Leica DMR digital back for the Leica R8/R9 35 mm camera system
Leica DMR digital back for the Leica R8/R9 film cameras
By: Thorsten Overgaard
The Leica Digital Back R that was released July 2005 and fit the Leica R8 and R9 film SLRs - you can simply change the back to digital and back in a matter of seconds and thus have a dSLR – a film and digital camera in one!
The DMR went out of production around new year 2006/2007, probably because Imacon who produced the software of the DMR was bought by Hasselblad. But the real reason is speculation as no one really knows. Leica is said to be preparing the Leica R10 for release 2009/2010, which will be based on the R9/DMR and the Leica S2 medium format camera. Till then one can try to get the DMR second-hand (3,000$ - 5,000$), use the Leica Digilux 3 dSLR 4/3 system with an Leica R-lens adaptor (2X crop factor with focus-confirmation), or simply use a Canon dSLR with Leica R-lens adopter (with focus-confirmation, see the video below with Canon 5D Mark II using Leica 80mm f/1.4). It's also possible to get Leica R-lenses refitted to Nikon mount by Leitax, but that's a non-reversible option.
The results obtained with Leica R lenses on any digital camera one can fit them onto is notable better than any other lenses. Canon do have some interesting lenses in their program (such as the 200mm f/1.8 and the 75mm f/1.2), but when we say Leica R, we're talking about a lens program where 90% or more of their lenses are performing outstanding.
Battery solution As the battery pack for the Leica DMR can be hard to get, Michael Bass Design has specialized in rebuilding the DMR batteries to as-new performance, and also offer other batteri pack solutions as well as other tricks for DMR.
Copenhagen Fashion Week, Veronica B. Vallendes fashion show, Leica R8/DMR with 35-70mm Leica Vario-Elmarit-R ASPH f/2.8, 200 ISO.
Leica R8 with 35-70mm f/2.8 at the Copenhagen Fashion Week, February 2011. f/2.8 at 400 ISO, 1/250 sec.Copyright 2011 Thorsten Overgaard, licensing available via Getty Images / WireImage.
Leica R8 with 35-70mm f/2.8 at the bARBARA í gONGINI show at Copenhagen Fashion Week, February 2011. f/2.8 at 200 ISO, 1/250 sec.Copyright 2011 Thorsten Overgaard, licensing available via Getty Images / WireImage.
Leica R8 with 35-70mm f/2.8 at the Veronica B. Vallenes show at Copenhagen Fashion Week, February 2011. f/2.8 at 200 ISO, 1/250 sec.Copyright 2011 Thorsten Overgaard, licensing available via Getty Images / WireImage.
Robin with flowers, June 2008. Leica R9 with DMR module, 80mm f/1.4 Summilux-R @ f/3.4, 100 ISO, DNG-file converted using Imacon/Hasselblad FlexColor 4.8.6. (You can spot a minor backfocus-problem on this photo as the focus lies 3-4 cm. behind the focus point, which was the eyes)
Cee-Lo Green (aka Thomas Callaway) of Gnarls Barkley, July 2008. Leica R9 with DMR, 80mm f/1.4 Summilux-R @ f/4.0, 200 ISO, DNG-file converted using Imacon/Hasselblad Flexcolor 4.8.6. I like the film look of this picture, thanks to the 80mm rendering of sunlight directly intos he lens (with a 60 cm ø gold reflector beaming the light back - as you can see in the mirror of the sunglas), as well as the overall capabilities of the DMR. Using Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop RAW plug-in simply does not produce the same sharpness and the same 'feel' to this picture...
Thomas Sigfred portrait, master barista and owner of Sigfred's Coffee Bar, for magazine article. R9/DMR with 80mm f/1.4 @ f/5.6, 200 ISO processed via FlexColo RAW-conversion software. 100 cm gold reflector from the right.
1910-scenery from Den Gamle By [The Old town] in Aarhus, Denmark, March 2009. Natural light from two windows to the left plus a distant placed 100 cm gold reflector at the right. Leica R8/DMR with 35-70mm Vario-Elmarit-R f/2.8 @ 2.8, 200 ISO. Processed via Lightroom 2.
Aarhus University Park, January 2009. Leica R8/DMR with 35-70mm Vario-Elmarit-R f/2.8. Processed via Lightroom 2.
Greengrocer Kim Moeller, owner of "King Carrot," for magazine article. R9/DMR with 35mm f/2.8 @ f/2.8, 200 ISO processed via FlexColo RAW-conversion software. 100 cm gold reflector from the left behind (on the cars you can see a reflection of in the window).
