Leica M6 and Winder M. This is probably my favorite setup. I shot thousands of rolls of Kodachrome and Plus-x or Tri-x with this camera. Every camera I have used gets compared to this camera. My first Leica was a M3 but it was too pretty to be a daily user. I also carried a chrome M6 at the same time so that I could shoot B&W and color at the same time or when I needed 72 exposures instead of 36.
Since most of today’s photographers have never experienced using a Leica rangefinder I thought that I would give a review of my favorite film camera, the Leica M6. Unlike SLRs, the M6 does not view through the lens but uses a optical range/viewfinder, which has a rangefinder patch in the center of the viewfinder field. You focus by viewing the subject through the viewfinder and turning the focus ring until the two images in the rangefinder parch become one image. This is achieved by a cam at the rear of the lens moving a coupling arm in the body. The viewfinder on the M series Leicas is above and to the side of the lens so parallax can be an issue but the engineers have devised a rangefinder that compensates by adjusting the view slightly when close up photos are taken. It is not precise but is accurate enough for most Leica users who are traditionally street photographers. The M6’s range/viewfinder is a direct descendant of the viewfinder that was introduced in the M3 from 1954. The M3 had a viewfinder with a viewing magnification of 1x which meant that the subject was viewed at life size which was the reason that wide angle lenses required an external viewfinder just for viewing the subject or cumbersome wide angle lenses that had built in viewfinders that modified the camera viewfinder to obtain the correct view for the lens. The M6 has a finder magnification of 0.7X so that lenses as wide as 28mm can be used without a supplementary viewfinder. The rangefinder on the M6 can focus precisely to within one inch at ten feet which is enough accuracy to use a Noctilux. The rangefinder patch is bright enough so that the M6 can be focused in very low light which is for many the very reason that they purchased a Leica in the first place. The viewfinder is bright and contrasty and is useful in most lighting conditions. Early users of the cameras had trouble seeing the exposure LEDs when looking directly into the sun but that was solved by Leica adding a small silver strip on the bottom of the viewfinder to improve contrast and reduce flare. There are three sets of viewing frames that are activated when the lens is mounted on the camera. The sets are 50mm & 75mm, 28mm & 90mm, and 35mm & 135 mm. This may sound like the viewfinder would be visually cluttered but Leicas approach is elegant and very easy to understand. There is a lever on the front of the body that can be activated to see the frame lines that are not in use so that you can visualize the scene with a different lens. Experienced Leica users find one of the biggest advantages of the Leica viewfinder is the ability to see what is outside the frame of the image so that you can anticipate the subject entering the field of view. This is one the reasons that rangefinder Leicas are kings of street photography. The drawback to the rangefinder system is that the lenses of 90mm and longer are difficult to frame and focus due to the fact the subject is so small in the frame lines.
The metering system is pretty basic considering that it is crammed into a camera body that wasn’t designed for a metering system and had to be squeezed into the area that was previously occupied by the self timer. It is a simple match diode system that reads light reflected off of a white patch on the shutter curtain. Two arrows in the viewfinder indicate either under, over, or correct exposure. No shutter speed or aperture. Later models did have a flash indicator. The metering system of the M6 provides a selective reading of about 13 percent of the field of the lens which equates to about two thirds of the height of the frame in use. It is heavily center weighted. To make an exposure with the M6 the shutter has to be cocked so that the white patch on the cloth shutter is visible. When the shutter release is depressed lightly the arrows illuminate and are adjusted by changing the shutter speed or aperture so that both arrows are illuminated. Having both arrows lighting up is usually enough for negative film, having the intensity of the arrows be evenly light was required to get correct exposure for narrow latitude slide film.
Loading a M6 is the thing that most beginning users have difficulty getting right the first few times. On the bottom is a D-shapped ring that is turned 180 degrees and the whole baseplate comes off. The hinged back door is now opened. The film cassette is lowered into one side and at the same time the film is threaded across to the take up spool. Where most newbies get caught is pushing the film leader too far onto the take up spool. Have confidence in the diagram in the camera and only place the leader as far as indicated. The wheel on the baseplate will do the rest when the back is closed and the baseplate is re-attached. Advance to number one and your ready to go. In my photo above the camera is shown with the Winder M. The winder has a switch that is remove the winder, locked in place, and turning the winder on. The winder M advances the film at up to 3 frames a second. The film speed is set on the hinged door. Changing lenses on all M Leicas is a joy and can be done in the dark. Line the red dots on the camera and the lens and a quick 30 degree turn and your done. When you are experienced it can be done just by feel.
