Leica M6 35mm Film Camera Review by Drew Evans

35mm film photography image of birds flying - Leica M6 Film Camera Review on Shoot It With Film
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Written by Drew Evans

Picking up a Leica camera is quite the experience. Whether due to its impressive history in the bags of some of the most storied photographers out there or simply the feeling of carrying what some say is the perfect rangefinder, Leica and its products have developed quite the cult following over the years.

More recently, Leica M cameras, specifically the Leica M6, have become some of the most sought after film cameras out there.

I purchased my M6 not too long ago and have spent nearly every day with it since.

Let’s take a look at what makes it the top of the line rangefinder, and cover some of the less-than-ideal features as well (after all, no camera is perfect).

Find the Lecia M6 at KEH Camera with code SIWF21 for 5% off or on eBay.

Leica M6 35mm Film Camera Review
Leica M6 35mm Film Camera Review
The Leica M6 35mm film camera - Leica M6 Film Camera Review on Shoot It With Film
35mm film photography image of the ocean - Leica M6 Film Camera Review on Shoot It With Film
Kodak Portra 800 Film

Quick Overview of the Leica M6

Before we jump in, let’s take a look at how we got to the Leica M6 and what’s happened since.

Introduced in 1984, the Leica M6 is a fully mechanical rangefinder with a built-in light meter. The camera follows the classic M-body build of the original M3 while taking features from the M4 series.

Commonly used amongst street photographers and photojournalists, the M6 quickly became one of the most popular rangefinders in production.

The original “Classic” model was built for nearly 15 years, followed quickly by the “TTL” version that sported TTL flash and a reversed shutter dial.

Though Leica ended production in 2002, here we are nearly 20 years later still talking about what a fantastic camera it is.

35mm film photography image of birds flying - Leica M6 Film Camera Review on Shoot It With Film
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35mm film photography image of the San Francisco bridge - Leica M6 Film Camera Review on Shoot It With Film
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Leica M6 Build Quality

Even if you ignore all of the other features of the system and the hype, Leica rarely skimped on build quality. The M6, along with most other Leica cameras and lenses, are beautifully built.

The build materials changed from previous models, but it’s still hefty.

It’s minimal and simple – on the top plate of the body, you have a dial for shutter speed, a film advance lever, a rewind crank, and a film counter.

On the back plate, you have an ISO dial (used for the light meter). And that’s about it. Save for a couple other small levers and a battery compartment, that’s all you get.

The Leica M6 35mm film camera - Leica M6 Film Camera Review on Shoot It With Film
The shutter speed dial, film advance lever, rewind crank, and film counter
The Leica M6 35mm film camera - Leica M6 Film Camera Review on Shoot It With Film
ISO dial

The other thing to note about Leica M cameras is the size. The bodies (and lenses) are compact, making them easy to carry around and travel with.

I can bring the M6, a 35mm lens, and a 50mm lens, and they’ll fit in pretty much any bag I carry. I’ve taken multiple trips with this setup and never struggle with the added weight or space given up.

Also – though it doesn’t matter all that much and it’s extremely subjective, I personally think that the Leica M6 is one of the best looking cameras ever made.

35mm film photography image of a street - Leica M6 Film Camera Review on Shoot It With Film
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35mm film photography image of a staircase - Leica M6 Film Camera Review on Shoot It With Film
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Shooting Experience

I own far more cameras than I’d like to admit. Currently my collection includes a Pentax 6×7, Yashica Mat 124G, Contax T2, Ricoh GR1s, Nikon FM2, Nikon FE, and a Nikon F100.

To me, the shooting experience on the Leica M6 is unparalleled. It’s the camera I reach for nearly every time I go out to shoot, and it’s largely because of that experience.

Since it’s a fully mechanical camera, operating it is easy.

On the bottom plate, you flip up and turn the knob to take off the plate. The Leica M6 has a quick-loading system and provides directions on the inside of the camera to help with loading film.

Once the film leader is positioned in the middle of the take-up spool, you can reattach the bottom plate and start advancing the film.

You’ll know it works if the rewind crank on the top plate spins every time you advance.

From there, you’re ready to shoot – set your ISO, focus through the viewfinder, pick your shutter speed and aperture, and you’re good to go.

