Camera Review: Leica M6 in the Hands of a Street Photographer

Leica M’s as you probably know already is considered one of, if not the best, range cameras out there. You’ll read articles about how this beautiful piece of machined had stood the test of time and had witnessed a lot and still continues to perform very well in this present time. All this credited to the top-notch craftsmanship and engineering of the German brand.

I’ve been using a Leica M’s for about 3-4 years. The first one I used was an M4 which I really adored, but soon I saw the need of having an internal light meter so I decided to trade it for an M6 which I am currently using at present. It has been more than a year now since I’ve had my M6 as my main camera for street and travel photography and because of that, I would like to share with you this review, the pros, the cons and what I think about the high regards people give about this camera.

Disclaimer: There are tons of reviews of these cameras out there you can check but what sets mine apart is that it’s based on the point of view and experience of a street photographer. Let's proceed.

Aesthetics

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There is no doubt that the M’s are the most attractive rangefinders out there, well based at least to the majority of people, news, and articles I was exposed to. Personally, I do think this is indeed the sexiest rangefinders out there. Next to the Contax G’s and Voigtlander Bessas in my opinion. I, as an Architect I’m mostly attracted to the aesthetics of minimalism. The Leica M’s nailed that for me. That smoothly rounded grips, the minimal dials and minimal edges and corners of the camera body, even the controls winder, and ASA dials are reduced to reach that certain beauty. The only thing that puts me off is how bright the Red dot is. That is why I prefer mine to be covered. Fortunately, these red dots can be replaced but I imagine this is gonna cost you as this brand is notorious for blowing up their prices. Obviously, this is subjective. What I find attractive can be different from the rest and honestly street photographer or not, aesthetics doesn’t play a huge part in your photographs.

TMV’s Rating: 4/5

Ergonomics

Being constructed with simplicity in mind, I’d say the camera does a decent job. Nothing exceptional but definitely not lacking. It’s somewhere in between comfortable and there-still-room-to-improve. The grip, dials, shutter and shutter lever, even the internal meter are all created with simplicity in mind and surprisingly, for a street photographer who just wants to take the image as fast as he could, this works very well. No fuzz, just you taking the photo right away. One thing though is the way you load the film. Let’s all be honest, this is probably one of the slowest ways to load a film. But then, it’s also part of the M’s charm and I honestly enjoy loading film on this camera than any other 35mm film cameras I’ve used.

Let’s focus our attention on how this camera works with me in street photographer mindset.

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The camera only leaves you with only the most basic settings to take an image.  I’m talking about the exposure triangle: ASA dial, Shutter speed dial, and the aperture dial on your lens.  The advantage of this is this takes away the distraction of fiddling with your camera and allowing you to focus on creating and capturing the image. No chimping, no menus, no other buttons but the shutter. If you’re like me who likes to observe people rather than fiddle with your camera’s bells and whistles, this camera is highly recommended.

Obviously, there is still room to improve with this camera but it’s not to say that the handling of this camera is poorly made. In fact it very comfortable which probably why Leica had stayed true to its form and has not changed the body’s design for generations.

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TMV’s Rating: 3/5

Weight and Size

The M6 weighs like a brick. It’s heavy and if you’ll be carrying this around your neck as you prowl the street, you’ll be needing some breaks to rest your neck/ or arm if you’re only carrying if by hand. But I guess this hefty weight also means it’s super durable. I kinda agree with that.

But when it comes to its size, it’s pretty standard. And by the standards of 35mm rangefinders, it’s compact. True, there are smaller rangefinders out there like the fixed lens Canonet and Hi-Matic, but for an interchangeable camera body, this is pretty compact compared to the traditional SLR and DSLR.

There might be a blow from the weight but being compact allows you to pack it in your bag, maybe with a couple more lenses as you please with more room to spare for other stuff.

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TMV’s Rating: 3/5

Cost

This is probably the most depressing part.  Leicas are expensive.  My M6 costs about 1250USD for the body when I had it. The TTL cost about 500-700USD more here where I currently live (Singapore). Sure the price can be attributed to how well the mechanical parts of these cameras are made and how these cameras stood the test of time, but we should also not forget the other old film cameras out there that exist and still works today. That’s a testimony that it’s not only Leicas that will work well after decades of abuse but other vintage cameras too. And if people say Leicas are indestructible, that’s wrong. Leica’s are durable but take a good look around you and you’ll see it constantly being repaired all over the world. Who here has never heard or seen a guy getting his/ her M repaired? No one. Probably the difference that I can see here is how less frequent a Leica needs it’s TLC versus the rest of the film cameras out there. But then again, CLE for Leicas are mind-bogglingly priced so high. My M4 had to go through some repair that cost me around 220-250USD before and no parts were even replaced for that price.

My point is, the Leica M has their limit but people have created this idea that they are sturdy as a rock which may be the reason why the price skyrocketed. I’ve had probably have 9 to 10 film cameras and it’s only my M4 that had to undergo repair. That saying something.

Now for the price to performance ratio, does a Leica justifies the cost? A big NO, at least for me. I have a Voigtlander Bessa R2A that I’ll be reviewing next and honestly, I like that camera more than my M6. Sure the Bessa’s are much younger and has a lot to prove when it comes to its durability relative to its age but for its price ( I got mine for only 360USD), the Bessa has a lot more features than a Leica including the Aperture priority that I extremely adore.

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That being said, I’ve accepted the fact that Leica’s are expensive and the price will continue to go up.  There are reasons behind that such as the user’s testimonies and the history the Leica brand holds.  It’s like the luxury brands of the fashion world, there is no doubt about the quality, but you are more likely paying more for the name. If you want it and you can pay for it then it’s all good.

TMV’s Rating: 2/5

Performance

With all these laid on the table, how does this camera perform as a street photographer’s tool?

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My M6 had been my main camera since I replaced my M4 for this. So basically, the M line played a huge part in my street photography journey. Aside from the simplistic design and how intuitive the camera is, it’s the ridiculously silent shutter made me fall in love with it. I’ve been able to walk up to strangers and click the shutter without them hearing it. I basically just walk away after I took the shot. A silent camera plays a huge part in my confidence level, like a lot of street photographers, I don’t have the balls of steel and I try to avoid confrontation as much as possible.  This camera also allowed me to focus on taking the photo rather get frozen trying to figure out how I should take the photo. It pushed me to understand the basics of capturing images and led me to improve my skills and knowledge.

But here’s the curveball, recently, I’ve acquired a Voigtlander Bessa R2A which is a little louder but has the aperture priority that I now prefer over the full manual controls. Based on my style of shooting and what subjects I’m more interested, the Bessa can deliver a better job than of my M6 even with a little louder shutter.

In the end, M6’s are superb cameras and it does the job as it should, but if you want more with little effort(or cash) then there are better rangefinders out there that you ought to try.

TMV’s Rating: 4/5

Pros:

1. Silent

2. Compact

3. Simple and intuitive

4. Durable

5. Damn sexy

6. Fully mechanical except the light meter

Cons:

1. Expensive

2. Heavy (not really a big issue for me)

3. Super basic controls in relation to the price you pay

4. CLE could get expensive

So there you go, that’s my review-ish kind of take for the Leica M6. I hope this helps the street photographers out there whether you want to switch to the M6, deciding if the M6 is for you or if you want to leave the M6 for another camera. Take your time, once you have your camera whether it’s an M6 or not, make sure you use it as much as it deserves.

If you're looking to get one, here's a few of the M6 I found on Amazon.