Machine Crush Monday: Leica M6

When I worked on my college paper a million years ago, my buddy Bruno had Leicas. This made him the coolest person in the whole wide world.

The cameras were tiny and had the smoothest-operating lenses I had ever touched. They were a feat of German engineering. For me, it was love at first sight. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t stop lusting for one of those tiny black boxes.

I immediately started my quest to get one. I had to have a Leica. And because this was the mid-’80s, I definitely wanted an M6, which was introduced in 1984. Hell, it was advanced. It had a meter. The first real meter in a Leica, if you disregard the much-maligned M5.

It turns out all my favorite photographers used the Leica. Henri Cartier-Bresson carried a Leica his entire career, using it to make the photographs in the seminal photobook The Decisive Moment,. Robert Frank shot his project The Americans, the one photo book anyone who loves documentary photography should own, with a Leica. And the list goes on and on: Marc Riboud, Eli Reed, Alex Webb, David Alan Harvey.

At the time, I had to settle for an M4-2, but I never stopped coveting an M6. Just as the digital revolution started kicking into full steam, the prices on Leica’s film cameras took a slight dip and I snatched up an all-black M6, slapped some gaffer tape over all the logos and never looked back.

The M6 and I took to the streets every day. It was never an easy camera to use — it requires practice and focused attention — but when everything comes together in a single frame, there is nothing quite like it.

Unlike a single-lens reflex camera, where what you see is what you get, the rangefinder of the Leica forces you to embrace the unknown. Because it does not use a mirror like a traditional SLR or DSLR, the lens can sit closer to the film plane, creating what Leica aficionados claim, with some degree of accuracy, are the most beautiful photos in the world. Just google the terms “bokeh” and “Leica.” The results should send you tumbling down an amazing camera-geek rabbit hole.

Maybe it is the amazing lenses, maybe it is journey over destination or maybe it is just my sentimental self playing tricks on me, but no other camera has ever captured my soul quite like the Leica M6.

Machine Crush Monday is Cult of Mac’s weekly riff on #MCM.

Leica

Dial it in: The shutter speed on the Leica M6 goes all the way to 1,000. Can you handle all that speed?

Leica

Peering into the minimalist innards of the Leica M6. Photos: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

  • http://lavidaleica.com/ La Vida Leica

    How unexpected to see a Leica M6 on our favorite Mac site! Kudos. :)

    Stop by and check out La Vida Leica (http://lavidaleica.com) some time.

  • http://lavidaleica.com/ La Vida Leica

    How unexpected to see a Leica M6 on our favorite Mac site! Kudos. We’ve posted a story with a link here… Enjoy!

    Stop by and check out La Vida Leica some time.

  • digitaldumdum

    Now •that’s• a nice piece about the finest camera in the world. And like La Vida Leica, I agree it’s unexpected to see it here. But how appropriate for this forum!

    Just like “there’s nothing like a Grateful Dead concert”, there’s nothing like the feel and results from a Leica rangefinder. One could argue that Cartier-Bresson, while certainly not the first to use a Leica for “street photography”, almost single-handedly popularized the brand for that purpose. Even today, Fujifilm successfully conjures the image of the stealthy artistic photographer in it’s advertising for it’s Leica-like X100S cameras.

    Long ago, my father was the first Leica dealer in Texas. He used to tell me that there is no finer glass in the world; no better glass for color contrast, B&W contrast, sharpness or depth-of-field. He was right. You can get great results from every brand (Nikon, Canon, Pentax), and from larger formats (Hasselblad, for example), but for 35mm or its digital equivalent, there is simply no finer glass than Leica. Mate one of Leitz’s lenses to almost any camera, and you have the makings of art.

    And for those who can’t appreciate shooting with a rangefinder over an SLR—somehow imagining a mirrored camera provides a more realistic view—they will never be convinced until they tote a Leica around and use it for a while. The experience is totally different, and in my less-than-humble opinion, the only way to shoot.

