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Leica M8.2 review

Leica M8.2 with 35mm f/2 Summicron ASPH

The Leica M8.2 is a reworked version of the original M8 launched late 2006. At the time the M8 received mixed reviews and the M8.2 was Leica’s response to some of that criticism. At $5,995 / £3850 body only, the M8.2 is around $2000 / £1000 more than the original M8, which is still made. The differences between two then are really meant placate those who thought the M8 fell short of what was expected. If you’re not familiar with the brand, it’s a make that’s now bought by two types of customer; the die-hard pro and the collector.

In fairness to Leica, the company has to cater to both to survive but those customers have very different requirements. Long before the advent of DSLRs most imaging professionals criticised the manual mechanical M6 for having a built-in meter. But even as some of them began to adopt the DSLR, the replacement M7 was more-or-less dismissed as a serious camera, just because it had an electronic shutter. The firm quickly sidestepped the issue by introducing the mechanical MP, albeit with a meter, that found favour with both types of customer. There was a certain amount of trepidation then when the firm announced its intention to produce a digital M8.

Like most new offerings from the firm the M8 was criticised by professionals at first, but after time was largely accepted. One of the main gripes, apart from the 1.3x FOV cropped sensor, was the sensitivity to infra-red but a noisy shutter, inaccurate frame lines at mid-distance and plain-looking body covering was just too much for some users and reviewers.

The M8.2 has the same body, layout and controls, though the matte black-chrome finish version, which is well-known as being prone to unsightly wear has been replaced by a classy black-paint model; it will ‘brass’, but it’s acknowledged as looking better. While the cosmetic changes have been a success, the replacing of the body material with a hard-wearing traditional-looking but ever-so slightly slippery synthetic vulcanite covering is less so, but hardly a point for concern.

The bottom plate must be removed to change SD (HC) cards and recharge the battery,
not unlike analog M-system cameras (when changing film)

A far more important tweak is the more definite click-stops between the drive-mode selector, surrounding the shutter release; you wont find it slipping from single-shot mode to the self-timer when that once in lifetime photo-op appears in front of you. We also approve of the re-configuring of the viewfinder frame lines; they now cover the sensor area when the lens is focused at 2m, roughly portrait distance, as opposed to the less useful 0.7m; the minimum focus distance of the 35mm (50mm equivalent) Summicron we had during the review.

Of course this a rangefinder camera; you don’t view through the taking lens, rather focusing and framing is a achieved through separate finders. Most of the common focal lengths use the built-in finder that sets frame lines automatically though longer focal lengths; 90mm for instance, occupies a small frame in the centre of viewfinder. It can be a shock, if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool DSLR user. Ultrawide lenses need an add-on finder, much like that seen re-introduced with the Olympus E-P1, but that additional real-estate, surrounding the area captured by the sensor, can be an aid to composition.

Focus is all manual; the brass helicoid adds to the overall weight of the lenses, but durability and optical precision is of paramount importance. You’ll have to reassess your focusing skills but it’s a relief from inappropriate distance detection and the occasional hunting back-and-forth of auto-focus systems. Sure, we got some out-of-focus shots, but it was down to us, not the CPU.

The 2.5-inch screen isn't overly large but it's ample for most tasks

Around the back the LCD screen stays the same 2.5-inches in size and resolution, which for the most part is perfectly adequate for day-to-day use including focus confirmation. The only change being the protective cover is now made from scratch-resistant sapphire glass. Menu operation isn’t quite as slick as it could be. Every setting either from the short-cut menu or the main menu requires confirmation before being accepted, which is fine once you get used to it. Settings don’t get changed accidentally and a well-placed Set button means it’s not as big a chore as it could have been. A rear command wheel is welcome for selection and focus confirmation but we found it a bit stiff in operation, though it feels like it will last a lifetime's use.

