. . . Ah, you see what I did with the title there, “Two Classics”? That’s because (aside from the Fuji X-E1), I also took along to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2014 a new film camera and lens – the Leica M6 ‘Classic’ and Voigtlander (CV) 50mm f/1.5 LTM ‘Classic’. Yes, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “I LOVE LEICA M’s.”
Now it’s only a little over 2 months since I bought the Leica M2 (review here), which has proven revelatory when it comes to no frills 35mm Street Photography. However, the Leica M6 and CV 50mm f/1.5 have taken what was already a superb package and quashed the last remaining issue I had with the M2 – that being no built-in light metering.
Yes Sunny 16 is fine in small doses, but I had found myself worrying whether the exposure had been correct with ‘that last shot’, rather than being able to confidently take the picture and move on. Further, reaching into my pocket for the Sekonic light meter whenever a cloud moved across the sky, meant ‘moments’ were missed and/or drew unnecessary attention to myself.
So let’s move on to the Leica M6 and firstly the reason for the ‘Classic’ designation. The M6 over it’s 18 year model lifespan came in two ‘flavors’, the Classic and the TTL (Through The Lens metering). Now rather confusingly, both models had TTL metering except that the original ‘Classic’ didn’t feature a hotshoe for firing dedicated flash, rather a ‘coldshoe’ with a plugin connector socket on the back.
Additionally, the TTL came with a shutter speed dial that turned in the ‘wrong’ direction, whereas the M6 Classic’s dial turned the same way as the previous M4, M3 & M2. Add this to the slight increase in bodily dimensions required of the TTL in order to accommodate the new electronics and the term ‘Classic’ becomes a simple reference to the classic dimensions and operation of the older haloed models.
As can be seen in the picture above, the film advance lever is of a different design, but no less effective and ‘buttery smooth’. Whereas the M2 has a lever hewn from a single piece of metal, the M6’s advance features a plastic tip with a small amount of intentionally designed ‘wobble’. In practice, the only noticeable difference between the two is aesthetics. Another major difference between the M2 & M6 is the automatically resetting frame counter. This is a convenient addition for me, rather than a necessity as I had no problem with the manually reset dial of the M2.
There is one significant difference between the M2 & M6 and which at first, would appear immaterial – that of the film rewind mechanism. With the M2 (M3, M4 & MP) film rewind is taken care of by a retractable ‘knob’. Pull up said knob and turn in the direction of the arrow. When done, push back down and it is neatly stored out of the way and unable to interfere with tension of the film inside. Compare this to the rewind lever of the M6. Yes it may be faster in operation. However, it is continually engaged with the film canister inside and thus any knock or brush against clothing (and especially the neck strap) will effectively release any tension on the film’s carriage. It has thus become habit to occasionally check how ‘tight’ the film is by taking up slack with the rewind lever.
Moving on to the metering system, the design of this could not have been made simpler. Powered by just 2 silver oxide button cells or a single 3 volt lithium battery, their only function is to provide power for the light meter. Yes, unlike the later M7, the M6 will function quite happily as a ‘manual’ camera if battery power should fail.
The meter itself consists of a single light sensitive widget (I don’t know it’s correct name 😮 ) that takes its reading from an off-white circle painted on the shutter curtain. This only appears when the camera is cocked, which also activates the meter. As a result it’s not possible to meter a scene without first ‘arming’ the shutter, though strangely the meter will draw a small amount of ‘juice’ even when uncocked. Many an M6 user will be all to familiar with the problem of flat batteries if storing the camera in a bag, as the slightest pressure on the shutter release will activate the meter, cocked or uncocked. Therefore, the first thing a new M6 owner learns is to turn the shutter dial to B (Bulb) when putting the camera away for an extended period.
A final alteration made to the M6 was the film ISO dial on the back of the camera, a necessary addition so as to inform the light meter of what speed film you are using. Obviously as the M2 had no inbuilt meter, this dial merely served to remind the photographer what ISO film was being used.
Now with regards this particular M6 and specifically it’s cosmetic condition, you will see from the pictures that it carries a few ‘battle scars’. The back edge of the top plate especially, appears to have been rubbed along something abrasive, such as a rock or even a building, on more than one occasion. Indeed, the dealer I bought it from revealed that as well as a recent service (with receipt), the camera was previously owned by a Pro’. I would like to believe that possibly whoever owned it before was maybe a War Photographer, it’s many ‘wounds’ gained on the streets of some conflict-ravaged area of the world. 🙂
Moving on to the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.5 LTM ‘Classic’ lens.
I’m going to keep this part of the review short and concentrate on the simple spec’s of the lens and how it feels to use. The images taken with the M6 and this lens can be found here Street Photography – Edinburgh Fringe Festival (Part Two) – Leica M6
I will unashamedly admit that for me at least, appearances are a large part of how we feel about a particular camera outfit. With that in mind, I can safely say that coupled with the dark and stealthy lines of the M6, it’s a knockout setup.
The lens is a beautifully designed and well made lump of metal and glass. The aperture dial moves freely and smoothly, with lightly designated click stops.
The chunky focus ring has a reassuring amount of drag and it’s travel, is refreshingly short.
Overall weight with the included aluminium hood is comforting. It feels like a lens that will last, without being overly heavy. Coupled to the M6, the combination lets it’s presence known but never becomes a pain to carry around in the hand for 5-6 hours at a time.
Finally the reason for the ‘Classic’ moniker of this lens? Voigtlander recently released a new ‘m-mount’ version of the same lens, my one being a screwmount lens with an m-adapter. Hence ‘Classic’. 🙂
I’m happy to report that over the day-and-a-half that I shot the M6 and CV 50 at the Fringe Festival, they performed faultlessly. Even loading film was without faff. In fact, Mick from Xisforfuji timed my changing of one roll. From removing the bottom plate to firing off two blank frames of a new roll, it took a surprising 30 seconds. Get in there!!! 😉
But what of the M2 ? Well I’m as yet undecided. It’s a delight to shoot and with the CV 50 would make a classy combination. There’s also the fact that I bought it just as the market for used Leica’s began to rise out of their extended (recession induced) slumber, so now represents an ideal medium-term investment. As a further positive and somewhat fortunately, the camera came with a 6 month warranty. As luck would have it (?) the slow shutter speeds began acting irrationally, so it has been dispatched back to the dealer for a good old CLA. Probably about time as it still has the original Leica wax seal, so won’t have had a service in it’s entire 48 years !
And that’s it. I said it would be short. The images taken with the M6 and this lens can be found here Street Photography – Edinburgh Fringe Festival (Part Two) – Leica M6
eBay UK always has a good selection of the Leica M6 for sale here.
On eBay UK, you will also find a large selection of new and used Voigtlander lenses here.