Leica M6 10 Questions Review

Apr 14, 2020
12 min read

The Leica M6 is probably one of the most desired film camera but for many people shooting with a rangefinder is something new. With that come many questions and some of them that you can’t really anticipate without having one in hands for some time.

It’s been 4 years that I use mine regularly so I thought it could be interesting to share with you my little experience with this camera and answer the 10 most frequently asked question about the M6.

I’ve divided this article in two sections with a first part focused on practical and factual questions while the second part is more about opinion and advices. If you’re looking for an answer to a specific question, use the Table of Contents below so you can skip all the boring parts.

Leica M6 Practical questions

What Is The Leica M6?

The Leica M6 is a rangefinder film camera. It’s a manual focus and mechanical camera without any automatic features. The only electronic part is for the built-in light meter. Shutter speeds go from 1 to 1/1000 th of second. There’s also a bulb mode if needed. The ISO range goes from the 6 to 6400 ISO and it has a hot shoe flash synced to 1/50th sec.


Best Leica M6 Finder Magnification: 0.58x, 0.72x or 0.85x?

This is a big deal and I want to start right off with the finder because it is the most important factor to consider when buying an M6 or a rangefinder in general. Choosing the right finder is essential to suit your style of shooting and preferred focal lengths.

The most common finder you’ll encounter is the 0.72x— but there are also finders with a 0.58x or 0.85x magnification and each of them are suited for different set of focal lengths.

  • 0.72x Finder: This is the standard finder comes with 3 sets of frame lines pairs so 6 different focal lengths in total, which are the: 28-90, 35-135 and 50-75.
  • 0.85x Finder: On this one you loose the 28mm and get the 35-135, 50-75 and a stand-alone 90 frame. If you like shooting with longer lenses this could be a good option for you. 
  • 0.58x Finder: Here you loose the 135mm but get extra space around the widest 28mm frame and comes with the following pairs: 28-90, 50-75, and a stand-alone 35mm frame.

The first version of the M6 which is referred as the “M6 Classic” came with a 0.72x finder. Apparently some of the Classics can also be found with a 0.85x finder but most of the time you will find the alternative finders on the M6 TTL.

If you want to use a focal length that doesn’t fall on any of these tramlines, you would have to rely on an external viewfinder to compose the shot and use the main finder to focus and get the meter reading. This complicates a bit the shooting experience in my opinion.

For longer focal you’ll see some lenses with googles attached to it but they are not ideal because they tend to be heavy and if you’re shooting handled, it can be a little uncomfortable so better choosing the right finder first that fix it later.

Does The Leica M6 Have A Light Meter?

Yes, the M6 was the first Leica camera with a built-in LED light meter. It takes x2 LR44 batteries to operate and is activated when you half press the shutter release. To make sure the meter reading is accurate, set the correct ISO on the back panel. Press and turn the wheel until it matches your film’s ISO. If you want to push or pull film, there’s no exposure compensation on this camera so simply set it to the desired film sensitivity.

How To Load Film In The Leica M6 (or M4, M4-2, M7, MP, MA)

Loading a Leica M6 is quite different than a SLR or earlier Leicas like the M3. On the M6 you have to remove the bottom plate, open the flip cover and slide the film right inside by making sure the film tip reaches the center of the take-up spool. Close the cover and lock the bottom plate to automatically align the film and engaged it in the gears. Wind 2 times and make sure that you see the rewind knob turning when you wind the film. If it doesn’t move, you film is not properly engaged.

Is Leica M6 Weatherproof?

The short answer is NO. The M6 is not weather sealed but Leica M have been the cameras of choice for many photo journalists. They took their cameras on many perilous adventures around the globe and have been exposed to really tough grounds. So don’t worry too much if your Leica gets a little wet. If it’s salty water make sure to clean thoroughly to avoid corrosion. This is not related to the camera but using a UV filter can also help preventing moisture getting inside your lens.

What Are The Differences Between The Leica M6 Classic & TTL?

At first glance, there’s not much difference between those two but if you look at the TTL top plate, the first thing you’ll notice is the bigger, and easier to reach, shutter speed dial. If you can afford the extra bucks, the TTL is easier to use and the dial rotation matches the light meter arrows direction inside the viewfinder. On the M6 Classic the arrow points towards one direction but you have to spin the shutter speed dial on the opposite direction to get the correct exposure. Even after 4 years it still confuses me so I prefer the TTL for that reason.

I forgot to include that part on my video review but there’s a slight difference on how the meter works between the M6 Classic and TLL version. On the Classic you 2 LEDs arrows pointing in different directions depending if you’re under or over exposed. When the exposure is correct both arrows are lit up.

Leica M6 Classic vs TTL Lightmeter. Source

On the TTL you have an extra LED dot between both arrows which lits up when exposure is spot on. In my opinion it’s a little more intuitive and either to read.

Opinion & Advice

Which Leica M6 Is The Best? Classic VS TTL

This is really a matter of personal preference and there’s no right answer here. In my case, I prefer is the M6 TTL with the 0.72x finder. I find the light meter more intuitive and the shutter speed dial easier to adjust. On the M6 Classic it takes a little more effort with the finger to change the speed but it’s just me being spoiled. The M6 Classic is perfectly fine to use but if you want a little more confort and can afford the extra cost, then go for a TTL version.

