1990's Leica

Leica R8

Leica R8

For twenty years, Leica hadn’t designed their own SLR. Thanks to Leitz and Minolta’s partnership, all Leica SLRs made between 1976 and 1996 (Leica R3 to R7) came with a Minolta built chassis. Then came the Leica R8.

The first Leica SLR to be entirely designed by Leica without the help of Minolta. A camera that aimed to differentiate itself from SLRs at the time.

And it did just that. Not only was the R8 the most advanced Leica SLR ever, but it also came with some unique features that made it a worthy competitor to professional-grade cameras from Nikon and Canon.

But what are these features?

Keep reading to learn more.

Features of the Camera

One of the first features you’ll notice when you lay your eyes on the Leica R8 is the unique body. Compared to previous Leica SLRs, Leica rethought everything about the camera.

The body was large and rounded, and controls were redesigned to be more ergonomic.

To some people, the redesigned body made the camera ugly and bulky. However, if you plan to use telephoto or zoom lenses with this camera, then you’ll love the redesigned body. The added weight allows easy handling of the camera when using these lenses.

The second most noticeable feature of the R8 is its big and bright viewfinder. With a 93% coverage and a 0.75X magnification, the R8 viewfinder is a joy to look through.

Like previous Leica R cameras, the R8 viewfinder was fixed and couldn’t be interchanged. However, the camera came with five interchangeable viewscreens, namely:

  • The standard viewscreen that had a course-central micro prism area with a central split-image focusing aid.
  • The Plain ground glass screen for long focal length cameras and extreme close-ups
  • Micro prism screen
  • The Full-field ground glass screen for architecture photography.
  • The bright glass focusing screen for astrophotography and other scientific photography.

The R8 also came with several features that made shooting with it a joy.

One of these features was the introduction of three metering modes. Unlike previous Leica SLRs that came with two metering modes, the R8 came with three modes, namely:

  • Center-weighted metering
  • Spot metering
  • Matrix metering

These three metering modes work perfectly with any exposure mode. With the R8, you get the choice of five exposure modes. These are:

  • Aperture priority
  • Shutter priority
  • Manual
  • Pre-flash exposure metering
  • Automatic program mode

Other Features

When designing the camera, Leica improved the shutter.

The R8 came with an electronically timed vertical traveling metal plate shutter that could achieve a maximum speed of 1/8000 sec. This was a speed unheard of in any Leica camera before the R8.

This improved shutter speed made the R8 an excellent camera for sport and action photography. 

There’s more!

The Leica R8 also came with a fully automated TTL flash control with a sync time of 1/250 sec.

Shooting the R8 was also made better by the vast collection of impressive R-mount lenses available for the camera.

The R8 also came with a feature never seen in any other 35mm SLR.  When designing the Leica R9, Leica introduced a digital module on the back of the camera. Although it wasn’t created for the R8, the module could fit perfectly on the R8.

With this module, the R8 transformed into a 10-megapixel digital camera. However, the module isn’t cheap as it costs approximately $4,200.

Design and Physical Build

The R8 isn’t the best looking camera. While trying to come up with a new look for SLRs, Leica created a weird-looking camera.

A camera with a rounded body and dropping shoulders.

However, despite the odd-looking body, the R8 was a joy to hold. It fit perfectly in the palm.

One of the best parts about the R8 design was the large shutter speed dial located on the top plate. With just a flick of the finger, a photographer can effortlessly change the shutter speed.

Shortcomings of the Camera

One of the first issues you’ll hear people complaining about the R8 Is its weight.  At 890g, the R8 was the heaviest of the Leica SLRs. Carrying this camera all day is bound to result in neck crumps. 

Earlier versions of the R8 also came with faulty electronics, which Leica later repaired.

Final Thoughts

It’s no doubt.

The R8 is a unique camera. It doesn’t look like other SLRs, it’s the only 35mm SLR that can turn into a digital camera and is an incredible shooter.

Despite its odd-looking body, the R8 is an incredible camera worthy of your vintage classic camera collection.

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