An in-depth guide to: The Leica M6 (aka M6 Classic / M6 Non-TTL)

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The Leica M6 — also commonly known as the Leica M6 Classic or Leica M6 Non-TTL — is a 35mm film rangefinder camera designed and manufactured by Leica in Germany between 1984 and 1998. The camera was the successor to the Leica M4-P, which was produced concurrently for the first two years of the M6’s 12 year production.

The Leica M6 was the first Leica 35mm film rangefinder camera to feature both through-the-lens (TTL) light metering and the classic Leica M rangefinder design pioneered by the 1954 Leica M3. It was superseded by the M6 TTL in 1998, which added TTL flash capability to the M6’s TTL light meter.


To make it absolutely clear, both cameras have a TTL light meter so if you’re confused by the naming, don’t fret, you’re not alone.

Leica M6 - Image credit: Quintin Doroquez
Leica M6 Black Chrome
Image credit: Quintin Doroquez

If you’re looking for a Leica M film rangefinder camera with a built-in light meter, the Leica M6 offers amongst the best value of the entire Leica M film range today. Late production models are still comparatively new (as complex film cameras go, that is), it’s not dependent on batteries to function and is eminently repairable and upgradeable.

In this article, I’ll be breaking the Leica M6 down into its constituent parts, providing you with operational details, a few tips and tricks; and of course, how it stacks up against the other models in the range. If you’re in the market for a Leica M rangefinder, this article provides the information you need to make your decision.

Here’s what I cover:

First, let’s start with a bit of Leica M6 history.


History

The Leica M6 was the first Leica M 35mm film rangefinder to be produced exclusively in Germany since the Leica M4 range. The M6 is essentially a Leica M4-P with a built-in TTL light meter and also utilises many of the same materials and processes in its construction. The camera comes in two finishes: black or silver chrome over a nickel-plated zinc top plate and colour-matched brass bottom plate.


The Leica M6 requires batteries to operate its light meter however, its shutter, like every Leica which preceded it, is entirely mechanical and does not require power to function.

Leica M6 - Tom Knier
Leica M6 Black Chrome
Image credit: Tom Knier

On its release in 1984, the Leica M6 cost approximately US$1,695. Adjusted for inflation, this is a little over US$3,965 in 2020 money. The camera features the same parallax-corrected 0.72x magnification finder of the M4-P, and is capable of displaying three pairs of 6 framelines depending which lens is mounted:

  • 28/90mm
  • 35/135mm
  • 50/75mm

In 1994 Leica released a US$9,000 special edition M6 celebrating 40 years of the Leica M camera. It was called the M6J — “J” for Jubilee — and was limited to 1,640 units, 40 for each year of production. The M6J came with with a new high magnification 0.85x finder, an M3/M2/M1-style film wind-on lever and engraved brass top plate.

The new high magnification finder eventually found its way into regular production with 1998’s short-lived “M6 0.85”. Only 3,130 of these cameras were made before the M6 was replaced later that same year by the M6 TTL. The new camera, still technically still an M6, came with 0.58x, 0.72x and 0.85x viewfinder magnification options. The 0.58x finder was optimised for wide-angle lenses and was a first for the German company.

Preceded chronologically by the M4-P, the M6 is in many respects the natural successor of the Leica M5. In my opinion, it’s quite possible the M6 and subsequent Leica rangefinders would have looked very different indeed if the failed M5 had succeeded. If you’re interested in going down this rabbit hole, I highly recommend you read this article over at MIR about the 1981 “Leica M6 electronic”. Fascinating.

Fun fact, the Leica M6 was the first Leica film rangefinder to offer a “lens cap on” warning feature right out of the box.

Buying a Leica M6 today

On today’s secondhand market, you can expect to pay on average US$1,800 for an M6 in good condition. You’ll pay less for a private sale but more if you’re expecting a box, are aiming to buy new old stock or one of the many, many special editions.

For the newer M6 TTL, add US$400-600 to your budget. There are a few reasons you might want to spend the extra money on the M6 TTL, however, the cameras are functionally very similar. For the majority of new owners, the choice between a bog-standard 0.72x magnification Leica M6 or Leica M6 TTL really comes down to three things:


  • The M6 TTL’s larger, ergonomic shutter dial, which can be adjusted by simply swiping a finger over the front of the camera (a feature first seen on the M5).
  • The M6 TTL’s shutter dial rotates in the same direction as the light meter’s LED indicators — but in reverse to other Leica film cameras with the exception of the 2002-2018 M7.
  • Your preference for using Leica “goggle” lenses such as the 50mm f/2 Dual Range Summicron, 35mm f/2.8 Summaron M3 or 135mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M with their additional optics attached. Some of these have difficulty being used on the M6 TTL.

If you’re interested in my journey finding my perfect Leica M, please check out this article, which charts my personal selection/decision-making process among a few other points. I also highly recommend that you try my interactive Leica configuration tool to find the perfect Leica M-mount film camera for you — whether made by Leica or another manufacturer. The tool covers every M-mount film camera made since 1954 from Leica, Voigtlander, Zeiss and others.

Design/looks

The Leica M6 is built around the same classic design as the Leica M3, which was released back in 1954. Unlike the M3 with its 0.91 magnification viewfinder, the basic M6 features the 0.72 magnification viewfinder and framelines of the M4-P.

Leica M6 - Ade Taylor
Leica M6 Silver Chrome
Image credit: Ade Taylor

The M6 features the quick loading system of the M2R, M4 and later cameras. Further details follow in the section “Loading and unloading film“. Like the earlier M4 range, the M6 also uses an angled flip-out film rewind crank. The new rewind crank provides much better ergonomics than the “pull-up” knurled knob of early Leica rangefinders.

Viewfinder, framelines and parallax correction

Framelines

On its release in 1984, the Leica M6 was made available with the now-standard, parallax-corrected, 0.72 magnification finder of the M4-P, which comes equipped with three pairs of 6 framelines. 1998’s M6 0.85 dropped the 28mm framelines from the 28/90mm pair, which at the time made it one of the only Leicas with a single 90mm frameline option.

Framelines available both M6 options follow in the table below:

Camera nameViewfinder frameline options
Leica M6 0.72 (Classic)28mm + 90mm (paired)
35mm + 135mm (paired)
50mm + 75mm (paired)
Leica M6 0.85 (Classic)35mm + 135mm (paired)
50mm + 75mm (paired)
90mm (single)

The viewfinder magnification numbers above represent the view you see through the viewfinder as a decimal compared to 1-to-1 (zero magnification compared to how your eyes perceive the world).

The 0.72 and 0.85 magnifications of the two Leica M6 options tell us the real world is shrunk when seen through the viewfinder. A lower number means you can observe a wider view. In practical terms, the difference between higher and lower magnification viewfinders is how they allow easier focusing or framing on longer and wider lenses respectively.

Here’s how the M6’s two viewfinder options see the world in real life:


Leica M6 .72 and .85 Framelines.
Illustration credit: EMULSIVE

The illustration above also shows the Leica M6 light meter’s red LED arrows (center bottom). These provide guidance on exposure and only appear when the meter is triggered by a light press of the shutter button. The M6’s light meter is powered by one 3v or two 1.5v batteries (e.g. 1xDuracell DL 1/3 or 2x LR or SR44 cells). Further details can be found in the “Power” section of this article.

As with all Leica M film cameras, each set of framelines is automatically shown when an appropriate lens is mounted to the camera. Other framelines can be manually triggered into view by moving the frameline selection lever — it falls under your left hand when you bring the camera to your eye to shoot.

If you wear glasses like me, the 28mm and 35mm framelines can be a challenge to see all in one go on the 0.72 finder — the same goes for the 35mm framelines on the 0.85 finder. Still, they’re there and even without a full set in view you can shuffle your eye around a bit to get a good enough idea of framing.

The M6’s viewfinder does not have coated glass as later models do but can be upgraded. See the “Reliability, repairability and upgradeability” section for further details.

Parallax correction

As with all Leica M cameras, the viewfinder is fully parallax corrected by way of the rangefinder cam you see circled in the image below.

Leica rangefinder cam (circled)
Leica rangefinder cam (circled)
Image credit: EMULSIVE

The main purpose of the rangefinder cam is to move the rangefinder focusing patch for focus (see next section). As part of this function, the cam also provides parallax correction: adjusting the viewfinder’s framelines so that they correspond with what the lens will capture.

If you have a Leica M camera on hand you can see an exaggerated version of this effect by removing your lens, looking through the viewfinder and lightly pressing on the rangefinder cam. With the lens off, the cam sets your framelines and focusing patch for closest focus. Pushed in, it moves up and to the left, where it would normally be with your lens at infinity.

A QUICK word on Parallax correction


With any camera where you’re not looking directly through the lens (rangefinders and TLRs being two examples) what you see through the viewfinder is not exactly what will be captured on film. On Leica Ms, the center of the lens is approximately 4cm/1.5 inches down and to the right from the center of the viewfinder. This displacement doesn’t have a huge impact when taking photographs with the lens at infinity. However, the closer your subjects are, the more pronounced the difference between what the two see becomes.

The Leica M6 provides parallax correction by automatically compensating for the difference in position of the viewfinder and lens by moving the framelines down and to the right as you focus the lens closer. The movement is hardly noticeable in use and ensures that what you see is what ends up on film.

Rangefinder mechanism, Effective Base Length (EBL) and focusing

You could say that Leica cameras and lenses play second fiddle to their rangefinder mechanisms. I understand that’s a rather strange standpoint but consider this: viewfinder optics and focusing systems are the first and arguably the most important part of any camera. They are your first impression as you look through them and regardless of how good or bad the rest of the camera is, if you can’t live with a viewfinder, it’s hard to live with the rest of the camera.

Rangefinder mechanism

Let’s start with an image taken from one of Leica’s promotional materials. It’s the Leica M4-P rangefinder assembly — the same basic mechanism found in the 0.72x M6:

Leica M4-P rangefinder/viewfinder assembly. Image credit: Leica promotional material
Leica M4-P rangefinder/viewfinder assembly.
Image credit: Leica promotional material

This is the brains of your Leica and incorporates:

  1. A rangefinder cam that couples with your lens (bottom center).
  2. Viewfinder window (far right).
  3. Frameline mask Window (center).
  4. Rangefinder window (far left).

Here’s how they sit in a fully assembled camera:

Leica rangefinder annotated components. Image credit: EMULSIVE
Leica rangefinder annotated components.
Image credit: EMULSIVE

Covering the leftmost window (4) above will obscure the viewfinder’s split-image focus. Covering the center window (3) will obscure your frameline illumination and covering the rightmost window (2) will give you a blurry image of your finger or thumb.

Effective Base Length (EBL)

Viewfinder magnification is one aspect of a rangefinder that helps you focus, the other is rangefinder base length. Rangefinder base length is the distance between the rangefinder window and the viewfinder (number 4 and 2 respectively in the image above). The longer the rangefinder base length and the higher the viewfinder magnification, the easier it is to obtain critical focus, especially with wide aperture lenses shot wide open.


When comparing the potential accuracy of rangefinders, we need a common ground. This is called Effective Base Length or EBL. EBL is a number you calculate by taking the rangefinder’s actual base length (RB) and multiplying it by the viewfinder magnification (VM):

RB x VM = EBL

Again, the longer your rangefinder’s EBL, the more accurate you’ll be able to focus (in theory).

The Leica M3 has the accolade of being the standard by which all Leica M cameras are measured. It has a 0.91x magnification viewfinder and a 68.5mm rangefinder base length. Multiply these together and you get 62.33mm. I’ve compared the M3’s EBL (marked as 100% for this comparison) in the table below.

Camera nameViewfinder magnificationRangefinder base length (RB)Effective base length (EBL)VS Leica M3
Leica M30.91x68.5mm
62.33mm100%
Leica M6 Classic 0.720.72x69.25mm49.86mm79%
Leica M6 Classic 0.850.85x69.25mm58.86mm94%

These numbers aren’t a statement of “best”. What they tell us that the 0.85 M6’s viewfinder is potentially more accurate than the 0.72. What you don’t see here is the 0.85 viewfinder is effectively useless for critical framing with a 35mm lens if you wear glasses…hence this very long article. The higher the viewfinder magnification is obviously helpful for shooting longer lenses (as I do).

One thing to note is that the 0.85 viewfinders make it easier to also use “two eye focusing”. This a technique where you keep both eyes open, with your right eye looking through the viewfinder while you frame and focus. It doesn’t work 100% for everyone but when you get used to it, it feels wonderfully intuitive — especially on the M3.

Focusing the Leica M6

If you’re used to using an SLR, you might be using a matte focusing grid, which relies on your eyesight to discern if your subject is in focus. You might also be using a split-image fresnel which splits the center of your focus screen into two halves of a circle. Bring the two halves together and you’ve nailed focus.

Rangefinder focusing is quite similar to the latter. See the diagram below, which has been adapted from Leica’s documentation:


Illustration credit: Leica M camera documentation.
Illustration credit: Leica M camera documentation

It can be quite confusing when you first use a rangefinder. You might not even notice the rangefinder patch to begin with! With a little practice and a bit of experience, using a rangefinder will quickly become second nature for both snapshots and critical focus.

One of the advantages of a rangefinder camera is that the viewfinder does not show the lenses actual depth of field. This makes zone focusing incredibly easy. I won’t deal with that in this article but there’s a great article over on the ILFORD blog with covers the basics.

TTL light meter

The Leica M6 provides through-the-lens (TTL) light metering. Rather than pointing at a shutter speed in the finder like the Leica M5 or many SLR film cameras, the Leica M6’s meter shows how close the selected shutter speed and aperture combination is to the meter’s reading.

In other words, the camera will tell you how close it thinks you are to the “correct” exposure for the scene but won’t tell you the aperture/shutter speed combination you’re using. The meter guides you via a pair of triangular LEDs at the bottom of the viewfinder.

To use the light meter, first make sure the desired film speed has been set using the dial on the cameras rear plate. Next, lightly press the shutter button down until the LED(s) light up. Finally, rotate the shutter speed dial or your lens’ aperture ring until both LEDs are lit with equal (dim) intensity.

These are the light meter’s five main states:

DisplayStateAction
Underexposure by at least one f-stop.Underexposure by at least one f-stop.Turn the aperture ring clockwise (wider aperture), or turn shutter speed dial counter-clockwise (slower speed).
Underexposure by half an f-stop.Underexposure by half an f-stop.Turn the aperture ring clockwise (wider aperture), or turn shutter speed dial counter-clockwise (slower speed).
Correct exposure.Correct exposure.No action required.
Overexposure by half an f-stop.Overexposure by half an f-stop.Turn the aperture ring counter-clockwise (smaller aperture), or turn shutter speed dial clockwise (faster speed).
Overexposure by at least one f-stop.Overexposure by at least one f-stop.Turn the aperture ring counter-clockwise (smaller aperture), or turn shutter speed dial clockwise (faster speed).

In addition, the M6’s light meter LEDs will flash if you try to use it in very low light or even on dull days with a small aperture set on your lens. If you’re shooting in very low light, it may take the second or two for the LEDs to show.

If you were paying attention at the top of this article I noted that the Leica M6 was the first Leica M to feature a “lens cap on” warning. It’s true, albeit a half-truth. The same low-light warning will also be triggered if a lens cap is still on your lens, thus saving you the embarrassment of a roll of film with nothing but blank frames. As I said, half-truth but a truth nonetheless.


The light meter’s photocell reads light coming through the lens that is reflected off 12mm diameter circular white patch on the first shutter curtain. You can see it with the shutter advanced and with the lens off. The brightness of this patch can vary from camera to camera but if yours isn’t perfectly white, don’t worry too much about it. As the M6’s light meter reads through the lens, any filters mounted to your lenses will be compensated for, from skylight and coloured filters all the way down to IR filters and opaque multi-stop ND filters or variable ND filters.

According to Leica, the M6’s meter is based on a spot in the center of the viewfinder covering between 23% and 66% of the field of view of your lens. These diagrams from the M6 manual put that into perspective:

Leica M6 Light Meter Coverage. Illustration credit: Leica documentation
Leica M6 Light Meter Coverage.
Illustration credit: Leica documentation

The M6’s meter runs from ISO 6/9° to 6400/39° in ⅓-stop increments. There is no DX Coding support. The camera doesn’t have an off switch but with the shutter dial set to its bulb mode (B on the dial) the meter is effectively disabled. The meter is also disabled if the shutter has been fired but the film has not been wound on.

When set to any other shutter speed (with the shutter ready to fire), the meter will be activated by a light press of the shutter button and will remain on for approximately 10 seconds. If your camera is in a bag, be careful to make sure the shutter button is free of anything that can push down on it or you might find yourself with a dead meter the next time you take it out.

With the meter set to ISO 100, you have a working range of EV 0-20. To put that another way, that’s 1 second at f/1 up to 1/1000 second at f/32.

Tip: If your meter’s LEDs are not appearing on a light press, check the film has been advanced before you reach for a fresh set of batteries!

Shutter

The M6 features a horizontal focal plane shutter made of rubberized cloth (both first and second curtain). As with all cloth shutters, it is inadvisable to leave the camera pointed at the sun without a lens cap on, as you can burn a hole through the shutter in mere seconds under the right conditions. I’ve done this myself (on a large format Graflex). Don’t be me.

Leica M6 and M6 TTL cloth shutter assembly. Image credit: Leica promotional material
Leica M6 and M6 TTL cloth shutter assembly.
Image credit: Leica promotional material

The shutter runs from its top speed of 1/1000 second down to 1 second and bulb in full stop increments: 1/1000 second, 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 and 1 second. The camera’s single shutter release button has a standard thread mount for shutter release attachments such as timers, cables or air bulbs.


The Leica M6’s shutter is like all other Leica rangefinder shutters: quiet.

Flash

The M6 can be used with the vast majority of Leica flash units, as well as those from third parties such as Metz and Sunpack. As the M6 “Classic” does not support TTL flash, setting your unit to A mode or similar will allow you to use the unit as you would on any other manual camera.

The M6’s fastest flash sync is 1/50 second, which sits as an intermediate notch between the 1/60 and 1/30 mark on the shutter speed dial. Flashbulbs/cubes can be synced from 1/30 down to bulb.

Power

The Leica M6 only requires batteries for its light meter. It’s shutter works 100% mechanically. The meter is powered by a single 3v or two 1.5v batteries (1xDuracell DL 1/3 or 2xLR44 or SR44 cells or their equivalents).

Based on approximately 15 seconds of metering per frame, Leica tells us that a fresh set of batteries will last for 4,800 exposures — about 133 rolls of 36 exposure 35mm film — or 20 hours with the shutter button pressed down continuously.

The light meter’s LEDs will appear solid when the meter is activated and will blink when the batteries are low or when there is not enough light coming in through the lens (low light or more likely, you left the lens cap on).

Flashing LEDs don’t mean you need to replace batteries right away and the light meter will continue to provide accurate readings until they’re completely exhausted.

Loading and unloading film

The M6 features the quick loading system first introduced with the Leica M2R and brought to the mass market by the M4 range. To load film, simply remove the bottom plate — after a light turn of the rewind crank to make sure there’s not already film loaded — and flip up the hinged back.


Next pull out the film leader to just shy of the camera’s width and drop in the film canister while feeding the film across the rear of the shutter. The tip of your film leader should be long enough so that 6-8mm sits inside the take up spool’s three-pronged circular “fork”.

Make sure the film’s sprockets are engaged with the camera’s gearing, flip down the hinged back, return the base plate and lock it. The basic film feeding instructions are helpfully present on the underside of the camera, in case you forget. Just in case, I’ve drawn up a larger version for you below.

Leica film loading guide found on the underside of the Leica M2R, M4, M4-2, M4-P, M6, M6TTL, M7, M-A and MP. Illustration credit: EMULSIVE.
Leica film loading guide found on the underside of the Leica M2R, M4, M4-2, M4-P, M6, M6TTL, M7, M-A and MP.
Illustration credit: EMULSIVE

With a fresh roll of film loaded, fire and wind-on the shutter twice until the camera’s film counter shows “0”. You should have noticed the rewind crank rotating when you were winding the film on. If not, take a few seconds and gently turn the crank clockwise for a few turns until you feel resistance. If you don’t feel any, your film has not been correctly loaded.

Tip: Thin film stocks may require more turns of the crank but be careful.

To an exposed roll, first disengage the camera’s rewind clutch (on the front of the camera) by flipping it down clockwise towards the engraved “R”. Next, flip out the rewind crank and turn it clockwise until you feel zero resistance and the crank spins freely.

Turn the camera upside down, then unlock and remove the baseplate, then turn the camera right way up and the exposed film cartridge should fall into the palm of your hand. 36 opportunities for greatness await.

Lenses, use with

The Leica M6 is compatible with nearly every single Leica M-mount lens ever made, as well as LTM (Leica Thread Mount) M39 and L39 lenses made by Leica, Canon, Nikon and a host of other manufacturers.

Using LTM lenses
To use LTM lenses, all you need is an LTM-to-M adapter for the focal length of your lens. These screw onto the thread of your LTM lens, replacing it with a Leica M-mount. The Leica M-mount flange focal distance (the distance from the mount to the film plane was intentionally made a little longer than the screwmount Leicas that preceded it — 27.80mm for LTM vs 28.80 for M-mount.


This was to ensure that users with existing LTM lenses would be able to use them with the new M-mount. Most LTM lenses will couple with the M6’s rangefinder cam, meaning you can focus them in the viewfinder.

Notes on LTM adapters
LTM to M-mount adapters should be matched to the lenses they’re being used on. You can use, for example, a 135mm adapter with a 28mm lens but bear in mind that with the M6, you’d see 35/135mm framelines in the viewfinder, not 28/90mm.

Some adapters are better than others. My advice would be to find a middle of the road manufacturer as opposed to a very cheap or very expensive (Leica branded) one. On the subject of LTM lenses, it’s worth double-checking they were originally rangefinder coupled to ensure that you can both focus using the camera’s rangefinder patch and use viewfinder’s built-in parallax correction.

“Goggle” lenses
The M6 “Classic” is the same height as the M1, M2, M3 and M4 variants, meaning that it can be used with Leica’s “goggle” lenses. The later M6 TTL is 2mm taller due to extra flash electronics. This extra height means that the “goggle optics of the following can cause problems:

  • 50mm f/2 Dual Range Summicron
  • 35mm f/2.8 Summaron M3
  • 135mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M 

Incompatible lenses
According to Leica, the following lenses can be mounted onto and used normally with the Leica M6. the only exception being that the light meter won’t work:

  • Hologon 15mm f/8
  • Super-Angulon-M 21mm f/4
  • Super-Angulon-M 21mm f/3.4
  • Elmarit-M 28mm f/2.8 (up to serial number 2314921)

Collapsible lenses work just fine on the M6, just make sure you extend them before taking a photograph — more a user problem than a camera problem…

Variations and special editions

The Leica M6 has the dubious accolade of having the most official special editions produced of any Leica before or since. The 1994 M6J discussed above is the stand-out for its finder upgrade, low volume (1,640) units and an astronomical price tag of US$9,000 when new. The camera was produced to celebrate 40 years of Leica M camera production, with 40 produced for each year (1,640 copies). The camera is identical to the M6 0.85 which came 4 years later in 1994 but with the addition of an M3-style wind-on lever and engraved brass top plate.

Most other special editions — including the unofficial “Panda”, which was a chrome body with a black finlm wind-on lever, shutter speed dial and rewind crank — offered mostly cosmetic changes such as engravings, colours or finishes.


Aside from the M6J and Panda versions, the only other special edition worth mentioning, in my opinion, is the Leica M6 Titanium. Known by some as the Leica M6 Titan or Leica M6/T, it was announced at 1992’s Photokina and featured a brass top and bottom plate, both of which were coated with titanium (along with some other components). It was produced in limited quantities and three lenses were made available with the same finish:

  • Leica Summicron-M 35mm f2 ASPH
  • Leica Summicron-M 50mm f/2
  • Leica APO-Summicron-M 90mm f/2 ASPH

It would be madness to try and include all the M6 special editions ever made. Here’s a link to Wikipedia in case you’re interested.

Production and materials

Internally, the M6 features the use of (some) steel gearing as opposed to brass, which was first introduced with the original Leica MP and MP2 of 1958-59. Some Leica purists compare film wind-on action of the M6 and other steel-geared Leicas to mixing gravel with cement but you really shouldn’t pay any attention to them. These cameras work perfectly fine and do not make your photography or experience better or worse as a result of the newer, more resilient materials used.

Saying that, there are subtle differences in the way earlier brass-geared cameras feel to the steel-geared versions. The most important thing to state is that more than any other Leica I’ve used, my M6 (TTL) simply gets out of the way, steel gears or not.

Leica M6 and M6 TTL internal mechanism cross section. Image credit: Leica promotional material
Leica M6 / M6 TTL internal mechanism cross section.
Image credit: Leica promotional material

The change from brass to steel allowed the use of Leica’s motor winder options (rather difficult/troublesome with softer brass gears). The additional strength and durability the steel components bring isn’t without issue but the potential problems aren’t something I expect many, if any, film photographers reading this article today will encounter. If the wind-on mechanism jams, forcing the camera to wind would likely result in stripped brass gears — easily replaceable — however, harder steel gears have been known to destroy the entire winder mechanism. Over the years I have read two, maybe three accounts of this, none of which were experienced first hand by the author/individual telling the story.

Approximately 132,000 Leica M6’s were made between 1984 and 1998, making it the second highest production run of any Leica after the M3. Early M6’s were made at Leica’s Wetzlar facility and are marked as such marked on the top plate, “ERNST LEITZ WETZLAR GMBH”. These cameras also came with a red “Leitz” logo. In 1988 Leica moved production of the M6 to Solms. Cameras produced here had no markings on the top of the camera. Instead, they were stamped with “LEICA GMBH GERMANY” under the film wind-on lever at the rear of the camera. These and future versions also came with a red “Leica” badge on the front.

A number of “big letter” M6s were produced for a short time soon after the camera’s release. These versions simply stated “M6” in a manner very similar to that found on later Leicas. The general format was:

LEICA
M6


White paint lettering on black chrome cameras, black paint lettering on silver chrome cameras. Finally for the main labelling variations, later M6s and subsequent M6 TTLs replaced the “LEICA GMBH GERMANY” rear stamp with two lines of centered text:

LEICA CAMERA
MADE IN GERMANY

Reliability, repairability and upgradeability

The Leica M6 and newer M6 TTL are still able to be repaired directly by Leica and third-party technicians. Meter repairs/replacements are widely available for the classic M6 but not for the M6 TTL. This reason alone is enough for some people to choose the older M6 over the newer M6 TTL.

A short list of camera repair technicians and services follows. If you provide repair, restoration, customisations services, etc., yourself, or would like to add someone you know to the list, please get in touch.

NameWebsiteLocation
European Camera ServiceLinkAustralia, Melbourne
LeicaLinkGermany, Wetzlar
Kanto CameraLinkJapan, Kawasaki
CAMERAWORKS-UKLinkUK, Bury
Newton Ellis & CoLinkUK, Liverpool
Aperture UKLinkUK, London
CCR LutonLinkUK, Luton
YYeCAMERALinkUSA, MA
Sherry KrauterLinkUSA, NY
DAG (Don Goldberg)LinkUSA, WI

The M6 can be upgraded with classic M (single piece, all metal) film wind-on levers but please be aware that Leica (direct) will not perform the upgrade or allow you to buy the parts you need. You need to ask a third party service provider to do it for you.

It’s possible to mask the M6’s frameline pairs and also to upgrade the viewfinder glass to coated optics.

With a top plate made of zinc, repainting the M6 can be difficult but it is possible. I recommend checking out some of the links above to see some of the possibilities.

Motor drives / film winding attachments

Motor drives require hardy camera gearing due to the stresses components are placed under. For Leica Ms, this translates to the MP2 and then the M4-2 onwards.


Unlike SLRs from Nikon, Canon, et al, using a motor drive with a Leica is not a particularly smooth experience. That said, if you really must use a motor winder or other manual film winding attachment, here’s what works with the Leica M6:

NameType
M4-P WinderMotor
Winder M (renamed M4-P Winder)Motor
Leica Motor MMotor
Tom Abrahamsson Leica RapidwinderManual
Leicavit M (14008 or 14009)Manual

Accessories

An uncomfortable strap was provided with the M6. I dislike them terribly but some don’t. To state the obvious, there are many, many excellent third-party options out there.

I personally use a black Yosemite strap from Japan’s Extended Photographic Material for my M6 TTL and a Hyperion strap for my modified M2. If you’re after something leather, check out Luigi Cases (formerly Leicatime). The website is a web design time machine from the 1990s but don’t let that fool you, his workmanship, while not inexpensive, is second to none.

Leica M6 Silver Chrome and aged Luigi case/strap.
Image Credit: Aislinn Chuahiock

Luigi also makes some fantastic cases (above), as do a number of others. Leica provide a number of first-party case options, both hard and soft leather, as well as larger kit cases. I don’t know anyone who persists in using them. I had a half case when I first purchased my M6 TTL 0.85 but it only lasted a week before I ditched it for bare metal.

Various hard grips are also available from Leica and a number of OEM manufacturers in black/silver. That said, a colour changing Butter Grip might also tickle your fancy. I use mine exclusively when meeting other Leica owners.

Finally, I highly recommend getting a SLING from Leica Goodies. It might come across as hyperbole but this little thing changed my life and can now be found on both my Leica M bodies and my Olympus XA. It’s stupidly simple, incredibly comfortable and perfect for use in conjunction with my Peak Design Cuff. Best of all, it works with or without a grip mounted.

The Leica M6 vs the Leica M6 TTL

I’m going to break this out into its own dedicated article. Until then, there are really only a few reasons why you’d want to purchase one over the other:

The M6 beats the M6 TTL when:


  • You don’t want to spend an extra ~US$500.
  • You need the light meter repaired.
  • You don’t need or expect to use TTL flash.
  • You are an existing Leica owner and are easily confused.

The M6 TTL beats the M6 when:

  • You have the extra cash on hand.
  • You want a viewfinder suitable for wide-angle lenses (0.58 magnification option).
  • You are an existing Leica owner and are not easily confused (or this is your first Leica).
  • You like things to make sense.

The three main differences between these cameras are:

  • The M6 TTL’s light meter has easier to read LEDs and comes with an extra dot in the middle to let you know you’ve matched its reading. It’s also easier to read.
  • The M6 TTL’s shutter button is huge and can be adjusted by swiping a finger across the front of the camera. It’s great and similar in size to the shutter speed dial found on Leicameters over the years.
  • The M6 TTL’s shutter speed dial is “backwards” compared with every Leica that came before it but “correct” for the photographer: selecting shutter speeds now works in the same direction as indicated by the light meter.

This illustration I put together should help clarify the last two points above:

Leica M6 and M6 TTL top plate - Illustration credit: EMULSIVE
Leica M6 and M6 TTL top plates.
Illustration credit: EMULSIVE

Combining the M6 TTL’s light meter display, the “reversed” shutter speeds and bigger shutter speed dial make for a potent combination. Look through the viewfinder, and swipe your right index finger over the front of the camera until a single red dot appears in front of you. No awkwardly pinching a at tiny shutter button click-click-click.

With the M6, when the light meter tells you your shutter speed/aperture combination will result in underexposure, an arrow points to the right. Leica tells you to turn the lens’ aperture ring in the same direction (clockwise), which makes sense, as you’ll open it up. That is, until you realise that most people don’t work like that and will want to adjust the shutter speed dial instead. Turning the shutter speed dial on the M6 Classic to the right (clockwise again) will set a faster speed and thus add further underexposure.

The M6 TTL fixes this by flipping the speeds around on the dial. When the meter LED points to the right (underexposure), turning the shutter speed dial in the same direction (clockwise) reduces the shutter speed. When it points left (overexposure), turning the dial in the same direction (anti-clockwise) results in a faster shutter speed being set.

Only the M6 TTL and M7 share this “funny” shutter speed dial aberration. I love it and personally don’t have a problem when I switch from my M6 TTL to an M2 or other Leica M. Some people do, hence the “easily confused” points above.

Leica M6 vs the Leica M4, M4-2 and M4-P

I see this question asked all the time and the answers are mostly too complicated and rarely get to the bottom of it. The short version: the Leica M6 is essentially an M4, M4-2 or M4-P without a light meter.


The simple specific differences being:

  • If you want a meterless M6, go for an M4-P.
  • If you want a meterless M6, without 28mm or 75mm framelines, go for an M4-2.
  • If you want a meterless M6, without 28mm or 75mm framelines but WITH a self-timer, go for an M4.

Better still, use this tool I created to find the perfect Leica for you.

Final thoughts, strengths and weaknesses

The first thing older Leica shooters will tell you is that the M6 and other more recent mechanical Leicas cannot compare to the original M3 or M2. This is rubbish. The M6 feels great in the hand — just like any Leica M — and shoots as well as any Leica M that came before or after.

In SLR terms it’s somewhere between a Nikon F3 and an FM2. There’s enough new stuff in there to make the some of old guard wary of it and thus, spin a few yarns. Some folks won’t like the double-jointed film wind-on lever and I’ll admit that it took some getting used to for me but to bottom-line it: you need to use the Leica M6 it to fully understand and appreciate it.

The M6 (and M6 TTL) are less fussy than the M7 and importantly, not hobbled by needing power in order to function. There’s only a half-press of the shutter button to activate the meter or a full press to fire the shutter. Just like the older mechanical Nikons (and older Leicas), there’s just enough resistance in the shutter button so when you do proceed beyond that half-press, you can feel exactly when it’s going to trip. I love that on my FT3 and F2, and I love that on my M6. That’s not hyperbole, it’s useful haptic feedback that’s very welcome regardless of the speed you’re shooting at but certainly useful on the lower end of the range.

Film wind-on is pretty smooth, although there’s a definite feeling of sharp-toothed gears mushing together. That might make you think it’s a bit clunky. It’s not. You can wind on in a single action, or by making 2-3 short strokes.

Finally for strengths — and this is true of all rangefinders with TTL light meters — shooting infrared film is ridiculously easy in comparison to an SLR. There’s no need to frame, meter, add the filter and then shoot blind. With an IR filter mounted on a lens, your world view is completely unaffected and you can simply run and gun!

Note: It’s possible to perform multiple exposures with the M6 and most other Leicas, although probably not advised. Here’s how. Fire the shutter, flip down and hold the film rewind clutch and wind the camera on to prime the shutter without winding on film. Please be aware there will be crunchy sounds.


With so much in the “strengths” corner, you’d almost be forgiven for thinking I have nothing bad to say about this camera. Truth be told, there aren’t many but I’ll try. I won;t be mentioning the price as a bad point. It is what it is and technically, most vanilla M6s can be purchased for about half of their original retail price. These cameras have always been expensive.

First of all, if you’re not a fan of rangefinder cameras, this Leica, or any Leica rangefinder is not going to be for you. I drove myself in circles abut this before eventually coming round to the idea and I can summarise it all in a few bullet points:

  • If you’re curious about a Leica “being for you” and have the money to spend, buy one. If you don’t like it, you’re guaranteed to get your money back (and maybe a bit more).
  • If you’re curious about a Leica “being for you”, don’t have the money to spend and have never used a rangefinder, spend a bit less on something like a Canon 7 or Leica CL to see if it’s for you. Again these can be sold on without leaving you in the red.
  • If you’re curious about a Leica “being for you”, don’t have the money to spend but have used rangefinder cameras before and hated them…it’s a tough one. I came back to rangefinders via longer focal lengths after having sworn off them. Follow the second point above and see if anything sticks.

For the record, there’s a reason I haven’t suggested older (small window) rangefinders above. I don’t like them and they’re not close enough to the Leica M experience to warrant inclusion here.

On to specific weaknesses of the M6 and the first is a QC issue. Some copies exhibit a “bubbling” on the top plate. It looks ugly but is, generally speaking, harmless and does not affect the camera’s operation. The bright side of this is that you can purchase M6 and M6 TTLs with this problem for a fair bit cheaper than examples without.

In low light, the meter’s LEDs are way too bright and can leave ghosts in your vision. It’s not really a huge issue but personally does contribute to eye strain.

The shutter button is ludicrously easy to trip by accident — especially with a soft shutter release cap screwed into it — that said, I’ve found it to be a common issue with all Leica Ms. Perhaps it’s just me?

The battery cap is odd, can often be screwed down too tightly — requiring an awkward push-in-and-twist action — or will come loose of its own accord. Be sure to check yours every time you take your M6 out. These things fall out so much that several industrious sellers are offering 3rd party replacement options for them. Also I’ve found the paint on my M6 TTL’s battery cover to have worn off much faster than elsewhere on the camera…not that it bothers me but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t nit-picking.

Finally for weaknesses — and this is somewhere between a stretch and a personal choice — according to some opinions, black chrome versions don’t age as gracefully as other all-brass Leicas such as the M2, M3 or MP. This is down to that zinc top plate, which is coated with a layer of nickel before being coated in black chrome. The result of extended use/rubbing against objects or inside your camera bag are shiny silvery points, as opposed to the brass patina many people have some to expect. I personally like it. Your mileage may vary.

All that’s left to say is this: The M6 is as you might expect, a fantastic camera and like every Leica M that came before it, it’s a real workhorse. These things were made to be used and to take a bit of abuse. I’m not encouraging you to scrape yours against a brick wall but be assured that it will likely outlast you.

If you’re a fan of rangefinder cameras, haven’t used a Leica before and you have a bit of spare cash burning a hole in your pocket, you could do much worse than buying an M6. Worst case scenario, you’ll hate it, sell it on and make your money back. Best case scenario? You might never buy another camera again.

~ EM

Ps. “…never buy another camera again”? Yeah, right.

