Mailbag: How’s the Build Quality of the Leica M6 TTL?

by Johnny Martyr

My daughter and I checking out the selection at the Leica Store Paris – photo by Stephanie Lee

Isaiah Hervé and I follow one another on Instagram. He takes beautiful, serene landscape photos that just blow me away. His work is very fine and nuanced and nothing that I have the patience or skill for! So, many thanks to him for taking an interest in my clumsy photojournalism!

Anyway, Isaiah used to have an M6 Classic and is interested in moving into a more costly M6 TTL.

“I’ve read your very funny article on the TTL version, and I’d like to get that as I vastly prefer the larger shutter speed dial. But there is a lot of discussion online about the classic m6 being constructed more infallibly (I’ve had one and had to sell it when I moved a year ago, but am ready to get back to Leica lol) and as someone who would only make an investment this large because I’m planning to use this camera until it falls apart… my question is – is the TTL version built to the same standard? Hopefully all the online fuss is people who are misinformed.

Below is my reply, unedited, straight out of the DM’s:

Glad you enjoyed the M6TTL article, thanks for reading.

So, here’s the deal. I don’t build cameras. Neither do any of the folks talking things up online.

So none of us really know what we are taking about, right?

I mean, look at your question. Can it be anymore vague? This is not a knock against you. I’m just saying that unless you are at least a professional repair person, or someone who has used a controlled sample of cameras very hard and consistently, how can you really take seriously the comments of anyone who claims to have all the answers?

I could write a whole other article about all the unsupported, headstrong opinions Leica folks post about their equipment which I’ve found with basic research to just be wrong.

But I understand your question and concern.

I just bought a second M6 TTL recently and paid more than twice what I did for my first one. I also would like these cameras to last a lifetime and would not buy them if I didn’t think they wouldn’t.

Fact of the matter is that 80 or 90% of people in this era will never use a 35mm Leica to shoot punishing paid work. And yet that is what the cameras before the MP were made to do.

It’s TWINS! – two 1999 Leica M6 TTL 0.85’s in black chrome with my go-to M lenses

The M6 TTL, in my opinion, was the last Leica built for professional photography. Everything after it, seems to have been built for collectors and enthusiasts, because very few people shoot punishing work on 35mm Leica’s anymore. Leica may still make their cameras very well but they realistically needn’t be up to the standards of the M3 to impress anyone.

But this is all just hypothetical. If you want to talk nuts and bolts construction, we have to start talking about what parts of the cameras are made of brass, of zinc, of steel, of plastic, and if they can or cannot handle the stresses put on them over a period of time.

My sense is that the M6 TTL is overbuilt for any hobbyist. And criticizing it’s build quality by comparing it to other Leica’s is flat out dumb!

But that is just my personal opinion!

Let me know your thoughts!

Isaiah: “Lol fair enough of an answer really! I do not use it for say, paid photo shoots but I do sell a fair amount of landscape prints and my cameras encounter some mild elemental torture lol. I think if anything the honesty makes me feel better about such a large purchase. I know you probably had more experience using it than most commenters and if you’ve had a good experience using yours over time that’s more than enough for me!”

Haha – yeah, it’s all kind of funny when you think about it. Most people would be fine using $50 Nikkormats for the rest of their lives but they’re arguing over if one professional grade camera or another professional camera is durable enough to sit on tables at fine restaurants and pose next to posh beverages for a social media flex.

Anyway yeah, I really think that if you want an M6 TTL based on the specs and what you’ve researched, you’ll be happy with it for a very long time.

I have owned my first M6 TTL 0.85 since about 2010. It took me some time to feel comfortable taking it to weddings where guests sometimes bump into me with drinks, or I literally have to throw my cameras into the bag and they just get dropped and hit from time to time. But the camera has been totally fine. It’s taken two rather serious falls, one hard enough to chip the leatherette, and kept going.

The only issues I’ve had are that the rangefinder was knocked slightly out of alignment on that worse fall, the frame selector once stuck between settings (literally only happened once) and the frame counter reset stuck a few times. I’ve had the camera in for service once for the viewfinder to be upgraded and once for it to be calibrated after that fall but Don Goldberg said it wasn’t that far out. [He also re-lubricated everything he could reach from removing the top plate during calibration which totally cured the frame counter reset thing also.]

