When I first put the M6 to my eye and pushed the shutter button down I scoffed. “What was this LED tragedy in the lower portion of the viewfinder,” I asked myself. A week or so of shooting passed and nearly every time the meter would illuminate I would cringe. The shutter would fire and and I would advance the film using steel gears; I felt like a giant breaking boulders under thumb compared to the silky smoothness of my M4. The M6 and I did not get along in the beginning, but it’s gone on to become one of my favorite cameras.
At a glance, a Leica is a Leica is a Leica, but when you’ve bonded with a camera like I have with my M4 it’s hard to trust anything else. One of the unique characteristics about the Leica M is that each seems to have a character of their own and switching cameras to me felt like infidelity. You’re rolling your eyes because I’ve just described another intangible quality of the Leica. Shoot with two of them though and tell me you don’t feel the same way. A Leica is a Leica is a Leica, or not.
Though we got off to a rough start the Leica M6 has since become one of my favorite cameras and frequently beats out my beloved M4 at a chance to get in my camera bag. At first I really hated the meter. It seemed a crude after thought and it took some getting used to the center weighted metering pattern. While I still use an external meter I now appreciate the Leica M6 internal meter. It provides me with piece of mind after taking an external reading and based on the scene I can often tell if the exposure will be what I am after (i.e. backlit situations, distant scenes, etc. . .) by estimating something between what the two meters are telling me.
The M6 was offered in a number of viewfinder magnifications which included: .58, .72, and .85. It’s said the the .85 is the most prone to flare out of the bunch and with my natural affinity for doing things the hard way this is the model I purchased. Truth be told the viewfinder in mine has been upgraded with the Leica MP’s rangefinder patch so I’ve never experienced the claimed increase in flare, but it is something to be aware of if you’re in the market for an M6 with a .85 viewfinder.
In addition to the risk of increased flare the .85 Leica M6 also forgoes a 28mm frameline to make up for the additional magnification. The .85 Leica M6 viewfinder will afford you the following frame lines depending on which lens you affix: 35/50/75/90/135. I’ve used the camera with 35, 50, and 90mm lenses and found that the additional magnification helps to focus the fastest of lenses as well as the 90mm Summicron which can be difficult to focus accurately due to it’s shallow depth of field and tiny frameline.
Whether or not the viewfinder magnification is worth seeking out is solely up to you. When I shoot with the Leica M6 and my favorite 35mm lens I find that I can just put the camera to my eye and shoot; I don’t have to think about it too much. The entire frame that I see is essentially the field of view for the 35mm lens. When I shoot with the Leica M4 and the same lens my eye can hunt around the frame a little bit if I so choose. Shooting eyes open and waiting for someone walking to pass from my field of view, into the viewfinder, and into the frame lines is more of a possibility with the M4. Having said that I prefer the viewfinder of the .85 M6 for most shooting situations.
There are many differences between the M4 and the M6, but none of them affect the functionality of the camera, and in practice they operate similarly. The shutter speed on both cameras range from 1/1000th down to Bulb. I think that perhaps the M4 is slightly, and I mean ever so slightly, quieter, but I also believe it can slay dragons and turn water into wine, so perhaps that has to do more with my allegiance to the camera than anything.
In your hand both cameras feel the same. If you’ve cut your teeth on a “classic Leica” such as an M2, M3, or M4 you may be able to tell that the materials in use in the M6 are of a different (not lower) grade. The M6 utilizes steel gears whereas many of the “classics” use brass. The top and bottom plate of the M6 are made of zinc whereas the “classics” use brass. For those of you who shoot your cameras you will not care about these differences and will likely enjoy a comparable camera at a slightly lower price.
I’ve taken my M6 through Japan, to Cambodia and America, and back and it’s never skipped a beat. Between the M4 and the M6 there is no hands down winner. The Leica M4 remains my favorite because I’ve built a bond with it over the course of a number of years and it’s the first rangefinder that I cut my teeth on. In practice though the M6 probably gets more use these days.
So, should you buy a Leica M6? Truth be told you could do what the Leica does with your iPhone; it is a camera with which you can take pictures. I think there’s a lot to be said for the “rangefinder experience” and there are plenty of less expensive rangefinders out there with which you can have the experience without spending “Leica money.” With that said, like the M4 the M6 is also a lifetime camera which is important to me since I don’t like to buy things twice.
For less money than an M4 or M6 you could buy a number of great rangefinder cameras including: