Yet another Leica M6 review, so I will try to keep it brief in the overstated aspects of the camera and more so discuss my experiences with it so far and how it has helped me grow as a photographer… so bear with me.
When it came to deciding to purchase a Leica M film body I really had no reason for doing so. I had my Contax 139Q was really happy with it. With the affordable Zeiss lenses, it was a great camera that packed a punch. There was no reason for me to change anything up, but I did anyways.
I think I mostly just wanted to see how I got along with the minimalistic form and function of the M system. I felt I needed a meter in my camera (something I would feel differently about today) so I found an M6 for a good price and pulled the trigger. Nearly two years later, I can say with certainty that this was definitely a good decision.
The two things that stood out to me when I first handled my M6 for the first time were the size of the camera and the film advance. The film advance was so dang smooth and the camera nearly fit in the palm of my hand and the profile of the camera (not including depth) was just larger than my iPhone X. There is not much to the M6, as with any M, so I don’t have much else to say. My first impression was that it was a very well built, perfectly sized camera with an addicting film advance.
The camera handles very well in most circumstances. The quick load mechanism is nice and fast. The plastic tipped film advance does more than I initially thought it would and is very practical in use allowing for an easy catch and stroke. The shutter speed dials turns smoothly, however, I do wish that it extended further out into the front of the camera as it does in the latter M6 TTL. Rather than just adjusting the shutter speed with the knurl of my index finger I have to use my index finger and thumb on most occasions to change the shutter speed with the camera held up to my eye. A disclaimer though, I have small hands so this could not be the case for most.
When it comes to bringing a roll in, the angled rewind knob is nice and quick and my thumbs thank it for this. When I handled an M3 in a camera shop prior to purchasing my M6 I did not like the rewind dial and it seemed like in cold weather it would be a real pain to use (living in Minnesota at the time this did not sit well with me). Overall, the camera handles exceptionally despite its simple design. Everything seems to be in the right place and if it isn’t necessary, Leica has omitted it from the design to maintain a minimalistic design and operation.
The viewfinder has bright frame lines, or at least mine does, as the RF patch is bright and contrasty making focusing a pleasure. The one thing I wish I thought about when buying the camera was the viewfinder magnification. I wear my glasses probably 80% of the time and love the 28mm focal length. I bought the standard 0.72x VF magnification and I definitely can’t see the full frame when composing with a 28mm lens (a 0.58x would have better suited my style). In fact, I can hardly see the 35mm frame lines.
To fix this problem I bought a 40mm summicron and filed it down to bring up 35mm frame lines, which I think is a great compromise as it allows me to compose well without pulling in too much, albeit learning how to frame with a 40mm lens took practice. I just recently started shooting with a 28mm lens again and just accept the VF limitations. So for first time M buyers, I would definitely recommend thinking about what focal length you shoot most and use that to help determine was magnification is best for you.
The meter is very accurate and reliable. I can count the number of bad exposures I’ve had over the past two years or so on one hand. It is a center-weighted meter so you can’t exactly just point it at tough lighting and expect to get perfect exposures every time. I try to make an effort to meter for the shadows in most cases as film I shoot responds much better to overexposure than under.
It is a very simple metering system to get used to, as mentioned above, but keeping a keen observation of the aperture and shutter speed while metering through the viewfinder is key. It is dangerous to get caught up flying through different f-stops while metering and lose a sense of technical composition (which has happened to me one too many times).
A huge benefit of a rangefinder camera is the omission of mirrors which ultimately leads to a larger range of use in low light. I’m sure that this differs from person to person depending on how steady their hands are, but I came to learn that my minimum shutter speed to shoot handheld was 1/4th of a second. In comparison, anything I shoot on an SLR seems to be limited below 1/60th of a second. That’s a 4 stop difference for me, which is huge. With an SLR, I usually pair it with an f/1.4 lens for low light shooting as opposed to the f2 of my 40mm Summicron. So in practice there is still a 3 stop difference when pushing the limits in low light which I still view as advantageous.
