Leica M6 – Best Rangefinder to Begin Film Photography?

Leica M6 - Best Rangefinder to Begin Film Photography?

Camera Review

Leica M6 – Best Rangefinder to Begin Film Photography?

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Leica M6 with Summicron 28mm f2 ASPH
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Leica M6 - Leitz logo

Leica M6 was the second longest-produced rangefinder camera. Before it was replaced by Leica M6 TTL. Leica M6 Classic was released as a fully mechanical masterpiece with a shutter speed from bulb mode, 1 second to the fastest speed of 1/1000, firing without batteries. It operates the light meter with two LR44 batteries, which are easy to find. And the battery compartment is located near the lens release button and stored under a circular screw-on cap. It is solid as other Leica cameras, and once calibrated, you can use up to a hundred rolls of film, reliable at all speeds without any problems.

The film community has been growing since 2019, and M6 became the most popular choice, known as the “all-in-one” Leica rangefinder camera for all beginners. In 2022, Leica announced the reissue of the Leica M6, which is super good news for all Leica lovers and film lovers.

My First Leica M6 Classic

Leica M6 was my first ever Leica rangefinder camera that I bought in 2010. It cost not more than USD1100. I am not attempting to compare the price difference. Instead, I am trying to say how the film community has grown. I am looking at demand and supply from a holistic view. If more people are willing to pay for this and there happen to be transactions, the price goes up, given supply is constant. If you can afford it, go for it and enjoy it. It is an excellent camera and a whole new adventure to film if you haven’t tried it before.

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Leica M6 with Summicron 28mm f2 ASPH

At that time, the best condition M6 TTL (usually more expensive) are around USD1300. I started off with a traditional DSLR. Yes, you can probably guess that. Canon L lenses with that premium red ring. I switched from Canon 5D Mark II to Leica M6 by selling all of my DSLR gear. Prime lenses to zoom lenses, camera bodies and flashes. I wanna cut the tie with Canon, not because I don’t like it. It is a great tool. Somehow I was deeply attracted by the appearance of a Leica film camera. Yes, again, the “LOOK”. Before I finally bought a Leica M6 Classic, I looked at a Leica MP in black paint, but I couldn’t afford it. The black paint is so pretty; after they brassed, they are like an art piece to me.

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Leica M6 - lettering
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Leica M6 - viewfinder

My first-hand experience was that this camera is so slippery. How should I hold it properly without a grip? The answer is using the film advance lever. Each time I cocked the shutter, I used it as my thumb rest. I do this with all film Leica cameras, and I don’t feel like getting a grip anymore. And, the rangefinder focusing is difficult to use. It will take some time for you to adapt to it.

Film Loading Mechanism

I was intrigued by how the Leica camera loads a roll of film into the camera. Typically, with an analogue camera like Canonet or Nikon F2 camera, the backdoor unlocks from left to right like how you open a book. But Leica, open it from the bottom, so you need to hold the base plate, insert the film, make sure the film sits on the gear, close the door and wind the shutter. The film counter will reset when we open the baseplate. 

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Leica M6 - film take up spool

Two Main Versions - Classic vs TTL

The first problem that I had was understanding the meaning of 0.72x. This is the viewfinder magnification. 

All M6 has three different types of rangefinder magnification which is the 0.72x ( standard ), 0.85x ( telephoto ) and 0.58x ( wide angle lenses )

The bigger the number, the closer or higher the magnification, which means you can get a more “zoomed” viewfinder. 0.72x is the standard model. Most of the Leica M6 is 0.72x. 0.85x are great for telephotos, usually suitable for 50mm, 75mm, 90mm or even 135mm. 0.58x are for wide-angle lenses such as 21mm, 24mm and 28mm. Because all of them show frame lines according to the magnification. For example, if you want to use a 28mm lens but are using 0.85x, the magnification will be too high to show the frameline you wish. In most situations, 0.72x can do the job unless you want to use ultra-fast lenses on 50mm and 75mm.

Shutter dial and light meter

Leica M6 Classic has a smaller shutter dial, except that most details are identical to the Leica M6 TTL. TTL refers to FLASH Through-the-lens (TTL) but not about the metering TTL, as both cameras have the same metering system. Leica M6 TTL also has a larger shutter speed dial which is a lot easier to adjust the shutter speed, and there is an OFF slot on the speed dial so that you can turn the camera off to preserve the battery. Also, the TTL model’s light meter display uses three red LEDs. “under”, “correct”, and “over” are indicated as an arrow for both under and over and correct is presented as a dot. Classic M6 only has left and right arrows, standing for “under” and “over” on the right arrow. When correctly exposed, you will see both arrows appear in the viewfinder. It isn’t easy to comprehend how much you are underexposed or overexposed.  

Both versions have silver chrome or black chrome made of a nickel-plated zinc top plate. There are multiple special editions with limited quantities issued such as M6-J, M6 Millenium  M6 LHSA (personal favourite) etc.