There’s also the finder magnification factor to consider depending on which type of lenses you use the most. Most of Leica M photographers live with a 35mm lens attached to their camera and prefer the 0.72x finder but some will only swear by the 0.58x or 0.85x finders. Again just a matter of which focal length you’re shooting the most often.

Another difference is the TTL capability that is important if you’re planing to shoot with a flash.

What Makes A Leica M6 The Best Camera For Street Photography?

It’s all about the rangefinder. On a SLR camera you’re seing though the lens but on a rangefinder you’re looking at the scene through a deported window. This allows you to see outside the frame and anticipate elements coming in. The extra space around also help seing the bigger picture if I may say and fine tune your composition. Just remember that depending on the lens you use and your finder magnification, you will see more or lens space around the frame. For example, on the 0.72x finder with a 28mm lens, you have almost no space around the frame. The ideal focal in this case is the 35mm because it has enough room around but you still get a pretty large frame to compose your shot.

Rangefinder cameras and lenses also tend to be smaller and quieter than SLR equivalents. This is because there’s no mirror behind the lens back element is closer to the film’s surface. The trade-off is that all Leica M lenses are manual focus only but you can easily overcome this limitation by using zone focusing to determine a range that you want in focus. Most street photographers will zone focus and always be ready for the shot. This beats any autofocus camera. Head to this article for more info about What Is & How To Use Zone Focusing?

How Much Cost A Leica M6?

in 2020 a Leica M6 Classic in good condition goes for approximately 1500€ whereas a TTL is more around 2000€. This is for the normal version but prices can go a lot higher for limited series that Leica has the secret off!

Keep in mind that a M6 requires a CLA (Clean, Lubricate & Adjust) about every 10 years and cost in average 300 to 500€, depending on who’s servicing your camera. Leica parts are also expensive and require the right skills and tools to be changed so don’t be tempted to buy a cheaper one that needs some sort of repairs.

I recently bumped the review knob on my M6 and realised that it’s going to cost me a half leg getting it replaced because the internal axis is also probably bent 😅

Is The Leica M6 Worth It?

The question should the other way around: Are you worth a Leica M6? When I made my permanent move to film and sold all my digital equipment I was with a pretty good load of cash in my hands and figured why not buying an M6. After years of shooting with SLR I didn’t anticipate all the differences between those two worlds and it took me a while getting used to it. We are animals of habits and we tend to get a little on the fence when these habits are changed. At first I was a little confused and didn’t appreciate it to its real value.

If you’ve never shot a rangefinder camera before, try borrowing one and shoot at least a roll with and see how the rangefinder system works for you. Once you’re certain this is the right tool for you, then YES the Leica M6 is definitely worth it. These cameras are almost unbreakable and require very little maintenance. Again apart from the electronic light meter, this is a purely mechanical camera that will outlast all of us.

They can also be a very good investment as their value keep going up every year and if you don’t abuse of it, an M6 will never loose value.

Best Leica M6 Alternatives?

There are many good alternatives to the Leica M6 but it all comes down to you budget and what you expect from your camera.

I’ve picked a few camera from my stash that have the most in common with the M6 but still bring something different to the table and that can fit smaller budgets.

Leica M3

The M3 was the first and probably most successful model of the M series. It’s 100% mechanical and doesn’t have a light meter. Some of the most significant innovations of the M3 were the combination of viewfinder and rangefinder patch into one the same window, the now famous bayonet Leica M mount(earlier Leica’s were using screw mount lenses), and quick film advance lever.

What makes the M3 unique is the 0.91x viewfinder which fits a bright and large 50mm frame line but that’s as wide as it can go so if you plan on shooting with wider lenses, I’d stay away from the M3.

Average Price: 1200€

Contax T

The most pocketable rangefinder, a stellar 38mm Carl Zeiss lens, Aperture Priority mode and a sleek design by Porsche. The Contax T is a great all-round camera that you can fit in your pocket and get a fairly similar shooting experience than the M6. I truly love mine and you can see my review of the Contax T here.

Average Price: 300€

Rollei 35S

Similar in size to the Contax T but a completely difference philosophy. The Rollei 35S is similar to the M6 in a sense that’s also a mechanical camera and use a battery to power the light meter. It has an absurdly good 40mm lens but there’s no rangefinder, and you can only zone focus with this camera. Honestly, if it wouldn’t be for that, the 35S would be always with me.

Average Price: 300€

Contax G2

The G2 was more a competitor of the Leica M7 but is also aimed at photographers would appreciate a little help from the camera from time to time. The Contax G2 is an autofocus camera based on a rangefinder system.

The Contax G lens line-up is one of best ever made even with today’s standards. I absolutely love my G2 it’s one of the cameras I shoot the most.

Average Price: 1000€

Apart from these options, the most notorious alternative to the M6 would be the Voigtlander Bessa series or the Zeiss Ikon ZM which seems to be a fantastic rangefinder but never had the chance to use one.


You may also like

One Reply to “Leica M6 10 Questions Review”

  1. Bonjour, votre appreciation de M6 est superbe. J’ai un M6 classic et un m8,2. En effet j’ai eu le même souci – un choc et la bobbine de retour étais cassées – donc je l’avais envoyer à Cameraworks UK.

    Merci encore pour l’article, et prenez soins de vous.

    Cordialement

    Nigel

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *