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It is an excellent SLR. Well built, ergonomic and very capable for many shooting situations. I shoot with both R's and M's for different reasons. R8 is used for precise framing situations such as portraiture/product and Macro as well as for all telephoto needs. M6 is used for more discreet street photogrphy/wide angle/low light and some landscape work (though I usualy use 6X9 for serious scenics). Hope this helps.
To most people, the name of Leica means rangefinder cameras. However, Leica has been a long time manufacturer of single lens reflex (SLR) cameras, too, since it launched the original Leicaflex in 1966. This was superseded by the Leicaflex SL in 1968 and then the Leicaflex SL2 in 1974. The R series began with the launch of the R3, Leicaâ€™s first camera with an electronically timed shutter, in 1976. Successive R models were launched during the 1980s and 1990s, with increasingly sophisticated electronics, culminating in the Leica R8 in 1996.
The R8 constituted a major advance for Leica in the SLR market. Previous R models had been based on a Minolta design, improved by Leica, with a traditional rectilinear SLR shape. The R8 was radically different from previous R models, in both form and function: it was bulkier and heavier, with a futuristic, non-symmetrical shape and sweeping lines and, while not still providing some of the bells and whistles of its Japanese competitors (notably built-in motorized advance and auto-focus), it nevertheless offered many important new features using state-of-the-art electronics.
While some glitches occurred in early R8 production, these have long since been ironed out by Leica and the R8 can now be considered a reliable photographic tool for both amateur and professional alike. As with many Leica products today, the bulk of the manufacturing process is carried out at Leicaâ€™s production facility in Portugal but final inspection and shipping are carried out at Leicaâ€™s HQ in Solms, Germany.
USEFUL FEATURES OF THE R8
When I decided to purchase the R8, I was already a Leica R user, having previously acquired a used R7 body and a few excellent Leica R lenses. In fact, it was the superior optics rather than the bodies that led me down the Leica R route in the first place, since Leicaâ€™s R bodies are quite modestly featured compared with the Japanese competition.
Some of the great features that have attracted me and others to the R8 are:
* The generous 5-year manufacturerâ€™s warranty.
* Comfortable shape (for my hands, anyway) and ergonomic, largely intuitive controls.
* Ability to use any of the 3 metering methods (spot, matrix, center-weighted) with any of the 4 exposure modes (manual, aperture priority, shutter priority, variable program).
* Excellent viewfinder information, with built-in adjustable dioptre correction, that is easy to read, with a white LCD display set out along the bottom edge of the window.
* Easy-to-use mirror and aperture pre-fire: just move a lever on the front of the camera to the mirror lock-up position, press the shutter release once to pre-fire the mirror and aperture, then press the shutter release again to take the shot.
* Flexible flash control using the SCA 3000 (digital) system that works best with Metz flashguns and an SCA 3502 adapter. This adapter has selectable flash compensation that is useful, for ex&le, in controlling fill-flash.
* Pre-flash metering, which allows the R8 to be used as a flash meter. The user can meter the illumination from any flashgun(s) in manual mode, using the TTL selective (spot) metering of the camera to indicate the best lens aperture prior to taking the shot. This is handy for studio flash but is also an excellent way of achieving the right exposure of a subject with a very dark or distant background at night, such as someone standing with an open field behind him/her.
* Fast flash synchronization speed of 1/250 second, a welcome improvement over previous R cameras, which I have found particularly useful for daylight fill-in flash shots.
* A very well-d&ed mirror and quiet shutter operation.
* The option of first or second shutter curtain flash synchronization. Most cameras give only first-curtain synch, which is not so useful when mingling flash illumination with available light.
* A vertical travel titanium shutter with a broad range of shutter speeds, selectable manually in half-step increments from 16 sec to 1/8000 sec or automatically in stepless increments from 32 sec to 1/8000 sec.
* A focusing screen that is clear, very bright and easy to use.
* Simple automatic film loading.
* Automatic DX film speed sensor with optional manual override.
SOME NOT SO USEFUL FEATURES
While Iâ€™m definitely a fan of the R8, I have to admit that there are some annoying things about it.
The LCD displays, in the viewfinder and on the rear of the R8, are activated if camera is switched on and the shutter release button is lightly pressed. If the shutter is cocked, the displays will also remain visible for about 14 seconds after the button is released. Thatâ€™s fine, because it helps to conserve the Lithium batteries. However, since the frame counter is included the displays, it means you cannot see the how many frames youâ€™ve used if the camera is switched off or is â€œresting between shotsâ€. I would have preferred the R8 to be fitted with the mechanical counter used in pervious R cameras.
The R8 is also totally reliant on batteries. There is no back-up mechanical shutter speed. However, to be fair, most of its contemporary competitors also suffered from this disadvantage.
I found the exposure compensation switch, which is a three-position flip-switch operated by the thumb of the left hand, a little awkward to use. It didn't work at all unless the camera display was activated, which made it difficult to cancel quickly any compensation that had been set for a previous shot.
The camera body is big for what it does - even Leica admits it! There is no auto-focus and no built-in motorized film advance. Lack of auto-focus can be seen as a weakness or not, according to one's needs and preferences. There are no known plans for Leica to introduce this feature, although there are rumors that a new R camera with electronic focus confirmation may be on the horizon.
Lack of a built-in motorized film advance is no problem, since an auto-winder or motor drive can be added, giving automated film advance and rewind, with the additional benefit of auto-bracketing if you choose the motor drive.
No review of Leica would be complete without mention of the lenses; they, after all, what makes Leica famous. The R lenses are excellent and I do not believe there are any better lenses to be had for 35mm cameras, especially at the long focal length end of the range. The big drawback is that they are very expensive. However, they can be had for surprisingly low prices on the used market and thatâ€™s the way most Leica owners, myself included, are able to build up a reasonable system.
