falling? (or: Thank God for the Internets)

    I'm aware that I'm two years behind the curve on this one. Many early adopters have done loads of hard work, hair pulling, support-grouping, teeth-gnashing (and some actual photography!) coming up with best practices (and workarounds) for the proper care and feeding of the M8. I'm grateful to them, in particular for so avidly sharing the impressions and test results and customer service experiences over the online forums. {I am convinced the internet is ushering in a whole new era of customer service}

    I was hoping their work (and Leica's responses) would have answered more questions, more definitively than they have. But I am grateful nonetheless. The upshot--out there--is that the M8 has earned a tidy core of fiercely loyal supporters, some of them voluble and convincing in their praise of the camera system.

    If the talk on the forums is to be considered in any way representative of the broader experience of Leica M8 users, the camera has also frustrated a number of would-be happy owners. A number of (many?) one-time M8 owners have thrown up their hands, sold back out of the system, and gone back to shooting film Ms or high end DSLRs or whatever was good enough for them before the M8 came along.

    When I first shot with the Canon 1D Mark II, around the time rumors of the Leica M Digital were swirling pretty hot and heavy, I said that if Leica releases a digital M with a sensor as good as the one in the MkII, I'd pay $5000 for it.

    And then, by most accounts, they did. But there were problems. The unexpected need for UV filtration, and issues surrounding reliability and focus conspired to form a big asterisk next to the camera's name in lots of folks' minds.

    My Site: http://www.nonfictionmedia.com
    My Blog: http://www.nonfictionmedia.com/blog
    My Current Project: http://www.littlesisterfund.org

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    Re: M8 Loaner: First Impressions

    I ought to note here that this set of impressions will most likely be posted on my blog as well--and most of it was written for a more general audience than the rarefied sort that hang out here.

    But I wanted to honor my promise to Guy that it go here first. While I hope it will be, I don't actually presume this material is of tremendous interest to anyone here. I do invite constructive comments.

    I'm going to hold off posting more for a bit, as I don't want to get in trouble. If it's welcome, I will post a bunch more tomorrow, and some images if I can work out how.

    I'll be leaving on a 20 day high Himalayan trek/climb on Sunday morning, and will be taking the M8 and lenses with me. Can't wait!

    I hope to have a dedicated M8 gallery up and viewable if anyone's curious, but the internet's pretty slow here in Kathmandu, and it might not happen before later in May. Until then, please have a look at my blog, where most of the images are from the M8.

    Thank you for looking.

    My Site: http://www.nonfictionmedia.com
    My Blog: http://www.nonfictionmedia.com/blog
    My Current Project: http://www.littlesisterfund.org

  5. #5
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    Re: M8 Loaner: First Impressions

    Well, I suppose you’re saying you like M8. I didn’t get a chance to field test my unit before deciding. I essentially read a magazine review because I liked the look, so I bought the darn thing’.
    Regards,

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    Administrator, Instructor Guy Mancuso's Avatar
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    Re: M8 Loaner: First Impressions

    Guy & Jack: I'm about to post a slew of long-winded, unscientific responses to my time getting to know the M8 as a camera and as a system. It is not my intention to take over GetDPI.com, nor do I hope to change anyone's mind.


    Scott let it rip. You have all the space you want.
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

    www.guymancusophotography.com

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    Re: M8 Loaner: First Impressions

    Scott,

    as someone who can't afford the M8 but lusts (and sneaks into this forum to drool), i'm very much enjoying your posts. thank you!

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    Re: M8 Loaner: First Impressions

    Quote Originally Posted by Guy Mancuso View Post
    Guy & Jack: I'm about to post a slew of long-winded, unscientific responses to my time getting to know the M8 as a camera and as a system. It is not my intention to take over GetDPI.com, nor do I hope to change anyone's mind.


    Scott let it rip. You have all the space you want.
    Guy, Most gracious. Incoming!

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    Re: M8 Loaner: First Impressions

    {Small note: I don't know how to make my signature work; I'm not seeing it--on the top two or three, I added something manually}

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    Re: M8: A Belated First Impression

    LEICA M8: A BELATED FIRST IMPRESSION

    I (think I*) want one of these things. Badly. I (think I*) believe it could be the ideal camera for me. (I think*) It will enable me to shoot in just the way I like to shoot: quietly, unobtrusively, intimately, etc.

    * If word on the internet is to be believed, people's M8s are seizing up and misfocusing and going crazy and giving funny colors and spontaneously ceasing and desisting all over the place. Is the camera reliable enough?

    More to the point: Taking in both the images it produces and the experience of using a pro-quality digital system in the M-rangefinder form factor, is the M8 experience worth it?

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    Is the M8 The Right Camera For Me?

    IS THE M8 THE RIGHT CAMERA FOR ME?

    For some, the obvious answer is yes; for others, the answer is an equally obvious no. For me? The answer is a big asterisk*.

    (* It is if it is.)