Other than the low light advantages, the shutter is oh so quiet. When shooting candid photos or street photography this is a huge plus for me. Someone can be less than 1 meter away and not hear the shutter. I have yet to own a camera that has so many advantages due to a shutter design. I know some people comment on burning the cloth in the shutter when shooting into the sun a lot and this is definitely something to consider when using an M cloth shutter versus say a Nikon S titanium shutter. If it does happen, I would not feel guilty at all having to replace the shutter cloth because I enjoy shooting into the sun and won’t change my style for a camera.
This is an area where any M, an M6 in my case, excels more so than any other camera I’ve used to date, and is the main reason as to why it has become my favorite camera and one that I will never part with – in the near future at least – GAS can really get a hold of you sometimes. Many of the best cameras ever made are great for specific technical and mechanical traits that they carry and make them known in use. This seems to especially be a problem in the age of digital photography where it is more a battle of megapixels and ISO performance than actual design and use.
This is where the M6 differs for me. The M6 is not a great camera on paper. It has a slow maximum shutter speed of 1/1000 seconds, it doesn’t have aperture priority, spot-metering, a self-timer, or a double exposure lever. On top of this, it requires more frequent servicing than say a Nikon F due to the need for rangefinder calibration.
Where the M6 excels in design is the omission of excess functions, allowing for simple use. This, for me, makes the M6 a forgettable camera. What I mean by this is that in use, it disappears. The simple design and function allow me to just shoot and not fiddle with the camera. This incredible ability of the M6, and of many other M’s I assume, is what makes them so special.
With all of this being said, there are many limitations to the M system. The most obvious being price. New models are pricey to say the least and most of the even somewhat affordable lenses are slow, either an f/2 or 2.8, and if you want a fast lens it’s going to cost you in either image quality or burn a hole in your wallet. However, most M users buy used and gravitate towards the older models which are still affordable and with lenses dating back to the 1930’s, the options are vast.
Price aside, it is hard to put a price on capturing family and life moments and the M6 is a camera that lets me do so exactly as I intend to. The accumulation of the size, simplicity in design, and handling have made the M6 the best camera for my uses that I can think of. This is completely subjective and the M6 may very well not be that camera for others and this is the beauty of having such a vast array of cameras across varying formats and mediums.
Some More Photos
To wrap it up, the M6 is a wonderful camera that both has many advantages and disadvantages. It is a matter of weighing these and determining if it is the right camera for you. For me, the advantages that the M6 has to offer far outweigh the disadvantages. It can be argued many ways for one’s personal preference of camera, whether it be for image quality, build, or use.
What matters most and speaks the loudest to me are the photos that I create with a given tool. The M6 has become a tool that I take everywhere and it allows me to create lasting, personal photos, whether it be family trips or documenting my daily life. For me, the M6 is an irreplaceable camera and I completely understand the hype but is it the camera for you? I can’t answer that question but it certainly has become the perfect camera for my needs. I look forward to the many more photos and moments that I’ll capture with this elegant, simple camera.
All photos shot on Portra 400 or Ilford Hp5+ with either a 40mm Summicron or Voigtlander Ultron 35mm f1.7 and scanned with a Plustek 8200.
You can find Hamish’s review of the Leica M6 and M6 TTL here
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44 thoughts on “Leica M6 (yet another) Review – Is it worth the hype? – By Joe Monat”
I agree with pretty much all you said their it’s a very instinctive camera,there might be another review when the loan period for my M6 expires and I can think back on it in hindsight
Thanks for sharing your experience with the M6 Joe, which mirror my own with the M6TTL. I was lucky to find a mint copy with the 0.58x viewfinder and that does make framing so much easier for me as a spectacle wearer.
Joe, a great practical insight on making photos with an M, thanks.
