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Leica R8: a review

When the R8 was released in 1996, it represented a major break in R-series camera design. It looked fundamentally different from the Minolta-inspired R3 through R7 and was much bigger and heavier. Some praised the camera's favorable ergonomics, handling balance when used with telephoto and zoom lenses, and solid build quality, while others complained that it was too bulky for small hands.

The R8 was the first R-series camera that was entirely developed and styled by Leica and had no association with Minolta. The manual-focus camera was available in either Silver chrome or Black chrome finishes until it was replaced by the Leica R9 in 2002. Some Leica aficionados consider the R9 to be a minor modification of the R8 and claim that it would have better been named "R8.2".

Leica R8
Leica R8 with 28-70mm

The Leica R8 brought a number of welcome innovations to the R-system. It incorporated sophisticated flash metering, several exposure automation modes, a number of manual exposure modes, and a bright, contrasty viewfinder. The latter has an eye-level, fixed prism, and interchangeable viewscreens. Inside the viewfinder, an LCD display below the image shows automation mode and meter pattern, aperture, shutter speed and frame counter. Viewing is at full aperture, with DOF preview.

The standard viewscreen has a coarse central microprism area and central split-image focusing aid, with a matte focusing area on the remainder of the screen. Four optional viewscreens are available for the R8: (i) a plain-ground glass screen for extreme close-up photography and shooting with very long focal lengths; (ii) a micro-prism screen to further facilitate composition; (iii) a full-field ground glass screen with a grip that is designed for architecture photography or document reproduction; and (iv) a clear-glass focusing screen for scientific photography, including astrophotography. Diopter correction with a range of +2 to –2 diopters is built-in.

Leica R8
Leica R8 Back

The camera has an electronically-timed, vertical-travel metal-leaf shutter. It offers speeds in half-stop intervals from 16 seconds to 1/8000s in m and T modes, as well as continuously-variable speeds from 32 seconds to 1/8000s in A and P modes. In addition, the R8 has a bulb ("B") setting.

Leica R8 Specifications

  • Leica R bayonet mount with additional electrical "ROM contacts";
  • Copal focal plane, electronic, metallic curtain shutter; 1/8000s to 32s;
  • Program, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual exposure modes, and flash;
  • Selective (7mm central area), 6-element matrix, center-weighted, and flash TTL center-weighted metering;
  • Viewfinder with 0.75x magnification and 93% coverage;
  • Ground glass, interchangeable viewfinder screen;
  • Hotshoe flash control; 1/250s, TTL-metering; first or second curtain sync, as well as strobe (multiple flashes);
  • Exposure compensation from -3EV to +3EV (in half-stop increments);
  • ISO range from 25 to 5000, automatic DX film speed recognition (ISO 25 to 12800) with manual overwrite;
  • Rear cover LCD showing frame counter, flash readiness, film speed, selftimer operation, and battery condition;
  • Film transport by manual lever or via optional Motor-Winder-R8 (2 frames/s) or Motor-Drive-R8 (4.5 frames/s);
  • Batteries: 2 x CR2;
  • Dimensions: 158 x 101 x 62mm (width x height x depth);
  • Weight: 890g;

The R8 has three alternative metering modes: selective, multi-pattern and integral. A switch controls the choice. Metering is achieved through a photodiode placed in the camera base. The metering sensitivity ranges from EV -4 to EV 20 in selective metering mode, and from EV -2 to EV 20 in the multi-pattern and integral metering modes. Full-field integral metering covers the entire view without any weighting of particular areas, multi-pattern provides a matrix-weighting of the scene, while selective metering measures the incoming light only for the area that is indicated by the outer frame of the focusing circle, which has a diameter of 7mm. Any of the metering modes can be used in any of the exposure program modes (fully automatic, aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual).

The R8 offers fully automated TTL-flash control with an 1/250s X-sync time. The camera has a flash hot shoe on top with contacts for SCA-3501 compatible flash units. The R8 also supports 1st or 2nd shutter curtain flash. In addition, the camera has an "F" mode that makes it possible to meter the flash exposure before making the actual exposure. When used, the deviation from the correct overall exposure is indicated in the viewfinder and on the back cover display, so that the photographer can adjust the shutter speed and aperture accordingly.

