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Leica M8 vs Sony A850

The Leica M8 and the Sony Alpha A850 are two digital cameras that were announced, respectively, in September 2006 and August 2009. The M8 is a rangefinder-style mirrorless camera, while the A850 is a DSLR. The cameras are based on an APS-H (M8) and a full frame (A850) sensor. The Leica has a resolution of 10.4 megapixels, whereas the Sony provides 24.4 MP.

Below is an overview of the main specs of the two cameras as a starting point for the comparison.

Headline Specifications
Leica M8 versus Sony A850
Leica M8 Sony A850
Rangefinder camera Digital single lens reflex
Leica M mount lenses Sony A mount lenses
10.4 MP, APS-H Sensor 24.4 MP, Full Frame Sensor
no Video no Video
ISO 160-2,500 ISO 200-3,200 (100 - 6,400)
Optical viewfinder Optical viewfinder
2.5 LCD, 230k dots 3.0 LCD, 922k dots
Fixed screen (not touch-sensitive) Fixed screen (not touch-sensitive)
2 shutter flaps per second 3 shutter flaps per second
no shake reductionIn-body stabilization
not weather sealedWeathersealed body
139 x 80 x 37 mm, 591 g 156 x 117 x 82 mm, 895 g

Going beyond this snapshot of core features and characteristics, what are the differences between the Leica M8 and the Sony Alpha A850? Which one should you buy? Read on to find out how these two cameras compare with respect to their body size, their imaging sensors, their shooting features, their input-output connections, and their reception by expert reviewers.

Body comparison

The side-by-side display below illustrates the physical size and weight of the Leica M8 and the Sony A850. The two cameras are presented according to their relative size. Three consecutive views from the front, the top, and the rear side are shown. All width, height and depth measures are rounded to the nearest millimeter.

The M8 can be obtained in two different colors (black, silver), while the A850 is only available in black.

Size Leica M8 vs Sony A850
Compare M8 versus A850 top
Comparison M8 or A850 rear

If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Sony A850 is considerably larger (64 percent) than the Leica M8. Moreover, the A850 is substantially heavier (51 percent) than the M8. It is noteworthy in this context that the A850 is splash and dust-proof, while the M8 does not feature any corresponding weather-sealing.

The above size and weight comparisons are to some extent incomplete since they do not consider the interchangeable lenses that both of these cameras require. Hence, you might want to study and compare the specifications of available lenses in order to get the full picture of the size and weight of the two camera systems.

The following table provides a synthesis of the main physical specifications of the two cameras and other similar ones. In case you want to display and compare another camera duo, you can use the CAM-parator app to select your camera combination among a large number of options.

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Body Specifications
  Camera
Model
Camera
Width
Camera
Height
Camera
Depth
Camera
Weight
Battery
Life
Weather
Sealing
Camera
Launch
Launch
Price (USD)
Street
Price
 