    For me, the only thing that’s better than shooting with a Leica, is doing so at a Grateful Dead concert. And I have! :)

    PS: I only take exception with this one line in the article: “Unlike a single-lens reflex camera, where what you see is what you get, the rangefinder of the Leica forces you to embrace the unknown.” I feel just the opposite. When you’re looking through the viewfinder of a Leica, you are, in fact, looking right •at• the “known.” There is no mirror, or mirror box, or sensor or focusing grid in the way. You’re looking straight through a piece of perfectly clear, bright, flat glass. It’s simple, but it’s magic.

  • http://www.citysnaps.net/ Citysnaps

    Eh… Pretty neck jewelry for those that take photos of statues and boat marinas…

    • digitaldumdum

      Tell that to the many war correspondents who have shot literally millions of iconic, in some cases life-changing photos with Leica cameras due to their small size and extreme reliability. Or tell it to several generations of professional photographers, the likes of National Geographic, who use Leicas for the same reasons. Not too many bulky, battery-powered SLRs made it to the top of Everest and still worked well (if at all), at least not until recent years. But hey, when all you’re shooting is city snaps you’re right, probably any ol’ camera will do.

      One person’s “neck jewelry” is another person’s fine photographic tool.

      • http://www.citysnaps.net/ Citysnaps

        >>> But hey, when all you’re shooting is city snaps you’re right, probably any ol’ camera will do.

        You’re right, for most situations. Photography is about seeing, and using one’s imagination, and then translating what’s before you into a photograph that stimulates a viewer’s mind, releasing power and narrative. A photograph’s power (or lack of power) does not come from a camera body or pedigree lens – it comes the photographer and his/her ability to see.

        Yes, I was a little harsh above, but perhaps you are not aware of the many internet forums that exist where owning a leica is much more about camera cult ownership than making photographs. Still, that’s OK – whatever makes you happy.

        I have at least a dozen friends that have M2s through M7s who are photographers and make compelling photographs – they are the real deal. I’m not oblivious to that. They do seem to be the exception though.

      • digitaldumdum

        No disrespect taken or intended. I, too, am aware of the goofy sites that praise Leicas and other products, solely for their “wow” factor, their perceived coolness. Just the usual cultish stuff from the inexperienced. But as we both agree, that drivel takes nothing away from the true value of the camera itself, or of any good product.

        Like you, probably, I’ve shot extensively with SLRs, medium format, rangefinders and all manner of digital cameras, cheap and expensive. The Hasselblad is great for portraits and fashion, the Nikon is good for those times when you need lots of lenses and other accessories and the Canon S95 will take a reasonable (actually quite good) photo in very small package.

        But for me, the Leica is in a class by itself, and not because lately only the wealthy own them. (In 1968, I think my M4 body cost $288. Not sure about that, going from memory! :) The best shooting days of my life were using my M4, both with the top-mounted, shutter speed-coupled MR meter, and later, with no meter at all. (Sorry, I’m waxing nostalgic.) Fact is, if I were in a rainforest, a hot desert or on a cold mountain, and wanted to be sure of getting a good shot, I’d take my Leica and leave the rest at home. Well, maybe the S95 would go along too.

      • Guest

        My photographer friend Vladimir has 9 M2s, eight named after Disney characters (Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Tinker Bell, etc), and another Fangio, named after the race car driver. He has electro-chemically de-chromed and de-lugged each one, and adds his own covers and grip made from driftwood. And then he cuts strips from Cosworth timing belts to put around aperture and focus rings, for quick action. He also does his own CLAs and brews his own lubricants (as well as film and print developers).

        Interesting fellow, I’ve written about him a lot in the past…

      • Guest

        I walked the streets of San Francisco with Vladimir on many occasions, visited his darkroom and even received postcards from him for a bit. He makes beautiful photographs. Please tell him I say hello.