Since the M6 hasn’t been made in over a decade if you want one it is going to be used. There are lots of Leica M6s out there in various conditions. Even though the M6 is a very robust camera there are some things to check before buying a used Leica. First listen to the shutter at different speeds. Does the interval between the first and second curtain opening and closing change when the shutter speed dial is changed. At slower speeds it is more obvious but at higher speeds it can be difficult to tell so remove the baseplate and open the back. That will help. Maybe run a roll of film through and process it. Check the rangefinder. Does the patch move and does it line up vertically and horizontally? This is best checked at infinity. Shutter speed adjustments and viewfinder adjustments are not cheap. Fold out the rewind knob and turn it, is it bent or binding. This is the sign of a dropped camera. When I was constantly shooting film cameras I had the M6 overhauled once a year. Leicas are very well made but the mechanics do drift out of alignment.
Type of Camera:
35mm measuring viewfinder camera. Selective exposure measurement through the lens. Interchangeable lenses. Motorized rapid wind through attachable Leica Winder M.
Compact all-metal body with hinge back, covered with easy grip textured PVC, 0.8 mm zinc diecast camera top with 0.8 mm brass baseplate. Chromium finish measuring viewfinder. Stainless steel carrying eyelets on the both sides. Mechanical connection for motorized wind. Standard tripod thread A. Rapid bayonet changer for the Leica M lenses and accessories. Accessories shoe with central contact. Field of view selector.
Leica M lenses with rapid bayonet changer for 21 to 135 mm focal length. With Visoflex attachment from 65 mm to 800 mm.
Bright and contrasty viewfinder image with bright line frames for:
28mm and 90mm
35mm and 135mm
50mm and 75mm
with automatic parallax compensation. When a lens is being inserted the associated Image frame is automatically faded in. With the aid of the field of view selector any required pair of frames can be preselected. The Image field corresponds to that of the lens at a short focusing distance. Even spectacle wears are able to survey the field of view fully. Correction lenses of which 10 are available from +3 to -3 dioptres, can be attached. Split image and coincident image rangefinder standing out as a bright field in the center of the viewfinder image. Long effective measuring base of 49.9 mm. This ensures quick reliable focusing even in poor lighting conditions with all lenses of up to 135 mm focal length. Exposure meter display by light balance (two LEDs) at the bottom edge of the viewfinder image when the exposure meter is switched on.
Leica selective measurement. The measuring element is a silicone photodiode in the top part of the camera interior. For the better utilization of the incident light the photodiode is fitted with a collecting lens. The exposure measuring field consists of 12 mm diameter white patch in the center of the shutter curtain. The measurement takes place with the camera ready for action. Ie. Wound. The size of the measurement field in the viewfinder is about 23% of the viewfinder image of the lens in use. The field measured corresponds to a circle of a diameter two thirds of the short side of the picture area of the lens in the camera.
Film speed range:
Film speed selector on the back of the camera. Range ISO 6 to 6400. clicks stops at one third aperture stops.
Two 1.55 volt silver oxide button cells or one 3 volt lithium battery.
Horizontally acting rubber cloth focal plane shutter extreme quiet action mechanically produce speeds 1 second to 1/1000 and B.
Silky smooth shutter release. International conical thread in the release button for cable release.
Synchronization for electronic flash from B to 1/50th sec. Standard X contact as well as separate center contacts in the accessory shoe. Two flash units can be filed simultaneously through the two contacts.
Remove the base plate and turn up the center part of the camera back. Rapid film changing system for all commercially available 35mm films and for Leica cassettes.
Angled rapid winding lever with movable end-piece for film transport and shutter wind. It's standby position makes it convenient for the photographers using their left eye for the viewfinder. Winding angle of rapid winding lever 120°. Interval winding possible. Double exposure lock. Forward counting automatic film counter under a magnifier. Automatic reset to start when camera is being opened. Lever for film rewinding release with automatic reset when the shutter wind is operated. Angled, hinged crank handle for convenient and rapid rewinding of the film.
Black fabric tissue, length adjustable. At any temperature and in any weather it is always soft and pliable. Anti-slip pad when the ever ready case is used, the camera strap remains on the camera.
height 77 mm, length 138mm, depth 38 mm
camera body without lens 0.56 kg
camera body with a 50 mm summicron-m f/2 0.755 kg