Simply put, It’s my opinion that the Leica M6 is the best of the film M bodies that you can hope to shoot with. How I came to realize this only took me a MP, a M3 and a M4 to show me just how good the M6 truly is.
Purchasing something like an M is a huge commitment, as well as a big chunk of change for most people. Things like clothes and shoes can be tried on or compared with similar products quite easily and most of all, returned for your money back if the product does not work to your liking. I am loath to buy a car because I cannot test drive it for a week under different driving conditions. Being able to have a chance to try out something for an extended period of time makes all the difference. However not many of us can go to a camera shop and ask to borrow a camera to see if we like it or not. You see it, you like it. You like it? You buy it. You use it, but you do not really like it. Now what?
“Now what?” That’s a question that I asked myself three different times, and came up with four different answers. This is the story of how I started to buy a M6, and how I eventually ended up with a M6. It only took me the other M cameras I tried to show me just how good the M6 truly is.
Starting with the Leica MP
My story starts with me wanting something more than my digital camera could offer. More often than not, it was found sitting on my shelf, not being used. When I did use it, of the many shots that I took, most would be deleted on camera and the few that remained were put into the computer, never to be accessed again. I found shooting with a camera fun, but I wanted something that would engage me more. I decided to give film a try, and began looking for a film camera. I wanted something that could be used daily, something robust, and I wanted full manual control over the camera. My research led me to Leica.
Specifically, an M6, and that is what I went looking for in Tokyo. (I live in Japan) I spent the better part of a day looking at countless shops, but aside from one shop, a black M6 was not to be found. Knowing that I could come back, I continued onwards and at the last shop of the day, I found a black paint MP. I was seduced by its heft, smooth feeling, lovely black paint and atmosphere. It was well out of my budget but lo and behold, out of the shop I came with the MP around my neck.
And it was great! I loved shooting with it, the feeling and aura that surrounded the camera was just too good. It is a camera that has its own well deserved following and is a pleasure to shoot with. Everything was going smooth until my camera’s shutter button began to start sticking. Not too much of a major problem, but still a problem nonetheless. Wanting to get the camera fixed, I began to reach out to various shops and asked about the repair for the MP. No place would touch it, not one. Any other film body and a repair job would be possible, only the MP could not be repaired. This was very alarming and I got in contact with a friend who shoots two MPs. He also told me that they were quite fickle and he had to send his cameras to Leica Germany for repairs numerous times. Not only was the repair bill close to a third of the cost of the camera, but he said the most difficult thing was being without his cameras for the better part of the year.
How could this be? What was so different about the MP verses any other film M? Needless to say, I did not have the extra cash lying about for what I thought would be a rather simple repair, nor the time.
The back up M3
During this time, I was advised to have a backup body which is a great idea if you shoot quite a lot. I again began to research about what camera to get, and settled on a M3. My reasoning for this was that it was the most like the MP as the MP was sort of regarded as a spiritual successor to the M3. So I took my time and located a M3 in great shooing condition. It was recently overhauled and had a one year warranty as well. I again went to Tokyo to get it and in no small order what had supposed to be my backup body. It quickly became my daily shooter, with the MP playing back up.
The M3 was loads of fun to shoot with. The M3 was better built, more smooth than the MP. There is just something about it that made me want to shoot more. People talk about the finder of the M3 as the best in any Leica, but for me, it was nothing special. I found that I could get along with either the MP or M3 finders. I was happy and content with my M3.
Then, one day, I brought it to my eye, there was something inside the finder obstructing the view. I shook it lightly, turned it upside down, tapped it a bit, but nothing seemed to help, so I called the shop where I had bought the camera and explained the problem. I had thought that the warranty would cover whatever happened to the M3, but I was in for a rude surprise; the warranty is only for the overhaul, not the camera. The shop owner said that most likely my camera had some sort of mirror separation and that it (the mirror separation) was not covered by the warranty at all. If I wanted it fixed, then I would need to buy another M3 and switch the parts.
I was floored by shock. The modern classic MP, the classic M3, both cameras whose reputations were legendary, both were causing me problems! A lot of money and time would fix these problems, both things that I was quite short of. I sent the M3 to the shop to be looked at and received it a week later. The problem? Some dust from inside the camera had landed on the mirror and after a simple cleaning, it was ok to use. Even though both the MP and M3 were still usable, I was left feeling like something worse was going to happen to either of them. Warranties were worthless, prestige was pointless. I was still searching for something that was eluding me.
