R8 - why all the knocks?

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I realize from reading this forum for some months now that this is primarily a "M" body forum with the occasional "R" question. Why does the "R" body get such bad press when the subject comes up? One participant even said that he sold his shortly after he bought it because he'd "had a bellyful" of it. I'm not after comparisons against the "M" but comments on the nature of the "R" body and its lenses alone perhaps against other popular SLR's, i.e N or C. I've handled the "R" and while it has its quirks it does seem workable and it has some spectacular lenses. Just wondering...

-- Dan R. (roedj@juno.com), September 06, 2001


I suspect that a lot of it is the fact that the Leica R8 had a rather rough beginning with several problems in the first couple years of production. A good number of folks don't like the bulk of it either, then there are others who cannot see the high prices vs the lack of modern SLR features.

For my part, well, I love the ergonomics of the body ... it just fits my hands brilliantly ... and the viewfinder, lenses are all to die for. But for gosh sake, a body and three lenses will set me back FAR more than I can justify for my SLR usage, an equivalent kit in Contax, Nikon or Canon equipment would cost a third what I'd spend on Leica R while providing a lot of things that Leica doesn't. And while the Leica lenses are indeed stunningly superb, well, Zeiss, Nikon and Canon don't make such bad lenses either.

It's all a matter of perspective and interest. I love Leica Ms and Rs are both very fine cameras with lenses that are the standard of the industy, but the M is much more worthwhile to me for the kind of shooting I like to do.

-- Godfrey DiGiorgi (ramarren@bayarea.net), September 06, 2001.

Let me begin by stating that I prefer the R8 to any other SLR camera, Leica or otherwise. Its strengths, to me, are its:

- comfortable shape - ease of use - sensible layout and functioning of controls (ergonomics) - choice of operating mode and metering methods - support for flash, including pre-metering - range of shutter speeds, with flash synch at 1/250 sec - build quality - most importan of all, the range of first-class Leica R lenses.

As an expensive SLR camera with a famous name, the Leica R8 is an obvious target for criticism. Many consider it to be lacking in features compared with modern SLRs from the competition. The most common gripes are:

- lack of autofocus, with no known plans by Leica to address this - size and weight, especially in comparison with previous R models - lack of built-in motorized film advance, despite the bulky body - low speed of the accessory motor drive - unreliability/bugs.

Only the last of these criticisms concerns me. Although the R8 received a "bad press" early in its life because of (mainly electronic) bugs, the problems at that time appear to have addressed successfully by Leica. Some have speculated that recent Portuguese- made R8s are more reliable than the previous German-made ones. Unfortunately, my own exerience is at odds with that opinion. My R8, serial no. 2725***, which says "Made in Portugal" on the underside of the box it came in, has a problem with the aperture control ring sticking. This prevents lenses from closing down to the selected aperture when the shutter is released. I have been told, by several knowledgable people, that this is a fairly common problem with the R8.

Apart from that one fault, I have found the R8 to be a rewarding camera to use. It seems to meet my personal requirements very well indeed and I have no regrets.

Regards, Ray

-- Ray Moth (ray_moth@yahoo.com), September 07, 2001.

The current R line is even more overpriced than the M series. Spectactular could refer to the lens quality or their price tag. You could buy a Contax 645 outfit for about the same price as an R8 basic system. The camera is big enough to have a built in motor drive-but it doesn't. Add the drive and the camera is massive--the fellow above must have way bigger hands than I do. The problem is that Leica missed the market for a high end SLR (again?) and the poor R sales reflect this. I don't have the answer as far as what they should build (not that they'd listen to me anyway). I am not sure anyone could come up with a manual focus R camera system at this point that would sell at the prices they need to get for the stuff.

-- Andrew Schank (aschank@flash.net), September 07, 2001.


