Leica M6 TTL: Buying a "new" example of a classic film camera
Even at the risk of being hanged, drawn and quartered on the altar of the Leica fetishisism ... of all the analogue M series cameras, the M6 s my favourite, followed closely by the M4. Not the M3, not the M2. Nor, even, the unsuccessful M5, which many now appreciate much later than they did when they decided not to buy one back in the 1970s. But, everybody loves an underdog and the M5 is now getting some TLC after all these years.
My M6 in chrome hails from 1995, a superbly preserved, chic piece of gear. The M6 inherited all the genes of the M4, which possibly represents the peak of the evolution of purely mechanical rangefinder cameras. The M4 improved on the M3 in many small details without sacrificing quality of materials.
After that disaster with the M5 — you cannot call it anything else — the company had to knuckle down and economise. So the M4 was reissued for a time and then reintroduced with cheaper parts in the guise of the M4-2 and the later M-P, most of them made in Canada. However, once the company had recovered from the M5 débâcle thanks to the extension of the M4’s production life, along came the M6. It has all the advantages of the M4, but, as a small bonus, incorporates a light meter.
A skilled photographer can estimate the exposure in many situations, but if my favourite mechanical camera has some electronics to make life easier, I will not say no. But last summer, the meter on my M6 said goodbye in the middle of a shooting session. I was still able to use the camera and, Leica’s customer care department has long since put things right. Indeed, the M6 accompanied me last year to Scotland, among other places, where she served me well.
Recently I did some research with a view to adding a couple of new pages devoted to the M240 to my web site. Along the way I stumbled upon the Leicaphilia blog which I occasionally visit anyway. My eye was drawn to a notification that a dealer in Hong Kong was offering brand new, original boxed M6 TTLs. Following the link to HK was a fatal mistake — in terms of my finances, that is. There were exactly two M6 TTL black chrome cameras still in stock, for 1,879 euros each. I had just sold my M9-P, my Pay Pal account was well upholstered, so I didn’t think twice before hitting the BUY button.
In my estimation, the M6 TL represents the peak of evolution within the M6 family. While exposure measurement of the original M6 "TTL" was already "through the lens”, the TTL moniker actually refers to the addition of TTL flash metering.
But the M6 TTL was improved in other ways. First, the shutter speed dial is larger and thus easier to rotate with the index finger when you hold the camera to the eye. Second, it turns in the opposite direction to its predecessor on the M6. That was pretty clever for the following reason: The exposure meter indicator arrows in the viewfinder now point in the direction you want to turn to to set the correct time. The display now also has a dot between the arrows that illuminates when the exposure is properly adjusted. Of course, that is what the camera believes. All I can say is that you should always think for yourself, otherwise you can have a lot of false exposures.
Incidentally, the TTL speed dial now has an extra "off" switch for the electronics, with the classic M6 you always had to remember to set it to "B", otherwise inadvertent pressing of the shutter button while the camera is in the bag might run down the battery.
Secondly, the M6 TTL as introduced with different viewfinder magnifications. My "normal" M6 from 1995 has, for example, a 0.72 magnification finder. There is also a viewfinder frame for 28mm. My "new" TTL has 0.85x magnification, although 0.72x and a wide-angle 0.58x were also available. The 0.85x thus shows the 35mm focal length at full frame but there is no 28mm frame. That suits me well because the 35mm Summicron is my favourite lens on analogue cameras. At this magnification both 50mm and 75mm frames are pleasantly large.
Bureaucracy in Germany, never!
One last hurdle was yet to be overcome ... namely the German customs. A few days ago news came that the parcel was in the main customs office of our area (about 30km away) and I should bring certain documents in order to collect it. I went on my way as soon as I could find the time. The customs officer in charge started the process by enquiring after the contents of the package. My answer caused his eyes to gleam. I thought thought the worst, but when I opened the package and took out the camera ("unboxing", I suppose we’d call it, despite the relatively uncongenial location), he took it in his hands with some awe. By happenstance I had stumbled across a Leica fanatic who had himself taken a long shot with R4 and R6, and we had a reminisce about the old days.
Actually, to get the package, I would have to register online on a special page of the customs website. However, flushed with enthusiasm, "my" customs officer said he would do it for me. There followed occasional curses and rhetorical questions about how a normal person without previous knowledge should fill in this form. Among the many clicks was a declaration that the package is guaranteed not to have come from Iran.
It certainly took him 15 minutes, but then he had all the forms together and printed out. Customs and import duties were due, but I had expected that. Thanks to this benevolent Leica-fancying official, I had spared myself about two weeks back and forth to the customs office. So much for alleged bureaucracy.
We talked for a while about the analogue times, then we parted on the best of terms. Now the wonderful pristine M6 TTL sits in front of me on the desk, awaiting its first outing. The time will soon come, I am sure.
Translated rather freely from the original German by Mike Evans, to whom apply with any complaints or observations. Find the original article here.
Read more from Claus Sassenberg at Messsucherwelt.com
Read more about the history of the Leica M4 here
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