Leica has also altered the shutter mechanism (it's the same full-frame shutter from the R9 SLR), and while not as quiet as some high-end digital compacts, the noise is not unbearable and can be quietened further for single-shot use by delaying the noisier charging cycle till releasing the shutter button. Burst shooting isn’t exactly a strong point, but then it’s probably ample for most needs. We managed to capture ten Raw+ JPEG fine files in 5.6 seconds (1.8fps), before the buffer filled and the camera stalled.

We’re not so impressed by swapping the 1/8000sec max of the M8 for a Snap shot mode using auto selection of shutter speeds, ISOs and JPEG capture only along with a couple of suggested apertures, based on the lens in use. It won’t appeal to the majority of users but it’s easy enough to ignore, if you want to. For all that, the M8.2 offers manual exposure and aperture priority, just like the 35mm analog M7. Indeed, the M8 and M8.2 are amongst the least complicated digital cameras available; we found it made us concentrate more on our subject than endlessly checking and re-checking our settings. To our way of thinking, that’s got to be a good thing.

Picture Quality

With good exposure, ISO2500 isn't always 'off-limits'

In terms of performance, the M8.2 likely won’t impress pixel peepers; noise levels are higher then you might expect, with the maximum ISO2500 being very digital-looking and largely off-limits. However, noise is detectable in shadow areas at ISO320 but is fine grained up to ISO1250 and not unlike film. That’s not as big a deal as it might sound for low-light shooting. Thanks to the lack of a reflex mirror with their inherent image softening effect, rangefinders can use shutter speeds of at least one or two stops slower than SLRs.

Out-of-camera JPEG - no EV correction
Leica M8.2 with 35mm f/2.0 Summicron

Best of all though, using the defaults, Leica has set metering and exposure to deliver JPEGs with a good balance overall by means of excellent tonality; as opposed to the overexposed look for consumers or the pro-preference for slightly underexposed images. Shadow and highlight detail is excellent without either being excessively clipped, except in the most tricky (strongly-backlit) lighting. Out of camera mono (JPEG) images are sublime, if you like slightly lower contrast shots that is.

Default conversion from DNG, using ACR 5.4 beta and sharpened for web use
Leica M8.2 with 35mm f/2 Summicron at f/5.6, ISO160

The Silver Cup Public House
100-percent crop, actual pixels, from the above

White-balance is generally good, though the propensity to reveal ruddy skin tones and for magenta casts from certain black coloured synthetic materials under tungsten lighting doesn’t differ from the M8. The thin (0.5mm) sensor coverglass means detail from M-mount lenses is very high with Raw files, but we were unable to test it definitively using our preferred test target.

In Summary
Leica aren’t competing with a specific rival camera; the Epson R-D1x isn’t freely available in the West, though there are several models that maybe tempting, especially if price is a concern (when isn’t it?). The most immediately obvious perhaps is the rangefinder-like Olympus E-P1, especially as the short flange back distance means M-mount lenses can be fitted with an adaptor. Even without the ability to use M-mount lenses, the E-P1 works pretty well as a small, discrete camera for candids.

Of course a good DSLR may also make a practical alternative, but the M8.2 is most likely to appeal to those that already have one of those for other, specific jobs, such as fast action or more mainstream work. The M8.2 then is going to appeal to those wanting to use it for certain niche jobs; street photography and portraiture, and for that the M8.2 seems well suited.

We would have liked weatherproof sealing, (after all it’s featured on the forthcoming Leica S2) and maybe a full-frame (35mm form-factor) sensor, but that, if it's coming, is going to cost extra. We think Leica has successfully morphed the film based M cameras into the digital age, and if you liked using those, even with the few gripes we have, you’ll likely enjoy the M8.2.

Additional samples:

All the images above were taken with the outstanding Leica 35mm f/2 Summicron-M ASPH ($3,195).

Search for the M8.2 on eBay here.


Please note the Leica M8.2 has since been replaced by the 35mm full frame M9.

Search for the M8.2 on eBay here.

Read our concise review of the full-fram Leica M9 here.


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