If you can afford it, the R line is the most pleasant SLR system to use. The word 'pleasant' is key here: it relates to build quality, to smoothness of operation, to ergonomics and, with recent lenses, to the intellectual satisfaction of using the top end of what optical engineering can provide today.

Apart from that, you are left with the choice of believing or not believing the quasi mystical arguments on Leica's unique imaging "glow".

Personally, I sincerely believe that there is no picture shot through a R that could not have been shot with *equivalent* quality through high end nicaminpentax gear available new at 1/4th of the price.

Inversely there are quite a few instances where excellent pictures taken through modern nicaminpentax gear would NOT be taken as efficiently through a R (sports, family snapshots, hectic photojournalism reporting, etc). If your living depends on the results of your photography, productivity is a real issue, and R does not win.

However, my personal experience also leads me to confidently state that it is much more fun and motivating to use a R8 + 180mm apo- elmarit or 100mm apo-macro-elmarit than to use any nicaminpentax combinations of equivalent focal lengths. But my living does not depend on the results of my photography...

The "bad press" you mention relates to such mundane issues as price/quality ratio, objective productivity or quality needs, weight and sheer frustration at not having a R in the hands as we type...

-- Alan (alannews@deja.com), September 07, 2001.

I believe that the M-series is much more signifigant from a engineering/design standpoint, and I have to admit that the R series cameras (R3, R4, R5, R7) left way too much to be desired. I swear they are just expensive minoltas(yuk). The lenses would certainly justify their use, but at those prices, one might as well shoot the M- series.

But the R8 really changed my opinion of that after handling one after their introduction in 1997.

I didn't know of any bugs/problems with the R8, but I would hope they are Ironed out at this point- the 180 is a wonderful focal length, and I'm sure the combonation is very nice, but my F3 and 180 does a great job on film.

But I think that the appeal of the M-series vs. the R is due to it's design signifigance.

-- Mike DeVoue (karma77@att.net), September 07, 2001.

"The current R line is even more overpriced than the M series."

Not really, most M and R is stuff is pretty close, with some exceptions. Secondhand the R cameras are a good deal cheaper and represent bargains very often.

The R6.2 is an excellent camera and has no faults as far as I can see. Excellent build quality, superbly sensitive meter and superb screen brightness. It is also pretty small. But it is a manual camera, so has few "exciting" features to talk about. I see this as a virtue.

The only improvement I would like to see is 1/250th flash sync speed, but to get this I would have to sacrifice the manual shutter I suspect.

I am not interested in autofocus so fail to see the great fuss that is made over this feature. I can focus my R6 much quicker than my wife can focus her Elan 7.

-- Robin Smith (smith_robin@hotmail.com), September 07, 2001.

I too think the problem for most people is price related. Though no more individually than Leica M product, it amounts to volume. A completely workable M kit for most people amounts to a body or two and often three lenses. 35,50,90/21,28,35 etc. Enough to buy a small car with. But a comprehensive SLR kit for a working pro may entail a couple of bodies and lenses from 19 to 300 mm with a couple of zooms thrown in. Now all of a sudden we're talking the price of a small house! Though many M users (IMO) know how good the R system is, for their SLR system Nikon or Canon provide good quality at much less expense....

-- Bob Todrick (bobtodrick@yahoo.com), September 07, 2001.

Actually Bob, I agree with you. An M system forces limits on you. Many people buy all sorts of lenses when getting a reflex (most of which are rarely used, I suspect), but you are right this gets very expensive when it is all Leica glass. If I was going on safari, I bet I would get or rent Canon EOS really long lenses - they are expensive, but the Leica APO teles which I would, a priori, like to use I suspect are totally out of the question.

In my case the longest lens I feel I want is a 180mm so that is my limit and with the R-system this doable with saving.

-- Robin Smith (smith_robin@hotmail.com), September 07, 2001.