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Leica M6 - bottom plate
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Leica M6 - frame counter and shutter button
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Leica M6 - battery compartment
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Leica M6 - ISO dial

First Few Rolls with Leica M6

Honestly, I was super excited after I got my Leica M6. I am surprised by how the absence of function. Instead, it is sturdy and reliable. There are no fancy buttons, and all the designs are practical. I think my first roll of film is pretty much the same as everyone else. Some frames are blank, and some shots with shaky hands (because we couldn’t see the shutter speed in the viewfinder). I guess this is why film is so special. We could visualise our photographs, but we also got many surprises when we received the prints or scanned photos. Good or bad, they form part of our life memories.

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Leica M6 - Kodak Tmax 400, Hong Kong 2010

The film is so unique because we are viewing something that happened in the past in the physical form. Twelve years have passed. Are you still the person who loves film like how you began with Leica?

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Leica M6 - Kodak BW400CN, Sydney 2010
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Leica M6 - Kodak BW400CN, Sydney 2010

Cloth Shutter

The shutter sound is tranquil compared with DSLR or other SLR cameras. Usually with Canon F-1, AE-1 or Nikon SLR like F2, F3. The subject will be astounded by the shutter sound, or people around you will notice you just took a photo. Because they are using the mirror as a reflex. Each time the mirror flap and create this noise. Leica uses a cloth shutter. It is simpler to overhaul and more long-lasting. But it will burn a hole in the shutter if you leave the camera under the sun at wide open. It creates less vibration than a metal shutter, allowing you to shoot a second handheld at 1/15 or even 1/18. However, the bottleneck of cloth shutter is it cannot go faster than 1/1000. SLR cameras often have titanium or metal shutter that can fire up to 1/2000 or 1/4000. 

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Leica M6 - backdoor

Film Advance Lever Style

Some said, “M3 has the smoothest film advance of any camera I own and is an absolute pleasure to use”. I like the MP / M3 style because of aesthetic reasons. Practically I think the M6 advances better with the plastic handle. Mechanically maybe the M3 or MP is better. I am unsure about this.

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Leica M6 - small shutter dial
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Leica M6 - film advance lever

Lightmeter, a MUST?

I mentioned in Leica M2 – My Best Companion that using external lightmeter benefits my shooting style and improves my sense of lighting. What about beginners? The best camera (all in one) is the Leica M6, with no troublesome film spool, lightmeter, fully mechanics. It is a solid camera. The indication of Leica M6 Classic has only two arrows, and TTL model has three indicators. When both arrows appear, meaning you get the correct exposure, and one arrow means it is either overexposed or underexposed. If I want to take a quick snap, I find it difficult to follow.

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Leica M6 - Kodak Portra 400VC, China 2010
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Leica M6 - Rollei Superpan 200, Sydney 2010

Leica M6 vs Leica MP

Debating these two options? Why you would want to get an MP. MP has a black paint option. It is almost the same camera as the Leica M6 TTL, except the red dot is replaced as a screw, the slanted rewind crank is replaced as the traditional M2/M3 style, and an MP has a better flare resistance viewfinder (it is excellent IMO). Also, it comes with optional upgrades to be your own choice – an al carte version. My friends and I also faced a common problem with Leica MP: the plastic parts in the film counter. It failed because of a malfunction, and I had to take it to fix the repairman. If you want a black paint camera to start creating your own patina, MP serves the cosmetic. If you want a camera to take film photos, you don’t need to spend that extra penny on an MP. 

I bought a Leica MP because I like the look of the MP-6, a limited edition Leica camera. And this is the only way I can get a classic engraved top plate with MP6 vulcanites.

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Leica M6 - rewind lever (contracted)
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Leica M6 - rewind lever (full extension)

Leica M6 versus Leica M2 / M3

Refer to my Leica M2 post about why I prefer an M2 to a Leica M6.

2022 Leica Announced M6 Reissue

It is undoubtedly good for the entire film community to see Leica remaking its legendary film camera. I had never thought in 2022, the film could be so prevalent that even my brother-in-law asked which film camera he should get. Ten years ago, literally, no one chatted about it. None. All film bodies are eating dust, and all second-hand camera shops are selling Sony A7 or DSLR cameras.

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Leica M6 - early classic body

Conclusion

Is Leica M6 an overhyped camera? I like Leica M2 or M3 more, whether it is or it is not. It doesn’t matter. If you have tried it, you know it. The handling and the build it is not other brands can be comparable. It is by far the all-in-one-camera choice when you first step into the Leica black hole. I came from a traditional accounting background. So the value of an asset is significant. I think purchasing something with reasonable resell value is already a plus. I am sure those who have gotten an M6 or upgraded to other Leica cameras would understand what I mean. Shooting film creates memories, and what is the most important thing in our life? You name it!

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Leica M6 - Kodak Portra 400VC, China 2010
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Leica M6 - Kodak Portra 160VC, Bondi Beach 2010

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