Leica M8 5.5 in 3.1 in 1.5 in 20.8 oz .. n Sep 2006 5,499i
 
Sony A850 6.1 in 4.6 in 3.2 in 31.6 oz 880 Y Aug 2009 1,999i
 
Canon T3 5.1 in 3.9 in 3.1 in 17.5 oz 700 n Feb 2011 449i
 
Canon XTi 5.0 in 3.3 in 2.6 in 19.6 oz 370 n Aug 2006 799i
 
Leica M10 5.5 in 3.1 in 1.5 in 23.3 oz 210 Y Jan 2017 6,595 i
 
Leica M Typ 262 5.5 in 3.1 in 1.7 in 24.0 oz .. Y Nov 2015 5,195i
 
Leica M9 5.5 in 3.1 in 1.5 in 20.6 oz .. n Sep 2009 7,999i
 
Nikon D750 5.6 in 4.4 in 3.1 in 26.5 oz 1230 Y Sep 2014 2,299i
 
Nikon D3000 5.0 in 3.8 in 2.5 in 18.9 oz 500 n Jul 2009 599i
 
Nikon D5000 5.0 in 4.1 in 3.1 in 20.8 oz 510 n Apr 2009 749i
 
Nikon D40X 4.9 in 3.7 in 2.5 in 18.4 oz 520 n Mar 2007 729i
 
Nikon D80 5.2 in 4.1 in 3.0 in 23.6 oz 600 n Aug 2006 999i
 
Panasonic L10 5.3 in 3.8 in 3.1 in 19.6 oz 450 n Aug 2007 599i
 
Sony A7C 4.9 in 2.8 in 2.4 in 18.0 oz 740 Y Sep 2020 1,799 i
 
Sony A7 III 5.0 in 3.8 in 2.9 in 22.9 oz 610 Y Feb 2018 1,999 i
 
Sony A99 5.8 in 4.4 in 3.1 in 28.6 oz 500 Y Sep 2012 2,799i
 
Sony A900 6.1 in 4.6 in 3.2 in 31.6 oz 880 Y Sep 2008 2,999i
Notes: Measurements and pricing do not include easily detachable parts, such as add-on or interchangeable lenses or optional viewfinders.

Any camera decision will obviously take relative prices into account. The listed launch prices provide an indication of the market segment that the manufacturer of the cameras have been targeting. The A850 was launched at a markedly lower price (by 64 percent) than the M8, which puts it into a different market segment. Usually, retail prices stay at first close to the launch price, but after several months, discounts become available. Later in the product cycle and, in particular, when the replacement model is about to appear, further discounting and stock clearance sales often push the camera price considerably down.

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Sensor comparison

The imaging sensor is at the core of digital cameras and its size is one of the main determining factors of image quality. All other things equal, a large sensor will have larger individual pixel-units that offer better low-light sensitivity, wider dynamic range, and richer color-depth than smaller pixels in a sensor of the same technological generation. Moreover, a large sensor camera will give the photographer more control over depth-of-field in the image and, thus, the ability to better isolate a subject from the background. On the downside, larger sensors tend to be associated with larger, more expensive camera bodies and lenses.

Of the two cameras under consideration, the Leica M8 features an APS-H sensor and the Sony A850 a full frame sensor. The sensor area in the A850 is 77 percent bigger. As a result of these sensor size differences, the cameras have a format factor of, respectively, 1.3 and 1.0. Both cameras have a native aspect ratio (sensor width to sensor height) of 3:2.

Leica M8 and Sony A850 sensor measures

With 24.4MP, the A850 offers a higher resolution than the M8 (10.4MP), but the A850 has smaller individual pixels (pixel pitch of 5.94μm versus 6.84μm for the M8). Yet, the A850 is a much more recent model (by 2 years and 11 months) than the M8, and its sensor will have benefitted from technological advances during this time that enhance the light gathering capacity of its pixel-units. Coming back to sensor resolution, it should be mentioned that the M8 has no anti-alias filter installed, so that it can capture all the detail its sensor resolves.

The resolution advantage of the Sony A850 implies greater flexibility for cropping images or the possibility to print larger pictures. The maximum print size of the A850 for good quality output (200 dots per inch) amounts to 30.2 x 20.2 inches or 76.8 x 51.2 cm, for very good quality (250 dpi) 24.2 x 16.1 inches or 61.4 x 41 cm, and for excellent quality (300 dpi) 20.2 x 13.4 inches or 51.2 x 34.1 cm. The corresponding values for the Leica M8 are 19.7 x 13.2 inches or 50 x 33.4 cm for good quality, 15.7 x 10.5 inches or 40 x 26.7 cm for very good quality, and 13.1 x 8.8 inches or 33.3 x 22.3 cm for excellent quality prints.

The Leica M8 has a native sensitivity range from ISO 160 to ISO 2500. The corresponding ISO settings for the Sony Alpha A850 are ISO 200 to ISO 3200, with the possibility to increase the ISO range to 100-6400.

