Very rarely does one get to experience something old as though it were new. Instead, we search for the cleanest examples, the vintage gear with the lowest mileage, striving to get as close as possible to finding something untouched. When a camera store in Texas closed more than ten years ago, it was packed with unsold merchandise dating back decades further. After lying dormant for years, these new-but-unsold products were recently recategorized as “old stock” and auctioned off to, among other places, the Leica Store San Francisco. In the lot was a brand-new, never-opened Leica M6, and I bought it.
Based on the serial number, my new Leica M6 was manufactured in late 1985 and has never been touched. The skeptical reader may be thinking, “Rubber and lubricants that old have deteriorated. The camera might not even work!” No doubt, it was a bit of a gamble purchasing an unopened camera that’s two years older than I am, but in speaking to the staff at Leica SF I was reassured that any issues that the camera may have could certainly be addressed through a standard CLA. And with all of the half-century-old M3 bodies out there still dutifully clicking through proper exposures, I had faith in this comparatively young M6.
Of all the cameras currently blazing a hype trail, the Leica M6 might be the one most talked about. Since its introduction in 1984, the M6 has occupied a sweet spot in Leica’s legendary line of rangefinders; it’s a beautiful, all-manual camera that’s approachable for all levels of shooters.
Key technological features (most notably a through-the-lens light meter with LED viewfinder display) and traditional M body styling finally mixed to create a successful and modernized Leica camera (sorry, M5). It’s a formula that worked when it was new, and the camera has only become more popular with age.
Beyond adding aperture-priority shooting in the later M7, Leica hasn’t seemed to find much in the way of improvements to the M6, at least in a rangefinder (I can hear steam shooting out of the ears of you Zeiss Ikon shooters). Even today, with the M7 now discontinued, Leica’s film rangefinders hold fast to the recipe introduced with the M6. The flagship MP is virtually identical, save for its brass (versus zinc) body.
[Words, images, and video – Nelson Murray.]
What was most startling when I opened the camera was just how great it looked (though in hindsight I’m not sure why I was surprised). I realize that this new M6 wasn’t exactly pulled from the sunken innards of the Titanic, but I admit to expecting a certain amount of age-related fade or creakiness. Yet even the packaging and paperwork felt crisp and new. The batteries, spewing ugly green, were the only items in the box that showed their age. The rest was simply stunning.
After popping a battery from the 21st century into the body and clicking a 50mm Summilux lens onto the pristine mount, all that was left was to choose which film stock to run through the virgin camera. It only took me a moment. There’s really only one right answer, isn’t there? I loaded a fresh roll of Kodak Tri-X 400, threw on my trusty wrist strap, and headed out the door.