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Wednesday, 11 June 2008

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Unfortunately it's sad but true. The Leica is a religion to some people and saying anything negative about ANYTHING Leica - even if true, will get you the kind of grief you'd get in the Muslim world for making fun of you know who.

I have been shooting with the E-3 for the last few months, racking around 10K frames already. Just the other day, I was thinking that while having the long reach and the zoom is nice, I sure miss the small and quiet Ms, and the rangefinder experience of being able to see everything at once. Alas, even for an average used price of ~$4000, the M8 just seems too overpriced.

I use and like Leicas but am not religious about them. The charming and excellent Tina Manley summed it up: "I do use Leicas because they are quiet, unobtrusive, mechanical, and reliable. The excellent glass is a bonus for which I am very grateful, but I will not put the camera on a
tripod, use slow film, and stop the lens down to maximize the quality of the lens if I lose the photograph in the process."
(http://leica-users.org/v18/msg05890.html) I have an M8, but I don't really like it, for a variety of reasons including some that Mr Kamber describes here. But -

No digital camera will work at extreme temperatures. For instance, Nikon states that the upper operating limit of the D3, probably its most rugged current DSLR, is 40 C. I've photographed in northern South
Australia in summer, where it routinely gets to the kinds of temperatures that a journalist would experience in Iraq. I have seen both D100s and D300s fail due to overheating and these cameras are both rated to function to the same temperature as the D3. What generally happens is that it's say, 45 C. Of course the cameras are black. If you go out in the sun, which is hard to avoid seeing as it's blindingly bright and there is no shade, the camera heats to 55, 60, 65, (too hot to comfortably touch) or more degrees quickly . First the LCDs stop changing, then they go black. Then the shutter release becomes unreliable. Then the camera stops working totally. At high enough a temperature the lubricants seep out of the places they are meant to be and pool in other parts of the camera where they are not meant to be. After that the sound the camera makes changes because it's running 'dry'.

Dust is the enemy of all cameras. Deserts are dusty. Unsealed cameras are a liability.

In extremely hot, dusty conditions, two things are essential: 1. Temperature tolerance - which is better with film cameras, but if it's hot enough the emulsion will melt off the film base (don't leave the camera in the sun on the dash of the HumVee); 2. Proper weather sealing - which no M camera apart from the KE-7A has. I don't know if the KE-7A has a sealed lens mount or if the 50/2 Elcan lens that was made for it is properly sealed, but sealed lens mounts and lenses help a lot. All the other M Leica are sieves.

Many cameras will need specific lubricants to work in these conditions and all will fail without proper care.

In these kinds of conditions I would expect an M8 to fail almost immediately. Some brands of SD cards aren't even rated to work this hot, let alone how hot his camera probably got. I'd probably only give a professional DSLR a little longer before failing. The most reliable option for those conditions is a properly sealed film camera. A film M may clog with dust unless the operator took reasonable care to keep dust out the camera (Ewa Marine Bags are good).

Leica doesn't state an operating temperature range for the M8. Many other manufacturers are kind enough, however, to tell us that you shouldn't expect the camera to work above 40 C. Sandisk lets us know that their Extreme cards stop working at 85 C. But that someone would expect an M8 to operate this hot really surprises me. I found a lot of this more akin to "I took my Mercedes to Antarctica and it wouldn't go because the petrol froze!" than serious critique.

Despite that, the 'mechanical' and 'simple' parts of Tina's doctrine certainly don't apply to the M8. Lucky I still have and use my film Ms.

Incidentally, found that the newest firmware fixed most of the auto white balance issues.

Voltz

Nice reading, I haven't tried the Leica myself but I have used Epson RD1 and didn't like it much. I am a Canon user and recently bought the Olympus E-420 as a travel camera and I really think that's the "Leica of the future" good dust reduction for those war photographers and small format. I find it such a joy to take pictures with the little 25mm pancake lens really nice to use a "Adidas zoom" for a change I use the 24-105 mostly on my canon. With a Y-strap on the olympus and a light summer jacket you can't tell I am wearing the e-420.

Well I'm sure that this review is keeping the Leica fan boards busy!

In faint defense of Leica it sounds like Michael's M8 might not yet have the latest firmware. Leica substantially fixed the funhouse auto white balance featured in the first units shipped. As an owner of two M8's I've also noted that the newer body (Feb 08) feels and operates much tighter and more reliable than the older (Feb 07) body. But this might be a unique experience.

