Leica's long-awaited 10.3MP M8 ($4,800, street price, body only) went on sale earlier this month, just days after most magazines (including Popular Photography and Imaging) and online reviewers got their final production samples for testing. Shortly thereafter, at least one major web-reviewer posted his positive review of the camera without mentioning a serious image quality flaw that had reared its head during field tests -- apparently doing so at the request of Leica. Another reviewer openly admitted that image quality problems with the camera were forcing him to postpone his review until Leica had time to resolve the problem. This situation sparked two debates that have been raging on our forums and throughout the photographic community for the past few days. First, is the problem with the Leica M8 serious enough to warrant a total recall of all shipped and sold cameras? And second, should any truly "objective" product reviewer withhold potentially damaging information on a product in order to give the manufacturer time to fix it?
Editor's note: This article was originally published on Nov. 15, 2006, and reflects the state of affairs with the Leica M8's sensor sensitivity issues at that moment in time. On Nov. 25, 2006, Leica issued a statement that it had decided to offer a set of two free IR/UV filters to fix the IR sensitivity issue. Other problems are also dealt with in the following release, including a factory fix of cameras experiencing banding and ghosting problems. Read our follow-up here.
The first question is harder to answer than the second, and since there has been much speculation and misinformation regarding the problem, we decided to reveal some of our own findings now and give Leica a chance to comment on the cause of the problem and its proposed solutions. According to a spokesman, the company will not recall the camera, but plans to address the problem by the end of November through an accessory filter (which could cost up to $150, based on street prices of comparable ones) and firmware adjustment for digitally coded lenses (that's at least an additional $100 for older lenses).
What does the image quality problem look like? As we discovered in our field tests, dark black hair and many black fabrics may be surprisingly rendered in shades of purple or maroon instead of black. This is not limited to materials illuminated by studio strobes or hot lights, but will occur in a wide variety of lighting conditions, including daylight. However, until the photo is taken, it's not easy to predict whether or not an outfit or hairdo will exhibit this purple or maroon cast, and there's no way to set the camera color to limit the effect without changing the appearance of normal black tones. Other current digital cameras and DSLRs (except for those designed for use in IR photography) do not exhibit this problem. (For comparison photos taken with the Leica M8 and Nikon D2Xs, as well as other examples of the purple cast, click here).
Shooting in RAW DNG format won't fix this problem either (although it offers other benefits that we will highlight in our Certified Lab Test and review of the camera as soon as it's completed). There is no way to set the excellent Capture One LE Raw conversion software that ships with the M8 to automatically adjust problem areas in an image without skewing the color of blacks that reproduced properly. Currently, the only way to fix the problem when it occurs is to manually select and color correct it using image retouching software -- a time-intensive solution that few will find satisfactory, especially after purchasing a $5,000 camera.
To find out the exact cause of the problem, and what Leica plans to do about it, we asked Gero Furchheim, Division Manager Corporate Communications, Leica Camera AG, Solms, Germany.
His response begins on the next page.