Leica’s New M6 and Solving the Film Photography Accessibility Problem

Leica’s New M6 and Solving the Film Photography Accessibility Problem

2000 1125 James Tocchio

I seem to write variations on the theme every year, so forgive me if you’ve heard this one before. But every few days I make the rounds on film photography Twitter and I inevitably discover that the conversation has reverted to young people lamenting how expensive it is to shoot film. Which is really strange. I guess none of the 3 million people that visited my site last year shared the article I wrote about how easy it is to shoot film cheaply.

In any case, I’m back with another article repeating my thesis that film photography doesn’t have to be expensive, nor inaccessible.

The problem, as I see it, is that people new to the hobby are following all the wrong advice.

They’re watching the popular film photography YouTube channels (because the algorithm perpetuates the popularity of these few channels instead of giving more grounded creators an outlet). New photography likers are captivated by the big Instagram accounts and TikTokkers, many of whom obsess ad nauseum over legacy prestige brands like Leica and Hasselblad. The never-ending focus on gear over happiness is not only toxic, it’s also a dead end.

But I got you. If you’re a college or high school student aspiring to some level of engagement in the hobby of film photography, and I know that there are many people out there who fit that description, take my advice. It’s simple and fairly obvious.

Buy a cheap film camera. Learn how to use it (so that you don’t waste film and money).

I wrote about this wild idea extensively more than two years ago, in an article headlined We Should All Be Shooting Dorky AF SLRs, and I stand by that article totally. We don’t need expensive cameras, or even new cameras. And this idea has re-established itself in my mind after news that Leica released a brand new M6 last week.

Okay, here’s where I digress for a moment and talk about Leica’s new M6.

To start, big ups to Leica. They created a new (old) film camera in 2022. Amazing. That’s like what Nikon did in 2005 when they made my Nikon SP 2005 Limited Edition. Except Leica’s new M6 isn’t a limited edition. It’s a standard production model. Even better! Really great.

However, I’d like to make two points about the M6 that makes the new camera something of a wet blanket.

First, is a pedantic nitpick.

Leica’s new M6 is being marketed by the brand and their network of influencers as a re-release of “the best” Leica M film camera ever made. Excuse me? “The best” you say?

Did we all just collectively forget that the original M6 from the 1980s was intentionally down-specced from the Leica M3 upon which it was based? That parts of the camera were made out of cheaper alloys and that the internal moving parts were no longer assembled in the previous Leica M style in which components were hand-shaped and fitted on a workbench to mate perfectly within each camera’s chassis? Did we forget that the very day that the original M6 debuted in 1984, it did so as a camera not only technologically inferior to Minolta’s CLE which released four years earlier, but that it would eventually be superseded by the Leica M7? Did we forget about the M7? Because the M7 exists. And it’s better than the M6.

My second point of contention is that the new Leica M6 costs $5,295. Congratulations, Leica. This camera has changed exactly nothing within the entire ecosystem of the hobby. You’ve added no new blood. Your new camera has made zero appreciable impact. In fact, the only way that the new M6 will change anyone’s life is if it falls on someone’s head.

I don’t mean to whine. It’s just that we spent two years being teased by Leica that they were going to release a new film camera and, crucially, they floated the idea that it would be affordable. I had visions of a pared back M. Or at least a camera that didn’t cost basically the same as their current M-A and MP film cameras. Oh, well. I guess I’ll just keep waiting for MiNT’s camera. That one sounds interesting and affordable – two necessary factors for bringing new people into this hobby.

But enough complaining. It’s not Leica’s job to convince people to try film. That’s, uhh, my job, I guess. So, back to that.

If you want to shoot film inexpensively and make great photos, here’s what you do.

Go to any respectable camera shop on the internet (I run one, but there are plenty of others as well), and buy a modern, fully specced, entirely goofy 35mm film SLR camera manufactured between the years 1993 and 1999. You’ll recognize the camera type that I mean instantly. They look like Toyota Tercels and they made trillions of them.

Consequently, they cost $60. And happily they do everything better than that $5,000 camera that Leica just released (and that’s the body-only price). Read the full article that I wrote about buying a cheap AF SLR for further details on which models to seek out, and the finer points.

If those dorky SLRs are too dorky for you (dork-core fashion is everything right now, what’s wrong with you?) then buy a point and shoot. Same idea. They are more advanced than a Leica, if you can believe it. They take good pictures. They cost under $100. They fit in your fanny pack, or cross-body, or whatever we’re calling them these days.

Let’s say you buy one of these cameras. You’ve spent $100. Okay. Now, chill out with the bad photos. Don’t spray and pray. Shoot one roll of film per month. You’ve got 36 chances to make a great picture, more than one photo per day, per month. The cost to buy the film and the development budget on that, even using an expensive lab, won’t be higher than $25 per month. At that rate your total annual outlay to be a film photographer will be $400 in the first year, and $300 per year after that. Surely we can swing it.

