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      24.07.2002 10:49
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      BACKGROUND To most people, the name of Leica means rangefinder cameras. However, Leica has been a long time manufacturer of single lens reflex (SLR) cameras, too, since it launched the original Leicaflex in 1966. This was superseded by the Leicaflex SL in 1968 and then the Leicaflex SL2 in 1974. The R series began with the launch of the R3, Leica’s first camera with an electronically timed shutter, in 1976. Successive R models were launched during the 1980s and 1990s, with increasingly sophisticated electronics, culminating in the Leica R8 in 1996. The R8 constituted a major advance for Leica in the SLR market. Previous R models had been based on a Minolta design, improved by Leica, with a traditional rectilinear SLR shape. The R8 was radically different from previous R models, in both form and function: it was bulkier and heavier, with a futuristic, non-symmetrical shape and sweeping lines and, while not still providing some of the bells and whistles of its Japanese competitors (notably built-in motorized advance and auto-focus), it nevertheless offered many important new features using state-of-the-art electronics. While some glitches occurred in early R8 production, these have long since been ironed out by Leica and the R8 can now be considered a reliable photographic tool for both amateur and professional alike. As with many Leica products today, the bulk of the manufacturing process is carried out at Leica’s production facility in Portugal but final inspection and shipping are carried out at Leica’s HQ in Solms, Germany. USEFUL FEATURES OF THE R8 When I decided to purchase the R8, I was already a Leica R user, having previously acquired a used R7 body and a few excellent Leica R lenses. In fact, it was the superior optics rather than the bodies that led me down the Leica R route in the first place, since Leica’s R bodies are quite modestly featured compared with the Japanese competi
      tion. Some of the great features that have attracted me and others to the R8 are: * The generous 5-year manufacturer’s warranty. * Comfortable shape (for my hands, anyway) and ergonomic, largely intuitive controls. * Ability to use any of the 3 metering methods (spot, matrix, center-weighted) in combination with any of the 4 exposure modes (manual, aperture priority, shutter priority, variable program). * Excellent viewfinder information, with built-in adjustable dioptre correction, that is easy to read, with a white LCD display set out along the bottom edge of the window. * Easy-to-use mirror and aperture pre-fire: just move a lever on the front of the camera to the mirror lock-up position, press the shutter release once to pre-fire the mirror and aperture, then press the shutter release again to take the shot. * Flexible flash control using the SCA 3000 (digital) system that works best with Metz flashguns and an SCA 3502 adapter. This adapter has selectable flash compensation that is useful, for example, in controlling fill-flash. * Pre-flash metering, which allows the R8 to be used as a flash meter. The user can meter the illumination from any flashgun(s) in flash metering (F) mode, using the TTL selective (spot) metering of the camera to indicate the best lens aperture prior to taking the shot. This is handy for studio flash but is also an excellent way of achieving the right exposure of a subject with a very dark or distant background at night, such as someone standing with an open field behind him/her. * Fast flash synchronization speed of 1/250 second, a welcome improvement over previous R cameras, which I have found particularly useful for daylight fill-in flash shots. * A very well-damped mirror and quiet shutter operation. * The option of first or second shutter curtain flash synchronization. Most cameras give only first-curtain synch, whic
      h is not so useful when mixing flash illumination with available light. * A vertical travel titanium shutter with a broad range of shutter speeds, selectable manually in half-step increments from 16 sec to 1/8000 sec or automatically in stepless increments from 32 sec to 1/8000 sec. * A focusing screen that is clear, very bright and easy to use. * Simple automatic film loading. * Automatic DX film speed sensor with optional manual override. SOME NOT SO USEFUL FEATURES While I’m definitely a fan of the R8, I have to admit that there are some annoying things about it. The LCD displays, in the viewfinder and on the rear of the R8, are activated if camera is switched on and the shutter release button is lightly pressed. If the shutter is cocked, the displays will also remain visible for about 14 seconds after the button is released. That’s fine, because it helps to conserve the Lithium batteries. However, since the frame counter is included in the LCD displays, it means you cannot see the how many frames you’ve used if the camera is switched off or is “resting between shots”. I would have preferred the R8 to be fitted with the mechanical counter used in pervious R cameras. The R8 is also totally reliant on batteries. There is no back-up mechanical shutter speed. However, to be fair, most of its contemporary competitors also suffered from this disadvantage. I found the exposure compensation switch, which is a three-position flip-switch operated by the thumb of the left hand, a little awkward to use. It didn't work at all unless the camera display was activated, which made it difficult to cancel quickly any compensation that had been set for a previous shot. The camera body is big for what it does - even Leica admits it! There is no auto-focus and no built-in motorized film advance. Lack of auto-focus can be seen as a weakness or not, a
      ccording to one's needs and preferences. There are no known plans for Leica to introduce this feature, although there are rumors that a new R camera with electronic focus confirmation may be on the horizon. Lack of a built-in motorized film advance is no problem, since an auto-winder or motor drive can be added, giving automated film advance and rewind, with the additional benefit of auto-bracketing if you choose the motor drive. LENSES No review of Leica would be complete without mention of the lenses; they, after all, are what has made Leica famous. The R lenses are excellent and I do not believe there are any better lenses to be had for 35mm cameras, especially at the long focal length end of the range. The big drawback is that they are very expensive. However, they can be had for surprisingly low prices on the used market and that’s the way most Leica owners, myself included, are able to build up a reasonable system. A few notes regarding compatibility of older Leica SLR lenses with the R8: You can use any Leica SLR lenses that have 3 cams (or the third 'R' cam only) with the R8, whether or not they are fitted with "ROM" electrical connectors. These connectors are used with SCA 3000 compatible flash guns having motorized zoom heads, enabling the flash to zoom automatically according to the focal length of the lens. Older 1- or 2-cam lenses, which were made for the earlier Leicaflex range of cameras, should not be used with any R camera unless they have been converted to R compatibility by Leica. Some used R lenses may not work properly with the R8 if their iris springs have become weak. This is because the aperture control ring in the R8 needs quite a lot of force to move it to its correct position when shooting, and the springs in older lenses may not be strong enough to do this reliably. Leica can adjust or replace worn lens springs. MORE IN
      FORMATION ON THE WEB There is an excellent web site on Leica SLR cameras and lenses, maintained by wildlife photographer Doug Herr, at http://www.wildlightphoto.com/leica/

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