M8 versus A850 MP

Since 2007, DXO Mark has published sensor performance measurements that have been derived using a consistent methodology. This service assesses and scores the color depth ("DXO Portrait"), dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), and low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports") of camera sensors, and also publishes an overall camera score. Of the two cameras under consideration, the A850 offers substantially better image quality than the M8 (overall score 20 points higher). The advantage is based on 2.7 bits higher color depth, 0.9 EV in additional dynamic range, and 1.1 stops in additional low light sensitivity. The following table provides an overview of the physical sensor characteristics, as well as the sensor quality measurements for a selection of comparators.

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Sensor Characteristics
  Camera
Model
Sensor
Class
Resolution
(MP)
Horiz.
Pixels
Vert.
Pixels
Video
Format
DXO
Portrait
DXO
Landscape
DXO
Sports
DXO
Overall
 
Leica M8 APS-H 10.4 3936 2630none21.111.366359
 
Sony A850 Full Frame 24.4 6048 4032none23.812.2141579
 
Canon T3 APS-C 12.2 4272 2848720/30p21.911.075562
 
Canon XTi APS-C 10.1 3888 2592none22.111.066462
 
Leica M10 Full Frame 23.8 5952 3992none24.413.2213386
 
Leica M Typ 262 Full Frame 23.7 5952 3976none........
 
Leica M9 Full Frame 18.1 5212 3472none22.511.788469
 
Nikon D750 Full Frame 24.2 6016 40161080/60p24.814.5295693
 
Nikon D3000 APS-C 10.0 3872 2592none22.311.156362
 
Nikon D5000 APS-C 12.2 4288 2848720/24p22.712.586872
 
Nikon D40X APS-C 10.0 3872 2592none22.411.451663
 
Nikon D80 APS-C 10.0 3872 2592none22.111.252461
 
Panasonic L10 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736none21.310.842955
 
Sony A7C Full Frame 24.0 6000 40004K/30p25.014.7340795
 
Sony A7 III Full Frame 24.0 6000 40004K/30p25.014.7373096
 
Sony A99 Full Frame 24.0 6000 40001080/60p25.014.0155589
 
Sony A900 Full Frame 24.4 6048 4032none23.712.3143179
Neither the M8 nor the A850 offer Live View, so that they cannot project the live image that the sensor receives onto the rear screen. Moreover, both cameras are still-image focused and cannot record videos.
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Feature comparison

Apart from body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. The M8 and the A850 are similar in the sense that both have an optical viewfinder. The latter is useful for getting a clear image for framing even in brightly lit environments. The table below summarizes some of the other core capabilities of the Leica M8 and Sony A850 in connection with corresponding information for a sample of similar cameras.

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Core Features
  Camera
Model
Viewfinder
(Type or
000 dots)
Control
Panel
(yes/no)
LCD
Size
(inch)
LCD
Resolution
(000 dots)
LCD
Attach-
ment
Touch
Screen
(yes/no)
Mech
Shutter
Speed
Shutter
Flaps
(1/sec)
Built-in
Flash
(yes/no)
Built-in
Image
Stab
 
Leica M8optical n 2.5 230 fixed n 1/8000s 2.0 n n
 
Sony A850optical Y 3.0 922 fixed n 1/8000s 3.0 n Y
 
Canon T3optical n 2.7 230 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 Y n
 
Canon XTioptical n 2.5 230 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 Y n
 
Leica M10optical n 3.0 1037 fixed n 1/4000s 5.0 n n
 
Leica M Typ 262optical n 3.0 921 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 n n
 
Leica M9optical n 2.5 230 fixed n 1/4000s 2.0 n n
 
Nikon D750optical Y 3.2 1229 tilting n 1/4000s 6.0 Y n
 
Nikon D3000optical n 3.0 230 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 Y n
 
