Leica M6 versus auto-exposure M7
Film's not dead. This is shaping up to be the theme for this week. And Leica is definitely the foremost proponent of the modern film camera. There are no fewer than three models in the current range, the M-A, MP and M7, to choose from. All offer a different shooting experience although the M-A, which harks back to the simple days of the original M3, is a totally manual device without light metering. The MP uses manual exposure settings, identical to the M6 classic, whereas the M7 incorporates automatic aperture-priority shooting.
If you are in the market for a used Leica with metering, however, it's a pretty clear choice between the M6 and M7. The MP is highly desirable on the used market and I'd rule it out on price alone. It is inevitably more expensive than either the M6 or M7 and is one for the collectors. As a new buy, though, the MP is actually the better choice because depreciation is lower than on the M7.
M7 and M6
The M7, which represents the pinnacle of Leica's film camera development, operates to all intents and purposes in the same way as the M digitals, including the current M10. It is, in effect, a film version of the M10 and offers the same system of automatic aperture-priority exposure. Set the speed dial to auto and all you then have to do is adjust the aperture and the speed will be calculated to suit.
By rights, then, the M7 should be the natural choice for the film enthusiast. But it isn't always so. It's the earlier M6, particularly the "classic" original, that appears to set the film photographers' pulses racing. For some reason that I have never understood, the M7 is underrated and the price is a reflection of this. A good used example can be bought for £1,400-£1,500 which is as little as £300 more than a similar M6 classic.
To my mind this makes the M7 a colossal bargain on the used market, but — using the same logic — not such a bargain when bought new for £3,700 because it will lose its value more rapidly. Either of the two other current models, the MP and the M-A, would be a better long-term bet in terms of value retention. But at under £1,500 the M7 is a great used camera choice and makes a terrific complement to the M10 in use. The controls are identical and you hardly realise that one is digital, the other film.
The M6 TTL shutter speed dial (left) is larger than that of earlier cameras such as the M6 classic and the current MP. Note the OFF position to conserve batteries. The M7 (right) has a similar layout to the current digitals, including the M10, with an on/off switch concentric with the shutter release. The dial features an Auto setting, just like the M10, to allow automatic aperture-priority shooting. Note the line next to 1/60s and 1/125s which indicates that these two speeds can be used mechanically in the event of battery failure
The M6 TTL is the version of the M6 I own. It's the more recent model and its major benefit, from my perspective, is the larger shutter speed dial which is similar in size to that of the M7. It is definitely easier to use and it has another advantage in that the direction of movement is reversed so that it follows the direction arrows in the viewfinder when adjusting speed to match the exposure.
Because of this, the TTL offers a more direct comparison with the M7 in terms of controls and it is the TTL that would be my choice from the M6 era. The M7 just adds to the M6 TTL with its auto speed setting facility. Both the M6 TTL and the M7 carry very similar prices on the used market and you should be able to pick up a good version of either for around £1,500.
However, since the M7’s shutter is dependent on batteries, with only two speeds (1/60s and 1/125s) available mechanically if the batteries should fail. Some see this as a disadvantage and, undoubtedly, it is one of the reasons the M7 is less popular than the M6 or MP. Another is that the M7 has a reputation for eating those batteries, although it hasn't been a problem for me. However, the two 3v 1/3N cells are not expensive and it's an easy matter to keep a couple of spares in your pocket.
I don't worry about this and the auto aperture priority shooting is sufficient compensation for the small additional cost and inconvenience. I definitely appreciate the ability to use the camera on auto in the same way that I mostly use the M10. In fact, if you carry both cameras, switching between one and the other is seamless.
While I can fully understand the lure of the more traditional M6, M6TTL and MP, the M7 offers a lot of camera for the price and should definitely be on your shopping list.
Finally, with all this talk of Leica film cameras, it's clear that they command a premium but they do tend to be a good investment. If you'd bought an M6 or M7 just three years ago you would make a profit if you sold now. So, despite the upfront cost, the appreciation in these models will help pay your film bill. However, none of this disguises the fact that there are thousands of excellent film cameras out there that will cost you relatively little. For as little as £50 you can be up and running with a Pentax or Olympus (including a good prime lens) and will get just as much enjoyment as you could from a Leica.
Leica Rumors pointed me in the direction of this informative video by Nate Matos which talks us through the relative merits of the M6 (classic) and its successor, the M7. If you are in the market for a light-metered camera (as opposed to the M3, M2 and M4 unmetered models), then this video is a good start. Below is another entertaining look at two Leica cameras, this time the M10 and the M6 by bloggers George Muncey and Joe Greer