R8/R9 motordrive and motorwinder



Facts and description

The set comes in two boxes, one that contains the motordrive (Leica catalog number 14313) and one that contains the rechargeable battery with charger (14424). The charger comes with two plugs, one for use in a car and the other a country-specific mains cord (there are 4 different versions depending on where you buy the package - you can easily switch mains cords as they are plug-in). A pity Leica did not include the 4 different cords from the outset as many people will sooner or later need them (especially professionals or tourists). I doubt whether this would have made a difference in the final sales price. However, you have the option of ordering extra cords from Leica (or anyone else who makes standard cords) if and when you need them.

The motordrive weighs 430 gr or 680 gr including the rechargeable battery. Size: 157x38 (124.5 with handgrip) x89mm. On the left side (seen from behind the camera) there is a double switch: one for speed (single shot, CL 2 fps, CH 4.5 fps) and one for the automatic exposure bracketing (with variations between 0.5 and 1.0 EV). Personally, the latter does not interest me that much but it may be a boon when using chrome film under some tricky lighting circumstances.

The motordrive integrates well on the R8 (note that both the R8 motordrive and motorwinder are fully compatible with the R9 as well). It is made of the same material and has the same quality finish. It obviously feels more solid than the winder. Putting it on the R8 didn't reveal any problem at all, just a question of making sure the sprockets are well aligned and turning the single attachment screw. Done in 5 seconds, and you're ready for action.

At the back, the motor is protruding about 2 cm. which corresponds to the size of the rechargeable battery. It gives the camera a good balance.

There are two release buttons on the motordrive (plus the one on top of the R8), one for horizontal and one for vertical use. See further below for comments.
Too bad the buttons are in silver-white color. On the R8 prototype motor they were in black paint which was more stylish than the silver-white which I find rather disturbing, aesthetically speaking. The ratio that silver-white would render the buttons more visible raises serious questions as to the abilities of the photographer, since a typical user would rather "feel" where the buttons are and not have to actually go looking for them...

The integrated handgrip is much more profiled than the one provided with the winder (which is basically the same as the R8 body). It is easier to hold the combination which is a necessity due to the heavier nature of the package. Plus there is a leather strap that you can remove (see further below for comment).

Left: charger unit with cradle and rechargeable battery.

Top right: charger unit with car adaptor.

Bottom right: rechargeable battery.

The rechargeable battery consists of 8 NiMH cells and has a 1500 mAh capacity. Leica quotes over 100 films of 36 exposures at 20° C (including automatic rewinding) and over 40 films under the same conditions at -20° C. Weight: 250 gr. Size: 132x43x43mm. The rechargeable battery lasts for at least 500 discharge/charge cycles when used properly. You have always to discharge it before charging. This is done by pushing a special button on the charger. After discharging, the unit automatically switches to charging (while discharging a red LED blinks). There is a protection against overcharging. Charging should take up to 1h 42min at the maximum, according to Leica (double with the car adaptor). Another user has pointed out to me that this takes double on his unit. I never paid attention as I have the habit to charge the unit overnight. But maybe discharging/charging time will reduce once the battery has become fully conditioned (instead of being "fresh" out of the box).
The capacity of the rechargeable battery can be viewed upon pressing a button on the back (there are three red LED's). The button is recessed to avoid inadvertently switching it on. The normal battery control on the R8 body works as well. A final note on the rechargeable battery is that it will discharge itself rather fast when not in use (unlike AA batteries).

The charger is for worldwide use, AC 90-260V, 50-60 Hz, and DC 12 or 24V. It weighs 495 gr. inclusive of the European style mains cord. It comes in two parts: the charger unit itself (sizes: 150x80x63mm) to which a cradle is permanently attached in which you put the rechargeable battery (size: 130x60x43mm).
The charger package is quite large, so you would want to avoid schlepping it around on a typical travel via plane or train where you can use the spare place for more useful items. On the other hand, at over 100 films per charge, a single charge should take most users through a trip without problems, and one could always carry the normal R8 battery grip for just in case (a precaution that you should take in any case, motor or winder !).

Finally, as with the winder, you can switch on the R8 electric remote release.

Bottom left side of the motordrive (seen from behind the camera) with switch for motor speed and bracketing. Note also the socket for the electric motor release.


The R8 body plus motordrive weigh over 1.5 kilos without lens. That is obviously not lightweight. Combined with the new Vario-Elmarit-R 35-70/2.8 ASPH, that puts around 2.5 kilos on the balance. Rather heavy but, in actual use, you'd not really notice because the combination fits really well in your hands. The extra weight can actually "sit" better in your hand, especially with heavier glass. I also tried it with the Vario-Apo-Elmarit-R 70-180/2.8 (together almost 3.5 kilos), and it feels better than with the R8 and winder. However, you really feel the extra burden when you are carrying the kit around on a trip, in a combibag on your shoulder (on a city trip) or a backpack (in the mountains). Of course, you could also leave the motordrive behind on a particular day trip or excursion.