    Rather than torture myself further with the to-ing and fro-ing, and the not really knowing, I thought it's about time I figure out which camp I'm in.

    I asked nicely and Leica Camera graciously agreed to lend me an M8 body, along with 28mm and 75mm Summicron lenses. These items arrived on a Monday in mid-March.

    If all goes well, these items will be accompanying me to Nepal on a 21 day trek and a documentary shoot we're doing there for The Little Sisters Fund. I expect there will be plenty about our Nepal trip and the Little Sisters Fund in here as it all unfolds. For now I'll just say that this whole thing is super exciting for us.

    I've been following the saga of the digital M with great interest, since long before the camera was unveiled. I've been an M user for several years, and to a degree subscribe to the Cult of Leica. So much has been written and spoken about the mystique of these cameras that I won't bother to give my spin on it.

    I can't say anything final at this point. I can say that I like M cameras. I like operating them; I like their industrial design, their compactness, denseness, mechanicalness; and most of all I like how the pictures look when I'm doing my job right. This is true of the M8.

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    Issues to Date

    Issues to date.

    Like lots of folks, I had read reports of all sorts of problems the M8 is prone to. Most alarming is something people have taken to calling "Sudden Death Syndrome," which involves the camera ceasing, suddenly, to live. With no notice. Generally requires a trip across the country (to Leica New Jersey) or across the Atlantic (to Leica headquarters in Solms, Germany) to fix.

    Other issues folks have, a not-exhaustive list from memory:

    • Green streaks from point light sources just out of the frame (see the sequence)
    • flaring/reflections from the fitted UV-IR filter (this is something not limited to the M8, but which people argue would not affect the camera if the IR filter were internal rather than external)
    • cyan shift in the corners of wide angle images (starting with 28mm lens, or an effective focal length of about 35mm) (Oh, yes indeedy)
    • difficulty focusing fast lenses--a variety of reasons, explanations, and solutions/workarounds (I had to ask for a replacement of the 75mm Summicron I originally received. The new one seems to focus just about perfectly. At least wide open, where I almost always use it)
    • occasional, not permanent menu bugs--the thing will just go on the fritz once in a while; shutting off the camera or even just rejiggering the jog dial seems to stop it


    I have experienced all of these with the loaner M8, except the Sudden Death business. Hope to conitnue to avoid it.

    Any advice on that?

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    Re: M8 Loaner: First Impressions

    Quote Originally Posted by NonFiction View Post
    {Small note: I don't know how to make my signature work; I'm not seeing it--on the top two or three, I added something manually}
    you have links in your sig to: My Site, My Blog, and My current Project -- they all work fine.

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    ISO Performance

    Like many, I wish the M8 had better noise performance at higher ISOs. It seems to me to be about comparable to color negative film, in terms of the amount of noise/grain that creeps in, and the amount of sharpness and color fidelity that slinks away when shooting at higher ISOs.

    The promise of relatively clean images shot at ISOs upwards of 3200, and usable stuff at ISOs as high as 25000 (Nikon's D3) is hard to ignore. Hard not to convince myself that I NEED to be able to shoot at those ISOs. "Just IMAGINE the shots I'll get that I couldn't touch before!" I tell myself.

    What shots? I probably did my most important photographic work in sewers in Romania, where it's dark a lot of the time. I sometimes pushed Fuji 800 film to 1600 for that, and occasionally shot black and white film at 3200. Grainy, cruddy looking negatives are the basis for some of my best pictures.

    I have to ask myself: If I'd had the ability to shoot three or four shots faster, would my reportage be better? Or would my low light pictures just be cleaner?

    I don't know the answer, but it is one I am asking myself more and more, the more I shoot the M8. Gearhead disease means there's always a voice in my head asking whether I shouldn't go and test a Nikon D3, or the yet-to-appear replacement for Canon's 5D (the reigning high ISO champion prior to the D3's emergence).

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    A Note on My Evaluation: This Is Not a Test

    {First off, I apologize that this is so dry of pictures. The web connection here is painfully slow. I shall try to resolve this problem in the near future}

    +++++A note on my lens evaluation: This Is Not a Test
    {IMAGES}

    Partly owing to time constraints, and partly owing to my generally scattered nature, I have done exactly zero controlled testing of these lenses' focus. Mostly what it consists of is a lot of pictures around our place, wide open portraits of the spines of a lot of books on our bookshelf, and casual portraits of Amy, and, well, just shooting around.

    Viewing my files, I know which ones I shot to test focus, and which to make pictures (sometimes it's even clear to impartial observers), and even thought I don't have an Excell spreadsheet, or six dozen prints of shots of rulers, I can generate an organic and useful impression of how the camera is working for me. I kind of figure the best way for a camera to ingratiate itself with a photographer is to quietly get to work, making pictures that meet or exceed the vision applied in creating them.

    Tentatively, I can say the Leica M8 and lenses I currently have in my possession is doing that.

