Leica M8 Colors

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Whenever you hear the word Leica, say the word Leica, or even think the word Leica, you think of quality. The quality of the product, the quality of the lenses, the quality of the image and surprisingly, also the quality of the colors. But why is it that when you think “Leica”, you think that the colors should be breathtaking. What does Leica know about colors? They’ve never designed color previously; all they did was to let you load any color look you wanted inside their film cameras.

Once camera makers started to switch to digital, color suddenly became a top priority. This was some task because there is not a single camera that reproduces colors faithfully by default. This is not because of technical limitations, but is a way of thinking.

Back to the Leica M8. When I loaded Leica’s M8 colors to our color transformation database, I was excited to learn what Leica has done with the colors. By looking at JPEG images from the M8 I noticed that when the WB is correct (which does happen from time to time) the colors are quite unique. I am now able to describe with words and numbers what I have noticed from the real world images I took. Below you’ll find the same LAB and delta C plots from our color database.

Leica M8 sRGB JPEG ColorChecker 24 reference

Delta C

Camera Leica M8 sRGB JPEG
Leica M8 sRGB JPEG
Leica M8 sRGB JPEG
ColorChecker 24
Leica M8 sRGB JPEG
ColorChecker 24
Average ΔC 0 7.41 7.41
dark skin 0 5.47 5.47
light skin 0 7.73 7.73
blue sky 0 3.91 3.91
foliage 0 14.79 14.79
blue flower 0 1.27 1.27
bluish green 0 14.97 14.97
orange 0 20.2 20.2
purplish blue 0 5.59 5.59
moderate red 0 4.16 4.16
purple 0 3.2 3.2
yellow green 0 10.56 10.56
orange yellow 0 22.5 22.5
blue 0 8.49 8.49
green 0 6.82 6.82
red 0 6.17 6.17
yellow 0 14.85 14.85
magenta 0 8.63 8.63
cyan 0 10.05 10.05

Green is for under 5 ΔC    Blue is for under 10 ΔC    Red is for over 10 ΔC
Apparently, Leica has engineered the colors so that most of the colors are close to real life colors, somewhat more than other DSLR cameras on the market. However, yellow and orange are twisted towards the greens and are brought close together. Browns however, are turned more to the oranges. I find this to be very interesting! Those colors are usually not twisted that much in other DSLRs.

Next are the greens. Greens are one of the colors camera makers generally twist and saturate. Deep greens and yellow green are slightly saturated in the M8, but not very twisted. More pure Green colors get twisted towards the blues; this is not something we often see in digital cameras.

So surprisingly, we may infer that Leica knows what they are doing with colors. I find their color decisions quite brave. I can’t imagine Canon or Nikon giving us colors like that by default. And there is probably a very good reason for that, Nikon and Canon are trying to please as many photographers as possible, so the colors are tuned to be something most users might like. Leica on the other hand, thinks differently

Getting the white balance correct is essential to get those colors. The auto white balance isn’t something to be proud of. For our color database, we struggled with the custom white balance to try and get a possibly good balance . So there you go, The M8’s colors are distinctive, no other camera has such interesting colors. Enjoy.

Leica M8 colors vs. Nikon D200

In order for you to decide whether you like the Leica M8 colors or not, we compared the colors to the Nikon D200 Mode I colors. Personally, I just love Nikon Mode I colors, which you can get with the Nikon D2x/h and Nikon D200 cameras. But I do feel the Leica M8 should be somewhat more unique and distinctive.

In order to compare colors we needed to make sure the white balance, exposure and sensitivity of those cameras are the same. This is essential in order to receive genuine output colors that are written into the camera’s color table (LUT). Color tables (assuming Leica uses them), or color lookup tables can only be compared when the chromatic balance and input level that insets into the table are the same.

Before taking the images below with both cameras at the same time, we custom measured white balance off a white card. Even if the image we took was not at the same color temperature as the white card when we measured it, the white balance from both cameras should be the same. So the result will be genuine to the color LUTs (but not for the scene of course, which does not matter).