Nikon D5000optical n 2.7 230 full-flex n 1/4000s 4.0 Y n
 
Nikon D40Xoptical n 2.5 230 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 Y n
 
Nikon D80optical n 2.5 230 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 Y n
 
Panasonic L10optical n 2.5 207 swivel n 1/4000s 3.0 Y n
 
Sony A7C2360 n 3.0 922 swivel Y 1/4000s 10.0 n Y
 
Sony A7 III2359 n 3.0 922 tilting Y 1/8000s 10.0 n Y
 
Sony A992359 Y 3.0 1229 full-flex n 1/8000s 6.0 n Y
 
Sony A900optical Y 3.0 922 fixed n 1/8000s 5.0 n Y

One feature that is present on the A850, but is missing on the M8 is a top-level LCD. While being, of course, smaller than the rear screen, the control panel conveys some of the essential shooting information and can be convenient for quick and easy settings verification.

The M8 writes its imaging data to SDXC cards, while the A850 uses Compact Flash or Memory Stick PRO Duo cards. The A850 features dual card slots, which can be very useful in case a memory card fails. In contrast, the M8 only has one slot.

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Connectivity comparison

For some imaging applications, the extent to which a camera can communicate with its environment can be an important aspect in the camera decision process. The table below provides an overview of the connectivity of the Leica M8 and Sony Alpha A850 and, in particular, the interfaces the cameras (and selected comparators) provide for accessory control and data transfer.

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Input-Output Connections
  Camera
Model
Hotshoe
Port
Internal
Microphone
Internal
Speaker
Microphone
Port
Headphone
Port
HDMI
Port
USB
Port
WiFi
Support
NFC
Support
Bluetooth
Support
 
Leica M8Y-----2.0---
 
Sony A850Y----mini2.0---
 
Canon T3Ystereomono--mini2.0---
 
Canon XTiY-----2.0---
 
Leica M10Y------Y--
 
Leica M Typ 262Y-----2.0---
 
Leica M9Y-----2.0---
 
Nikon D750YstereomonoYYmini2.0Y--
 
Nikon D3000Y-----2.0---
 
Nikon D5000Ymonomono--mini2.0---
 
Nikon D40XY-----2.0---
 
Nikon D80Y-----2.0---
 
Panasonic L10Y-----2.0---
 
Sony A7CYstereomonoYYmicro3.2YYY
 
Sony A7 IIIYstereomonoYYmicro3.1YYY
 
Sony A99YstereomonoYYmini2.0---
 
Sony A900Y----mini2.0---

Studio photographers will appreciate that the Sony A850 (unlike the M8) features a PC Sync socket, so that professional strobe lights can be controlled by the camera.

Both the M8 and the A850 have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on eBay. The M8 was replaced by the Leica M9, while the A850 does not have a direct successor. Further information on the two cameras (e.g. user guides, manuals), as well as related accessories, can be found on the official Leica and Sony websites.

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Review summary

So what is the bottom line? Which of the two cameras – the Leica M8 or the Sony A850 – has the upper hand? Is one clearly better than the other? A synthesis of the relative strong points of each of the models is listed below.

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Advantages of the Leica M8:

  • Maximized detail: Lacks an anti-alias filter to exploit the sensor's full resolution potential.
  • More compact: Is smaller (139x80mm vs 156x117mm) and thus needs less room in the bag.
  • Less heavy: Is lighter (by 304g or 34 percent) and hence easier to carry around.
  • More prestigious: Has the Leica luxury appeal, which ensures a high resale price.
  • More heavily discounted: Has been available for much longer (launched in September 2006).

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Reasons to prefer the Sony Alpha A850:

  • More detail: Has more megapixels (24.4 vs 10.4MP), which boosts linear resolution by 54%.
  • Better moiré control: Has an anti-alias filter to avoid artificial patterns to appear in images.
  • Better image quality: Scores substantially higher (20 points) in the DXO overall evaluation.
  • Richer colors: Generates noticeably more natural colors (2.7 bits more color depth).
  • More dynamic range: Captures a broader range of light and dark details (0.9 EV of extra DR).
  • Better low-light sensitivity: Can shoot in dim conditions (1.1 stops ISO advantage).
  • Easier setting verification: Features a control panel on top to check shooting parameters.
  • Larger screen: Has a bigger rear LCD (3.0" vs 2.5") for image review and settings control.
  • More detailed LCD: Has a higher resolution rear screen (922k vs 230k dots).
  • Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (3 vs 2 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
  • Better sealing: Is splash and dust sealed for shooting in inclement weather conditions.
  • Sharper images: Has stabilization technology built-in to reduce the impact of hand-shake.
  • Better studio light control: Has a PC Sync socket to connect to professional strobe lights.
  • Greater peace of mind: Features a second card slot as a backup in case of memory card failure.
  • More affordable: Was introduced into a lower priced category (64 percent cheaper at launch).
  • More modern: Reflects 2 years and 11 months of technical progress since the M8 launch.

If the count of relative strengths (bullet points above) is taken as a measure, the A850 is the clear winner of the contest (16 : 5 points). However, the pertinence of the various camera strengths will differ across photographers, so that you might want to weigh individual camera traits according to their importance for your own imaging needs before making a camera decision. A professional sports photographer will view the differences between cameras in a way that diverges from the perspective of a street photog, and a person interested in family portraits has distinct needs from a landscape shooter. Hence, the decision which camera is best and worth buying is often a very personal one.

M8 05:16 A850

In any case, while the specs-based evaluation of cameras can be instructive in revealing their potential as photographic tools, it remains incomplete and does no justice, for example, to the way the M8 or the A850 perform in practice. User reviews, such as those found at amazon, can sometimes inform about these issues, but such feedback is often incomplete, inconsistent, and biased.

Expert reviews

This is why expert reviews are important. The table below provides a synthesis of the camera assessments of some of the best known photo-gear review sites (cameralabs, dpreview, ephotozine, imaging-resource, and photographyblog). As can be seen, the professional reviewers agree in many cases on the quality of different cameras, but sometimes their assessments diverge, reinforcing the earlier point that a camera decision is often a very personal choice.

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Review Scores
  Camera
Model
camera
  labs  
dp
review  
ephoto
  zine  
imaging
resource
photography
  blog  
Camera
Launch
Launch
Price (USD)
Street
Price
 
Leica M8..+ +...... Sep 2006 5,499i
 
Sony A850..75/100..4/54.5/5 Aug 2009 1,999i
 
Canon T380/10069/1004/54/54.5/5 Feb 2011 449i
 
Canon XTi+ ++ +o4.5/54/5 Aug 2006 799i
 
Leica M10....4/5..4.5/5 Jan 2017 6,595 i
 
Leica M Typ 262.......... Nov 2015 5,195i
 
Leica M9....4.5/54.5/5.. Sep 2009 7,999i
 
Nikon D750+ +90/1004.5/55/54.5/5 Sep 2014 2,299i
 
Nikon D3000+72/1004/53.5/54.5/5 Jul 2009 599i
 
Nikon D5000+ +75/1004/55/54.5/5 Apr 2009 749i
 
Nikon D40X79/100+ +4/5o4/5 Mar 2007 729i
 
Nikon D80++ +o4.5/54.5/5 Aug 2006 999i
 
Panasonic L1085/100+3.5/5o4/5 Aug 2007 599i
 
Sony A7C..86/1004/5..4/5 Sep 2020 1,799 i
 
Sony A7 III+ +89/1005/55/55/5 Feb 2018 1,999 i
 
Sony A99..84/1004.5/5o4.5/5 Sep 2012 2,799i
 
Sony A900+ ++ +4.5/54/55/5 Sep 2008 2,999i
Notes: (+ +) highly recommended; (+) recommended; (o) reviewed; (..) not available.