My new M6 TTL only had 8 rolls of film through it since it was built in 1999 and was stored in a dry cabinet most of its time. I put 12 rolls through it my first weekend with it and then took both M6 TTL’s to Europe. Both bodies performed and continue to perform flawlessly.

Amongst the old Barnacks sits an M6 on display at Photo Vincent in Paris

So that was perhaps more entertaining banter between friends than nuts and bolts talk. For the blog, I want to wrap things up by addressing more specific concerns that people have with buying a Leica M6 TTL. I believe that there are three major concerns in terms of durability.

Zinc Top Plate – While the old M6 Classics and some Leica R’s featured zinc top plates also, this is a primary concern with any camera that has one. We’ve all seen the eBay specials with corroded top plates. They look like they have a bad case of acne. I’ve even read about some examples where the corrosion affected operation of the controls and had to be filed down in order for the advance lever to clear it. What a mess, right? But look, unless you store you M6 in the original fitted leather case and live in the tropics, I do not believe corrosion of the zinc top plate is a realistic concern. For all the corroded M6’s I’ve seen, I’ve seen probably hundreds more that weren’t. (I just did a quick look on eBay and found 3 out of 432 results that showed corrosionthe lowest priced M6 currently listed actually shows corrosion of the brass areas and clean zinc!) And I get the distinct impression from reading and talking to people and viewing M6’s online and in shops that the corrosion is a known issue now and there are very few contemporary occurrences of it because people no longer store these cameras in their cases in humid environments for extended periods of time, which you shouldn’t do to any camera any way. I get it if someone doesn’t want to take chances with the zinc. But I also want to point out that the zinc was just not a cost cutting tactic like collectors delight in saying. Zinc top plates do not bend like brass (which is why only the top plates, not bottom plates are made of zinc; the bottom plate needs to flex while installing and removing). A hit to a Leica MP that is hard enough to deform the top plate and damage the meter or rangefinder would, at worst knock out the focus calibration on a zinc M. The zinc top plate would protect all of the delicate internals from any damage in such a scenario. So if you want to use your camera hard and do not live/work in a particularly humid region, my money is still on the zinc. Here’s an old link where a productive zinc discussion is had with Tom Abrahamsson.

Weaker Shutter Speed Dial – This one isn’t talked about much. Actually this might be the first place you read about it. But look, if you didn’t know by now, Leica have been selling the M4-P dressed up as the M6, M6 TTL, MP, M-A and New M6 for quite some years now. So when they reversed the shutter speed dials on the M6 TTL and M7, they did not design an entirely new shutter speed control mechanism. They simply added “a transmission” to the current mechanism which is why the M6 TTL and M7’s top plate needed to be raised up, to account for the additional gearing to reverse the SS dial. So these are “extra parts,” right? And extra parts means an additional potential point of failure. In theory this makes sense but in practice, I’ve yet to personally witness or hear of any issues.

Unique Light Meter – Of the aforementioned, the light meter is the only one that I have any serious concern over. And it’s honestly not THAT serious of a concern. The M6 TTL contains short-lived (just four years of production) electronics for which there are no drop-in replacements available. As Don Golberg explained to me, there are two circuit boards inside the M6 TTL and they needed to be programed by Leica themselves in order to function. So even if you found NOS meter boards somewhere, you wouldn’t be able to get them to work unless you knew how to program them because Leica ended support on them long ago. And the likelihood of someone transplanting a working M6 TTL meter out of a dead M6 TTL body is probably akin to a meter striking me dead where I am sitting right now. But my whole thing is, pretty much no vintage camera light meters are very serviceable. Most vintage built-in camera metering systems since the 1960’s still work in my experience though. And when my M6 TTL meters do eventually die, the worst thing that will happen is that I will use a separate meter with them. However, some techs such as Alan Starkie are actually working on building replacement meters for these cameras. And really, one can’t help but imagine that meters from MP’s and new M6’s could be modified to fit an M6 TTL if enough people were having the problem for the service to be profitable.

I think these things are all worth discussing but not arguing over and declaring one model superior or inferior to another over. Fact of the matter is that nothing in life is certain, not even Leica’s.

Thanks for your engaging question, reading my stuff and sharing your awesome photography Isaiah Hervé! Be sure to head over to his website and follow him on Instagram.

And thanks to YOU for reading too. Happy shooting!

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