Tips and tricks with the Leica M8 Simon King shares his thoughts on using the sturdy Leica M8

I’ve heard that every Leica owner has three cameras. One they’re using at the moment, one in Wetzlar being repaired, and one on the way back from Wetzlar having just been repaired. I had never had a mechanical fault shooting with my Leica M, but I was always aware that if something did happen to the shutter or rangefinder, or electronics that I would be without my tools for quite some time. Here are some thoughts on the Leica M8.

When something did happen, it happened at the worst time imaginable. For an entire week almost exactly after the day it was sent away I had a different job booked. Two events, and two models to cover – involving nearly every shooting scenario including journalism, portraiture and fine arts. All of which I had to capture without my preferred tools, and no time to secure a replacement.

My spare rangefinder for some time has been a second-hand M8, which I bought because of their short supply, and the need for a backup rangefinder system. When I first got it I used it for some street work, but nothing professional and this was its first true outing as “my” camera. Normally I use only 50mm, but I also took my 90mm APO, in order to fully differentiate my workflow from what I’m used to. I thought I might as well go for as different a technique while I was forced to, so I had at least some control over a very annoying situation.

You can see the amount of “stretch” I’ve had to apply in order to bring my images to a useable level. Considering the shooting environments were all dark or poorly lit, especially indoors, the relatively ancient old CCD sensor was surprising in the amount of detail it managed to render. I concentrated more on my exposure settings, and fixed the ISO to base to ensure clean files. I shot wide open throughout and adjusted my shutter speed to eliminate motion blur, which was a tricky balance when dealing with acrobats and ice-skaters. My favourite images I made over this time were at Zippos Wonderland Circus, tracking and capturing the fast moving performers was a challenge and I was so pleased with how the images turned out.

Looking back at the images, I definitely see the ISO restrictions, and I do wish for higher performance from future M cameras, as the current Leica M ( Typ 240) also in my opinion has not caught up yet. What I lost in the darkness, I hopefully compensated with creative use of silhouettes and light play. When editing, I used what grain there was creatively, as some people choose to with VSCO filters. I missed my Leica M ( Typ 240) the most when photographing the  The Nutcracker on Ice, which was an adaptation from the broadway production. I was lucky to attend this as a photographer, as no other photographer has actually shot this, aside from the promotional team for the broadway production. The images were mediocre, and was the most logistically tricky, as I had to shoot upwards into the lights from audience level.

The lightness compared to the Leica M ( Typ 240), and slimmer feeling profile both helped me to keep the camera steady for longer exposures, although the tradeoff of this is a lower battery life. That said, I carried a spare with me each day of shooting, and never had to use it.

There were a few hurdles that prevented me from being entirely comfortable with the Leica M8, including the impossibly slow buffer and playback time. I’ve felt limited by the speed of my Leica M ( Typ 240), but this was still tolerable. Shooting continuous on the Leica M8 I had to pause, something for a couples of minutes at a time before I could take another shot, or to view or show my model the shot. This kind of break in the workflow, especially when shooting live events where every moment counts and I see now why DSLR sales are so focused around frames per second as a USP.

I still prefer the rangefinder over a DSLR, and slower shooting – MUCH slower shooting although irritating was still something I managed to work around, by slowing down myself and anticipating a moment rather than focusing and hoping for one to occur.

Aside from the mechanical and external differences, the Leica M8 features a cropped sensor, and crops its frame lines accordingly. The framelines are also tighter, and I found this to be very noticeable when composing an image. The independent model I shot was just starting out, and we were working on building her portfolio. I was able to use the tighter crop of the 50mm on the Leica M8 to my advantage to get some intimate portrait style close-ups of her, framed by her hair.

I noticed more interest from curious people asking me if my Leica M8 film camera, and more second glances than I normally get. It has more of the external mechanical callbacks, such as  frameline window and frameline lever. I keep my Leica M ( Typ 240) in tape over branding and microphones which definitely helps keep a subtle profile.

In use with the Leica M8 I found that I never touched the preview lever. Although I know it serves its purpose, has never really helped me to frame something that I couldn’t already do by eye. It was never dark enough that my frame lines stopped being visible, but I didn’t find myself searching on occasion for my frame. The digital advances the M are a definite improvement over this.

My Leica M8 had everything on display, red dot and all. I am sure that played a part in the interest, and I have since applied a healthy dose of duct tape. Shooting Hyper Japan, in the Docklands was definitely more of a street photography exercise than anything else, and the Leica M8 really excelled in the environment. I was able to get some excellent candid scenes, and the fact that my camera was “noticed” and “recognised” meant I could interact more with the attendees, and grabbed some great portraits.

The images here was produced with a ten year old digital camera, with an arguably sub-par sensor compared to anything produced today. Paired with some great lenses I think the final photographs actually do hold up when viewed full size to results I know I could produce with my “real” M. Having to adapt to an alien system on the spot was tricky, but resulted in both creative thinking, and happy clients.

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5 comments

  • Steve!

    I’m curious: how many of your excellent photos could I have taken with my trusty M3 and 35mm Summicron? It has never needed a repair, and it is…mirrorless!

    Zvonimir

  • G
    Yes! Great comment!
    Digital esp. on DSLR is for shoots needed yesterday!
    That is insane. The M digital users promote using DNG, which is slower than film processing.
    I used JPEG on an M8 and found it very nice.
    My M3 celebrates 50 yrs in service!
    I love color of M8. Kodachrome look.

  • Winogrand has two M4 and they were in repair numerous times. My M4-2 went for repair service twice. One time I dropped it, another time I managed to get film where it is not supposed to be.
    About tips and tricks…
    My daughter is using TTL flash for professional photography with non-Leica camera and I’m using Leica TTL flash on M8 and M-E, if it is too dark for my own photography.

  • “The M digital users promote using DNG, which is slower than film processing.”
    What kind of raw workflow are you talking about? Making a fine art print from every frame. If you don’t need to make any adjustments to your JPEGs than why would you think you have to spend a lot of time on raw files? You can batch process DNG on a laptop in seconds, and the quality is much better than the M8’s in camera JPEGs.

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