Taking a critical look at Leica M6
I’ve written about Leica M6 many times before, but never an actual review of it. Now that I’ve been shooting it couple of years, I thought I’d finally get on with it. Sort of.
Just a small disclaimer. This “review” might actually sound a bit negative, because instead of going the usual way around, I thought I’d concentrate on the lesser discussed quirks. This is just to avoid putting yet another generic article to the endless tirade of Leica hype to the pile. I love this camera, even though I point out few critiques.
I also love the so called Leica lore. There is plenty of mysticism surrounding the brand and most of my previous Leica related articles are of course very romanticised, due to the excitement over owning such camera. It’s hard to write a down-to-earth article about Leicas without slipping into mushy sentiments. On the other hand, I usually don’t even try to avoid that, because I like a good Leica story as much as anyone.
To some people, Leicas are such relics that it would perhaps feel like a wrongdoing, writing an article like it was any other soulless piece of equipment. Today how ever, I am going to try. Let’s take an honest look and get to know the annoying aspects of it for a change. And as always, let’s bear in mind that these are just my personal (not too serious) complaints and not universal truths.
Oh, one more thing, before moving along… as it usually happens, not everything is black and white. While some aspect might be considered annoying, let’s say the price of the entire system, in the end it might turn out to be a quite positive thing by preventing you to purchase too much junk, and encouraging you to focus on just one camera and maybe couple of lenses. There is much to be said about that! A seemingly negative thing might be positive at the same time and vice versa.
Top 9 features of Leica M6 I rather don’t like (Would’ve listed 10, but there’s literally not even that much to gripe)
So yes, getting into the concrete points — all in all, it is basically just a camera. A very well made one, but a camera none the less. It has it pros and cons, just like any other. I’ve been enjoying shooting it during the entire time and I’ve used very little else. But since I entitled this article as an honest review, let me get right into the critiques. Mind you, this is not necessarily going to be anything new to you. If you know anything about cameras, you’ve probably heard all this arguments before.
1. They’re horribly expensive
Even though Leica’s cost a pretty penny, I won’t go into the whole pricing thing too much. Yes, they are premium-priced, but that’s not necessarily an argument towards the camera itself. It would be hard not to mention it though, as it is one of the biggest obstacles for getting into the system and at the moment there seems to be an extra high demand for M6 with a pretty steep price increase too.
2. Rangefinder flare
The M6 has a fantastic viewfinder! If you’re at all into rangefinders, you’ll love looking though it. How ever, when it’s time to focus, you might encounter the infamous rangefinder flare. It occurs when there’s strong light coming from your lefthand side, from a certain ange. What happens is the rangefinder window goes completely blind and focusing becomes very difficult. It completely takes you away from the moment. Luckily though, this is pretty much the only distraction that the M6 features. Otherwise it gets very little in the way.
3. Questionable film loading
I personally don’t mind how the camera is loaded, but many people seem to raise an eyebrow to this abomination of a loading system. As you know, Leica rangefinders are loaded from the bottom, which makes them somewhat unconventional. With a little practise it’ll actually be a very quick and reliable loading system. However, if I’d absolutely have to choose, I think I’d lean towards a conventional back door system instead. I fear the day I end up dropping and/or losing the bottom plate by accident.
Leicas are often describes as small, light-weight and silent. They are relatively compact by any standard, but I’t definitely take it with a grain of salt, when someone calls them lightweight. It is still a nice everyday carry, especially with a compact lens, but I’d recommend equipping it with a somewhat sturdy strap when dragging it along all day. It is not that light as often told. Sometimes I wouldn’t mind taking out a Canonet instead, just for this sake.
5. No grip
Leica M6 doesn’t feature any kind of grip. It feels good in the hand, but if you’re used to a camera that feels like a door handle, Leica M6 is going to be a disappointment. Luckily it is a very nicely balanced camera with the most typical lenses. A compact 35mm or 50mm lens doesn’t make it front-heavy at all, thus kind of eliminating a need for a grip, but you definitely will feel a great urge to use a proper neck or wrist strap, because there is very little to hold onto.
6. One note on the lighmeter
The lightmeter display is almost perfect. As you probably know, there is no match needle display, but rather these red arrows that indicates whether you need more or less light. It is ingenious in so many ways; you can get a perfectly good reading while focusing on your subject. My only complaint how ever is that it doesn’t indicate very well just how much under or over exposed you are going to be. If you’re five stops under exposed, it’ll only show a red arrow letting you know you’re going to get a pretty dark photo. A conventional match-needle will on the other hand give you an idea whether you’re 2 or 5 stops over or under and indicate that visually. This isn’t anything too critical, but sometimes a more detailed meter reading would be handy. Sometimes if I’m completely off with my own estimation, I might open up the lens one or two stops and left baffled when the light meter still says I’m under exposed. If I’d get a more detailed info in the first place, it would save me valuable time to know I’ll need to open up the lens much more than I initially thought.
7. Film rewind crank
While everything else about the camera feels extremely well made, rewinding the film always seems a bit fiddly. First of all, the crank itself is ugly. I’d much prefer to have an M3 style, non-tilted crank, that fits the general styling and form language of the camera perfectly. But okay, the aesthetics isn’t maybe as important as the actual functionality. At least in my copy of the camera, the crank doesn’t feel as sturdy as the rest of the camera. It is also rather small and thus provides slightly less leverage than I’d prefer. Especially towards the end of the roll, it tend to get a bit stiff, and would require a bit more torque. That’s when it very often just slips from my fingers and starts to spin around via the tensioned film. Not a huge deal, but somehow it feels like the manufacturer should’ve know this better.
8. Dirt in the viewfinder and rangefinder windows
A rangefinder camera in general will need a lot of cleaning throughout the day, as the viewfinder and rangefinder windows get dirty quite easily. They are vulnerable to fingerprints for example, and will effect the shooting experience greatly. Focusing may become much harder if the camera isn’t kept clean.
9. Closest focusing distance only 0,7 meters
This is another critique that is pretty general to all rangefinder cameras as they all obey the laws of physics, but something to consider none the less. Most rangefinders will have a closest focusing distance of somewhere between 0,7—1m which can be somewhat restricting. SLRs typically can focus much closer which is something I miss pretty often. But again, not solely an M6 problem, but a rangefinder issue in general.
If this list seems like a long one, let me tell you that the list of positive things would be ten times as long. I’ve been thinking about listing up a few critical things about Leica M6, just because they often get overlooked by the hype. If you’ve been following my blog, you probably know that this is the camera that has worked really well for me. I’ve said it before, but let me say it again. There is no perfect camera (no matter what Thorsten von Overgaard will have you to believe) but Leica M6 is as close to perfect for my needs. I’ve been sticking into it for couple of years now and relatively speaking, these minor gripes are basically all the negative things I can think of. And therefore, my overall conclusion is: highly recommended (if you have enough credit left on your Visa that is).
Sample photos from my Instagram feed
Just to give you an idea what kind of photography I’ve been using my M6 for, here’s some of my favourite shots I’ve made using it.