The new Leica M8 ($4,800, estimated street, body only) is finally here, and
it's a beauty. We've got all the details on this 10MP digital rangefinder.
Leica fanatics have been arguing over this camera for years...even though it didn't exist until now. Battles raged over which features a digital M-series Leica should sport -- or whether these elegantly simple and decidedly Germanic manual-focus rangefinders should be translated into digital at all.
But the new Leica M8 ($4,800, estimated street, body only) could settle these disputes -- especially if the production version of this camera lives up to its billing when we run it through the Pop Photo Lab. (We'll post our test results as we get one.) The near-production version our editors tried in a sneak preview was a wow.
First, this is a real M. Virtually the same size and weight as the M7, with a magnesium-alloy body and milled-brass top and bottom. In fact, to get at the SD memory card and lithium-ion battery (550-shot estimate), you have to remove the bottom plate -- just like loading film into an M7. The shutter button and dial haven't moved, and, like its 35mm sister, the M8 has 460 parts in the rangefinder mechanism alone. About all that's missing is the film-winding lever. And in typical Leica fashion, the engineers obsessed over the details. Example: making the sound of the shutter not just quiet, but uniform throughout the click.
Of course, the real challenge and -- if our tests bear it out -- triumph of this camera is what's beneath the skin.
Under Leica's direction, Kodak customized a 10.3-megapixel CCD sensor for the M8. At 18x27mm, the chip is larger than the usual APS-sized sensor. This provides a 35mm lens factor of 1.33, versus 1.5 to 1.6 for a DSLR with an APS-sized chip. So a 21mm lens is effectively a 28mm. And the new 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M ($1,500, estimated street) is like a 37mm.
The microlenses atop the imaging sensor had to be rearranged for the M8. Since light from the corners of the image enters a rangefinder camera at a much sharper angle than on an SLR, these had to be offset to prevent vignetting. Then, to beat the refraction that comes with that light angle, an uncommonly thin (0.5mm) layer of glass had to be affixed over the sensor. The result, says Leica, is true color reproduction right into the corners of the picture.
While sensors typically are covered with a filter to cut moiré fringing, this one isn't, since that would mean losing some fine detail. Leica wants all of the resolution of its legendary lenses to shine through; any moiré issues are handled by in-camera processing.