      • http://www.citysnaps.net/ Citysnaps

        My photographer friend Vladimir has 9 M2s, eight named after Disney characters (Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Tinker Bell, etc), and another Fangio, named after the race car driver. He has electro-chemically de-chromed and de-lugged each one, and adds his own covers and grip made from driftwood. And then he cuts strips from Cosworth timing belts to put around aperture and focus rings, for quick action. He also does his own CLAs and brews his own lubricants (as well as film and print developers).

        Interesting fellow, I’ve written about him a lot in the past…

        .

      • digitaldumdum

        Man, that’s really something! What an interesting fellow, and how clever of him. And I assume you took the shots. VERY nice. I’d love to read more about or by both of you. Send some links if you can. (Hmmm, not sure if they’re allowed). How else can Cult users hook up?

      • http://www.citysnaps.net/ Citysnaps

        Yikes, I thought I had deleted that first post with the dupe photo (yes, both are mine). Can’t seem to do it now…

        Here’s a link that will reference my Vlad posts on my blog, spelled out.

        www dot citysnaps dot net slash blog slash tag slash vlad

        Hope this works. Also, I wrote more about him in earlier posts.

      • Merithew

        I walked the streets of San Francisco with Vladimir on many occasions, visited his darkroom and even received postcards from him for a bit. He makes beautiful photographs. Please tell him I say hello.

      • schmiddi

        so your dozen friends are the exception because you obviously know the photographers of this world …

        and yes its about seeing and not the camera or lens you have … duh … so thats why using a fully manual camera will make you just a rich marina dude.
        at the end of the day while Leicas are expensive most Leica shooters have only few lenses. the average serious Leica hobbyist i know has two lenses. that is pretty close to all those people with their 5Marks around their necks and a bunch of lenses that they have no idea how to use … and then shoot those in all automatic mode.
        if you don’t know how to shoot, and don’t know how to see you will sell your Leica pretty quickly because you won’t get a single decent shot. plus these days few people, unless they are camera enthusiasts and shooters know what a leica is, most others think you have a cheap camera old camera.

  • Earl Dunbar

    I have shot with Leica (M3 w/50 DR, 21 SA and 90 Cron) in the past, as well as various SLRs (mostly OM, but also Konica, Nikon, Pentax, etc.,) Rollei SL66 (medium format w/ Zeiss lenses) and 4×5 (Toyo and Chamonix with Fujinon glass) … I am planning on going back to Leica (either M4-P or M6) for certain of my 35mm work. Other than the glass and the “look” rendered on film, it is the build and handling that is so seductive and satisfying.

    The only 35mm camera I have used that compares is the OM-1. The build isn’t as good, but it is arguably “good enough”; the handling is superb. It should be — Maitani loved Leica and when he designed the OM system he modeled the bodies on the dimensions and other features of the Leica M.

    Prices for used Leica Ms have gone back up. I’m not poor, but neither am I rich, so I will have to do some serious bargain hunting. But it will be worth it.

    As for the folks who buy Leica for the cachet, the same is true of Nikon, Canon, etc. I think people would be surprised that there are most likely more Leica owners who are working pros or serious amateurs who own because of their needs and preferences, not their wallets.

  • AnthonyD42

    Great, now the eBay prices will jump and I’ll NEVER get one!

  • Jip van Kuijk

    Very interesting to see a M6 here yes, but why not the M (Typ 240) in chrome, that eems much more ‘macish’ than the black M6. None the Less I still enjoy using both camera’s daily.

About the author

Jim MerithewJim Merithew is director of content at Cult of Mac and Cult of Android. He is the former photo director of Wired and editor at large of Raw File, Wired's photography blog. In more than 25 years as a journalist, including eight years at the San Francisco Chronicle, Jim has led award-winning teams and relentlessly spread the gospel of the bicycle. He also plays guitar in Pickle Horse. Follow him on Instagram (@tinyblackbox) and Twitter (@tinyblackbox).

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