Leica M8
Nikon D200

Well, as you can see, the Leica M8 really renders green and blues more yellowish. Interestingly, skin-tones are more real to me than with the Nikon D200, which look as if the skin was painted a bit to look more human. You can also take a look at our color database with those two cameras here.

But wait

But wait, there is one more essential to get those colors: you have to use the JPEG file of the camera. Frankly, the image quality of the JPEG file is also not something of which to be proud. So if you want to get those distinctive colors with RAW, you have a little problem.
That problem is with the way the DNG file is designed. Adobe, being no camera maker, haven’t left room for the DNG using camera maker to design colors as they wish. All there is for the camera maker to work with are two color matrices, which might be not good enough for flexible color reproduction. But, if Leica know what they are doing and if the color components are not twisted in an extreme manner, two color matrices might just do. For the record, I think Adobe should really rethink about colors with DNG.

Fortunately, there is one RAW software that has been designed by a camera maker and also supports the Leica M8. The Phase one Capture One is clearly designed by someone who understands how a Raw software should work from the image processing aspect. With Capture One you’ll get an ICC file that describes the M8 colors, it also installs other camera profiles for other cameras. This is how all RAW software should work. Technically, with ICC color and LUT support, Capture One should easily match the Leica M8 colors exactly. However, this isn’t exactly the case.

Capture One

The plot below maps colors from the M8 JPEG files and the colors from Capture One using the supplied Leica M8 ICC profile. The file was processed under Capture One LE with Film extra shadow setting, because there are far too many Gamma differences between Capture One and the JPEG file with the standard setting.

Leica M8 sRGB JPEG Capture One with Leica M8 ICC ColorChecker 24 reference

Delta C

Camera Leica M8 sRGB JPEG
Capture One with Leica M8 ICC
Leica M8 sRGB JPEG
ColorChecker 24
Capture One with Leica M8 ICC
ColorChecker 24
Average ΔC 5.25 7.34 4.74
dark skin 4.75 5.23 6.14
light skin 3.01 7.77 6.61
blue sky 0.8 3.7 2.91
foliage 2.35 14.53 13.32
blue flower 5.72 1.29 4.62
bluish green 9.42 15.12 6.85
orange 12.27 20.24 8.76
purplish blue 4.63 5.57 1.74
moderate red 6.6 4.27 2.58
purple 8.88 2.96 5.93
yellow green 7.05 10.28 3.33
orange yellow 10.86 22.4 13.16
blue 10.18 8.49 3.29
green 4.89 6.78 3.55
red 5.7 6.19 4.7
yellow 8.36 14.74 6.39
magenta 12.48 8.27 6.29
cyan 4.03 10.07 7.76

Green is for under 5 ΔC    Blue is for under 10 ΔC    Red is for over 10 ΔC

An average of delta C 5.25 between the JPEG file and the C1 ICC is okay. By looking at the LAB plot you can see that all the orange and yellow colors have ‘lost their charm’. They seem to be a bit off. Lets see how ACR 4.0 is doing (remember that we processed the file under default settings in ACR).

Adobe Camera Raw 4.0

  • ACR Default
  • ACR with Gamma correction
Leica M8 sRGB JPEG Adobe ACR 4.0 ColorChecker 24 reference

Delta C

Camera Leica M8 sRGB JPEG
Adobe ACR 4.0
Leica M8 sRGB JPEG
ColorChecker 24
Adobe ACR 4.0
ColorChecker 24
Average ΔC 5.28 7.34 8.39
dark skin 6.18 5.23 7.08
light skin 1.49 7.77 8.39
blue sky 3.88 3.7 6.86
foliage 7.45 14.53 19.24
blue flower 0.8 1.29 1.94
bluish green 1.58 15.12 16.7
orange 11.87 20.24 13.15
purplish blue 6.93 5.57 12.5
moderate red 4.97 4.27 4.12
purple 3.97 2.96 6.74
yellow green 8.16 10.28 13.9
orange yellow 14.63 22.4 17.52
blue 8.33 8.49 16.82
green 7.5 6.78 13.08
red 8.14 6.19 12.96
yellow 13.04 14.74 7.89
magenta 3.57 8.27 6.66
cyan 5.26 10.07 12.24