I would agree that VF magnification is probably the single most important point for anyone to consider when deciding on purchasing a Leica M. I had the opportunity to get a 0.85 M6TTL so paired it with a 50mm. I also added a 90mm and love both focal lengths. Like you I am a glasses wearer so 35mm does not really work with the 0.85 finder. But, using the M6 is so rewarding and liberating so I dug deep and found a nice 0.58 M6TTL which I have paired with 28mm and 35mm lenses. As my 4 lenses are f/2.8 with the emphasis on compactness, I got a great deal on a S/H Voigtlander 40mm f/1.2 Nokton – a fantastic lenses which works very well on the 0.85. So, my M kit is complete, pretty lightweight and covers 90% of what I shoot on film.
That is a good call on the 0.58 finder. I’ve thought about switching to the 0.58 but I also like to shoot 50mm and I think the 0.72 is a bit better for that.
Looks like you’re based out of the cities, shooting around downtown is such a joy.
I was and absolutely loved it there! I lived there for the past 6 years but just moved to Chicago.
Nice review Joe and welcome to Chicago! I keep my eyes on Leica reviews always weighing against the cameras I own and shoot the most. I’m sure you know about Central Camera in the Loop. And of course there are a couple of good repair shops on Wabash Ave.
Thank you! I do know about central camera, I stopped in there when I was in town a few years ago, wonderful store. I definitely need to explore a little more. It’s a much larger city than Minneapolis! Slightly overwhelming.
I am getting sick of Leica reviews. Thousands of cameras to be reviewed so lets review them please.
You don’t have the read them…
Joe, it comes down to just two things:
1. If this camera (or any camera) works for you then it’s your perfect camera. No justification needed.
2. There is a fundamental difference between a R/F viewfinder and an SLR. With a rangefinder, you see the scene and compose within the frame; with an SLR, you see a black square or rectangle, and you put the elements into that frame.
I had a blast with Nikon SLR’s for years. I then picked up a Leica M2 w/a 50mm lens. I realized that for me, I was shooting in a RF style with an SLR. The RF freed up my eye & my style. I haven’t looked back. I still have the M2.
I can’t agree more. I love the Leica M system but I will always have a soft spot for Contax SLR lenses and the Nikon F2, however, they have all been sold due to me reaching for the M6 everyday.
Nice overview of your experience of the M6, Joe, and some wonderful images. I particularly like two of them at the end of your portfolio – the shots of the lakeside and the winter woodland scene. I have a penchant for the older classic camera body style – black and chrome – and which my M6 is. Lovely.
One small correction, if I may. The M6 does not have centre weighted exposure metering. I can understand why you may think this to be the case as the reflective metering spot on the shutter curtain is in the centre. This is not centre weighted, but a form of spot metering. I say a form, as the metering angle is too wide to be strictly a spot, and of course the subject metering area is dependant upon and changes with focal length. True spot meters don’t work this way.
Terry, thank you for the compliments on the photos. I do agree that the metering system definitely isn’t the typical center weight metering, but it is much larger than a typical spot meter covering 13% while a normal spot meter, as in the contax S2, only covers around 5%. It is probably best categorized as a partial center-weighted spot meter. Leica does categorize it as a center-weighted meter though.
Joe, I’d never seen any reference to Leica categorising it as a centre-weighted meter. Just in case I was mistaken, I had to check this and it is not supported by my M6 manual, where throughout the paragraphs on metering it is referred to as “selective metering”, incidentally, a term first adopted by Leica for their SL slr, although SL strictly stand for “selective light” (metering).
I read through the manual and you are definitely right! It is more of a spot meter than anything else. You learn something everyday haha. I’m going to be more careful with my metering from now on.
Joe, don’t fret. One of the advantages of old age, especially in the photographic field, is that I, and like many older than me, will have taken up photography in the 1950’s and 1960’s, so film is in our genes, so to speak. And doing one’s own D&P makes you pick up a lot of experience quickly – usually by one’s mistakes – but of necessity one learns.
Funnily enough, I much prefer the metering pattern of an M6 than any super duper matrix metering system. It takes a bit if getting used to, but one learns a lot about metering for various subjects, and once learned and mastered, it was nice to know that I was in control, so when I got a tricky lighting situation right, it was down to me and not some CPU!
I also have an M6 and love to use it.