The integrated handgrip is providing excellent comfort in horizontal use. Theoretically, the leather hand strap should also help, but up to now my feelings about that strap are mixed. It makes me think of those straps that you find on most video cameras. I have never actually grown fond of such straps as they always seem to hinder your finger movements. Also with this strap. Using the strap implies you will not be able to use the normal shutter release button on top of the R8, although using the extra button integrated on the motor handgrip is a much better and more comfortable proposition anyway. Your fingers are naturally drawn to using that latter button and this is very well thought out. Turning the shutter speed dial is possible, but a bit more difficult with the leather strap, unless you have long fingers.

It is possible to remove the leather strap in case you don't like it, but then you're stuck with an ugly looking plastic bar on the right side of the drive to which the strap is attached.
The leather strap is quite handy, however, as an extra carrying grip. You can easily hold your combo in your hands with the strap while walking around. I have done that much to my satisfaction, it is actually more pleasant to hold it that way than to put it in a combibag on your shoulder while you are exploring a city. One shouldn't worry about the sturdiness of the strap and attachments, I never had any problems.

One more thing which may be important for some people. Some have complained in the past that they did not like how their fingers got entangled in the neck strap when pushing the release button on top of the R8. That problem is now solved thanks to the extra release button. Your finger passes under the right neck strap attachment and not over it any longer.

You don't have to remove the neck strap when using the motordrive with leather strap, but it may be handier in some cases, so as to avoid "strap clutter".

There is also another release button for vertical shots. This one is placed in the center of the motor, and not at the side where you'd normally expect it. But it is quite easy to use it once you have the feel of it. Taking pictures vertically is really easier with the motor than with the winder because of this button. You hold the thick base of the motor in your right hand, supporting the lens with your left hand, and your middle finger of the right hand presses this button quite naturally. A real pleasure in actual use. This vertical release button can be locked to avoid unintentional use.

The motor works flawless, on any speed setting. Note that its top speed (4,5 fps) is higher than the prototype (4 fps). Its noise is quite reasonable, almost like the winder, although understandably more "nervous".
Putting a new film in the camera is as with the winder. Put the film in place, close the back, fire the release button halfway and the films spools automatically. Everything works flawless, but much speedier than the winder.
At the end of the film, the motor stops automatically. Push the rewind release button, turn the special lever on the front of the motor, and rewinding starts at high speed.

As with the winder, the film is not entirely spooled back into the film cartridge, so you can easily change films halfway. Switching the special lever again spools it back completely. Very neat.

The spacing between frames does not show any differences, both on single shot and maximum speed. This clearly shows that the motor mechanism is very precise.

As with the motorwinder, you have the option not to use the motordrive when you want it (e.g. in a silent environment). Just pull out the manual film advance lever and the motordrive will be disconnected. Even in this case, it remains possible to use any of the three shutter release buttons (the one on the camera top and the two on the motordrive).

Memory lock is possible with all three shutter release buttons.

R8 with prototype motordrive

Final version. Note the differences.

Some criticism

The ideal solution does not exist, alas! A couple of things that could be bettered:

  • The release button on the bottom of the motor (the one for vertical use) is placed somewhat awkwardly. It could have been at the bottom right side instead. Apparently, the engineers have been unable to change this because of the internal layout of the motordrive. On the other hand, it's rather a question of getting used to.
  • The rechargeable battery is inserted into the motordrive at the right side (seen from the back of the camera) with a spring mechanism. This is the place where your right hand rests on the back of the camera/motor. You can feel the spring and the small movement of the battery in its compartment every time you push on it.
  • The main issue is that you cannot use standard AA size batteries instead of a rechargeable battery. This is potentially problematic, especially for an amateur like myself who doesn't use the camera every day. It is a fact that a rechargeable battery discharges itself quicker when not in use than normal AA batteries, lithium or not. I would hope that Leica or a third party will one day make the use of standard AA batteries possible, if only for backup purposes in case the rechargeable battery runs flat on a mission or trip. The R8 prototype motordrive had the dual possibility of using a rechargeable battery and AA batteries. Too bad this has disappeared in a later stage.

Motordrive or motorwinder ?

Deciding on whether to buy the motordrive or motorwinder is not always easy. I have used the winder since it came to market in January 1998 and have always been very satisfied with it.
The winder is to be considered as motorized film transport only. It has the advantage of being very light and small. It fits extremely well on the R8 (even better than the motor), it has the same footprint (no protruding part at the back) and the camera with it actually looks and behaves as if it had always come like this in the first place.
What I would not advise in any case is to use the R8 without either motor or winder. The camera really behaves better with some form of motorized transport. Your comfort will increase dramatically with motor or winder. Besides, the R8 *deserves* a form of motorized film transport.

Left: R8 with motorwinder

Right: R8 with motordrive

The motor, because of its weight and size, alters the R8 more significantly than the winder. Yes, it is easier to hold long and heavy glass with the motor than with the winder (especially for vertical shots), but for most (short) lenses you will not really notice that much difference in hand holding.
I think someone who is interested in the motordrive should really try it out first before committing the money to it in order to avoid disappointment. The camera feels differently with it. Whether you like this or not, is a very personal decision.
Leica product sheets: click for the R8 motordrive, click for the R8 motorwinder.

Copyright Pascal Heyman. Created on January 29, 2000. Last updated on September 21, 2002.