The Leica R6: a Leica film at a lower cost


Geoff Harris reflects on the recent purchase of the Leica R6 mechanical film SLR and associated lenses – did he get a good deal or did he end up paying a premium for that coveted red dot?

Leica R6 at a glance
* Manual exposure SLR 35mm film
* Measurement via the display of the corresponding diode viewfinder
* TTL flash metering
* Depth of field preview
* Mirror lock
* Motor drive option
* £ 200 – £ 1000 depending on condition (used)

When considering the options for a relatively affordable quality film SLR, Leica wouldn’t be the first name on many people’s list. A Nikon F, an Olympus OM-1 maybe, but a Leica? While the name is heavily associated with expensive M-series rangefinders, the company also produced R-series SLRs from 1980 to 1992, along with a decent line of quality R-series lenses.

Eventually, technology evolved and Leica refocused its efforts on rangefinders and, of course, digital, but that’s another story.

After various experiments with SLRs equipped with programming modes and other photographic aids, Leica decided to go back to basics in 1988 with the R6, the first manual-exposure mechanical SLR only produced by the company since the discontinuation of the production of Leicaflex SL2.

Geoff with his R6. Photo credit: Ben Brain

R you for real?
As a big fan of the Leica CL mirrorless digital camera, I wanted to try out old models of Leica films. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a spare three thousand for a classic Leica M6 body, that’s when I started considering a Leica R-series SLR.

Our old friend Google convinced me that I hadn’t totally lost my marbles, and there seemed to be several support forums, including an active Facebook group, that could answer my questions. So why did I decide to go with this mostly mechanical DSLR, rather than a DSLR with automatic exposure or, in fact, autofocus?

Maybe the buying decision was fueled by insecurity, a deep need to “prove” to myself and others that I could still take a decent photo without all the convenience and crutches / handholds. that you get with digital.

Or maybe it was a desire to return to a more “pure” photographic experience. As a die-hard digital photographer, both for my day job and as a creative and therapeutic release in my spare time, I had become very happy with the trigger.

A day of filming, especially before the pandemic in an exotic location, would generate a tsunami of raw files which I then had to download and work on. I was succumbing to digital photography overload and it was getting stressful.

So I thought shooting a movie would not only slow me down, but also encourage me to focus on quality over quantity – and make more prints.

While you can get a decent movie for a relatively low price from vendors like Analogue Wonderland, you certainly become more cost conscious as the 36 exposures approach (of course I could shoot digitally with a very large memory card. small capacity, but it’s not quite or indeed, so much fun).

Caveat emptor
Another big draw was the chance to get my hands on older, but still high-quality R-series manual focus lenses, which I could also use on my digital Leica CL via an adapter.

Fast forward to this spring and I find myself paying what seemed very reasonable £ 500 for a supposedly ‘perfect’ Leica R6 and a Summicron 50mm f / 2 lens from Gumtree.

Let me say at the outset that yes, I took a risk here and it did not fully pay off; as it turned out there were some age-related issues with the camera, especially with the shutter speed dial and light seals, which were quickly and efficiently addressed by Ffordes Photographic. The repair bill wasn’t huge, but it was a salutary lesson.

Looking back, it would have been wiser to pay more and buy an R6 from a specialist and reputable dealer, like Ffordes, who would have checked it out first. While I did relatively well, it’s definitely a question of paying attention to the buyer when purchasing older film cameras!

Popular mechanics
Once the issues were resolved, the Leica R6 was a fun camera to use. TTL aside and simple built-in metering aside, the camera is, as described, pretty much entirely mechanical, which is scary but also reassuring.

The camera works perfectly without the LR44 batteries (readily available), as long as you can live without the simple on-board meter; indeed, Salgado chose one to cover the Iraqi oil well fire in 1991 because of its bulletproof build quality. The R6 is certainly a better rugged one, with a solid die-cast aluminum body and brass bottom cover. It looks cool too, with a chic faux leather finish.

Compared to the plethora of buttons and dials you get on a modern DSLR or mirrorless camera, the R6’s design is pretty minimalist. On top are the hot shoe, shutter speed dial, and an articulated film rewind crank, as well as various windows for selecting metering (spot or evaluative), ISO speed, exposure and compensation compensation. other essentials.