A trial with a Leica M4
I was beginning to become a little nervous to shoot with my cameras. My MP was too expensive to deal with, and my M3 seemed to be rendered useless at any time. There were also other little quirks about both the cameras as well that I did not notice beforehand, but after shooting with them, those little quirks became bigger pains. For example, the film rewind knob on both the MP and M3 are quite slow and sort of difficult to use. It takes a bit of time to rewind the film back with them. The take up spool on the M3 also makes for slower shooting, especially if you are trying to shoot your kid doing something funny. These are things that you would only find out if they bothered you after you had used the camera for a while. The leatherette on my M3 also fell apart and was replaced with a newer version, but the grippiness had changed. The sharkskin grip on the MP was also something that after using, I found that I did not really like. This all might sound rather nitpicky, but for what I had paid, and for how I was using the cameras, I was expecting more.
I made another decision and traded in my MP and M3 for a M4. And this time, I knew the right questions to ask. What would the warranty cover? How extensive was the overhaul? How is the condition inside the camera? How can I make sure the camera is working in tip-top shape? (The answer to that is by using it! I was told that since the camera is a mechanical device, it benefits from use. That makes sense when you think about shelf queens whose insides quickly go out of mechanical shape.) Even to this day, the swap for the M4 is a decision that I do not regret. The M4 was an absolute dream to shoot with, and for a while I finally felt that I had found a camera that really grooved with me.
It was also during this time that I began to piece together the necessary items for a darkroom. Up until now I was sending my self-developed film in for scanning, and was really anxious to begin printing my own work. As a direct result of this, I began to notice that my negs were either over or under exposed, and that makes for difficult printing to say the least. Dealing with an external light meter is a pain in the neck that until now I had not really noticed, at least for an extended period of time. The internal meter in the MP was very handy, and the VC-II meter on top of the M3 and later M4, while handy, is another step between shooing.
Sadly, the M4 had to go. Whereas trading in the MP and M3 was done without any regret, I still lament getting rid of my M4. I cannot really put that reason into words, but letting it go was difficult. Perhaps when I become better with the Sunny 16 rule and learn to read different lighting situations better, I can find another M4 to use.
Finally to the Leica M6
MP to M3 to M4. That is a lot of cameras, and still I had yet to find one that I truly bonded with. Thanks to Instagram I was tuned into a great little lens shop in Tokyo. The owner of that shop had put up a M6 that was for sale and I immediately called. The M6 was recently overhauled by the best repairman in Japan. I then had to talk to the wife, and more importantly, with myself. If I was unable to bond with this camera, then perhaps I should think about another hobby. Back to Tokyo I went and to the shop.
The M4 was parted with, and I had in my hands the camera that was supposed to start it all, the M6. It looked like new, and was overhauled to the point of what a new camera would have been like. It was a dream come true. All the right boxes were clicked; light meter, wonderful finder, black chrome, M4 style film advance, (I prefer it to the MP/M3 style one) and awesome Leica quality. But even then I was weary, what problems would arise? What if this camera was not up to the job? A lot of doubts where hanging over me about this camera, was it going to live up to what I hoped?
My Leica M6 Review
I picked up the M6 in January of this year, and have used it daily, to the point that the black chrome is beginning to wear through. The once white paint is fading into cream. It has the usual scratches and signs of being used.
Perhaps the best thing I can say about the M6 is nothing. There is nothing to say about it whatsoever, simply because I am using the hell out of it. It is out around my neck starting in the morning, and even worn during my classes at my schools. Quick runs to the store or out for a walk with my son, the camera is there, being used. I have gone through seven 100 foot rolls of film, which is the most ever that I have used, with the M6. It has even come with me to the States for work and a vacation to see the family, with absolutely no problems. There is nothing that stands out about it at all, which is a huge complement. I can simply shoot, worry free.
It has been so good to me, that I bought a second body from the same lens shop. This one is new old stock, and after a quick look over by the same repairman, I received it in August of this year. Two bodies and two lenses, total happiness.
And after using the MP, the M3, the M4 and the M6 I have concluded that the M6 stands above the rest as a camera. You will hear phases like best bang for the buck, or the M6 as an entry level camera to the world of Leica, but I feel those phrases are quite rude to what is to my experience is a superior camera. You also find things written about it saying that it is inferior to previous bodies, lack of brass, lower quality gears, and a slew of other gripes. Funny enough, I have not felt any problems whatsoever with the two of mine. I think that this boils down the quality of the camera and overhaul, but mostly due to rumors. Both of the M6s feel better than the MP ever felt, and I am certain that the M3s overhaul was lacking in too many areas to be counted. The M4 was the smoothest body I handled until I got my M6s. About the only real difference between bodies that I can say is the shutter sound, the M6 has a distinct shutter sound that I really notice, and like.
So I will say it again, for a film body Leica (or perhaps any Leica??) it’s my opinion that you cannot go wrong with the M6!