Camera Test: Leica M84022243107021LeicaM8Leica camera owners are a special breed that casual photographers can't understand. For the uninitiated, the idea that anyone would shoot with a 35mm rangefinder camera that lacks motor drive, autofocus, or even a decent zoom lens -- yet costs thousands of dollars -- is absurd. But Leica lovers revel in the knowledge that they are taking pictures with a German-engineered handcrafted instrument that is built stronger than any other camera. This is the legacy (and customer loyalty) that Leica hopes to extend into the digital era with its new 10.3MP Leica M8 ($4,800, street). We shared our first impressions of a preproduction M8 in the November 2006 issue, and couldn't wait to hit the streets (and the Pop Photo Lab) with a production version. We ran into some image-quality surprises along the way, including an abnormally high sensitivity to IR radiation that produces a purple cast on some dark fabrics and objects. (Leica has a solution that may not appeal to all. More on that below.) However, there were no surprises with how this camera is built: the M8 is a tank, with a sturdy all-metal magnesium-alloy body and milled-brass top and bottom plates. From the front and top it looks and feels very much like a 35mm M-series camera, with a familiar offset optical rangefinder and a flat-top design instead of an SLR-style viewfinder hump. There are just two large dials on top, one to control shutter speed and the other a multi-function power button, drive mode selector, shutter button, and cable-release connector. On the far left is a small circular window that shows the battery status and remaining shots on your memory card. The only thing missing (if this were a classic 35mm M) is a top-mounted rewind lever.