A few notes regarding the compatibility of older Leica SLR lenses with the R8, since this has been the source of some confusion:
You can use any R lenses that have 3 cams (or R cam only), with or without the "ROM" electrical connectors. These connectors are used with SCA 3000 compatible flash guns having motorized zoom heads, enabling the flash to zoom automatically according to the focal length of the lens.
Older 1-cam or 2-cam lenses should not be used unless they have been converted to R compatibility by Leica.
Some used R lenses may not work properly with the R8 if their iris springs have become weak. This is because the aperture control ring in the R8 needs quite a lot of force to move it to its correct position when shooting, and the springs in older lenses may not be strong enough to do this reliably. Leica can adjust or replace worn lens springs.
MORE INFORMATION ON THE WEB
There is an excellent web site on Leica SLR cameras and lenses, maintained by wildlife photographer Doug Herr, at
This is definitely the finest camera in design and utility on the planet. Ironically I wouldn't be looking at getting a Nikon D100 had Leica designed a digital R8 seriously. But it will probably be around 10-20 years before the R-series hits digital so basically the Nikon is most likely to be it til then.
The R8 is simply the most ergonomically and most convenient camera body ever buildt - if you attach it to the R8 winder to it! Do yourself a favour, play with that around a while at your local camera shop and you will be hooked.
Thank you, Ray Moth, for the excellent write-ups! I'm just an intermediate considering moving up to Leica. One thing I've read about the R8 is the lack of a 100% viewfinder. Can anyone comment about how much of a problem this has been for them?
The less-than-100% viewfinder has never been a problem for me. Slide mounts cover part of the film area, and if extraneous stuff shows up on a negative it's a simple matter to crop it out. My first SLR (not a Leica) had a 100% viewfinder and there were times when I could have used a bit more on the slide than I saw in the viewfinder.
Hi! Folks. I have just joined this site, having wondered if it is worth changing my Contax N1 in favour of a Leica R8.
Having read your various comments it appears that I will be well advised to stick with my N1. As one or two of you have commented, it is not the camera body that attracts you,rather than the glasswear.
It was the lenses that initiated my thoughts on the subject, and although the prices of the wonderful Zeiss lenses are a little cheaper,I feel sure that the differential in quality is very, very minimal when I compare the results of my N1 against those of my friend who is a Leica user.
To me the N1 is a wonderful camera, great lenses, and an auto/manual focusing system, a spot on metering system,and all the features and more of the R8.
In conclusion I am very pleased that I took the time to read your comments which in the end, have convinced me to stay with the Contax N1, at least for the time being.
If anyone of you have had the experience of Zeiss lenses, and is now a Leica user, I would apreciate your comments.
Kenneth: I shoot both the N1 and the R8. The 645 lenses on the N1 are truly amazing. And autofocus/confirmed focus with lenses of that quality simply doesn't exist elsewhere in 35mm. Of course, the lenses are big and heavy. The Leica R lenses - including zooms - play at the same level and to my eye often exceed the Zeiss glass in all areas, but if I'm shooting in a less than perfectly controlled situation, a lot of my shots can be lost to focus. I hate that.
And that's the trade. I was disappointed with the Zeiss N zooms that I tried. But I don't think anyone here or on the LUG list would find fault with Zeiss's 645 glass.
Bottom line: if you're working on a tripod, trade up to Leica. If you've gotta move or need focus help (like me), stick with Contax.
Footnote: What these fine companies have in common is the WORST customer support/relations in the business. But with Leica there is that warranty.
hi guys, i have benn shooting professionally for 28 years, i think i own 75 cameras, and if i do not own it, i have tried it. you will never get auto focus to match the sharpness of manual focus, and a good rangefinder will beat every camera made. the r8 is a great, sharp camera, but a lecia m will beat to for fine focus, and a mamyia 6 of 7 will beat every medium format camera made. jack
<I>the r8 is a great, sharp camera, but a lecia m will beat to for fine focus</I><P>
Be careful about making blanket statements like this; I'll bet I can focus my 400mm Telyt more accurately with the R8 than with an M.
I am very new to the whole world of Leica. I just bought a new R8 body without a lens. For Christmas I received a Leitz Summicron-R 50mm f2 (made in Canada) lens. This lens has only two cams. I read about lenses appropriate for the R8 in the manual that came with the body but found the information confusing.
Does anyone know if I can use this lens on the R8 body? I don't want to attach the lens until I am sure. If I can use it with the R8, what will be my limitations?
Thank you very much for your help, Mike. I plan on taking my first pictures on a trip to Eastern Europe (Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Kolin) starting in Paris and going by car via the Swiss alps. If any picture turns out well, I will try to post them on this site.
> [ In the instructions book of my new R9, there are these remarks:
LEICA R lenses
All lenses and lens accessories from the Leica R range fit the LEICA R9 without any modifications. Some earlier lenses without automatic diaphragm, as well as various accessories without automatic diaphgram, can only be used in aperture priority or manual modes (see "Stop-down metering", p. 141). Most Leica R lenses can be fitted with an electric contact strip for data transmission and electronic exposure compensation. To do this, however, the LEICAFLEX SL/SL2 control cams must be removed, i.e. These lenses can then only be used on Leica R models (from LEICA R3).
LEICAFLEX SL/SL2 lenses without control cam
Leicaflex model lenses and accessories (without the R control cam) may not be used on the LEICA R9, as they can damage the camera. If they are to be used on the LEICA R9 or other Leica R cameras (from the LEICA R3), they must be fitted with the control cam. ]