Perfect does mean no personality(?)…
As I mentioned in previous article, the Leica M8 has the problem that generate the enormity of the
photographers as soon as came out. A large amount of unfiltered infrared light pour into the sensor,
cause ugly color shift. The effect is not the same in all subject, for example it is hard to notice
abnomarlity in landscape but materials with textures, fabrics or cloth shows very serious effect.
The color of the original clothes. Taken with Sony A7 II.
Taken by Leica M8 without UR/IR filter. The black color comes out in purplish purple.
There are only two models that can transmit infrared light to the sensor: Kodak DCS 460 and Leica M8.
Actually the infrared cut filter attached to the front of the sensor, but it is too thin to block IR thoroughly.
Infrared wavelengths mainly affect the red pixels of the sensor, causing a strange color drift.
Leitz would have known about this problem on the Kodak DCS 460, but why they did it again?
I think they struggled with M body’s thickness which is about half of typical DSLR to install digital sensor
& manage aerial image on top of it.
(* Nikon DSLR lens flange = 46.5mm, Leica M lens flange = 27.8mm)
As the Leica M body is thin, the lens is attached close to the sensor, and the peripheral image quality
deteriorates severely. In film, even if light enters at an oblique angle it does not matter to make image.
However the image sensor has the pixels contained in a well structure, so when the light comes in
an angle, it fails to react properly.
In addition, when a thick infrared cut filter attached, the refraction of the incident light becomes worse,
the peripheral image quality degrades severely. To make it work in Digital M camera (M8 is the first digital M),
Leitz has to use the IR filter as thin as possible.
Real problem was they should announce this fact to users.
“Leica M8 should use the infrared filter in front of the lens” and explain the reason, such an technical difficulty
and the efforts of Leitz to overcome it. Then users accepted, I believe, the Leica M8 as ‘very special breed’ of its kind.
I do not know at any stage of planning, designing & marketing that this promotion is missing, but the M8 was released
without any pre-condition or notification for users at the end.
The chaos that followed just as well known.
During several months, frustrated users complaint and debate at forums. Leitz did no response, then officially deny
and finally agree to give two UV / IR filters (the “infrared cut filter”) who bought M8 in worldwide to settle down the case.
Is excessive infrared a personality?
The color shift in the color photograph is in best case unexpected surprise, or ugly deformation for most of users.
Occasionally it looks better than the original color (especially in night-time photographs), but the effect cannot be
controlled or managed by photographer, it is just a lucky shot.
In Black and White photographs, it does not bad at all because there is extra room to control BW tone and gradation.
When purple-shifted-black converted to BW, it turns into grey with fully reserved details. In Lightroom or Photoshop,
there is a knob to make the gray darker or brighter selectively based on original color which is impossible in
non-shifted-black. (see the blue part in the picture below)
Another characteristic is extra bright skin tone and the glow effect around highlight. In infrared photography,
the skin exposed to sunlight shines brightly. M8 generates an image made from visible light and add infrared
effect on it. Even though it is not exaggerated like a real infrared photo, it still boost skin tone pleasingly.
The digital cameras in these days are next to perfect. As such, this blend or that blend produces
the all the same perfect images. But the Leica M8 is far from a perfect model. Remember it was
the first ever digital M, and a lot of struggles gone through or compromised.
Now it works Hybrid, if you want a typical digital photo, you can put a UV / IR filter in front of the lens.
If you are tired of too-much-clean digital image, and looking for a rougher Tri-X film look (plus some
hint of HIE film) you can try the picture without the filter. Or even try to block half of visible light (B, G)
and use only R & IR to expose imager.
Unintentionally and unexpectedly Leica M8 become special tool for photographer trying new things 🙂
* The image degradation of peripherals has been solved by designing the position of micro-prism
of pixels to be shifted inward toward the periphery when M9 released, and thick IR filter has been
used that completely blocks the infrared rays since then….
** Very unique camera, Leica M8 (#1)