I have been largely quite lucky with my M8's. I only have one persistent, but relatively minor, problem with a power switch. I have never experienced the dreaded camera lock-up which seems so common. But I must say that "lucky" is how I feel. The problems that Michael recounted are widely experienced and well known by all parties. Even many of the wildest early M8 zealots seem to have cooled on the camera and on Leica in recent months. (Maybe they all jumped to the next new thing.)

Personally I enjoy using the M8, given the right situation. The rangefinder design and the fine lenses can produce some of the sharpest, best resolved images you'll see from nearly any digital camera.

Still, the M8 does not live up to the run-and-gun heritage that made its film predecessors so famous. I must agree with Michael that the M8's design and reliability are not up to the standards that a field photojournalist would find acceptable.

Leica's service standards have also come under widespread criticism since the introduction of the M8. I suspect that Leica's small, sleepy service centers were just not prepared for the tsunami of problems that the M8's premature birth pushed their way.

It's nearly impossible to predict what Leica will do with the M8. With their management still reeling from recent turmoil, rumors that the company is "committed" to again insanely trying to chase the dslr market with a new R product, and rumors that they'll also chase the p&s market harder Leica just seems to be spinning out of control. The company has accumulated a strong following of supporters and well-wishers over the decades. But my sense is that they're slowly dwindling. Devotees of film M's are an ever-shrinking group. The M8 has attracted some new Leica users but its swelling and insanely uncompetitive price (now $5,500), limited functionality, and spotty rep have choked the full potential of the new product.

Personally, I wish Leica well and will continue to occasionally use the M8 for both personal and business work, as appropriate. But I don't expect to follow the product line further in the future.

Hmmmmn, I wonder if the posted image is really meant as an a ad for a single malt whisky ad ......... or for a packet of durries (cigarettes) ........ the camera , the flak jacket, the sunnys where's the Kelvin Cline underwear? the ..................

I read Michael Kamber's report yesterday when I found it linked to from the Luminous Landscape (yup, they were quicker :-)

I seriously wonder who in their right mind would pay that much money for such an inferior piece of engineering. Move on Leica-people, this isn't the 1960s anymore.

The Sigma DP1, despite being a great idea, has also been slammed (e.g. on this blog) for being slow. So, the DP1 isn't an engineering marvel either.
I really wonder how an $800 DP1 would fare against a $5000+ M8. We know both are slow, but could a DP1 actually deliver better images (quality, exposure and white balance-wise) ?

Maybe Mike can write up a comparison or find someone to do it?

I'd still rather have an M8 than one of those trucks.

I sold my Epson R-D1 when they stopped supporting it, thinking I'd go for an M8.

Sadly, that illusion lasted only until I picked one up in the shop. Now I've sold all my Leica lenses.

I miss my R-D1 .

Most of his complaints about M8 are not true in the case of its only competitor Epson R-D1. Why doesn’t he use that? It even costs a fraction of the price of M8.

Mike--
Kamber is entitled to his view, just as you and I are. The camera didn't live up to his needs. It's fine for him to reject it.

But that being said, a number of the problems he encountered--such as the initially totally useless Auto White Balance--have been fixed in the current firmware version.

In addition, it isn't obvious by watching the camera that its turn-on time is less than one second. It takes several seconds for all the LEDs and LCDs to show the camera's current status, but the camera is ready to go something like 0.7 sec after turning it on.

I accept Michael Kamber's opinion. I'm not using it while being shot at. It certainly needs the expensive UV/IR-cut filters as he said, and Leica lenses are unquestionably expensive. Kamber is correct in all his observations, but a surprisingly large number of the problems he mentions have been corrected with version 1.201 of the firmware, available for download on the Leica site.

The early versions of the camera were notoriously liable to quitting, overexposing by 4 stops, giving black frames when shooting in bright sun, and all sorts of other peculiar behavior. But the batch of cameras that have been upgraded by Leica since about the beginning of this year, or that have shipped since then, have been virtually trouble-free. I'm not defending Leica, just stating a fact.

Yes, you change cards by removing the bottom plate, and the buttons are dangerously accessible. Accidentally changing ISO may be minor compared to the fact that a few unintended bumps against the protruding buttons can reformat the memory card without warning.

I hope Leica will contact him to try to work with him for future improvements. Most people working with the M8 feel that its files, at least up to ISO 640, are unsurpassed. But that doesn't mean that it's the right camera for everyone, or that it can't be improved for everyone.