Note: if you have never used a rangefinder before, it’s good to read up on how it works. There are many, many other articles out there that have far better explanations than I could ever write. If you want a good intro on rangefinders, read this.

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35mm film photography image of a building in a foggy field - Leica M6 Film Camera Review on Shoot It With Film
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The Internal Light Meter and Viewfinder

The light meter in the M6 is incredibly accurate. I’ve relied on it for nearly every single shot I’ve taken, and aside from my own poor metering judgement, it’s gotten it right every time.

I’ve compared the readings to my Sekonic L-508, and they line up.

The viewfinder itself is bright and easy to see. When you look through, you’ll see two sets of framelines depending on what viewfinder you have and on the lens you’re using.

My M6 comes with framelines for 28mm/90mm, 35mm/135mm, and 50mm/75mm, which works well for my lens lineup. If you want to shoot anything wider than 28mm, you’ll need a hot shoe viewfinder to look through.

Since I have the standard 0.72x viewfinder magnification and wear glasses, it makes it nearly impossible for me to see the 28mm frameline.

I would definitely suggest figuring out what focal lengths you like to shoot before deciding on a viewfinder.

35mm film photography image of a man standing on a cliff - Leica M6 Film Camera Review on Shoot It With Film
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35mm film photography image of a man taking a picture - Leica M6 Film Camera Review on Shoot It With Film
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The Lens System

Many people believe that Leica lenses have some of the best optics ever made. And in my experience with them, it’s true.

I own a Leica Summicron 35mm f2 and a Leica Summicron 50mm f2, and the image quality is truly amazing. I often have people ask if my images are medium format, and I put it down to the lenses.

But while I’ve heard people say that it’s not worth shooting Leica without Leica glass, I just don’t think it’s true.

The nice thing with the system is that you don’t have to shell out thousands of dollars to get incredible sharpness and image quality. Both Voigtlander and Zeiss make some wonderful lenses at a fraction of the cost.

Another advantage, surprisingly, is the age of the M system.

You can pick up vintage Leica lenses that have beautiful character and amazing rendering for under $1,000 that work perfectly with the M6.

35mm film photography image of a woman's portrait - Leica M6 Film Camera Review on Shoot It With Film
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35mm film photography image of a foggy field - Leica M6 Film Camera Review on Shoot It With Film
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Other Considerations

Ultimately, buying into the Leica system is a big purchase decision, but it’s one that will likely last a lifetime (at least the mechanical cameras and lenses).

For me, the Leica M6 was the perfect hybrid between a classic, simple analog camera with a light meter.

If you’re set on buying Leica and you don’t need a meter, the M2, M4, M4-2, and M4-P are fantastic options that offer everything that the M6 does and cost less.

If you don’t need 35mm framelines, the Leica M3 is the original. If you want a Leica that’s electronic and more advanced (with aperture priority, exposure compensation, DX coding, etc.), you’ll need to find a Leica M7.

But there’s a reason the M6 has become one of the most popular analog cameras out there – it offers the perfect amount of functionality without much else.

At the end of the day, a camera is a tool to help create. There are plenty of incredible options out there that won’t cost so much. But in my experience, the Leica M6 is a tool that pushes me.

I’ve taken by far my best images with this camera. And I can’t imagine a day where I don’t feel excited and inspired to use the Leica M6.

It might not be for everyone, but it’s definitely right for me.

35mm film photography image of a garage - Leica M6 Film Camera Review on Shoot It With Film
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35mm film photography image of a cityscape - Leica M6 Film Camera Review on Shoot It With Film
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Thank you so much, Drew! Drew is a regular contributor here at Shoot It With Film, and you can check out his work on his website and Instagram.

Let us know any questions you have about the Leica M6 below in the comments, and you can pick up one for yourself at KEH Camera or on eBay.

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Drew Evans

Drew Evans is a regular contributor for Shoot It With Film, and he specializes in cityscape and landscape film photography.

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Blog Comments

Would had been great if you specified the lens used on the photos. Great article.

Good point! These were mainly taken on a 35mm Summicron. The first bridge shot and the portrait of the woman in the hood were on a 50mm Summicron.

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