All IMO: The R8 does not satisfy enough of my requirements to justify its expense as a dedicated SLR system. As stated earlier, the optics, while very good, are not as good as the M's. (Granted, it has focal- length options available that the M does not...) And the body lacks many of the sophisticated niceties of the Canon, Nikon or Contax AF counterparts. Granted, the R has better glass available, but with my F5 and 80-400 VR combo, I can fire off 8 frames per second from the back of a moving (and bouncing) ski-boat at f8 with 400 speed film and catch an entire sequnce of a wakeboarder doing a complete flip on his board, AND all the images will be in sharp focus! Same thing with horses jumping over fences, kids playing soccer or basketball, and auto or motorcycle racing. For nature photography, I believe Nikon's excellent line of AFS telephoto optics will stand up to any of the similar offerings from Leica - even wide open - and probably come out sharper due to Nikon's excellent shutter damping system. So, when I added it all up for my uses, why should I even consider the R8? Add in the cost compnent, and the aforementioned alternatives become a much easier choice.

-- Jack Flesher (jbflesher@msn.com), September 07, 2001.

I think Alan's point is actually a fair one. The R's are a fine photographic experience - traditional materials, made and built to last, with top notch optics. They are particularly good for those of us who buy into the Leica quality, but do not necessarily think that M photography is the be all and end all of the photographic experience. If SLRs are secondary to you then certainly the other brands make a lot of sense. Still if you like manual focus SLRs then I think they are unsurpassed and that includes Nikon.

Personally, I can never see myself as taking serious auto racing shots which might, I suppose, benefit from very fast AF (although I am not sure). A motor drive that does 4.5 fps rather than 8 seems to me to be a small difference in practical use, but might possibly be important for some users. Most of what is extra in Nikon and Canon bodies compared to the R8 is associated with AF functions, which if you don't want, are unnecessary and complicating. I think it should also be pointed out that Nikon/Contax and Canon top end bodies are not that much cheaper than the Leica R8, if at all. Likewise Nikon ED/AFS or Canon L's are not cheap. Leica optics are often more expensive still, but if you can pick them up secondhand, for example, they can be quite comparable. It is always interesting that when comparing SLRs, Leica Rs are always stressed to have fewer features than competitors, whereas this very difference is part of what is praised so much when comparing Ms to SLRs. Look at how the Konica RF is often poorly compared to the M6. It is a little inconsistent. Personally I am not a great fan of automation, whether in reflex or "viewfinder/rangefinder" cameras, or autofocussing.

Yes, you either buy into the Leica myth or you don't. The same applies to M Leicas these days with Konica/Contax G and Voigtlander competition. This is a relatively new development for Leica M to have r/f competition, the last time was back in the 50 and 60s.

-- Robin Smith (smith_robin@hotmail.com), September 07, 2001.

The Leica R8 is a superb instrument. No one makes a 50mm that can compete with the new 8 element 50mm Summilux. The combination is alone a reason to own the two.


-- kirk r. tuck (kirktuck@kirktuck.com), September 07, 2001.

-- kirk r. tuck (kirktuck@kirktuck.com), September 07, 2001.

I love Leica as much as many here do. But when it comes to SLR, I readily prefer a Contax Aria and a few Zeiss primes to the R gear. The Aria is light, compact, 3 FPS motor, quiet, big finder, spot, CW, matrix meter. I think its the best MF 35mm camera ever made. And I wonder how the Zeiss 50/1.4 would compare to the Leica R-50. I know the Zeiss handily outperforms the Nikon AF 50/1.4 when shot wide open (personal experience). And, there is a great selection of new and used Zeiss (and Yashica) lenses out there that can be had a prices very favorable when compared to the Leica R lenses. As long as I am rambling, the CZ 85/2,8 Sonnar on an Aria is a fantastic event lens for getting tight people shots without a lot of "posed" shots coming back from the lab.

-- Dan Brown (brpatent@swbell.net), September 07, 2001.

