Digital Photography has still not managed to live up to the quality and the proliferation of traditional photography (though that is slowly changing). I’ve always been a photo buff, so back when digital cameras were taking an abysmal 640×480 I was using my Nikon F5 and the difference was like night and day.
Times have changed. First, I gave up the bulk of the Nikon F5 and traded it all in for the ultimate in 35mm photography, the Leica M6. Second, digital cameras have come a long way and I also recently just bought the Nikon 880. The difference in my opinion is still there, but the gap is quickly narrowing.
As the crème de la crème of 35mm cameras, the Leica M6 holds a mystic and a prestige all of its own. Among photography aficionados, the camera is so highly regarded that it still commands a substantial premium.
I got tired of lugging all my old camera gear around… lenses, flash, filters, loads of batteries, not to mention that the Nikon F5 with the lens weighed a ton. It’s also hard to travel with all that equipment. In the end, I gave up and sold it. I waited more than a year before I decided to buy the M6. I did my usual homework, investigating, searching the web, buying 3 books on Leicas, etc. In the end, the conclusion I reached was that almost everyone said the quality was amazing. And I’m a big fan of quality.
The Leica was just introducing its new TTL model and once it hit the streets, I knew it was time to buy. So I ordered the standard (0.72x viewer) Leica M6 TTL Silver Body. When you buy a 35mm, the decision on which lens to buy is perhaps more important that which body to choose. Given that I was tired of having so many different pieces of equipment (zoom, telephoto, macro lens, etc.), I wanted to buy just one lens that would give me the most versatility. The Leica M6, in my opinion, is primarily a landscape camera meaning that it’s best used for taking scenery pictures rather than a sporting event. The Leica, I believe, also works best at the lower focal lengths (i.e. 35mm instead of 120mm). Deciding on the 35mm as the best option, I merely just picked the best lens Leica had, which is the 35mm ASPH f1.4.
The M6 TTL and the 35mm ASPH f1.4 are an awesome combination. The f1.4 allows me to shoot in low light conditions and/or at very quick speeds, while the overall size and weight of the camera makes it easy to carry around and travel with. I’m not sure if the aspherical element adds to the quality, but the results of many of my pictures have been outstanding.
No matter where you go, the Leica is almost immediately recognized. The Leica M6 is an extremely striking yet old-fashioned camera. With classic lines, the M6 is unobtrusive yet well designed. The buttons are sturdy. The focusing ring has a very ergonomically placed “handle” at the bottom, which when correctly held, gives you smooth control. All the other quirks are in true Leica form: from the “silent” shutter, to the bizarre insertion method of film. It thankfully lacks the bulk and weight of other pro 35mm cameras, such as my previous Nikon F5. The sleek appearance and its overall impression are its biggest draw. Put one in your hand sometime, and you won’t want to let it go. It just feels and looks really good.
Remembering that the M6 is a manual, rangefinder 35mm, the camera lacks all of the goodies that come with most SLRs today. No autofocus, no autowinding – nearly everything you do is done manually. Once you get past all this, the real beauty of the camera is the quality of its pictures. In the end, if you judge this camera solely on the quality of its pictures, then I believe it does live up to the hype. Pictures are extremely clear and sharp, and the manual focusing/aperture setting gives you plenty of flexibility to take the kind of pictures you want. I burned through several rolls of film just trying to get a firm grasp of the controls. In the end, with enough practice and patience, the results are amazing.
That being said, my M6 ran into a serious problem. In the end, as I will explain, this has completely sullied my M6 experience. The aperture ring on the lens came “loose”, which meant I couldn’t change the aperture setting. This failure was a very unusual occurrence for a camera that bills itself on its lasting quality. Even the shop said this was the first time they had ever seen such a problem. So after using the camera for less than 3 months, it went back into the shop for 6 weeks.
Got it back, all seemed well. I took it on my next vacation, and guess what, it broke again — same problem. I brought it back to the dealer. I was so frustrated I asked them for a new lens. Leica neither heard my case nor even acknowledged there was a problem with my lens. I tried contacting them at every possible juncture to ask them to replace the lens, not just fix it. But it was to no avail as no one even bothered to hear my pleas. Leica just went about “fixing” it again. Another 6 weeks wasted but more importantly, by just “fixing” it, Leica has done little to convince me that the problem will not occur again. The camera has spent more time in the Leica workshop than it has with me!
For a company that places such importance on “competence”, “quality”, and “value”, my treatment has been appalling. They just took my money and forgot about me. So here I am today, with a very expensive piece of equipment, which I have ZERO confidence will make it through my next vacation. In fact, I don’t even take it with me on trips anymore. There’s just no point because I know there is something wrong with the lens and it will definitely just break again.
This entire episode has completely ruined my Leica experience. I own about 6 other Leica products, all of which are very good. Leica in general make great products of very high quality. I just question their commitment to this quality today, given my experience. These days, I’m just as happy with the pictures taken with my digital camera or my Contax APS. Leica will forever remain a classic, but I, for one, think your money could be better spent elsewhere and that the M6 is a WASTE OF TIME.