There’s also a helpful diopter to make sure you get the most out of the wonderfully bright viewfinder. The buttons are also sturdy, although the film rewind lever is a bit plastic.

Loading the film takes a bit of practice, as you are supposed to slide the end of the film into the appropriate slots on the take-up reel before pulling the film to the left and placing the cartridge in the chamber. The idea is that you can change films quickly with one hand, but that’s still a bit tricky. Fortunately, rewinding the film manually is a more obvious process.

Summicron-R 50mm f / 2 lens, Portra 800 film

Counter done
In use, I generally find the Leica R6 a pleasure to use. It is heavy and strong in the hand without being excessively heavy (625g) and easy to hold in place.

The shutter speed dial is easy to adjust, as is the aperture of my 35mm and 50mm R-series lenses (more on this later) – the settings appear at the bottom of the viewfinder and are easy to read. I find the exposure compensation slider a bit tricky, but at least it can be locked, and adjusting the film speed is a snap.

The metering seems pretty accurate so far, although I’m very aware of the age of the camera, so sometimes I check the exposure reading I also get from my Leica CL – or take the Seikonic light meter.

Summicron-R 50mm f / 2 lens with red filter, JCH Street Pan film

Two triangular arrow-shaped LEDs indicate overexposure or underexposure, with a single red dot indicating “correct” exposure and you will quickly find out. Other useful extras include a depth-of-field lever, an old-fashioned selfie timer and cable release plug, plus the option to add a motor winder or drive.

Probably the biggest drawback of the R6 is its limited shutter speed. You’re limited to 1 / 1000th of a second, although that’s not a major issue for the genre of street and documentary / travel photography that I favor.

Leica solved this problem with the R6.2, produced between 1992 and 1997: this increased the maximum shutter speed to 1/2000 and included an improved TTL flash mode, as well as the ability to measure flash exposure at any shutter speed from 1/100 to B (bulb).

The 50mm Summicron is impressively crisp, as seen with this plate in Bath, taken by hand from street level

While the camera is fun to use, I was even more impressed with the quality of the lenses, especially the Summicron 50mm f / 2. They’re fast, shiny, and bulletproof, with wonderfully tactile aperture rings, and while they don’t have the latest design or coatings, I’m more than happy with the results.

I bought a cheap ‘Fotasy’ R to L adapter from eBay to be able to use them on my Leica CL and again the results are correct – aided by the focus on quality of the digital Leica.

The Summicron-R 50mm also provides excellent portrait results when used on a digital Leica CL via an adapter

Going back to the old Leica, I recently bought an Elmarit 35mm f / 2.8 for £ 290 so compared to the M-series lenses you can still buy a decent R-series lens for a reasonable price. . It could get more difficult, however, as apparently they are also in high demand among filmmakers after the vintage look.

Elmarit 35mm lens, Kosmo Agent Shadow 400 film

While the learning curve with my R6 has been steeper than expected at times and there were some starting issues at first, I don’t regret buying one.

You can buy comparable DSLRs and film lenses for less, but the R6 has a lot of character and heritage – it’s something different too. When it comes to lenses, there’s still a lot of debate online as to whether a 50mm Summicron R-series is as “good” as the much more expensive M-mount version, but it’s good enough for it. money I paid.

Summicron-R 50mm f / 2 lens, Portra 800 film

Thanks to the adapters, the R-series lenses also have a lot of life. Buy in this configuration possesses slowed down my photography, in a good way, and made me less happy in the trigger, so he served his purpose. I won’t be going back to the movies entirely, but the R6 is a useful and fun alternative to my main digital cameras.

Getting back to the camera specifics, the best version is probably the more flexible R6.2 or the great R7, so if you see one in good shape at a reasonable price, check it out. It is however wiser to buy from a specialist dealer in order to get some sort of guarantee, unless you know exactly what you are looking for.

* Bulletproof build quality
* The shutter can work without battery
* Basic but effective on-board counter
* Quality R-Series Lenses at Reasonable Price
* Good online support from independent forums

The inconvenients:
* Shutter speed limited to 1 / 1000sec
* Slightly tedious film loading
* R series lenses get more expensive

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