I’d not shot a Leica SLR before I picked up the Leica R6.2. In fact, when I first shot with this camera, I’d hardly shot with any make or model of SLR for a few years. I mostly mention this as it helps to explain why shooting an SLR had begun to feel quite daunting to me when I started contemplating this review back in the early part of 2019. You might then ask yourself why I chose to review the Leica R6.2, and perhaps even how this review – over a year later – has ended up here on Casual Photophile, and not back within the safety of my own website, 35mmc. The answer to the first of those questions is quite simple.
When someone offers to loan me a camera like the Leica R6.2, I find it hard to say no. This particular camera actually belongs to Alan Starkie from Cameraworks-UK. He’s recently been servicing a few of my lenses, so we’ve been in communication quite regularly. On one particular phone call, he mentioned he’d been given a Leica R6.2 and asked if I would like to borrow it. Of course, the answer was a resounding “yes please!”
As to how this review ended up on this website, well, the answer to that question dates back a few years to when myself and James originally started chatting about how we should find a way to guest-write for each other’s websites. But, despite lots of conversations, we never really got around to it. That was until we came up with the idea to review the same camera. To be clear, the plan wasn’t just to review the same make and model, we wanted to review the exact same camera.
When Alan sent me this R6.2, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. This is a camera that neither of us own, so have no emotional connection to at all. I would review it, then send it to James so he could do the same. We would then post each other’s reviews on our own respective websites, without any discussion around our personal findings toward the cameras. I asked Alan if he wouldn’t mind us doing this, and he kindly obliged.
My bet was that not only we would find each other’s thoughts interesting to compare, but so would you lot out there reading our websites. In short, once you’ve finished here, make sure to check out James’s (likely much betterer written) review over on 35mmc here. In the meanwhile though, here’s a set of my usual meandering thoughts for you to get your brain around.
Ok, so where to start? Well, it’s probably best I start with the aforementioned fact that I hadn’t really shot an SLR camera for a long time when I first picked up the Leica R6.2. To be fair, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, I had shot my Nikon F2but only when I wanted to use a shift lens, and that had been very infrequently.
I fell into this anti-SLR rut because at some point in the last 5-6 years when I found that my eyesight in my right eye wasn’t good enough to focus with the things. That combined with the fact I’d long struggled to frame an SLR with my left eye had meant that I found myself mostly shooting rangefinder and compact cameras.
This is precisely why I entered this particular process with a little trepidation. I was going to be writing my first review about an SLR, and it was to be published on someone else’s website. Frankly, it felt like a bit of a baptism of fire! Who knows what mean and horrible things you readers of CP might say to me…?! I’m joking, of course, I’m sure you’re all lovely and will be super nice to the new guy, right?!
Fortunately, the Leica R6.2 has turned out to be quite a pleasure to shoot. And actually, thanks to it going to James having it for a few months to play with, and then returning to me to shoot again, I’ve had a chance to reflect on my thoughts. Not least through the fact that I’ve actually ended up shooting loads of SLRs in the year since I started writing this. As such, hopefully, you’ll find that I’ve managed to get under the skin of the Leica R6.2 a bit without me getting too distracted by my own deficiencies…
In actual fact, coming to the Leica R6.2 after not shooting an SLR in anger for a long time turned out to be a bit of a surprise. I’d sort of talked myself into the feeling that I just didn’t like SLR cameras at all. What was to surprise me about the Leica R6.2 was how little I would find that opinion to be true…
The Leica R6.2 – the bells and whistles
Ok, so the basics first. The Leica R6.2 is a fairly solid feeling, manual focus, manual exposure, fully mechanical SLR with a built-in LED readout light meter.
The meter has 3 LEDs, two of which are arrows that point to a circle in the middle. The left arrow indicates underexposure and the right arrow indicates overexposure. When the circle in the middle is illuminated, exposure is what the camera thinks is correct. Not only do the arrows point to the circle in the centre, but they also indicate which direction the shutter and aperture dial needs to be turned.
At this stage, if you’re familiar with Leica rangefinder cameras – specifically the M6 TTL – you might be thinking this all sounds quite familiar. Of course, that’s pretty much the extent of the features the M6 TTL has to offer. The Leica R6.2 brings a fair bit more to the table.
For a start, unlike the M6 TTL, the Leica R6.2 shows the exposure information within the viewfinder. Shutter speed and aperture are both displayed very clearly. There’s even a switch on the front left-hand side of the camera that activates a light in the head of the camera to illuminate both shutter speed and aperture setting. This means that all the useful information can still be seen quite readily in lower light with the camera to the eye.
Not only this, but the arrows that denote under and overexposure are labelled with ‘-‘ and ‘+’ symbols. Combine this with the dials that turn in the direction the arrows point, and you have a very intuitive shooting experience, even on first use, and even for someone who was feeling quite clumsy with an SLR!
The Leica R6.2 also has two metering modes – something not found on any of the Leica rangefinder cameras until the digital M240. The metering modes on the Leica R6.2 are switched using a control dial that’s conveniently located in a position your forefinger can find quite easily with the camera to your eye. One mode takes an average from the entire field of view, the other is a fairly large spot meter. The size of the spot meter pattern is also handily indicated on by a ring on the split image focusing screen.
To my mind, this is a very useful and in fact very intuitive feature. My success rate using the full field meter was fairly high, but when I was out shooting in evening light with the sun directly behind my girls, being able to quickly flick the switch to either take a reading of my subject or the grass nearby was very handy.
Controls and dials
The rest of the right-hand side of the camera is quite nicely designed too. The control dial for selecting the shutter speed is fairly easy to turn with the camera to your eye. Actually, with the film advance lever flipped out, it’s possible to grip the dial quite comfortably between your forefinger and thumb. Unfortunately for me as a left-eye shooter, I can’t use the camera with the advance poking out without it interfering with my right eyebrow. That said, I can still adjust the shutter speed with just my forefinger, it’s just a little more tricky. And, to be fair, unlike a lot of the Nikon SLR cameras, the meter works without the film advance pulled out, so it’s not that big a deal anyway.
Whilst on the topic of the film advance, I feel the need to compare this Leica to the feel of my Leica rangefinders. I’d love to say that it has the same feel as my ridiculously smooth M4-P (or recently acquired Topcon RE Super – holy hell that thing is smooth feeling). Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite have the same action; the first bit of the movement isn’t spring-loaded, so it just sort of clicks out from the camera and then feels a little loose. Is this an issue? Does it make the camera any worse? Of course it doesn’t, I’m mostly mentioning it as it was one of the first things I thought to compare when I first picked up the camera – which probably says more about me than this does the Leica R6.2!
The shutter button is another departure from what I’m used to with the rangefinders – it’s nice to use, it’s just quite different. For a start, the button is almost flush with the surrounding shutter speed dial. When pressing it, it takes the slightest of touch to activate the meter, with the full press having quite a long throw into the camera. As I say, there’s no criticism here. In fact, I’d be more than comfortable saying that there really is very little about right-hand side of the camera that could be considered even remotely unintuitive or particularly uncomfortable, even for me as a left eye shooter.
Unfortunately, the story is slightly different for the top left-hand side of the camera. It’s not a disaster, but it did require me to spend a few minutes leafing through the manual to work out what it all does and how it’s supposed to work. This, to me at least, says a little bit about the quality of the user interface design, especially compared to the rest of the camera.
The first thing that confused me was the ISO button for adjusting the exposure index. In itself, it’s simple enough. Press it and it unlocks the dial so you can rotate it to select the ISO of the loaded film. What’s odd – or at least initially confusing – is that it lights a little lamp when you press it.
As it turns out, this is a battery check. Not too unusual really, apart from the fact that the manual suggests pressing and holding the button for a few seconds. If the lamp dulls in this time, the battery needs replacing. I’ve not run batteries down in it, so I don’t know how this plays out in practice, but that just struck me as a slightly odd instruction that sounded a little more like the sort of feature you’d find on some Soviet lump from the same era. Fortunately, of course, even if the batteries do run out, the Leica R6.2 is mechanical so will run happily – albeit sans lightmeter – without them if they do run out.