    I believe there is something remarkable about the Leica lenses, the way they draw, the way they render space. I like it. A lot.

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    Focusing Redux

    Shooting the M, I focus more thoughtfully than I do when I shoot the Canons.

    (Worth noting at this point: All three Canon DSLRs we have, we find, focus more reliably using autofocus than manual focus. Probably a calibration issue. And none of them is rock-solid at critical focus 100% of the time. All need to go in for a checkup. I've been putting off sending in our 35mm f/1.4L Canon lens, which is just about useless because it doesn't focus right. I wouldn't want to give the impression that only Leicas suffer focus issues!)

    When I shoot the Leica, especially if I am 'on',I think I can 'feel' the parallax. Accounting for the difference between what the viewfinder sees, what the rangefinder sees, and what the lens sees is a simple but troublesome little dance of physical trigonometry. Learning to get it right (or get it right more often) is what makes the difference between a really nicely framed image, and one that's almost there.

    I sure don't get it right all the time (but then neither does Leica--as the framelines and parallax compensation built into the VF/RF are notoriously unreliable). But I get it right enough, often enough that I feel confident saying that the satisfaction of doing this well is one of the core pleasures of the M experience. It's one of the secret ingredients to the recipe for the "Leica Mystique".

    Mine included.

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    Horses For Courses and Other Rubbish (or: Note To Self)

    Read the internet camera forums for any length of time, and you will run across this exchange, over and over (with some variation as to make and models in discussion):

    Q: "Should I get the M8 or the D3? Both have great lenses, both cost $5K, and both would constitute sufficiently badass additions to my 'arsenal'."
    A1: "Get the D3. 12 fps, more megabytes, more weatherproof, more battery life..."
    A2: "Better the M8. It's unobtrusive. You won't scare your subjects off when you bring it to your eye."
    A3: "You haven't yet said what you want the camera for. It's horses for courses, of course. That's why I have a D3 and 200 F/2VR for shooting my daughter's middle school volleyball (they just don't light those gyms!), and an M8 and Noctilux for shooting trivia night at my local. You should think about this approach.
    A4: "It's not the camera, it's the shooter. Just give me a first generation Digital Holgalux, and I'll shoot rings around all you posers."
    A5 "Not to hijack the thread, but does anyone know if the new firmware for the D-holgalux II will fix the noise at ISO1600?"

    My take? First off: "Arsenal"... bit tired, this one perhaps, lads?
    Second: No, you don't take a gun to a knife fight; no, you don't take your Hyundai to the Nurburgring; and no, you don't need to have the perfect camera for every possible situation.

    The point and shoot you have with you is going to make a better picture than the M8 or D3 or whatever you leave at home.

    Wow, it feels good to have the last word on something.

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    The Kindness of Strangers

    So, I'm thinking I need a wide angle for the Leica--that'd be just the thing to take in those stunning Himalayan vistas. I figure I'll find a decent price on a used Cosina/Voigtlander Super-Heliar 15mm, and sell it when I'm done. Kind of a rental program, only with higher commitment.

    I had owned this lens with my M system before, and found it really nice, if a bit hard to use. It's so wide on the 35mm frame that things can really go distorty pretty badly. But it's a huge value, at about $350, new I think. I don't think I have as much need of a field of view that wide as I used to think I needed, but that's just as well, since on the M8, this lens is basically equivalent to a 21mm focal length. Perfect for my intended uses: landscapes and interiors.

    I post a want ad on the GetDPI.com forum, and after a couple days I have a pair of responses. One of the responses evolved into a pretty friendly back-and-forth, the would-be seller curious about what I would be doing with the lens, and how I came to be in possession of a loaner M8, and what we are doing in Nepal and who are we working for, etc.

    Medium length story short: The gentleman in question, one Gareth Callaway, most generously suggested that I consider accepting a loan of his 15mm lens, along with the UV/IR filter and custom Milich filter and 6-bit coded M-mount adapter and 21mm accessory viewfinder. He said, "Take the 15 and all its paraphernalia off to Nepal for a vacation, it needs it. Send it back home when you get home."

    I can't thank Gareth enough. I have promised fine prints of his choice of images from our journey.

    There is no end of annoying and petty and malicious things the internet brings to our lives, but they are far outweighed by what I do not hesitate to call the miraculous convening of communities of individuals with common interests. Hooray!

    This little lens is a really wonderful piece of gear. I can scarcely imagine owning the M8 without it. Just a super solid, compact, sharp wide angle lens.

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    Re: M8 Loaner: First Impressions

    Well, that's about all for now. Possibly until I'm back from the trek/climb sometime in the fourth week of May.

    If we are successful, the M8 will see the view from 21,000 feet and help to capture the countryside and its people and the group of wonderful people we are traveling with.

    Please feel free to share the blog around. Upon our return I hope to continue with the blog, and to incorporate more camera specific stuff as well. Wish us luck.

    Thank you for your time. Thank you Guy and Jack.

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