Film’s not dead: the return of the Leica M6

Something exciting is happening.

From 3rd November 2022, the Leica M6 will be returning to global production, beating its iconic and mechanical 80s heart inside an improved body fit for the now.

So why is it back? Well, in the film photography world, the M6 is the one of the most sought-after 35mm cameras, for reasons that I can’t explain; as in, I don’t own an M6 and have never used one, and I seriously don’t understand the appeal. But that’s not to detract from the importance of the release of the M6 2022 edition. As I said, it’s exciting. There appears to be a film renaissance quietly happening: in a recent report by NBC News, film sales have tripled, with demand for analogue cameras skyrocketing during the pandemic. It makes sense that when an increasingly dynamic and hyperconnected world comes to a halt, people follow that tempo – especially the younger generation who must always keep up – by exploring what has become a slow, artistic medium – film photography. Behind each photograph resides a sense of intentionality, an appreciation of the tactile nature of film and, with film prices soaring, a consciousness of the cost per exposure. With film, much less is automatic and given to us. We must work for the image – and with time. Evidently, Leica have seen that there is this gap in the film market – or is there?

The price of the M6 2022 edition would say otherwise; the camera will retail at £4,500. You would think, then, that this price point reflects the new model’s improvements over the original – here they are:
• It now has the brighter viewfinder of the Leica MP;
• the top plate has been replaced with brass material and a coating to prevent patina;
• there is a new battery warning indicator, light meter, and exposure meter.
And that’s pretty much it. The shutter is still fully mechanical, and only has a maximum speed of 1/1000th. At the price point set, you can’t help but wonder what this new model truly brings to the table, especially when original, second-hand M6s are selling for half the price and are still serviced by Leica. It begs the question of why anyone would buy it, especially when, according to Leica, ‘supply will be extremely limited for many months.’

In this light, the new M6 starts to emerge as a passion product, a homage to the original. The design remains the same: the original red Leitz logo carries on from the 1984 model and its slanted advance lever is preserved. Its engineering hasn’t changed – you still have to load film in the same strange way as the original, and it uses the same 3V battery type as the M6. The camera is still handmade by a small team of artisans, and it shows.

You could see these constants in two respects: the first, that Leica is simply refining – and thus appreciating – the rugged utilitarianism of the original; or, the alternative, that they have used the legacy of the original to create a mantlepiece for older collectors, as well as for younger photographers who identify the brand with photographic “prestige”.

The case for the price point is, to me, a difficult one, especially with film prices and development costs being as high as they are. Whether or not you agree with it, though, it’s exciting to see a major player in the photographic world marry analogue mechanics with the digital age. I think it’s imperative for the future of photography – for all sorts of photographers. I hope Leica see that too.

(Image: Simon Woehrer on Unsplash)

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