Lifetime Acchievement Award nominee Judi Dench arrives at European Film Awards at Forum on December 6, 2008 in Copenhagen, Denmark (Photo by Thorsten Overgaard/WireImage). Leica R8 DMR with 35-70mm f/2.8 @ f/3.4, 400 ISO, 1/125 sec, Lightroom 2 RAW-conversion.
British actressJudi Dench receives an honorary LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD at European Film Awards at Forum on December 6, 2008 in Copenhagen, Denmark (Photo by Thorsten Overgaard/Getty Images). Leica R8 DMR with 35-70mm f/2.8 @ f/3.4, 400 ISO, 1/125 sec, Lightroom 2 RAW-conversion. Lit by four big Arri 3200K lights.
Marco Onorato receives an EUROPEAN CINEMATOGRAPHER 2008 award at European Film Awards at Forum on December 6, 2008 in Copenhagen, Denmark (Photo by Thorsten Overgaard/Getty Images). Leica R8 DMR with 35-70mm f/2.8 @ f/3.4, 400 ISO, 1/125 sec, Lightroom 2 RAW-conversion.
British soul singer and songwriter Seal shot with R9/DMR and 35-70mm f/2.8 @ 2.8, 200 ISO 1/15 sec, raw file processed in FlexColor. October 2008. Lit from halogen spots in the ceiling and a silver 60 cm reflector from bottom left.
Jakob Stobbe, videographer of Ritzau, shot with R9/DMR, 200 ISO, 80mm f/1.4 @ f/5.6, raw file processed in FlexColor. July 2008.
Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young, Leica R9/DMR with 80mm f/1.4 @ f/4.0, 400 ISO, processed in FlexColor.
Inside an AIDS center in Burkina Faso, West Africa. Leica R9/DMR with 35mm f/2.8 @ f/4.0, 200 ISO, raw processing in FlexColor.
Leica R glasses on Canon 5D Mark II Here's a video from the Copenhagen Fashion Week AW11, February 2011 where Danish videographer Morten Bo Johansson used two cameras to capture the atmosphere on the runway and backstage the fashion week. The runway video was made with Canon 7D using the 70-200 f/2.8 canon zoomand the backstage shot with Canon 5D Mark II using the Leica 80mm Summilux-R f/1.4 - mostly at f/2 - f/2.8.
The Impossible file! One of the qualities of the RAW images out of the DMR - apart from what is visible - is that you have something to work with in the files. This is a quality usually connected with medium format backs where you have lots of megapixels, so to find it in a 35mm camera file is a pleasure.
Here's an example of an impossible file shot at 400 ISO that I had to remedy, and which I did successfully even the highlights were burned out and the colors and all was actually far from what I wanted.
Before and after as a 90% crop:
The top is one I just imported via PS CS3 RAW converter (which i never use) and the buttom one is imported via Hasselblad's FlexColor 4.8.6 and adjusted, tweaked and tricked in PhotoShop.
An else unusable image made looking good. Shot with R9/DMR, 80mm f/1.4 @ f/4, 400ISO. Rasmus Nagel, Troels Muller Hansen and Anders SG Nielsen of Alphabeat.
Possible errors with the Leica DMR
Some errors exist - or should we say arise - from time to time with the DMR and based on my own and others experience, one all-time-working-solution is to clean all the contacts with alcohol. It's not enough to disassmble the cameras parts and clean the contacts with a finger. You have to use alcohol or a clean cleaning liquid of some sort (one that clean and doesn't leave a layer of perfume or other on the contacts). And then you assemble the parts again and make sure it's done very tightly. This will handle most problems where the DMR behaves odd, doesn't record pictures, won't turn on, doesn't respond, won't rewind, etc. I would say, even many errors you would fear are mechanical errors, are handled with cleaning contacts.
Get the latest software
Some of the original problems with white balance, noise in 400 ISO and other problems, was handled in the latest software version of 2006 to the DMR. So make sure you have version 1.3 installed. Here's a link to the DMR downloads site at Leica.
Recording problem in shooting in sequence, or too low battery
Jaap of Netherlands presented this interesting problem on the L Camera Forum in July 2009 where in the left picture it's like one or more color channel has gone awry in parts of the picture. On the right one you can get an idea how the colors are supposed to look like. Another user answered "This occurs when the system can not finish writing the image ... you probably tried to shoot a burst or short sequence, even 2-3 shots. If the battery isn't fully capable then you get an incomplete write [to the SD-card]. You can't tell easily if your battery is OK, it may be charged but can no longer handle a peak load. I bought new batteries just to be sure that this isn't a problem. This is not the old WB problem which seems to have disappeared with the new software. I probably get one of these every 500 captures and its normally in a sequence."
And may I add that cleaning contacts of both camera (all) and the batteries is a good idea as well, just to make sure.