Full technical specifications

Camera nameLeica M6
Camera type35mm interchangeable lens rangefinder
Film format/Image size35mm (135)
36 x 24mm
ManufacturerLeica Camera AG
Manufacture dates1984-1998

Lens mountLeica M-mount
27.80mm flange focal distance
ViewfinderBrightline frame viewfinder and automatic parallax-compensation

0.72x magnification with the following framelines:

- 28mm + 90mm (paired)
- 35mm + 135mm (paired)
- 50mm + 75mm (paired)

0.85x magnification with the following framelines:

- 35mm + 135mm (paired)
- 50mm + 75mm (paired)
- 90mm (single)
FocusingSplit-image rangefinder
ShutterMechanical horizontal focal plane
Rubberised cloth

1s - 1/1000s with Bulb and 1/50s flash sync
MeteringCenter-weighted (between 23-66% of the frame)
ASA 6 - 6400 (in ⅓ stop increments)
Operates between EV 0-20 (at ISO 100)
Film advance / RewindLever advance (single stroke).
Counter resets after baseplate is removed.
Folding crank rewind.
FlashHot Shoe, PC Sync
LoadingLeica quick loading
Power1x DL 1/3N
2x LR44/SR44
FinishSilver Chrome
Black Chrome
Weight585 g / 20.6 oz (body only)
Dimensions
(appx)
138 × 77 × 33.5 mm (WxHxD)
AccessoriesLeica strap
Ever ready case options

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17 thoughts on “An in-depth guide to: The Leica M6 (aka M6 Classic / M6 Non-TTL)”

  1. I have owned both the Leica M6 (non-ttl) and the M7. Sold them both.
    I thought they would be the ultimate travel cameras, but I found the LED readout in the viewfinders too distracting. The M7 was an early model. Leica installed a new circuit board, but it still was unreliable (sold it with full disclosure) and returned to a M4-P. Much happier. I know there are legions of M6, M6 TTL and M7 users and they are quite satisfied with the cameras. I was not one of them I’m sorry to say.

    Reply
  2. I’m sure this will become the go-to guide for anyone looking to purchase an M6! One quick thing: where you say, “the M6’s meter is based on a spot in the center of the viewfinder covering between 23% and 66% of the field of view of your lens“… from the diagram it looks like it covers an approximately constant proportion (~23%) of the field of view of the lens. It’s only the proportion of the field of view in the viewfinder which changes. My observation also seems to agree with the M6 manual that I’ve seen, which says “the metering field covers approximately 23% of the viewfinder field corresponding to the lens being used.”

    Reply
  3. Great! I agree with all this. One thing not mentioned is that the M6 TTL is taller. I prefer the original M6 because it is identically sized to the M3. Once the M range started getting taller and fatter, it lost something. My keepers are the M3 and M6 (0.85), but not the M6 TTL.

    Reply
  4. EM, such a fantastic read. I have owned both and foolishly sold them, I would love to replace one but now the prices have catapulted in the last 18 months Boo-hoo. However, you might be interested in this comment I received last week from Sherry Krauter famed Leica fixer in the states “…You might want to rethink the purchase of a M6TTL camera. The circuit boards are dying and there are no boards anywhere in the world…”

    Reply
  5. After reading your beautifully written in-depth article, I have found I was enjoying my M6 Classic even more! Thank you.

    Reply
  6. Very interesting article . I have two Leica M6 cameras and two sets of lenses from 28 mm to 90 mm and one extra 135 mm lens which I seldom use . Over the years I shot many wonderful photos of my children with this super camera and it was always a joy to use . I still use a number of my Leica and Zeiss ZM lenses my Sony A7 MK ll Camera .
    I used to keep one M6 loaded with color film and one with Tri X film which I really loved for portraits .
    Thanks to my Leica I had an opportunity one time on Martha’s Vineyard to spend an hour and a half with Mr. Leica Alfred Eisenstaedt and shot some wonderful photos of him , and some fun photos of he and Lulu is deceased wife’s sister .
    I thought many times since his passing that I missed a golden opportunity of not handing my camera to him and having him shoot a few photos of me . He was a very interesting guy who I felt very honored to spend some time with .
    For many years in the middle of the week, so the shows wouldn’t be overrun by tourists he used to put on a benefit slideshow of hundreds of his amazing photos , and the proceeds would go to help various charitable organizations on the Vineyard . The slides would change from year to year but every year he included three wonderful photos of Sophia Loren hugging him . He used to precede showing those three slides by saying the next three slides are very happy German man. Who wouldn’t be happy being hugged by Sophia Loren !
    I also pulled out a Rolleiflex camera , when he saw that he said I love the Rolleifex camera . He said life magazine made us turn in our Rollei’s and gave us Hasselblad camera’s . Ziss Camera I never liked , I much preferred the Rollei he said !
    I remember thinking at the time that if he said that publicly Rollei might’ve sent him a shipload of cameras ! Having owned both I agree with Eisie on that one , although you can’t change lenses on the Rollei .
    Time for me to call it a day but it was really interesting to read your wonderful article . You may have inspired me to get back out and shoot again with my Leica.
    My wife was a great photographer , and his husband who passed away was a very well-known photographer who’s studio in New York when he gave it up became studio, adventurous lady who loves photography to enjoy the last chapter with .
    After eight years alone , I wish I could find a wonderful adventurous gal who is also interested in photography to enjoy the last chapter with .

    Bill Hayden
    Old Saybrook , Ct .
    wahayden@gmail.com

    Reply
  7. The 135 f2.8 with specycles works well with the M6TTL. I have used it for more than 15 years with no issues. No experience with either the dual range 50 or the 35.

    Reply

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