The Leica M6 was quite recently voted the number one searched for camera by Camera Rescue in a list of over 50 cameras. I had wanted one for as long as I could remember. When this one came up for sale, I had to buy it. I also had to sell my bollox to get one. Yet here we are. This is a hard review for me to write. I have handled a high number of cameras, this number increases considerably every day through my work. My review is based on my own personal experience, shooting these film cameras in the wild and being really fucking honest with myself, and in turn, you. 
Here's my initial review of the Leica M6 pre-TTL. I say initial as there's no doubt I'll buy another one, and opinions change over time. Therefore it is very likely that more will need to be said. Let us first consider that there are such things as both the right tool for the job and the right tool for any job. That and tastes change. What was shit twenty years ago seems to be doing alright right about now. 

Night Shop - Portra 160

The Leica M6 is an interesting camera to review as it is one of the most continually hyped cameras I can remember since my interests in analogue photography began. Unless you have a trust fund or are extremely fortunate, it is unlikely this camera would be an analogue photographer's first venture into the medium of analogue film. There's a sort of stigma about owning one, as I'm sure many people would admit, and the rest wouldn't dare to. There is definitely a case of Leica 'wanker-ism' that comes with owning a Leica product in general. I don't give a fuck what you say, when I owned a Leica M6, it made me be a bit of a wanker. Maybe in the same way that I choose my transport, I tend to have a habit of buying things that make me, in general, a wanker. For my international friends, this means a bit of a show-off in the U.K. But rightly so. The camera 𝑑𝑜𝑒𝑠 have a legendary status about it. In terms of the craftsmanship of the product, the reliability, the extremely high quality of image achievable with the system, this camera 𝑖𝑠 a legend. ​​​​​​​

A View from Camp - The Lake District - HP5 +

There is always one issue that comes up, so we'll tick that off first and then get down to it. Is the Leica M6 worth the £1500-£3000 price tag hanging off its strap lug? Unfortunately, the answer is yes, and no. It comes down to a system of inequality and difference in circumstance. Can you work really hard, save up and buy one? For the first maybe ten years of taking photographs on film, I simply wasn't in a financial position to buy one, I'd been to university but worked in photographic retail that doesn't pay a great deal, and if you've got an old car that needs repairing to get to your job, every six months or so say goodbye to your Leica fund you know? So there's your answer, is it worth it? Yeah, sure, if you can afford to buy one and you wouldn't be limiting yourself creatively just to buy the camera (for example then not be able to afford film for it or chemistry, or tickets to travel places) then go for it, just remember you gotta put a good damn lens on the front of it or it is fucking pointless. Just buy into a cheaper system if you're not going to shoot Leica glass on it at least 60% of the time or more, their lenses are almost entirely, and completely justifiably worth the money. But, if you just can't afford a Leica, can you get 99% of the way there in terms of discernible image quality and triple the functionality for a fraction of the price? You betcha! 
« Just remember there is absolutely no substitute for practice and experience, you make the picture, not the camera. £50 lenses for £50 cameras can capture breathtaking images if you a) learn what the fuck you're doing, b) have an eye, or learn to have an eye for it, and c) have passion for your shit. Hell, cheap ass cameras like the Canon Sureshot Telemax are AWESOME. They are more reliable than Olympus Mju cameras for the most part. Price-wise, are almost always cheaper than a roll of average quality C-41 colour print film. Image quality is great for a little compact, flash and exposure wins that fight 9 times out of ten. »
This has digressed, onwards with the Leica M6 review. 

Beach - HP5+

Quality of the M6
With price out of the way, we can focus on the matter at hand. A nod of the head to capitalism, you horrible yet wonderful bastard, you. The M6 is well built, very well built. Well built does not at all, in any way, suggest it will survive a drop. Many sports cars are well built but are not designed to be crashed and driven afterwards, again and again. Don't expect it from an M6 either. It honestly feels a touch fragile, but is no more fragile than anything else when dropped 4-5 feet onto concrete, it has delicate parts but can essentially take a slap-about once in a while, no worries. You treat it right, keep it healthy, service it when you need to, it'll last forever, no jokes. There's a pretty healthy range of people out there repairing cameras and servicing Leica M and L39 for sure. Check out pppcameras for example, really good stuff right there. But again, these are running costs to consider, and it'll likely need something to be done to it from time to time. If you're particularly vigorous with the M6, the rangefinder may come out of alignment or the electronics might have a bad time. If you are against something with ageing 80s/90s electronics inside don't buy one expecting the electronics to work forever, or buy an M2/3/4, most probably for less than the M6 original, and certainly less than a more modern TTL. Shock to the intricate prism system of any rangefinder can cause issues, it is inherent in the system, like mirror misalignment in SLRs with rotten/bashed about mirror rests/systems. 
Overall, just try not to bash it too hard in the field and it will maximise the M6's time out of camera hospital, if you're an extremely active shooter but are aware of your surroundings, this camera will stand up to the rest. It is a special camera, and feels incredible in the hand. I love the wind on feel, the weight, the size, and the ergonomics, they are among the best I have ever felt in a 35mm rangefinder camera. Each will know what is right for them, however. 
I would recommend looking at the Zeiss Ikon ZM as a serious alternative for manual focus with AE M mount, and the Contax G2 system if you want AF with some outstanding lenses, but there's a LOT of electronics to go wrong there, which fills me with stress every time I shoot with mine. If you can't AF with a G2 you need to practice, it's god-awful, but you'll get used to the little bitch.  

