The secret behind Leica’s R series is that their optical formulas for their SLR lenses are the same as their famous M mount lenses. A 50mm f/2 Summicron is made by the same people, with the same materials, in the same factories whether it is on an M6 or an R6. The R counterparts go for a fraction of their M equivalents, giving those who want to invest in the Leica system without taking out a mortgage on their home a viable option.

That being said, these are not cheap cameras, and they are not cheap lenses. They are simply cheaper than if you were to buy into the Leica M system.

The R6 is the only all-mechanical offering of Leica’s R series SLRs. The only mechanism requiring battery power is the light meter, which takes two LR or SR44 batteries (or one 357 battery). The light meter offers evaluative and spot meters, accessible at the flick of a switch.

Using the R6 feels natural. The viewfinder is bright and clear. The aperture and shutter speed settings show up in the bottom of the finder similar to Nikon’s F and FM cameras. The light meter is a simple design of two arrows and a dot, one arrow for either under or overexposure and the dot for spot on.

The shutter on the R6 is unique and takes a little time getting used to. There is what feels like a slight dampening on the mirror, giving the impression that there is a slight delay between when you press the shutter button and when the shutter fires. At first, I found this annoying, but after a while, I began to actually prefer it. The dampened shutter is significantly quieter, barely louder than my M3. Once I got used to it, every other camera felt loud and unrefined when I heard it’s mirror clap.

The only complaint I have with the R6 is in the film advance lever. The film advance lever is made out of cheap plastic and feels flimsy, with little to no tension holding it in place when it is extended between frames. It feels like an afterthought on an otherwise amazing camera. The rest of the R6’s construction is ironclad, everything about it begs to be taken into the harshest of conditions.

During the George Floyd protests in New York City, I had my R6 on hand. It was batted out of my hand and hit the asphalt. Nothing more than a few paint chips in damage, but the camera continued to fire as though nothing had happened. That’s one of the reasons why it was the camera of choice for Sebastião Salgado for a large portion of his documentary work.

The real reason for buying into the R system is, as mentioned up top, the lenses. As wonderful as the R6 is (and its electronic equivalents, the R5, R7, & R8), the price tags of each of these cameras are only justified by what you’re putting on them. The Leica R lenses are to SLRs what their M counterparts are to the rest of photography — the standard by which the rest of the industry is measured.

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When comparing Leica R glass to Leica M glass, the price difference justifies the investment. When comparing the Leica R system to any other SLR system, the justification becomes harder. That’s because these lenses are still not cheap. My R6 ran me $400 and my 60mm f/2.8 Macro-Elmarit ran me $750. That’s $1,150 on a single lens manual film SLR. Which, understandably, is more than most people can justify.

For $1,100 you could buy a Canon EOS 1n, a 24mm f/1.4 L, and a 35mm f/1.4L — and those lenses autofocus and are native on Canon EOS digital cameras.

Since Leica ceased production of its R system, the lenses have been happily adopted by cinematographers modifying them for cinema use. With their perfect optical formulas, excellent coatings, and consistent renderings, they have made for an affordable option in comparison to traditional cinema lenses, which run in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Recommending the Leica R6 is kind of like recommending an Aston Martin to someone. If you must have the best, then accept no exceptions. But if you’re looking for a combination of functionality and quality, the Aston Martin will not do anything that a Toyota won’t, except drain your bank account.

The R6 is a camera for those who want nothing but the best. The Canon EOS system, the Nikon F system (specifically the F3, FM2n, FM3a, and F100), or Contax RTS system are for those who want to make pictures with the best quality at the best price, and do so over and over again.

Thanks for reading,

~ Alexander

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About the author

Alexander Laurent

Alexander Laurent is an artist and photographer based in New York.

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13 Comments

 

  1. The advance lever of the R6 is made of METAL – just turn the camera upside down and you will see that the plastic is just a cover that fits over the metal lever. Regards Paul Macnamara

  2. Adam, the meter is the weak spot of the Leicaflex trio. Many bodies are on sale with dud meters and the PX625 1.35v battery is not available and banned. A friend bought a black SL, circa 1974 from Germany two years ago with working meter.
    It came with a Kodak PX625 1.5v alkaline battery in it. We compared readings with my R6, and a Gossen Lunalite. (9v) and found the ‘flex gave under exposure of around half a stop. I suggested that as the R lenses have half stop detents, he centre the needle then backed off half a stop.
    However, he has been forgetting and when we looked at his shots they were great. He uses Ilford XP2 exclusively since I gave him a couple of rolls 15 or so years ago. Tremendous amount of latitude in that film. One can expose it from 50 to 800 iso so a half stop on the aperture makes sod all difference. The cameras and lenses are heavy and there’s something very satisfactory about using this superb gear. Happy shooting. DM.