Mr Kamber understands the camera from the point of view of the classic Leica user, the war photographer. Considering that this is Leica's first in-house attempt at a digital camera, the M8 is surprisingly good. But Kamber recognizes that the camera has serious problems that need fixing to make it useful for his purposes.

His review is excellent because it states the facts of his experience with the camera. No one in her right mind will deny him that.

Lucky it's cheap then.

It seems clear that desert conditios are tough for digital cameras, but the author seems happy with the results he gets from his Canons in the very same conditions, doesn't he?

I've been using my M8 for 16 months with absolutely no problems. I've updated the firmware as Leica has released them and each has been an improvement. The camera works for me and that's what matters. Two years ago, 90% of my image sales were done with a D200. Nowadays it's 90% M8.
My question to Kamber is - why in the world would you keep using something you disliked?

I read that the other day and dropped in on the DPR Leica forum ;-)

What is all the crying about anyway? 99.9% of the people reading that article/review will never even come close to putting an M8 or any other camera through those paces.

Leica needs to reinvent it self and start building cameras like it's 2008. Ergonomic and bullet proof design just makes sense, even for the rest of us.

Screw the collectors.....build cams for photographers.

It seems that on automatic exposure, one can't bracket or overide exposure easily. And on manual exposure, one can't see the shutter speed in the viewfinder and has to look at the aperture ring or shutter speed dial to vary exposure.

Isn't this a deal killer for working quickly while keeping your eye on the viewfinder? Maybe this also is part of the reason why some people report poor exposures with the the M8.

@Voltz: You make some excellent points, but most of the criticisms in the review were about ergonomics (buttons), sensor noise, viewfinder, and other features unrelated to the heat. The author also states that his Canons outperform the Leica in similar environmental conditions. In other words, the heat does not appear to be a factor here.

JohnBrewton wrote: "My question to Kamber is - why in the world would you keep using something you disliked?"

That's a very good question that I, too, pondered. If my M8 experiences were as disappointing as Michael Kamber's I would certainly not be schlepping it back to Iraq again. That's a puzzling choice.

On a separate note, it is also noteworthy that Kamber is using the camera for JPGs. Yes, I do understand that that is the only practical choice given the turnaround time frames facing news photographers. But I doubt you'll find any knowledgeable, experienced M8 photographer who will defend the M8's JPGs; they're really crap. It's the RAW files that make the M8 worth using at all.

I have been using the M8 now for 15 months with no technical problems or issues. I also use a Canon 5d and an M6 for film work. The M8 fits nicely in between the two and I now find I use it more than the others. The quality of the files is extraordinary up to 640 which is about as high as I tend to go on the 5d as well. It's a great package for shooting in cities with the advantage of almost medium format quality combined with small size. The files also up-res very nicely for A2 prints. It's had a lot of flak but I think most owners are now less interested in talking about its much-discussed problems and are just out there shooting.

I don't think the question about why Kamber would keep using something e doesn't like is a good one. I think he implies the reason in his review: he's been using Leica Ms for decades, so he'd like to be able to continue.

Funnily, when I first began reading the review, I thought "why would one take an M8 to Iraq - that's crazy, it's too pricey and a luxury camera, not for warzones!"

But that's the problem - I'm a young photographer who has never owned a Leica, so I think of Leica as what it's in danger of becoming: an overpriced luxury brand that can't live up to its heritage.

Leica's new products should be encouraging me to remember that they became so coveted by being the real deal: a beautifully-made, fast, sturdy, simple camera that can be trusted... and yes, then proudly cherished.

I linked to Michael Kamber’s article as well. As I have written about, I owned an M8 for nearly a year. I installed every firmware update and used all available workarounds. I finally got so frustrated with the camera’s quirky behavior that I traded it in on a Nikon D3. During the time I owned the camera I experienced pretty much every flaw that Kamber did and I’m no war photographer. This isn’t some lovable old uncle whose strange behavior needs to be tolerated. This is a $5,000 piece of photographic equipment that frankly does not work. In my mind multiple firmware updates are nothing to be glad about. They merely show that the product was flawed in the first place.

More to the point, it just seems only good up through 640 & "crap" JPGs aren't good enough if they want to retain the PJ/available light/discreet shooter's choice label. If they're OK with becoming something else due to tech, shortcomings, fine- if not, they should sort it out in the next product.

I'm hardly the Leica user (hell, I'm not even a digital user), but I do remember how the M5 was also the technological work in progress that was roundly criticized before its successor ultimately fulfilled its ambitions...

The M8 (I have one) has problems, as you can quickly find out by looking at any Leica forum. And I guess he's right about most of his complaints; I've had many of them, and actually had my camera replaced by Leica when it comprehensively broke. There's also the fact that the M8 was Leica's first try at a digital, and it just got a lot of design stuff wrong.

But to tell the truth, I have no idea of why Kamber took a Leica to Iraq; perhaps he hadn't shot in a desert before. I can't actually think of a worse camera for desert conditions (I spent several years as a photographer on a desert dig site in the Jordan Valley in Israel, where people spent the day throwing around buckets of dust. And I was embedded with a helicopter unit in Iraq in January.)

Just for starters, a Leica doesn't have zoom lenses -- and that means changing lenses a lot, which is exactly what you don't want to do in a desert. You inevitably get dust inside even with zooms, but constantly changing primes would turn a problem into a nightmare. On the dig, I carried two cameras specifically to avoid the problem of changing lenses. I had a wide zoom on one and a medium zoom on the other.

And that "discreet size" thing doesn't impress me much, either -- if he's that desperate for discretion, maybe he should use a Canon G9, which would give him more range than a Leica in an even smaller package. But the fact is, I've got the Leica sitting here with a Nikon D300 (roughly the size of a Canon 5D), and there isn't *that* much difference in size from the Leica. If anything, the big size difference would come with the zoom lenses usually used on Canons and Nikons; if he really needs to use primes for street shooting, there are exceptional Nikon/Canon primes that would do a great job for him.

Or perhaps he needs to look at a Pentax 20D, which is weather sealed and has those great pancake lenses, making a package that is just about as small as the Leica.

The Leica is actually at this stage a fairly delicate instrument meant for a certain kind of contemplative shooting, walk-around shooting. That's just the way it is. An M8 is not an M7. Kamber's problem is not so much a bad camera; it's a bad decision. It appears that he sat down, thought about it, and then chose the worse possible camera to take with him.

JC

@charlie d: If Leica or any other electronics manufacturer built cameras like it's 2008 in 2008, they'd immediately be losing ground to the competition, who are designing and building cameras for tomorrow's technology market... that is, the segment of that market who wants a package of digital features like the Leica line once produced for film.

"@charlie d: If Leica or any other electronics manufacturer built cameras like it's 2008 in 2008, they'd immediately be losing ground to the competition, who are designing and building cameras for tomorrow's technology market... that is, the segment of that market who wants a package of digital features like the Leica line once produced for film."

OK right.

So why does Leica continue to employ the same ergonomic "technology" in 2008 as they did in 1938?

Back then it was ground breaking and everyone followed. Now it is a $5000 brick that so many people buy after market grips for, complain about and sell because it feels awkward.

They should merge with Olympus and blow everyone out of the water. Build the camera that seemingly everyone on the entire internet photo world wants right now.

I won't deny its appeal and its heritage but there just are not enough people looking for a "man purse" camera to keep Leica going. Stereotypes are half true you know.


A very interesting article and it sounds like he is describing a typical German car: overpriced, possessed of an unmerited superiority complex, and constantly being repaired to no effect until finally scrapped. Seen it many a time in the automotive industry.
I would hope he figures something out before he takes a round while diddling with it.
Best wishes,

"Yes, I do understand that [JPEG] is the only practical choice given the turnaround time frames facing news photographers."

I haven't been a working news photographer in almost twelve years -- I gave it up for a university staff job. So last month one of the presidential candidates made a campaign stop on campus, and I was once more working alongside my former colleagues. A very experienced newspaper staffer sat down next to me to edit and transmit photos after the event. She had shot all JPEG, and I had shot all RAW. She moved 28 toned, captioned photos in 90 minutes. I moved 41 toned, captioned photos in less than an hour. The incredibly crappy light in the venue made it very difficult for her to color correct her JPEG files. I was able to process very good color out of my raw processor, and of course batch process the files at the same time.

The only speed advantage she has was downloading the files from the cards. I had filled five or six 2-gig cards, and had to wait for them to download, and that slowed me down a bit (but I still finished much earlier.)

So, I understand that conventional wisdom says that JPEGs are faster than RAW files. But it just isn't true in my experience. There may be other reasons to shoot JPEG, though, that I am not considering.