Nostalgia - TMAX 400

Controls & Layout
The M6 has exactly what is needed to make great hand-held photographs, nothing more, and nothing less. With a frame counter, wind on lever, shutter release, shutter speed selector, hot-shoe, and rewind knob, across the top panel, and an ISO selection dial, PC synch, and viewfinder to the rear, this list sounds complete, even a little long. If we compare this list to the controls of say, the Nikon F4 or F5, we can see this is the bare minimum needed for the camera to function in the way that it does. For many, the operation of the M series cameras becomes an extension of themselves, a natural and instantaneous process. For me, I just never quite got there, I was always a fraction behind the moment, or had to check focus in difficult lighting. 
This is more a comment on my ability than that of the camera, the only way you'll know the M6 is for you is to buy, borrow or steal one and find out for yourself. It's a sheer joy to use, but for me, not the tool that I can make art with. In the future I know I will come back to it, a better photographer, and it will shine. The M6 has automatic frame lines depending on which lens is attached, I found it fine with 50mm lenses, and perfect with 35mm. It's 0.72 for those that need to know, all of the pre-TTL models are. Batteries are of the LR/SR44 type. I use SR44s as they last way longer. Set your shutter speed dial to B when not in use to conserve battery. It will fucking MUNCH through them otherwise, your camera will still work, but if you rely on an exposure meter, in-camera, you're fucked. I'd recommend learning to expose by eye as best you can, or making creative use of a known flash exposure, matched with a known aperture and ISO, on or off-camera. 

Elotments - Portra 400

Swag Factor
The Leica M6 is also a very sexy camera. Sleek, calculated, smart. I think it is gorgeous, and with a complementing Leitz lens, correct hood, Eddycam strap, the tool oozes luxury. It's a nice thing to own, there is a reason that people collect Leica, their products are a really nice thing to own. If owning nice camera shit is your thing then go fucken' ham. It'll likely start an incredibly expensive addiction. 
Good luck.
I've found that in some Leica crowds, or even shops, people have actually avoided talking to me when I've had a non-Leica camera around my neck. Pretty harsh, and not cool. But when you have an M6 around your neck these people suddenly want to talk to you. You're part of an elite club of Leica-people, hooray. It is what it is. But even to non-Leica users, and even non-camera users, it is instantly recognisable as a quality, luxury item. Plus, there are fancy finishes, both factory and non-factory, to be had, so if the standard black or chrome doesn't tickle your pickle and you need something extra, there's a lot out there like the Titanium, Gold, and refinished versions out there at very different price points. I've handled a Sultan of Brunei M series and that was absolutely beautiful. Stupid money though. Same with the golden M4-2 and matching lens, I would love to shoot one in the wild with zeal, and watch people as their jaws drop to the floor in horror. Would make my year. 

A Day in London - Portra 400

Quality of the Lenses
Leitz can make a fucking lens. There, I said it. They make really good lenses. They know what they are doing, and if you want some of the best, if not THE best quality lenses offered for any 35mm interchangeable system out there, this is the one for you. Sure, there are a very small number of lenses out there that optically out-perform their Leica contemporaries in terms of sharpness for example, but glass like the Summilux 35/1.4  ASPH and Summicron 50/2 V4 used here has everything I'd ever want a lens in terms of the way the images make me feel. Plus they're sharp as shit, more than enough for what most people will need. If you need more detail, switch to medium or large format. Different ballgame there. I find that the quality of transition between 'sharp' and 'out of focus' is astounding, smooth, and buttery, with an average quality of 'bokeh'. When the M6's rangefinder is perfectly calibrated, it's incredibly easy to focus using the little tabs Leitz like to add to many of their lenses, I prefer these types economically. 

Cast Off - Portra 400

Now, I know I am speaking about a very small number of their lenses, and so this is already a sweeping generalisation, but I also have to test many of their other lenses for my job, in more controlled conditions, and almost every lens I have worked with has a pleasing character in one way or another. Their older lenses tend to have low contrast and 'glow' which I find very pleasing. Their newer lenses can be described, on average, more clinical and razor-sharp in many cases, but still maintain a natural warmth, not only in tone but in emotive response, for some reason. Also, they are still just as sharp wide open as they are stopped down, a rare set of traits for any sort of optic. Downside: they're some of the most expensive lenses out there shy of ridiculous exotic stuff and a lot of it falls into that category to begin with, like the more obscure versions of the Leitz Noctilux for example. You can always put a third party lens on it, sure, and for many that will do*, but I guess I am more of a purist, that and why buy a luxury camera and stick crap on the front of it?** There is also a huge range of L39 screw mount lenses out there from Leitz 'screw mount' or 'Barnack' Leica cameras that are easily adapted to the M series with full rangefinder compatibility! Just make sure you get the correct adapter for the focal length so your frame lines are correct, or just tape the manual frame selector switch to the desired frame lines you need for your lens (or don't). 
* Don't be that person. 
** I said don't! 

Climb from Durdle Door - Portra 400

Using the Camera in the Field
The M6 in the field is, in itself, an art-form. It works, tirelessly, relentlessly, day in, day out, and it has nothing more or less than you need for shooting 28mm to 90mm lenses, with manual flash (TTL flash with the later models) and manual focus. It just works, and everything is in the right place for me. The only downside is that, in my experience, it takes a fair while to get REALLY good at focussing quickly, and for me, that was a deal-breaker. It's not the camera's fault. Or mine really, sure, if I shot it day in, day out, for years and years it would become second nature, but I was already at that point with other cameras like my FE2. A lot of the masters out there shoot Leica for street, documentary, and travel and fuck me dead, I get it. With practice the camera is suited to these jobs perfectly. But for me I can do that on my FE2 day in, day out.
If I REALLY need the best possible print quality from a system, I'm almost certainly going to be shooting medium format. I know it is far larger and heavier but I've got large bags so remain undeterred. I don't often shoot lenses wide open, and that is what Leica glass does best. When a lot of 50mm lenses are stopped down, they perform far more similarly when compared under a loupe, don't get me wrong, the Summicron 50 ASPH is still going to be the sharpest stopped down, but by thousands of pounds more? You tell me, but I found it cheaper to buy an entirely different system and I preferred the results for what I was trying to achieve at the time, and still want to achieve as of writing. That and I'm poor. 
This does not detract from the fact, that's right, fact, that the M6 is still one of the best 35mm cameras ever made, tastes and requirements simply change. But for street and travel, I'll be back for another helping of Leica M soon, I have absolutely no doubt about that. It is just that this tool is the right tool for a job that I am not currently doing much of. Whereas the camera I use on a daily basis, my daily carry if you will, is the right tool for every job for me personally, but the master of none. I can live with that. 

First Lockdown - March 2020 - APX 100


If I could do it again, I would. I have neither buyers nor sellers remorse and the overall the experience fell only a tiny bit short of expectations. I don't know why, but for a second I forgot that the camera doesn't make the image. It doesn't decide how to portray the light, or why meaning can be seen in an image. It's just a camera, albeit a very good one, and does exactly what it was built to do. 
If you're looking for a camera with a personality, quirks, a way of leaving its defining mark on your images and experiences, there is a pretty damn large number of cameras out there that bring heaps of character to the table for far less cash. If you're looking for a sharp, clinical, and price tool; many of the more modern 35mm AF bodies from the likes of Canon and Nikon with their even more modern optics in EF / F mount give a lot of Leica lenses a run for their money on all but the most demanding of print or scanning situations. If you've got the disposable income, however, fuck it, go Leica all the way, learn the muscle memory required to focus incredibly quickly, buy all of their lenses, and laugh all the way back to your manor house in the sticks with your piles of gold, cocaine and a twice-full harem of sweet, sweet, cheap hookers.

Below are a few more examples taken with either the Summicron 50 v4 or the Summilux 35 v2 unless otherwise stated on film stock including Portra 400, Color Plus, Tmax 400, APX 400, Lomochrome Purple and many more. 

Pre - APX 400

Beachlands Cafe - Portra 400

South Coast - Lomochrome Purple

Intermittent - FP4+

Midnight Fruit - Portra 160

Cubans - APX 100

Family - TMAX 400

Self Portrait - ColorPlus 

Servie - ColorPlus - Voigtländer 50mm f/1.1

Muse - TMAX 400 - Voigtländer 50mm f/1.1

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