If there is a singular camera brand that is iconic, polarising and a mark of quality, then Leica is that brand. That’s the problem is that you can easily recognise Leica as a mark of quality and still dislike their cameras for one reason or another. Leica is a quality camera, flawless optics, precision cameras, and a camera designed for pure photography. And the M6, while not their latest 35mm rangefinder option is like all the M-Series cameras both before and after is a camera that retains all the marks of a Leica. Now, I’m not waxing poetic about the cameras, this is only the fourth Leica I’ve shot for these reviews. But is one of my favourites so far, but it’s not without its problems. But anyway, a big thanks to James Lee for loaning out this beauty for a review.
Make: Leica Camera AG
Format: 135 (35mm), 24x36mm
Lens: Interchangeable, Leica M-Mount
Year of Manufacture: 1984-2003
The biggest issue that I’ve had with all Leica rangefinders is loading the film. The drop in loading which is carried over from the older Barnack Leicas is retained on the M-Series, but it seems that the engineers managed to channel all the frustrations from those trying to load the film into a solution. That being said, I got the film loaded on the first go. Rather than requiring the photographer to cut down the leader, there’s a backdoor that flips open and a handy trap. Colour me impressed. The rest of the camera operation is just as simple, the film speed indicator is right on that back door, to act as both a reminder and to set the EI. Exposure controls are fairly handy, and the camera does have a built-in meter, now it’s not TTL but remains accurate. But what do you expect from a Leica rangefinder? Composition is dead easy, with auto-selected framing lines, a bright viewfinder, and a large focusing patch. While a little heftier than any Barnack Leica, the weight isn’t too bad for a day of shooting. Also, the shutter is super quiet with a short and equally silent film advance lever. Now the optics are where Leica’s also shine; I don’t think you’ll find any bad lenses, especially with the lens I had a chance to shoot, the Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4, man the optics on that piece of glass are amazing!
Despite all the good points for the camera, it is far from perfect. First up, and number one on many people’s complaints about Leica cameras is the cost. Even used, these cameras and the lenses run for thousands not to mention the cost for new. Now, you do have to remember; these cameras are built basically by hand (almost). And while you do have to shell out a lot for an initial investment, you won’t need to replace anything anytime soon either. Yes, the cost is prohibitive, but you do get what you pay for. Number two is the meter readout, I found it difficult to see, I had to angle my eyes sometimes, or it gets lost in my peripheral vision, and it’s hard to judge on some occasion. See, the meter readout is a pair of triangles with their top points facing each other (> <), the idea is to adjust the exposure settings until both are lit up red. Easy, just like a Nikon FM2n almost, one problem, each triangle can either be bright or dim, If both are bright you are dead on exposure, but if one is dim you're +/- 1/3rd stop. But it's hard to tell bright from dim. Now, this is no big deal with a film with a wide latitude (like Tri-X), but for something with a narrow latitude, it could mean the differences between trashing and keeping the frame. This issue is fixed with the TTL version that adds an O between the arrows, to indicate a perfect exposure.
Honestly, the M6 is probably the best rangefinder I’ve reviewed so far; it’s modern, it’s amazing, it’s a photographer’s camera. But it’s just not my cup of tea, that doesn’t mean if you want something modern to use as your singular camera, then, by all means, invest in any M-Series Leica, the M6, M6 TTL, and M7 are all incredible cameras with the optics to match, even the MP rocks the world of anyone who shoots with it. But to be honest, I’m an SLR guy, and I think it’s that reason that the M6 isn’t for me. I think I liked the Summilux lens more than the camera.
All Photos Taken in Cambridge (Galt), Ontario
Leica M6 – Leica Summilux-M 1:1.4/35 – Kodak Tri-X 400 @ ASA-400
Kodak HC-110 Dil. B 6:00 @ 20C