  3. I bought a Leica R6 last year as I’d used a pair of Leicaflex SL bodies with non working meters for the past 4 years. Hand held meters used as the mercury 1.35v battery unobtainable since 1980?
    As most of my lenses were 3 cam, I was curious about the fully manual R6. It’s a great camera and I’m after a second body for International Photojournalism when the lockdown nonsense stops. WHEN? I thoroughly recommend this body, the meter is great and the lighter weight of the R body as compared with the’flexes is a boon.
    I really do suggest interested parties do as I did and get cracking buying the lenses they need. Digital Johnnies are snapping up Summicrons and Elmarits and Telyts for their plastic Japanese crap to use this fine legacy glass with Chinese made adaptations. So far I’ve managed to find 16/2.8
    28/2.8 35/2 50/2 90/2.8 135/2.8 180/2.8 250/4 and a Japanese made zoom 75-200/4.5. The 180 & 250 are reserved for cricket matches in England as they have tripod mounts. For foreign trips I’ll take 35/50/135. Someone said they were crap, compared with the Leicaflex. The battery dependent R4/5/7/8/9 possibly. The R6 & R6.2, no. They are a compact, sturdy and reliable alternative to the very heavy Leicaflex trio. Of my lenses, only the 16 will not mount on a ‘flex. Batteries are easily found – Boots, and are long lasting. The metering indications are bright and clear. I’m delighted with mine.

  4. I see the ‘it’s basically a Minolta….’ comment all the time when talking about R3 to R7 cameras (I know this is not what you are saying here) and I always like to leap to Minolta’s defence, I have a couple of XD-7’s I use alongside my Leica gear and they are wonderful cameras and MC prime lenses are superb! Ok, the defence rests….

  5. I understand that they also addressed the shutter button travel – this is so long in the R6 that I had to sell mine as it was driving me insane, with too many missed shots.
    I still use an R5, SL2 (Leicaflex) and R9 without any issues.

  6. So M3 or 2 £1000 ish +, plus lens, R6 £500 ish plus lens. I love my R6 had it since new back in the last century. However the cheap way into Leicadom is the first Leicaflex under £190, plus lens . Fabulous camera, M3 quality, with if you’re lucky a working meter, and then a 50mm lens is about £350, I got mine for £200. Took my prices from Red Dot and the Leica Shop in Vienna so you can find cheaper. So for half the price of an M3 body alone , you can be out shootng a very grown up Leica that more than equals an M . I love mine.

  7. How I wish I had realised the point about the lenses ten years ago!

    I have used Leica M for donkeys, mainly because of the lenses. However, there are times I prefer an SLR. I use Olympus OM, and while the OM lenses are good, they are not up with Leica. In about 2010, I bought a whole load of film SLR gear – all OM – that I still use today. Had I only put 2+2 together, I would have gone down the Leica R route instead. Ah, well!

    I still have my M6, M9 and Summicrons, and an OM system I could hardly even dream of when I first had an OM-1 in 1976!

    1. The Leica R6.2 has an increased maximum shutter speed from 1/1000 to 1/2000 and an improved film counter. Other than that, they are generally the same.

      1. Leica R6.2 is improved successor to R6 and was produced from 1987 to 1990 – most noticeable modifications: top shutter speed of 1/2000s (vs. 1/1000s), improved light sensitivity of the metering system and round frame counter with magnifying glass. Bearing in mind relatively modest price difference between 6 and 6.2 I would opt for the later (1/2000!). I had also R9, which is by my opinion really beautiful, totally unique and one of the most advanced SLRs (up to Nikon F4/F5 and Canon EOS-1).

        My experience with R6.2 is a mixed bag, it is a nice, small, reliable camera, but focusing is MUCH harder than with classic Nikons like F2, F3 or Fm2, which have far better, more contrasty focusing screens and 100% viewfinders (F2 and F3). Besides, to be honest, F2 and F3 give much more solid, dense feel in your hands than Leica R6/6.2. Leica R glass is really great, but compared to Nikkor’s much too big, heavy and expensive (e.g. my Summilux-R 35/1.4 ROM was a beast). Because of focusing problems and exaggerated R lenses I sold my Leica R system and I stick to Leica M rangefinder system and Nikon SLR system (Nikon cameras are outstanding, while Nikkor lenses relatively small, well built and optically excellent.

        Best, Peter

  8. Thanks for a comprehensive review! The R lenses are utterly fantastic, and yes they are more than other SLR systems, but they give superb results and are built to last for at least a century. I am not the biggest fan of the Minolta based Rs – I really don’t like the shutter lag and find it annoying, use doesn’t diminish it as my outing with my R7 reminded me today. But the R8 and Leicaflex SL2 I have are sublime. Long may they continue!