A brief affair with a Leica M6

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Earlier this winter I had the pleasure of handling a Leica M6, and actually using it for a few days. Thank you, Chris!

Like many amateur photographers, I’ve often lusted after Leicas but figure I’ll never actually spend the money to own one.  After carrying this one around a little, I can see why people are willing to spend big bucks on these.  They are simply beautifully designed and built pieces of machinery.  It feels wonderful to hold.  A Leica in your hands seems to build confidence.  The solid feel, the weight, the smooth focusing lens, the precise feel of everything, the simplicity of it, all come together to make it feel like this is what a camera is supposed to be.  I can see why — according to Canon’s own website — when Leica first released the M3, Canon gave up on making rangefinders to focus on SLRs:

It was reported that Canon’s engineers who saw the “Leica M3” for the first time were greatly shocked by the level of perfection in the camera as represented by the brightness and visibility of its viewfinder, as well as by the accuracy of its rangefinder. In spite of the fact that their improved model “IV Sb2” had received good acceptance from its users, Canon engineers realized that, with the debut of the “Leica M3,” the camera world was about to experience great change. This heralded the era of great changes in cameras, leading the company to seek new directions.

Since it was difficult to imitate the “Leica M3” introduced in 1954 in terms of its bright viewfinder and accurate rangefinder, many camera manufacturers, including Canon, were forced to shift their development goals to the camera that would lead the world’s market in the future. What Japanese camera manufacturers, including Canon, decided was to concentrate on the single lens reflex (SLR) camera with system capabilities, which could be developed using Japan’s own technology. This SLR camera was to become the new camera, which would be accepted by the world, capable of overcoming the previous limitations of the rangefinder cameras including the use of telephoto lenses.

There you have it — Canon admits that it was the superior Leica that drove them out of the rangefinder business (though up until the M3, the Canon rangefinders were keeping pace with Leica).

I think maybe what I liked best about this camera was carrying it around.  Sounds odd maybe, but the weight and size of it, combined with a really nice strap that Chris has on the camera, makes it just feel right tucked snugly against my side, with the strap slung over my opposite shoulder.

Shooting it was a little difficult for me because of the lens that was on it (35mm f/2 Summicron).  The framelines for the 35mm lens are a little wide in the rangefinder for someone wearing glasses, so I had a hard time framing up shots.  I’d have to shift my eye around to see the framelines.  With a 50mm lens, the framelines would work great for me, but anything wider is tough to view while wearing glasses — at least it was for me.

I didn’t have much time to actually use it while I had it, but I managed to take a couple of walks with it and shot some random stuff just to try it out.  The results below aren’t anything too special, partly because I was just shooting some stuff quickly to try the camera out, and partly because the film somehow got fogged.  I don’t know if something went wrong with developing (at Dwayne’s Photo, so I doubt they did anything wrong), or something happened in shipping, or what.  I’ll never know, but the negs are pretty low in contrast because of the fogging, so I had to adjust them a lot in Lightroom to make anything look decent. This resulted in some super grainy images because the contrast had to be punched up so much.

I also didn’t nail focus on all of my shots, which surprised me, because I thought I was right on.  One of the huge advantages Leicas have over other rangefinders is the bright rangefinder spot that makes focusing quick and easy, so I don’t know how I messed that up, but some of my shots were not focused properly.

Overall I really loved using it, and I felt like I could just keep carrying it around forever.  I still doubt that I’ll ever own one, but you never know.  I guess I can picture myself one day downsizing my arsenal of old cameras to a very small selection of really good useable, practical cameras, and a nice Leica could certainly fit into that small collection.

Though it was a brief affair, I will look back fondly on my days spent with her.

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all shot on Kodak Tmax 400
Developed and scanned at Dwayne’s

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Riley

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Polaroid 180
Fuji FP-100C
© Rick Schuster

I’ve been shooting black and white film in this camera until just recently.  I loaded up some color film thinking I’d shoot one more roll before putting this camera on ebay, and man, color is where this thing shines.  Not sure if I want to part with it now.  I love the look of this.  Such beautiful warmth.

This was shot with Fuji FP-100C film that expired over two years ago (and hasn’t been refrigerated).  I’ve heard that the new Impossible Project film is all over the board for color, even varying from one batch to another, but this Fuji film is solid.

about the Polaroid 180