I’d suggest you take your body for a CLA and check for the curtain synchronization adjustment. In some pictures I see that the left side is fading and is darker than the right side. This is an evidence that the shutter needs service.
Thanks! And yeah I noticed that too and had it CLA’d when it started to happen. All is well now.
I have had several M6, classic ! But, I sold them for M3. Yes, M6 is one of best Leica M, better than M7. M7 I have sold it, because I nearly rarely used it.
The M6 disturbed me, and the M7 made me frozen.
M3 has remembered me what is photography. The great viewfinder makes RF a dream with a 50 mm, I use also sometimes the Summicron-C 40 with M3.
With M3 we return on basics, and the build is so fantastic, with a quieter shooter ! M3 is one of best camera, and the best M Leica. Leica has never done better, if they would like to do, they will have to sale it for nearly more than 10.000 $ on Leica pricing policy ! Why, because it is made like a Swiss watch !!! With M3 you are never wrong ! Just think before about all parameters, and after focus only in composition.
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I bought my first leica M camera after using a Nikon fm2 and f2as for years. I still use them. but I ended up buying an m4-2 as my first leica m camera. I ended up paying 650$. it was tuff getting use to a rangefinder but I have found it is quicker than an slr for me. sometimes I get the urge to buy a leica m6 but I am always deterred by the fact that I really don’t need a light meter except for piece of mind. I don’t know if an extra 500 – 1000 dollars is worth it. Especially when you can buy a working mr meter for 150$ and they are super fun to use. love a needle exposure meter. I have a leica m3 ss and it is wonderful. best M camera. Random thought – somebody should do a review on the leica Elmar M 50mm f2.8 cheep for a leica lens and it has an excellent quality on black and white film and color. In leica terms it is a cheep lens too. so good I am thinking I am going to pick up a second. Anyways excellent review!
Nikon F series cameras are wonderful, they’re what I started with and I will always love the 105mm f2.5. Honestly, if I were buying today, I would avoid the M6 for that exact reason and settle for an M4-P or M4 depending on if I needed 28mm framelines. They’re going for like $1600-$2000 which seems awfully high to me. I bought mine a few years ago for $900 when the price difference was only slightly more than purchasing an M4-P(or 4-2) with an on-camera meter. I also had a brief stint with an M4-P with an MR-4 meter while my M6 was getting CLA’d and liked it quite a bit.
Its a bit of a rare bird but if you like the 105 2.5 try the 105 1.8 ais. I have shot some of my favorite photos with mine. yeah prices on m4-2s seem to be astronimical now. I love mine though. Something I want to try is a leicavit m on my m4-2. I have big hands and I am a left eye shooter so I hear they are good for that.
I sold all my Nikon F and Contax SLR gear because I wasn’t using it enough unfortunately. Nikon definitely made some wonderful glass, I’ve been told about the 105 1.8 but always felt I didn’t need the extra speed with the 2.5 I had at the time.
I have bought my first M6 back in ´94 when it was the camera to have for a serious photographer. At that time Leica gear was not as expensive as it is now. For me the pros are: its a system, the camera is quite small and sturdy, the lenses are rather small and kind of good. The cons are: The rangefinder window whites out sometimes, the frame lines are inaccurate, the flash sync speed is very slow, the shutter is not as quiet as advertised, you can´t focus close, short lenses like the 21mm will need a accessory viewfinder which is a pain to use, rangefinder accuracy depends very much on the lens – the longer the worse, the rangefinder window in the viewfinder easily misalgines, recomposing of an image with lenses wide open leads to unsharp images, changing film is rather strange – the bottom plate separates, a 1/1000 of a second is fast but sometimes not fast enough, the actual size of an image on the film depends on the focal length of the lens used, the viewfinder will be partially blocked by some lenses, parallax is sometimes an issue, and everything Lica is pricey – to say the least. So for me the Leica M provides a good feel in the hand – that´s why I keep mine – but apart from that it is an anachronism. An SLR camera like the Nikon Fm3a is nearly as small as a Leica but provides solutions for all of the problems the Leica has. And you can easily spend a lot of money on very fine lenses too.