Dear Ken,

My experience is similar to yours. Processing RAW is not much of a hassle nor particularly time-consuming. In fact, when I just let Adobe Bridge and ACR open my files using my default ACR settings, almost everything on the Bridge screen looks pretty good right off the bat. I'm really surprised at how close the tone and the color come out without doing any hand work.

The real answer to the question of why Michael shoots JPEG instead of RAW could be answered simply and directly by e-mailing and asking him. But that is not in the grand tradition of the Internet, where standing custom is to speculate rampantly rather than query available authority. Far be it from me to violate such hallowed tradition. So my speculation would be that it has to do with the response time of the camera. Michael was complaining about how slow the camera was even in JPEG mode. Wouldn't the performance, then, become unacceptable in RAW mode?

In true Internet fashion, I say this never having talked to Michael, never having queried him as to his working modes, and never having used an M8 nor read another review of it. Why let facts get in the way?!


~ pax \ Ctein
[ please excuse any word salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
======================================
-- Ctein's online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital restorations http://photo-repair.com
======================================


There are an awful lot of responses to Mr. Kamber's review which question his decision to take the M8 to Iraq, or to use it for the kind of work he's written about.

He explains rather clearly, however, why he wanted to use the M8. The reasons are all reasons photographers have chosen Leica rangefinders since the beginning. This is a fellow who's been around the block, and made a picture or two. Maybe he deserves credit for making rational decisions?

True, he does focus on the problems he had. But he also held out using it for quite a while before calling it quits. I suspect this is because of that remarkable M-camera combination of convenience and wonderful glass. Eventually the problems outweighed the benefits for Kamber, but that doesn't mean they aren't there.

Mr. Kamber's measured evaluation of the camera is a lot more in line with my own experience of the M8 than the shrill and/or dismissive defenses Leica zealots are offering.

I've been in possession of an M8 and a couple of lenses, graciously on loan from Leica for a couple of months. I'm in Nepal, shooting a documentary, and the M8 is with me just about all the time.

(If you like, check out my blog, which is populated mostly with photos from the M8: http://nonfictionmedia.com/blog )

This thing is wonderful, and heartbreaking. I want one so bad I can taste it. When it's in its sweet spot (i.e. in enough light) the pictures really DO have something special. Amazing lenses, magical rendering sensor.

I've had the camera on top of a 21,000 foot mountain, and dragged it through the Himalaya for three weeks, as well as around dusty Kathmandu. To be sure, this hasn't been a war-zone assignment. Still, I find Mr. Kamber's review to be spot on.

My current M8 wisdom? I don't make enough money from photography, though it is my work, to justify owning this camera.

Years ago I was a delivery driver, hauling payrolls and contracts and other pre-fax paperwork around town. I drove a crap old Subaru, but really wished I could justify owning a nice original BMW 2002.

If I had that car, I was constantly telling myself, everything about my job would be so much better (except of course the parts that were worse--like when it stranded me).

That car is this camera. Logic and my economic reality dictated that I didn't buy the 2002, either.

Doesn't mean I won't still lust for one.

It is disappointing to find that the Leica brand has not be able to stay competitive in the great shift to digital photography. I have several Leicas still, and have loved using them. I have not been able to let them go. Maybe I will have another film moment. (I do use film still, but in formats larger than 35mm).

I have been using the Nikon D3 since it came out, and this camera feels to me like the first credible replacement for 35mm film. If Leica can hang on, I think that good quality sensors will become available to all makers in due course, and the current race to push the forefront of the technology, with the deepest pockets generally staying in the lead, will settle down. The differentiation between cameras purely on their ability to record information at a useable quality and speed will be less dramatic.

As much as I wanted to think the M8 might work for me, I have not been tempted to get one, but that does not mean that it might suit some people quite well. I can't imagine trying to work with one in a war zone or any such demanding situation. I do note, that while I agree with Michael Kamber in preferring the frame made with the Canon, that it shows heavy vignetting and very soft corners, not usually considered desirable characteristics. You have to choose which fights to pick, I guess.

Thanks for the review. I had been saving up with the thought of buying the digital M8, because the film version was so great. Sounds like there are some significnat problems with this camera that I definitely do not need. On the plus side, I don't have to keep saving but can get something else immediately.

To those who can understand Spanish, may I wholeheartedly recommend you to read a truly stunning review of this camera from a longtime professional, extremely respected Spanish photographer, Valentin Sama. You can agree or not, but he knows very well what he's speaking about:

http://www.dslrmagazine.com/pruebas/pruebas-tecnicas/leica-m8-y-summarit-m-a-prueba.html

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