The exposure compensation dial works in a similar way, though – possibly for the fact that there is a bit missing off the R6.2 I have here – I couldn’t fathom it without referring to the manual. To adjust exposure compensation, first, you need to push in and rotate the little switch into an unmarked position. This unlocks the lever that pokes out on the opposite side of the dial to the switch. Once unlocked, this lever can be moved to adjust the exposure compensation to a maximum of -/+ 2ev as displayed in a little window on the dial.
In short, both the setting of exposure index and exposure compensation feel a little fiddly compared to how well the features on the right-hand side of the camera feel. Fortunately, with how I’ve been using the Leica R6.2 – especially with the option to spot meter, and the fact that is a manual exposure camera anyway – the usefulness of exposure compensation has felt slightly reduced and so hasn’t really bothered me in practice.
The Leica R6.2 – in (personal) practice
So what does all this mean in practice? Well, for me, I must admit, I’ve found this camera to be quite compelling. On a personal level, probably for how intuitive the key features are, my concerns about shooting it as an SLR were quickly set aside. It’s not the most comfortable camera I’ve ever held, but a large chunk of that is likely just down to my preferences around smaller form-factor cameras, and me just generally feeling a little clumsy with SLR cameras. Outside of that preference, it feels solid, the viewfinder is pretty good, and I’ve not had nearly as many issues focusing or framing with it as I expected I might. All this is especially true when reflecting on my more recent experience shooting this camera versus my earlier experience – hopefully this is a sign that I’m becoming more familiar with SLR cameras again.
In practical terms, I feel that its nature as a fully mechanical camera stands it in good stead when compared to cameras that are reliant on electronics to function. Additionally, the implementation of the light meter, metering modes and exposure information in the viewfinder are really quite excellent!
In fact, these features are so good, that unlike some mechanical SLRs that can happily be used without their metering functions, I’d go as far to say that it would be a travesty not to use the battery-powered features found in the Leica R6.2. As I said earlier on in this review, I don’t shoot that many SLR cameras, but I have shot quite a few over the years, and I can’t think of many that I like as much as I do this camera in terms of the implementation of this level of features. The closest I can think of – perhaps because of the LED light meter – is probably the Nikon FM2, but that camera feels positively basic compared to the Leica R6.2.
The Leica R6.2 – not quite for me
Of course, basic isn’t always a bad thing. And, as someone who rates simplicity and minimal feature sets in cameras, I could probably make an argument for there being more bells and whistles than I really need on this type of camera. Since I began writing this review, I’ve been out shooting with a number of SLRs, with two that stick in my mind being the Nikkormat FTn, and a Pentax MX. Whilst out with these cameras – despite finding some foibles in both – I didn’t find myself wishing or feeling like I would have been at a significant advantage if I was shooting the more feature-packed Leica R6.2 instead.
In fact, for the Leica R6.2 to really tip the balance for me, I think I might have preferred it to have an aperture priority mode. This would have meant it was much more battery reliant of course, but I think that given the rest of its feature set, the added advantage of AE would have given it a bit more of an edge, for my tastes at least. But really, this is a personal thing. As time goes on, I’m increasingly finding myself either wanting practically-zero features, or a decent level of automation. Cameras in between – and I’d count the Leica R6.2 in this – just don’t feel quite ideal for the ways I like to shoot, however objectively good they might be.
In short, it’s hard to find any issues with the Leica R6.2. Even before acknowledging the features, it feels solid, mechanically sound, has a good viewfinder and is relatively comfortable to hold. Add to that the very well implemented light meter, the useful set of information displayed in the viewfinder and the (largely) decent control layout, and as I’ve said, the Leica R6.2 makes for a very compelling SLR. Am I going to run out and buy a Leica R6.2 for myself though…? No probably not, but for anyone reading this thinking about buying one of these cameras, I wouldn’t let my preferences put you off, it really is a quite brilliant camera!