I do agree that there are many limitations to the rangefinder system which I believe I did mention in the review. For my personal preferences, however, the benefits outweigh the cons. The FM3A is a great camera and a legend in its on right but I think that even when an SLR body is nearly the same size as a RF body, the whole setup is always significantly larger due to the fact that the lenses can’t compete when it comes to size. I am also confused by two of your statements:
1. “recomposing of an image with lenses wide open leads to unsharp images” Rangefinder cameras work via a superimposed image in which the focus ring is coupled to the RF system. Nothing in the RF system is coupled to the aperture ring at all, unlike an SLR, that focuses wide open and can be stopped down if needed to check depth of field.
2. “the actual size of an image on the film depends on the focal length of the lens used” I am not sure where you got this from but the size of the image is the exact same with all lenses. The framelines in the viewfinder do not in anyway correlate to the size of the image on the film stock. Everything is still in 35mm format.
Some of your comments are perfectly valid, others more indicative of personal preference, and these can be challenged.
“the shutter is not as quiet as advertised” but likely to be quieter than any slr.
“the flash sync speed is very slow”, true, but you know that many great, and lesser, photographers managed quite well.
“an accessory viewfinder is a pain to use” eh?
“recomposing of an image with lenses wide open leads to unsharp images” Not quite sure what you mean, but composing wide open with an slr with auto diaphragm stopping down can lead to focus shift with some lenses.
“the bottom plate separates” so you find changing films difficult on cameras other than the model(s) you prefer?
Where a rangefinder will beat ANY manual slr is with their ability to more accurately bring into focus wide angle lenses as the r/f accuracy is not dependent upon the lens or the human eye, and in lower light levels the chasm between the accuracy of a rangefinder and slr is quite wide; and the rangefinder is faster. Full stop.
I also have both an M6 and a Contax/Yashica camera (an RTS) with Zeiss lenses, but bought the M6 first. I like both systems a lot. The thing about M mount lenses though is that most of them are pretty expensive, which makes experimenting to see which one suits you kind of daunting. My favorite focal length is 35mm and I eventually settled on a Zeiss Biogon f/2 as my main lens for the M6. I then got a 50mm Summicron to do portraits and while it’s undeniably a great lens I don’t like it quite as much as the Zeiss. I’d like to try the M mount 50mm Zeiss Planar but the price is an obstacle.
I recently became curious about the Contax cameras and lenses and stumbled across a great deal, so I bought an RTS, 35mm f/2.8 Distagon, and 50mm f/1.4 Planar for not a lot of money. I’m really happy with the results from that setup and it’s nice sometimes to not be carrying around a rig that costs 3K, especially when traveling or in sketchy neighborhoods in NYC.
It’s subjective, of course, whether the M6 is worth it. I’ve gotten great results from my Nikon and Contax/Yashica systems, so theoretically I could do without the Leica, but if I’d never bought it I would always be curious. There used to be a rental place in NYC where if you had a credit card you could try out gear. Ideally one would go to a place like this and try out different systems before committing. By the way, I’m amazed that you managed to get rid of your Nikon and Contax gear. I don’t think I ever could.
Getting rid of my Contax gear was so hard to do. I could never really find a body I liked after stints with a 139Q, RTSii, and S2. This was the ultimate reason that I parted ways with the system. The lenses and compacts, however, are still my favorite of any system. The 50mm f1.4 planar, 28mm f2.8 Distagon, and Contax T are my favorite pieces of kit I have ever used but they had flaws. I could never find a body that I really enjoyed for the system and I couldn’t stand loading the Contax T. It all came down to which camera I reached for everyday and that was the Leica M6. The lenses might not be as good and are definitely not as good of a deal but it is a sacrifice I make to use a system with which I reach for the camera everyday. I just bought my first ZM lens, a 28mm f2.8 biogon, and while it is a great lens, I still don’t like it as much as my 28 distagon. Unfortunately, I had to sell my Contax Yashica setup to fund it.