Compared with the predecessor, the Leica R7, the R8 has a number of more user-friendly ancillary functions. The mirror lock-up can be activated without any optional accessories, and the self-timer offers two options for exposure delay: 2s and 12s. Also, the R8 has an automated film charging mechanism, such that a fresh film only has to be placed in position, but without attaching the end of the film strip to the film transport spindle.

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Headline specifications of all Leica R-system cameras
  Camera Shutter
range ($)
Leicaflex2000MNonon-TTL148.0 / 97.0 / 57.0770~32,5001964 - 68200-400check
Leicaflex SL2000selMNonon-TTL148.0 / 97.0 / 57.0770~75,0001968 - 74125-250check
Leicaflex SL22000selMYesnon-TTL148.0 / 97.0 / 57.0770~25,0001974 - 76400-600check
Leica R31000sel & intA/S/MYesnon-TTL148.0 / 96.5 / 64.6780~70,0001976 - 80125-250check
Leica R41000sel & intP/A/S/MYesnon-TTL138.5 / 88.1 / 60.0630>100,0001980 - 87150-250check
Leica R4s1000sel & intA/MYesnon-TTL138.5 / 88.1 / 60.0620~25,0001983 - 87150-250check
Leica R52000sel & int P/A/S/MYesTTL138.5 / 88.1 / 62.2625~34,0001986 - 91250-500check
Leica R61000sel & int MYesTTL138.5 / 88.1 / 62.2625~24,0001988 - 92400-550check
Leica R-E2000sel & int A/MYesTTL138.5 / 88.1 / 62.2625~6,1001990 - 94450-600check
Leica R6.22000sel & int MYesTTL138.5 / 88.1 / 62.2625~21,0001992 - 02500-750check
Leica R72000sel & int P/A/S/MYesfull-auto138.5 / 98.8 / 62.2670~30,0001992 - 97350-450check
Leica R88000sel, int, multiP/A/S/MYesfull-auto158.0 / 101 / 62.0890~36,5001996 - 02500-600check
Leica R98000sel, int, multiP/A/S/MYesHSS158.0 / 101 / 62.0790~9,0002002 - 091,000-1,500check

Leica R8 FAQ

Early versions of the R8 were known for problems with the electronics, in particular faulty micro-switches and poor contacts that resulted in the camera locking-up when used with the optional motor-drive. Leica at the time repaired these issues under warranty. Also, some of the first R8 cameras were reported to leave scratch marks on film, which Leica addressed in later production runs, while replacing the backdoors of early, affected cameras under its five-year warranty. Cameras with a serial number of 247xxxx or newer appear free of the aforementioned problems. — Below is some additional information on some other aspects of the camera.

What are the Leica order numbers of the different R8-versions?

Leica R8 (chrome): 10080; Leica R8 (black): 10081; [leica-wiki].

How many R8 cameras did Leica produce?

About 38,500 cameras were produced and sold.

Did Leica release any special editions of the R8?

No, no limited editions of the camera are known.

What is the advantage of using ROM lenses with the R8?

The R8 and R9 can take advantage of lens information passed through the electronic contacts to correct for lens vignetting, to adjust the zoom reflector on flash guns according to the focal length, or to correctly display aperture information if accessories, like tele-extenders, are attached to the lens.

Can Single-CAM and Twin-CAM lenses be used on the R8?

Leica does not recommend to use these lenses on the R8 due to possible damage to camera contacts.

Is the R8 compatible with the Digital Module R?

Yes, both the R8 and the R9 work with the DMR, which makes them the only 35mm SLR cameras with user-installable digital backs. Early versions of the R8 require a firmware update, as well as a change of the electronic contacts from flat head ones to rounded head ones.

Where can I get my R8 serviced and repaired?

Leica does no longer support R-system cameras. The company recommends to send cameras to Paepke-Fototechnik in Düsseldorf for any repairs.

Further Reading

Additional information on the R8 can be found in the pdf-version of the Leica user manual. Moreover, a description of the evolution of all Leica reflex cameras is contained in the R-system camera overview. A similar compendium of R-lenses with their main physical specifications is equally available on this site.

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