Some eleven years ago I was the lucky owner of a M8, a wonderful camera I kept for six years. Of course it had its quirks. Because of the danger of a magenta tint when shooting colour, it was almost obligatory to use the infra-red filters on the lenses. It also suffered from random power problems: One time out of ten the camera would not start and you had to take off the bottom plate, remove and then replace the battery.
The most obvious quirk, although it isn’t really a quirk, was that the sensor was not full-frame and therefore standard M lenses, intended for the 35mm format, adopted a longer focal length on the M8. The M8 used an APS-H Kodak KAF-10500 CCD image sensor with a crop factor of 1.33
The M8 was not really a snappy camera (fortunately the Ricoh GRD 3, with its CCD sensor, accompanied the M8 at the bottom of my camera bag). I had three aspherical lenses to complement this first digital Leica: A 35mm Summicron, a 24mm Elmar and the wonderfully sharp and versatile 28mm Elmarit. These lenses produced beautiful results, well balanced colours and were a pleasure to use.
Sadly, after six years of enjoyment, severe astigmatism made accurate rangefinder focus impossible. I had to sell the whole system.
But, while struggling with my eyesight, I eventually relied mostly on zone focus, simply checking the depth of field on the lenses and framing the shot. It was not a perfect solution, but it did work quite well, especially, for obvious reasons with the 24mm and 28mm which do have naturally wide depth of field.
I now buy only autofocus cameras and this is obviously a good way of overcoming my eyesight problems. Thanks to John Shingleton, I am also the owner of an X2 in addition to my various Ricoh’s and have rediscovered that special Leica look that I love so much.
I used the M8 mainly to shoot landscapes and family portraits and relied on the GR for travel photography. However, the CCD sensor of the M8 was really amazing and I regret Leica did not keep it on their new cameras.
My very first travel with the M8 was back in 2008 when I visited Scotland with my wife and children. I had been a French language assistant in Scotland during the early 80s and lived in Aberdeen for a year. It was terribly cold, and that is for sure not a myth. I travelled around the country extensively at the time and have been returning there once a year with my pupils since the 1990s.
The light is truly amazing up there in northern Britain. Of course you have to cope with the climate, but the fogs and misty veils provide incredible light. So, in 2008 off we went to the very north of Scotland around the Kyle of Tongue to escape the dreadful Normandy weather that summer. We were extremely fortunate as the sun shone almost everyday in Scotland.
As expected, the Highlands were teeming with midges, for those who don’t know what they are, they are a sort of teeny weeny mosquito which you don’t see but certainly feel. They always sting you whatever repellent you use and have a habit of swarming just to add to the agony.
We then moved to the Orkneys to escape the evil midges. Although the landscape is not as rugged as that of the Highlands, there are some beautiful cliff beach walks. The islands are really quiet places where life goes on at a slow pace. The lights and cliffs are spectacular. If you’d like to go there don’t miss the festival in mid July in Stromness and the seal colonies near the Brough of Birsay. There are also many historical sites with standing stones, broughs (primitive forts) and even a village dating back 3500 BC, The slowness of the place fits perfectly with the reflective use of the rangefinder.
Visiting this valley in the southern Alps was another productive expedition for the M8. My parents were keen alpinists and I have spent all my summer holidays in that valley from an early age. It’s a wonderful place with beautiful mountain streams and waterfalls, plenty of fully-equipped rock-climbing sites and true mountaineering sites.
One of the most famous walks is le refuge du glacier blanc. The glacier has receded by 500 meters since I first went there, which must say something. An early start at five or six in the morning is paramount if you want to avoid the crowd that climbs later during the day. As soon as day breaks you will spot many marmots and chamois all the way up.
First stop is usually when you reach the lake. You have a beautiful view of the surrounding peaks and your first glimpse of the glacier.
At 2500m you reach the mountain refuge. If you wish you can continue up along the glacier and watch the alpinists (my son is second of the rope party in the picture below).
I was also a keen alpinist when younger and my son continues the family tradition. He now lives in Lyon and often goes mountaineering when he’s not working. As you descend you have an amazing view of the valley with the two rivers that converge at the bottom to form a sort of delta before becoming a wild mountain stream.
This is my favourite place in Normandy. The coastline west and southwest of Cherbourg is varied, with long sandy beaches, rocky cliffs and small hamlets and fishing harbours such as Port Bail.
A really amazing place is le cap de la Hague which has been nicknamed the French “Little Ireland” with its dry stone walls, small harbour and headlands. You can watch the waves breaking and the light change for hours without noticing the passing of time. Just take up your camera from time to time.
Below: Goury and le Cap de la Hague (Normandy). Valgaudemar and Valuoise are both the name of valleys and villages in the southern Alps 60-70 miles south of Grenoble
Looking back on the images I’m still amazed by the output from the old M8. The 10MP sensor was truly amazing, especially for its time and, even today, it can still hold its own.
The M8 files support large-format images (I printed 47×31 inches with no problem at all). I mostly used the 28mm Elmarit and 35mm Summicron, which are equivalent to 37 and 47mm on the M8’s crop sensor. They are amazing lenses which render beautifully. I still wonder why Leica gave up the CCD sensors and wish they would go back to them.