Care should be taken when interpreting the review scores above, though. The ratings were established in reference to similarly priced cameras that were available in the market at the time of the review. A score, therefore, has to be seen in close connection to the price and market introduction time of the camera, and comparing ratings of very distinct cameras or ones that are far apart in terms of their release date have little meaning. Also, please note that some of the review sites have changed their methodology and reporting over time.

Leica M8:
Check Ebay offers
Sony A850:
Check Ebay offers

Other camera comparisons

Did this review help to inform your camera decision process? If you would like to see a different side-by-side camera review, just make a corresponding selection in the search boxes below. As an alternative, you can also directly jump to any one of the listed comparisons that were previously generated by the CAM-parator tool.

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    Specifications: Leica M8 vs Sony A850

    Below is a side-by-side comparison of the specs of the two cameras to facilitate a quick review of their differences and common features.

    Camera Specifications
    Camera Model Leica M8 Sony A850
    Camera Type Rangefinder camera Digital single lens reflex
    Camera Lens Leica M mount lenses Sony A mount lenses
    Launch Date September 2006 August 2009
    Launch Price USD 5,499 USD 1,999
    Sensor Specs Leica M8 Sony A850
    Sensor Technology CCD CMOS
    Sensor Format APS-H Sensor Full Frame Sensor
    Sensor Size 27.0 x 18.0 mm 35.9 x 24.0 mm
    Sensor Area 486 mm2 861.6 mm2
    Sensor Diagonal 32.4 mm 43.2 mm
    Crop Factor 1.3x 1.0x
    Sensor Resolution 10.4 Megapixels 24.4 Megapixels
    Image Resolution 3936 x 2630 pixels 6048 x 4032 pixels
    Pixel Pitch 6.84 μm 5.94 μm
    Pixel Density 2.13 MP/cm2 2.83 MP/cm2
    Moiré control no AA filter Anti-Alias filter
    Movie Capability no Video no Video
    ISO Setting 160 - 2,500 ISO 200 - 3,200 ISO
    ISO Boost no Enhancement 100 - 6,400 ISO
    DXO Sensor Quality (score) 59 79
    DXO Color Depth (bits) 21.1 23.8
    DXO Dynamic Range (EV) 11.3 12.2
    DXO Low Light (ISO) 663 1415
    Screen Specs Leica M8 Sony A850
    Viewfinder Type Optical viewfinder Optical viewfinder
    Viewfinder Field of View 100% 98%
    Viewfinder Magnification 0.74x
    Top-Level Screen no Top Display Control Panel
    Rear LCD Size 2.5inch 3.0inch
    LCD Resolution 230k dots 922k dots
    LCD Attachment Fixed screen Fixed screen
    Shooting Specs Leica M8 Sony A850
    Focus System Manual Focus Phase-detect AF
    Continuous Shooting 2 shutter flaps/s 3 shutter flaps/s
    Image Stabilizationno shake reductionIn-body stabilization
    Fill Flash no On-Board Flash no On-Board Flash
    Storage Medium SDXC cards CF or MS cards
    Second Storage Option Single card slot Dual card slots
    Connectivity Specs Leica M8 Sony A850
    External Flash Hotshoe Hotshoe
    Studio Flash no PC Sync PC Sync socket
    USB Connector USB 2.0 USB 2.0
    HDMI Port no HDMI mini HDMI
    Wifi Support no Wifi no Wifi
    Body Specs Leica M8 Sony A850
    Environmental Sealingnot weather sealedWeathersealed body
    Battery Type BLI-312 NP-FM500H
    Body Dimensions 139 x 80 x 37 mm
    (5.5 x 3.1 x 1.5 in)
    156 x 117 x 82 mm
    (6.1 x 4.6 x 3.2 in)
    Camera Weight 591 g (20.8 oz) 895 g (31.6 oz)

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