- Rumors mount over an affordable Leica M-series camera.
- The M6 might be the best Leica ever made, in terms of practicality.
- Currently, the cheapest Leica M costs almost $6,000.
The M6 may have been Leica's best camera in terms of usability and just being a practical film camera. And now it may be coming back—kinda.
A second round of credible rumors points to a new, cheaper film camera from Leica. These days, Leica is the camera equivalent of the Birkin bag: it might be a great tool, but it has an absurd price that, while part of the appeal, has very little to do with its practical value. But Leica used to be a workhorse brand, no less affordable than the top-of-the-line pro cameras of today. And this may be a welcome return to those times.
"The idea behind a Leica was that it would always work because it was designed well and built well. No mangled film, no stuck advance levers, no unresponsive shutter buttons, no dead batteries. The M6 really embodies everything that makes a Leica so great, in terms of reliability and style," Shawn Kenessey, professional photographer and editor-in-chief at Learn Photography Skills, told Lifewire via email.
Like all of Leica's M-series film cameras until then, the M6 (made from 1984-2002) was utterly manual. Manual focus, manual exposure, and manual film advance. It had LED arrows in the viewfinder connected to the light meter, so you could set exposure correctly, and a later variant, the M6 TTL, switched the rotation direction of the shutter-speed dial to match those arrows.
That might sound like a limited feature set, and it is, but it's better than some of today's Leica film cameras. Depending on your chosen model, you might not even get an exposure meter.
But these limits didn't matter. At the time, people were used to using manual cameras. And once you got used to it, the M6 was super fast to use. Leica's rangefinder focusing is still the fastest way to focus manually.
The M6 really embodies everything that makes a Leica so great.
In a rectangle in the center of the viewfinder, you see a second ghost image superimposed over the main view. As you twist the lens, this ghost image moves. Line it up with the main image, and you're done. Once you get accustomed to it, it's absurdly fast.
The M6 has a couple of competitors if you're looking for a model to remake in 2022. One is the M5, which had a superior match-needle exposure system instead of the binary up/down arrows of the M6. The other was the M7, which introduced aperture-priority auto-exposure.
The problem with the M5 is that it diverged visually from Leica's typical M designs. The problem with the M7 is that it required a battery to power the full range of shutter speeds, whereas the M6 only needed a battery for the exposure meter.
A Modern Remake
If you want to buy a new film camera today, and you don't want a semi-disposable piece of plastic junk, you're getting a Leica; nobody else mass manufactures 35mm film cameras. And the cheapest film Leica costs $5,595 without a lens.
Perhaps Leica sees that its collectors' pieces are not a sustainable business. Or maybe it just sees a way to divert some cash away from the thriving second-hand market for usable Leicas. The M6 easily costs up to $3K used. At anything less than that, a new M6, or M6 derivative, would fly off the shelves.
"[For a while now, the M6 has been] the most hyped Leica film camera in online media. Leica simply might have followed the 'demand' here," says Leica fan and user Retrofocus on the Fred Miranda photography forum.
The beauty of this plan is that Leica wouldn't need to change the design at all. The M6 is already at least as full-featured as those almost-$6K models. Although, adding in a match-needle for the exposure wouldn't be unwelcome.
I owned and used an M6 for several years, back before the internet hyped the used prices into absurdity. It was fantastic, and I would consider buying another one if it didn't cost a few months' rent. I suspect many people feel the same.
If you're into film photography, the choice is a Leica or a used camera, and those prices aren't going down either. If Leica does this right, it could clean up and make a lot of photographers very happy. Either way, we won't have to wait long to find out. The Leica Rumors site expects an announcement in October.