Green is for under 5 ΔC    Blue is for under 10 ΔC    Red is for over 10 ΔC
Leica M8 sRGB JPEG Adobe ACR 4.0 with gamma correction ColorChecker 24 reference

Delta C

Camera Leica M8 sRGB JPEG
Adobe ACR 4.0 with gamma correction
Leica M8 sRGB JPEG
ColorChecker 24
Adobe ACR 4.0 with gamma correction
ColorChecker 24
Average ΔC 4.07 7.34 5.62
dark skin 3 5.23 2.65
light skin 2.08 7.77 8.02
blue sky 2.59 3.7 5.7
foliage 6.64 14.53 12.07
blue flower 0.58 1.29 1.84
bluish green 0.59 15.12 15.11
orange 13.06 20.24 7.65
purplish blue 2.24 5.57 7.51
moderate red 1.83 4.27 2.44
purple 1.54 2.96 1.66
yellow green 8.94 10.28 9.26
orange yellow 14.01 22.4 13.75
blue 1.84 8.49 7.64
green 5.47 6.78 11.81
red 5.81 6.19 3.89
yellow 13.26 14.74 4.57
magenta 4.55 8.27 4.07
cyan 3.49 10.07 11.69

Green is for under 5 ΔC    Blue is for under 10 ΔC    Red is for over 10 ΔC

When looking at the results you have to remember that Leica is the one that designed the two color matrices of the DNG files. Because of that, ACR will perform very differently when using M8 DNG files than when using other Raw images. This is because Leica, the camera maker, has designed the colors.

Matrices are very limited in comparison to color LUTs, it’s like trying to cover your self with a small blanket. Pull to one side and the opposite side retracts. I am sure Leica would like some more freedom to tune DNG colors more freely.

ACR is the only software that lets us manipulate the Gamma curve quite freely. As gamma has a large affect on colors, using ACR we could correct the default gamma to the gamma of the Leica M8 JPEG. You can see the results by clicking on the “ACR with gamma correction” tab above the plot.

By looking at the results it could be seen that orange yellow, yellow green, foliage and green are all twisted towards the yellows, this will make any nature containing image look yellowish, even more yellowish than Leica has designed in the jpeg file (short blanket?). Other colors look a bit more saturated than the M8 jpeg file. When using our gamma correction we could get closer to the M8 JPEG colors with most of the non green and yellow colors. You can download the XML file containing the Gamma correction file for ARC 4 here. Please note that the exposure index shifts as a result.

Let’s look at Apple Aperture next.


Leica M8 sRGB JPEG Apple Aperture ColorChecker 24 reference

Delta C

Camera Leica M8 sRGB JPEG
Apple Aperture
Leica M8 sRGB JPEG
ColorChecker 24
Apple Aperture
ColorChecker 24
Average ΔC 4.81 7.34 6.68
dark skin 5.12 5.23 4.98
light skin 2.17 7.77 8.06
blue sky 4.2 3.7 3.8
foliage 8.76 14.53 12.46
blue flower 3.3 1.29 4.15
bluish green 0.61 15.12 15.29
orange 9.38 20.24 10.95
purplish blue 9.63 5.57 11.57
moderate red 2.48 4.27 3.75
purple 2.24 2.96 3.57
yellow green 16.61 10.28 10.58
orange yellow 7.55 22.4 19.5
blue 3.77 8.49 7.27
green 9.93 6.78 15.21
red 3.25 6.19 7.32
yellow 7.44 14.74 7.31
magenta 5.13 8.27 3.48
cyan 8.26 10.07 6.56

Green is for under 5 ΔC    Blue is for under 10 ΔC    Red is for over 10 ΔC

Aperture seems to be quite close in terms of the relationships between the colors, only that the entire space needs to be rotated a bit. This is called “hue” as in hue, saturation and brightness. There are some colors that need some more shifting to fit.

