When I was 50 (nearly 4 years ago, in case you were wondering!) I decided that I would treat myself to a “once in a lifetime” purchase, to mark this landmark. Some might say midlife crisis! Call it what you will. I had also just sold my 5×4 outfit – a Toyo 45a, so I treated myself to a second hand Leica M6 and a 50mm f2 Summicron lens.
The M6 was made from 1984 until 1998. It was then up-dated to a TTL version, which ran until 2002. Interestingly, Leica announced in 2022, that they are about to re-introduce it. Today, 2023, it’s imminent although not actually on the street yet. Wex Photo still show it available as a pre-order. I understand the, about to be released “new” M6 is a re-make of this original M6 rather than the newer M6 TTL. The only real difference between the two is the inclusion of TTL metering for flash (both have TTL ambient metering), and a bigger shutter speed selector. I hardly ever use flash so the TTL flash metering has little interest to me, although I can’t deny the larger selector wheel for shutter speed would be nice!
There are really two things about the Leica M6. First, as a “camera nut” with a (mild??!) case of GAS, I can rest easy knowing that I can’t buy a better rangefinder camera. Second it is a wonderful camera to use. Mechanically it is so smooth, and simple. There is aperture, shutter speed, frame counter, wind on lever, and two little red LED’s in the viewfinder to tell me when the exposure is correct. That’s it. Photographically it’s like a Zenith 11! Just with quality from the opposite end of the spectrum.
The third thing, but not unique to the M6, is that it enables me to use a Leica lens. In my case the 50mm f2 Summicron. To quote the great Ken Rockwell “There is no better 50mm lens on Earth than the LEICA SUMMICRON-M 50mm f/2. The SUMMICRON is the world’s reference for a 50mm photographic lens“.
HOWEVER, and yes there is a BIG, HOWEVER! It’s a lot of money – many would argue a Leica M6 with 50mm is just too much money. With today’s wacky prices I’d agree. Luckily I got in there just before the already expensive, went mad! I’ve heard it argued that it would be better to spend 3/4 of that amount on film, and buy a Nikon SLR instead. I get that argument too. I am very lucky in that over the years, particularly in more recent times I’ve been able to indulge my hobby a bit. That has not always been the case, and may not be in the future either. Some people like cars, or new mac books, I happen to like cameras and photography! I’m a very lucky fellow, and I do enjoy owning and using it.
I’ll admit that when it came to another lens, prices had gone mad, and I really couldn’t afford or justify the price for a 35mm. There was an answer and that was Zeiss; the Biogon f2.8 35mm ZM C T*.
This too is a wonderful lens and also recommended highly by the “Great Rockwell”. Not quite as smooth to the touch as Leica, but optically good, very good, and a quarter of the price! So I’m set in the rangefinder department – ready to go, get out there and be the next HCB, although we all know that’s not going to happen.
This post is appearing now as the “new” version is about to hit the street, and also I’ll be posting photo’s made with it soon.
The final thing I want to say, and the most important “take away” is that, be it binoculars, cars, or computers, one can pay an awful lot more for that slight, tiny percentage more. Ken Rockwell also points out that while the Summicron is the bee’s knees, it is only by a tiny margin. Those tiny differences will only actually show up in testing rather than everyday use. If you don’t feel like paying out for a Leica try a Spotmatic with a 55mm f2, you’ll get 98% of the experience, for 50th of the price! If the photo’s made are any good – know one will care what camera or lens was used! Do you know what camera/lens/filmstock Dorothea Lange used for “Migrant Mother”? Neither do I, or care!