Some users have reported about batteries or chargers not being able to fully charge. I have never experienced this problem - or if I have it has never caused any problems. Chargers and batteries are still available in Leica stores, but of cause one must consider what is a reasonable stock of batteries and chargers for the future as those stock as some point might be empty and only resource will be second-hand market. None of it is being produced anymore. I have two DMR batteries I use, and both are from when the camera was new. Never had any issues with them and never care if they are charged or not, except that I usually charge them the day before I need them. So if I come home I leave the bag, unless I need to charge for next day or later. I don't have any rule that they always need to get charged, always have to be emptied, always have to be stored dry, cold, empty or other. Only 'rule' I have is that I always charge them full - but that's mostly because it's stupid to use a battery you don't know how much is left on (and the DMR basically only tells you when there's very little battery left).
Processing DNG raw-files from the Leica DMR Shortly stated, this is my experiences on handling the RAW files out of the DMR: The best RAW conversion is gotten with the free Hasselblad software (used to be Imacon) FlexColor 4.8.6 [or any version thereabout] which one can get for free by loggin in at the www.hasselblad.se website. You simply open the RAW file in FlexColor, click on A for auto and you'll usually be very close to where you should be. Eventually take a little red out (desaturate), perhaps incerease contrast [can be done in levels] and it should be close to perfection. As a Dane muyself, let me just indulge a bit on the obvious qualities in software and scanners developed here in Denmark [by Imacon and Capture One]. There's just something about the color understanding with us Danes that is better, and by that I mean that both Imacon (now owned by Hasselblad) and Capture One seem to have understood that great looking pictures is not about pixels and sharpness, but naturalness of a picture: That the more natural and accurate you can get the colors, contrasts and light rays captured buy the lens, the more pleasurabe, accurate and - get this - sharp will that picutre look. But if you pixelpeep a "Danish image" and a "Japenese picture" you will see that the Japanese is sharper in the detail. But if you zoom out a bit to a distance where you can actually see what's in the picture, the "Danish picture" will look sharper and much more natural.
Now, the FlexColor software is not a workflow software, because it doesn't have catalog facilities in it, and frankly the workflow in it is a pain. Hasselblad won't be developing this software further as they are now doing Phocus which is designed for Hasselblad cameras and doesn't support DMR (but Phocus has the workflow tool look like Aperture and Lightroom). So for a working photographer, or anyone who don't want to be sitting in front of a computer all day, you have to look at some other possibilities.
If you can stand the pain with FlexColor, do so, and use Microsoft Media Express for catalogging (DAM as it's called; Digital Asset Management) and build your workflow around those two pieces of software.
Capture One is a software associated with Leica because it comes with the M8 and the D-Lux 4 cameras. For me and my DMR, it's not the one to use. I don't like the look, and Capture One is not a workflow software (why it's often bundled with the above mentioned Microsoft Express Media catalogging software to help you keep track of the files).
Workflow for RAW files seem to be for the big boys these days, meaning Adobe and Apple. There's simply so many features build into that type of software so that ir requires continous development. It's not enought for Capture One for example to get the picture right; the whole workflow has to be in place and follow the big players. So I use Adobe Lightroom 2.0 for most of my needs, meaning that I have a workflow where import RAW files from the cameras memorycards directly into final destination libraryes on external hard drives, and in doing so, immediately add keywords, copyright and all to the files. I then select the files I want to work with, adjust, crop and export final JPG's. In some cases I do further work on these JPG's but mostly I try to do everything in Lightroom so that when I'm done with a set of pictures, I'm actually done.
Leica R8/DMR with 35-70/2.8 @ f/2.8, 1/90, 200 ISO, Processed via Lightroom 2
An important note on this and storage is this lesson learned: Nothing last for ever, so create your workflow and archiving independent of Lightroom and any other software. Meaning, put your files in subfolders and subfolders and make sure your keywords and any type of rating system is maintained in the files and not in the software. The whole idea being that one day when Adobe quits Lightroom or you quit Lightroom, you can still manage your files. It's your files, actually, though most software manage them as if they would be around forever to do so for you. If you don't do like this (manage in subfolders, etc), all your ratings, color codes, keywords, etc will be a property of Lightroom or whichever software you used at that time.
By subfolders I mean ... let me illustrate it with this example. All my events has a job number so that my photo events are sorted after that. And if I have that number, I can find any picture from that event. So my subfolder system might look like this:
Subfolder archive with job number id: With this structure, no matter which software I use or what happens, I can always find the selected A-shots, the folder with ALL the shots, the folder with the web-editions only, etc. This "insurance" naturally applies to all software, not only Lightroom.
Okay, back on subject: Aperture 2.0 from Apple would be the natural choice for me as an Apple user. I like their stuff, I believe in their future, why it's a natural thing to go with them. Especially if it becomes a goal of yours to finish picture files without opening them in Photoshop, it's obvious you should go with Appel and not Adobe. Also, Apple support their RAW conversions via system software updates, not via application software updates. But! But! I tried Aperture 2.0 and immediately did not like the colors it made out of my DMR files. Too warm, too something I didn't like. So I decided to stay with Lightroom 2.0 which works well for me in 95% of the cases. And thus my workflow is 95% Lightroom and some 5% critical files I do via FlexColor (mainly tricky light or where I want skin colors to be great).
Try for free
All the above mentioned software is available as 30 days trials, except FlexColor which is free forever [meant to support DMR cameras, Imacon Scanners and Hasselblad scanners]. So have a go with them, and hopefully I've giveen you a workflow to go from.
Wrapping your head around workflow
For workflow, I know no better reference than American motorsport-photographer John Thawley's blog post here. No matter what you do and how much and how many hours you do it, that is the workflow you must aim at. What software is up to you, but the idea in it you should copy. Take my advice on that.
As a final note, here's a comparison of four RAW conversions of a "tricky photo." It might not be totally fair because in the FlexColor I uses A (auto) to set it all straight in one click whereas in the others I took what the RAW converter suggested ... but it got me what I wanted:
Shot with Leica R9/DMR and 80mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4. Below here is the final edit:
- - o - -
Shooting chocolate in "Burke Candy photo shoot"
Troy Freund has made this short video showing him using the Leica R8 with DMR and 60mm Elmarit-R f/2.8 shooting chocolate.
A short testin July 2005
I had the opportunity to test the camera for half an hour in June 2005 just before it was released in July 2005. Here is a couple of test shots made with my own Leica 80mm Summilux f/1.4 and the 21-35mm zoom. These shots were made with the original 1.0 firmware. The latest firmware can be downloaded here.
Leica DMR with 21-35mm, 100 ISO. Download original RAW file here [20 MB]
Leica DMR with 80mmf/1.4, 100 ISO. Download original RAW file here [20 MB]
Leica DMR with 80mmf/1.4, 100 ISO. Download original RAW file here [20 MB]
Leica DMR with 80mmf/1.4, 100 ISO. Download original RAW file here [20 MB]
Leica DMR with 21-35mm, 100 ISO, the above processed via Capture One 4.1 and the default setting for R9 with DMR. The Capture One is the preferred RAW converter for most Leica M8 users why I suggest you download their 30 day tryout and their video instructions as well. The Capture One produces sharper results with better details and more true colors. DMR users seem to prefer the Hasselblad/Imacon FlexColor software which you can see an example of below:
Download the original RAW file of the above shot here [20 MB]
Here is the same photo converted via Imacon/Hasselblad FlexColor where I've tried to lower the blue, increase the yellow as well as adjusted a little in the courves. I'm sure I would do it otherwise (and better) if I had the training in using it. But from what I understand, the FlexColor has nicer colors and better detail rendering. Add to that that the FlexColor is an extremely simple software (same as used for Hasselblad/Imacon Scanners) which will be able to save 3F files that will import into Hasselblad's new Phocus processing software that, amongst other feature, is able to remove moire. I've forgotten if anybody can register on the Hasselblad website and download the FlexColor and the Phocus software, or if one have to have a Hasselblad camera, an Imacon/Hasselblad scanner to register or how it goes.
Leica DMR with 21-35mm, 100 ISO, the above processed via Adobe RAW which is the standard included in Photoshop CS3. Download original RAW file here [20 MB]
My impression so far?
Well, that it handles files very like Canon EOS 1Ds MkII (or better) but is a Leica. It is very simple to use (they could have saved the manual) and the few things that did not work (memory count and battery) was fixed in the final firmware release 1.1 that came at the same time as the DMR in July 2005.
Else I'll wait till I get my own.
For a briefing from LFI on the deveopment of the Digital Back R in October 2003 [PDF] click here.
23 November 2004 there was a live chat on Leica where Leica answered questions on-line via chat. Two seperate forums, one in German, one in English. You can download PDF's of what was said here: English PDF / German PDF
For a briefing from LFI in May 2004 on the deveopment of the Digital Back R at Hasselblad-Imacon in Denmark, read this excert from their May issue [PDF] click here.
Also LFI August 2005 has a comparison test between DMR and Canon [not online]
A dummy of the R9 with the Digital Back R (graphics, May 2004)
A R9 with the Digital Back R (photo/graphics, August 2004)
A dummy of the R9 with the Digital Back R (May 2004)
Digital Back R will fit the R8 and R9 cameras and will have a 10 - 11 Mpixel resolution.
The Digital Back R will allow the photographer to use the full range of R lenses from Leica.
It is being deveoped with Danish scanner-manufacturer Imacon and Kodak.