The images seemingly speak volumes about how you and the camera get along. I’ve read a number of Leica reviews and watched many more out on YouTube. It seems that in a majority of cases when I look at the resulting photos I’m left to wonder why the reviewer finds the camera attractive as a photo making device. I also have read a fair amount of banter between Leica enthusiasts arguing over the merits of the various M models to establish which one is “best”. I would imagine the best M camera is the one that you most enjoy shooting photos with. It is clear from your images that you very much enjoy shooting photos with the M6. Nicely done
Thank you very much. I’m not really a Leica nut so maybe that helps. My biggest soft spot is for contax SLRs but for some reason the m6 just works perfectly for me. I’m glad you enjoyed the little review!
I did enjoy the review quite a bit. I think that what helps is that you are a good photographer. It strikes me that you are a photographer that happened to review a camera. As opposed to a camera reviewer that happens to take photos. I particularly enjoyed the image of the piano player, the image of the alley with the parked vehicle, the image of the person walking past the transit vestibule, and the image of the cityscape at dusk/dawn.
So many images included by other camera reviewers strike me a throwaway shots. That seemingly does quite an injustice to such reviews in my mind. That is definitely not the case here. This site should have you contribute more content. Again, nicely done.
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The cameras I shoot with as of now are a Leica M9 and Leica M4-P. Once I got to the point where I was shooting my M6 without the meter on a regular basis and getting my aperture priority fix from my M9, I figured moving to an M4-P with the less cluttered viewfinder and same framelines was the way to go (also saved quite a bit of money which went towards adding a ZM 28). That being said, the M6 is still probably my favorite camera I’ve used but honestly I shoot my M4-P in the exact same way.
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Quite the good review here! And, since there’ve been more than a few replies referring to readers’ “favorite” Leicas, I’ll chime in with one of my own: I’m a freelance IT tech, and one of my long-time clients was a serious photographer before she was forced to give it up on account of suffering from serious macular degeneration, leaving her essentially legally blind. We’ve talked extensively about photography over the years, and when I made the move to ditch my SLRs for rangefinders in early 2002, she mentioned having a Leica system she hadn’t used in ages. Even though I’d made my choice for anew system (a pair of Konica Hexar RFs and three M-Hexanon lenses–28, 50, and 90–I asked if I could try out what she had. I ended up getting two items from her on long-term loan: an M2 body, and second-gen 35mm f/2 Summicron. I *know* people go on (and on…) about M3s, M4s, and assorted M6s, but the M2 was just Kismet for me, even though it suffered a slightly kinked shutter: all the heavily-hyped stuff about Leicas was absolutely there–how it feels in the hand, how quickly it handles, To reluctantly use a *Star Wars* trope, it was the lightsaber to my Hexars’ Blaster…which, by the way, is hardly a diss of my Hexars: I’ve had them for close to twenty years, and won’t stop using them until they’re utterly unrepairable. (Haven’t broken yet, and for a a damned good reason: Konica was good at figuring out the vulnerable bits by that point in time, and made them as bulletproof as tech would allow in the late 1990s.) I handed back the M2 and 35 after about a year, with quite a few wonderful images to show for that period, and let my client know that if she was willing to sell (she kept fobbing me off on that), I wanted right-of-first-refusal; this is simply how it is with many a Leica owner. It’ll happen when it happens.
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With film photography being trendy and with very few film cameras being made, it stands to reason that camera prices will continue to go up.
The supply is actually going down because the majority of the youngest film cameras were made in the 90s…. and old stuff breaks.
We need more film camera production or every film camera will end up costing as much as a Contax T or Leica M.
What I’m wondering is this: will my Nikon F3 cost over a grand in the next year or two??
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I think what one of your correspondents meant by his comment on rangefinder inaccuracy at wide apetures was not a fault of the equipment but the fact that in recomposing after focusing the photographer is likely to move out of the plane of best focus. ( You could do the same with an SLR of course unless using an AF one with multiple focus points.)
For me personally, as for you, the overall experience and success rate makes the downsides something I’m happy to put up with.