Vintage Camera Review: Leica R6 (Cheap Leica, Pricey Lenses)

Everyone complaining about Leica prices probably hasn’t used the Leica R6, and they know nothing about R mount glass.

If I were to track the popularity of the R series vs the M series, then I’d say the R6 is probably the most popular in the R lineup, but it’s nowhere near as popular as M mount options. However, while the R series cameras aren’t that raved out, their lenses are. Years ago, the cinema industry discovered those lenses and started buying and reformatting a ton of them. When that happened, the their prices began to skyrocket. And for that reason, owning and using a camera like the Leica R6 is a great honor. You get native access to a number of lenses that the cinema world goes crazy for. On top of that, the Leica R6 is the closest thing to the coveted Leica M6 in my opinion.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Nice shutter sound
  • Built like a tank
  • Small
  • A beautiful set of lenses available for R mount
  • Lightweight
  • A pretty great viewfinder for shooting landscape-oriented
  • Semi-mechanical; even if the battery dies it’s still going to work

Cons

  • Nothing really. This camera is the closest thing to the Leica M6 that Leica has in an SLR form factor

Gear Used

We tested the Leica R6 with the 50mm f2 Summicron.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from Camerapedia

  • Metering modes: center-weighted averaging or a central 7mm spot
  • Metering: via a match-diode display in the viewfinder
  • Autoexposure: none
  • Shutter speeds: 1-1/1000 +B, with X sync at 1/100
  • Motor drive option
  • Mirror-lock-up (the first Leica since the original Leicaflex to have one) *Interchangeable focusing screens
  • TTL flash metering with Metz SCA compatible flash units
  • Depth-of-field preview
  • Self-timer
  • Viewfinder diopter adjustment

Ergonomics

The Leica R6 is a very simple and plain SLR. It reminds me in some ways of a Pentax Spotmatic but with a better light meter, better build quality, and access to infinitely better lenses. So, our ergonomic tour of the Leica R6 begins with this side. You’ll see a lever that allows the photographer to get a depth of field preview, and there is also a lens release.

The Leica R6 is covered with a leatherette finish. It’s nice to the touch. And overall, it gives enough grip for most photographers. We’re sure there are photographers who will complain about it, but as long as you hold the camera right, you’ll be fine.

The top of the Leica R6 has a few cool things. There is the shutter dial, metering button, ISO control, film rewind, and the hot shoe. This hot shoe is TTL capable, but I can’t remember the last time I met someone using a Leica flash.

Of course, let’s not forget one of the most important part of the ergonomics: the film advance. This film advance and the overall shape of the Leica R6 feels different than what an M offers. 

The back of the Leica R6 has an ergonomically pleasing space for your thumb to rest. There is also a film window and the viewfinder. The diopter is next to it (my recommendation is to get a rubber cup for this if you can). 

Build Quality

During our tests, we took the Leica R6 into the rain and even a bit of snow. Thankfully, it kept working. To my knowledge, neither the camera nor the lenses have weather sealing. Leica, however, always builds its products to be incredibly robust. The engineers themselves even say that they’d be confident using their products in inclement conditions. As a responsible reviewer though, I can’t tell you to always be as stupid as I am with your gear.

Otherwise, if you’re a photographer who likes SLR film cameras, know that you’ll be missing a critical part: the grip. In that way, the Leica R6 is sort of like a combination of the ergonomics of a rangefinder and an SLR. But personally, I like cameras with no grips on them. So if you fall into that category, you too will appreciate it.

Ease of Use

The Leica R6 is a really simple to operate SLR film camera. There are all the basics: ISO control, metering, shutter, aperture on the lens, depth of field preview, etc. Half pressing the shutter or pressing the button in front of it will assist with metering. It’s an incredibly simple camera to use. I’d even call it rudimentary as long as you spend a half-hour (at most) understanding it. The Leica R6 brings photography back to the basics and that’s wonderful.

Focusing

Of course, the Leica R6 is a manually focusing SLR camera. You’ll look through the viewfinder at the split prism and line up the scene accordingly. Of course, there is also the zone focusing method. In many situations and with enough light, zone focusing could be the best option. If you’re a photographer who wears glasses, then the viewfinder can be difficult to see at times, especially when shooting vertically. The camera has a diopter, but it’s nowhere as good as today’s market options. More often than not, I found myself using the depth of field assistance lever on the Leica R6.

Image Samples

Conclusions

The thing about using a Leica R6 is that you get access to the lenses natively used with film. Of course, you can buy adapt them to any camera you wish. But for a truly cinematic and film-like look, I’d use the lenses with something like CineStill film. The lenses are beautiful, but more importantly, you’re looking to purchase a camera. The Leica R6 is arguably the best to use with R lenses. More importantly, it’s also incredibly reliable. If the battery stops working, the camera will continue to function at all shutter speeds, so it will just become a fully manual option. That means that it will always be reliable. And to do that with Leica lenses is a blessing. 

Want a Leica R6? Check out eBay for listings.