I have also noted the M bias on this site and am a little surprised. If you like the Leica M or Nikon or Canon, etc. that is great. Is your camera/car/house better/bigger/more expensive than mine? Who cares? I hope everyone can buy and use the camera system they prefer.

I recently left the N system after 30 years and joined the Leica R family. I thoroughly enjoy the manual focus, slick precision build quality, superb lenses, and intuitive, easy-to-use controls which let me exercise my creativity in taking pictures. I don't care for autofocus or motors/winders. I like manual focus/manual advance cameras and manual shift sport sedans. The Leica R system is a joy to use and (when I do my part well) provides great images/slides.

Having said all this, I do enjoy reading opinions, experiences, and suggestions from others on this forum. The exchange of ideas and knowledge can be very interesting and frequently helpful. LB

-- Luther Berry (lberrytx@aol.com), September 08, 2001.

There is very little left here that i can contribute. I use an R8, but for things that an M4 would be inadequate for. I love the experience. When i need to do something that an R8 is inadequate for, i borrow a friend's Canon. Don't like the experience but it gets the job done. Believe is when i have no distinct knowlegde of. i don't believe R lenses (those that i personally use) are very good, i know they are. But at the end of the day, it is how i remember the experience. Ms, Rs, Nikons, Canons, they all mean squat.

-- Steven Fong (steven@ima.org.sg), September 08, 2001.

Personally, I have not been all that impressed with the R lenses, with the huge exception of the really top-line APO stuff. (180 f/2 or f/2.8, 100 macro, 70-180 f/2.8, 280 f/4 or f/2.8) And most of that is too exotic, too expensive and too heavy for me. And below 180 I have just never seen results up to the M, or much better than the average (what was that word?) Canikolympentax? Better built though, but build rarely shows up on film, at least for the first 10 years.

And the R bodies have often been kludges - I actually appreciate the new ergonomic feel of the R8; I just wish it were 15% more compact/ lighter. And it has it's kludgey aspects as well - after 40 years of excellent examples of how to built a DOF preview lever (SL/SL2, R3, Nikon FM2, etc.) you'd think Leica could have done better.

IMHO the best manual-focus bodies currently available new (not necessarily lenses) are Contax. The Aria and RX are exceptional. Try an RX sometime - zero - I mean ZERO - mirror vibration. But no long glass to match Leica or anyone else. (sigh).

-- Andy Piper (apidens@denver.infi.net), September 08, 2001.

"I have also noted the M bias on this site and am a little surprised. If you like the Leica M or Nikon or Canon, etc. that is great. Is your camera/car/house better/bigger/more expensive than mine? Who cares? I hope everyone can buy and use the camera system they prefer. "

Of course. But I suspect the reason for Leica's existence (survival) is the M cameras. The SLR's always seemed to me an attempt to meet the market orientation to SLR's in general. I had the R6's for a couple of years, but had mechanical problems. Also the feature set (esp. flash) is primitive compared to other SLR's whereas the M is in a class of its own - or was until Konica came up with the Hexar RF.

The M6 body is the only reason I use Leica gear, I'd be happy with other people's lenses but the body is the only one (pace Hexar) I find usable.

-- rob (rob@robertappleby.com), September 08, 2001.

I have lived in Japan now for about one year. In this time I have learned one very important thing about photogrphy. That is: Kobo wa fude o erabazu. Kobo was a very famouse Japanese monk whose writting was the most beautiful. The writing itself, like caligraphy. This saying basicaly means: Kobo didn't chose his brush. It didn't matter what brush he used, it was going to be beautiful. The same is basicaly true with photography. The camera is just a tool for getting what you see on to film. YOU take the picture not the camera. Me personaly, I love Leica. I feel it has made me a better photographer. If there is something wrong with the picture it's not the camera's fault. One more saying about Kobo: Kobo mo fude no ayamari. Translation: Even Kobo made mistakes.

-- Nathan MacDonough (nmacd@mx10.freecom.ne.jp), October 09, 2001.

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