RAW color comparison

We thought it would be nice to come up with some way to display Leica M8 colors of various RAW software applications, so they could be compared. This should help you evaluate which color of which RAW software you like best. So we gathered up a few images in various situations and color temperatures. All of those images were processed with default settings, Capture One images were processed with Film extra shadow and ACR GC images were processed with our special gamma correction configuration. Click the tab below to show the images.

Click here for RAW color comparison
Choose first color images Choose second color images
  • M8 JPEG
  • ACR
  • ACR GC
  • C1 LE
  • Aperture

It is interesting to see that Apple Aperture and Adobe Camera RAW with our gamma correction are quite similar. This means they both use some of Leica’s DNG matrices, but Apple has tuned their Gamma to be more similar to the Leica M8 native JPEG. So there you go, just pick witch software you like best. I think I’ll go for Capture One. Note that you may, of course, twist and change colors inside each software to a limited extent. But frankly, how many colors do you think you can handle? Three? Four? Picking the colors you like best from a software will shorten your workflow considerably.

A word on Raw and color

Most photographers think that with RAW, colors can be manipulated to fit whatever the photographer wants or needs. While this is true in some extent, there are a few problems. Firstly, at present there is no true flexible tool that allows the user the manipulate colors to a very fine resolution. Capture One goes as close as possible, and I suggest trying their color editing tool. However, their tool is quite hard to work with.. Photographers never used to tune colors in the past. That was the job of the chemists. Today, the color tuning work has been transferred to the engineers, who have the tools and knowledge to truly implement what a photographer requires. This brings us to the second problem: what exactly does a photographer wish the colors to be? Does a photographer know what he or she wants? Photographers were never required to design colors, and only a very few could design a good color scheme for a camera. A painter? maybe. Photographer? Just a few of them.

So the task of colors lies on the camera makers and RAW software makers, which should bring to the photographers a basic color scheme that they can then adjust, using the available tools on the market (Photoshop for JPEG – RAW software for RAW).

Color is tough

Color is one of the most problematic issues in digital imaging. Mainly because it is easily misunderstood. I don’t think that even the experts (RAW software makers) really understand how to approach colors. Leica, however, does know how to approach colors. Mathematically I can see that they didn’t just throw in some fancy LUT’s and hoped for the best. I am really happy that Leica has chosen not to fall in to the “colors should be faithful” cult, but chose to create a really unique combination of faithful and twisted colors for the Leica M8. If you do not like those colors, by using RAW you can change the colors to some extent to your liking.

RAW is the next issue I’d like to talk about. It is seems that Leica could not fit the colors of DNG to match the M8 JPEG, it’s a short blanket as I said. However, Capture One, which is the software that is compatible with the Leica M8 should be able to reach the same color as the Camera (using ICC). As of today, Capture One’s colors are not very similar to those of the camera, nor is the Gamma that is being used. I think it’s in Leica’s best interest to make sure these two match. After all, most of us are using RAW with the Leica M8 and some of us are using Capture One. Moreover, both Nikon and Canon are tying to match their RAW software to the camera colors. After all, we bought those cameras to also get those colors. So Leica, please note.

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2 Responses to “Leica M8 Colors”

  1. max Says:

    very interesting article, thank you!

  2. Niels Says:


    great article. The more I see those colors, the more I start to love them. Too bad an M8 is slightly expensive…
    I was wondering, there is also a lightroom preset on your site:


    However, instead of going close to these colors and beautiful skin tones, the skin turns reddish and other things are happening. Too bad the preset doesn’t imitate this, as this is way better!

    Maybe a remake of the preset? That would be awesome. I tried, but can’t get close enough…


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