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.
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,
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