You can further minimize your cost by finding a local film lab. Shipping film across the country to the Instagram-famous film labs is expensive. But there are film labs all over the country that don’t advertise anywhere. They’re just content to print peoples’ holiday Christmas cards and run a small frame shop in the back room of the storefront. They don’t care about developing film, but they’ll do it, and they’ll do a good job because they’ve been doing it since you were in diapers. I live in a stupid little town in Massachusetts and there are three businesses within a twenty-minute-drive radius from my house who develop film for like, $8. I don’t have to ship it. The pictures look fine.

That’s all I’ve got for you today. Good luck out there.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio
33 comments
  • Right on! on both your main points. The used fancy-camera market is insane. Buy low on the ugly duckling, mostly auto SLRs, and hurrah for the M7 with its…o no!…electronics.

  • A local lab is a great convenience.

  • James, you also don’t get it.

    Leica takes the MP, slaps a newly design top plate with the M6 design language, a red dot and the M6 engraving on a Leica MP and everyone loses their shit.

    That “new” M6 is not an M6. It’s a Leica MP with a Leica M6 skin. Same brass built, same rangefinder, same viewfinder, same shutter, same film transport and load mechanism, same light meter and so on. The new M6 has almost the same price tag as the Leica MP because it is essentially the same camera, it’s just a different type of MP.

    The new MP “M6” will be manufactured at the same location, using the same machines, the same technicians to assemble it as the existing MP and MA variants of the same camera. It’ll have the same months long wait list as the other MP variants, it’ll be produced in homeopathic amounts at glacial speeds – just like the MP and MA.

    Leica is not doing this for their bottom line or for film shooters, they are doing this for their brand. It’s a marketing stunt. The only good news here is that:

    a) they brought back the M6 design language while you still can shoot an MP quality camera – if you can stomach an MP with a red dot…
    b) there’s now an MP that’s $500 cheaper than the existing variants.

  • 😉 Leica
    I have often said that : now this is a luxury brand which focus only on marketing.
    This is totally different than the Leica of the M3. We have to add that this is a German brand, so this is a spirit of really making money on the best ways, quality is only one way to sale more.
    But, for me I have no eyes to this camera because, it’s not cheaper and this is a MPm6, no more. But a big communication, blablablabla like Ursula Von der Layer to push people to get the vaccinations with Pfizer doses.
    Intelligent people, like for example Ken Rockwell have shown that for example Fuji cameras and lens are at very high levels of quality and results which are more enough for all the photographers on digital.
    The only advantage is to have : the possibility to buy a brand new film camera ; to still have a film camera maker on the field. More and more people use film, it is very good. More and more people use film to one point, kodak can not match the demand … this is fantastic. For me the most important is that all these things show : film is not dead, it’s really alive. And one more time I love the review here which are very intelligent. Leica will surprise me when they will make a New M3

  • Let’s be honest. Film photography in any incarnation is purely a luxury. Nobody needs to shoot film. Nobody needs to spend over $5K on a “new” film camera. There are plenty of people working to keep film photography, the accompanying processes, and gear alive. But shooting film is like driving a vintage car. It can be tons of fun, it can be both insanely expensive or relatively cheap, and it is absolutely unnecessary. People do it because they love it. Folks whining about the current cost of film and film cameras simply have no perspective. It’s like people drinking top shelf whiskey only to complain that it costs too much, without realizing that Kirkland brand whiskey at Costco can be nearly as good for a fraction of the price. If you love shooting film and using vintage cameras, however unnecessary, then do it if it makes you happy. If you can’t afford to shoot film or use the vintage cameras of your choice, then don’t. It’s quite simple. There are other ways to take photographs that don’t have the same kind of ongoing costs of film photography. The same applies for all luxuries.

    • Kirkland whisky is nearly as good at the top-shelf stuff? Blasphemy! 😉

      But Lee, you do bring up a good point. I’ve tasted a bunch of whiskeys over the past few years, and to my unrefined palate, there’s a threshold of around $40-60 for taste. Going more expensive does not always get a better whiskey, but it will be more “rare”.

      I attended a Zoom presentation about whiskey a while back, and the presenter said that in the past, people wanted fresh whiskey, not “aged”. A Scottish distiller (forget which one) had a bunch of old whiskey that no one wanted, so they created a story around how aged whiskeys are better and more rare to get rid of all that stock. It worked. And now that’s the accepted wisdom!

      • He lying in order to sell ‘fresh’ whiskey. Aging, or at least with Scotch, makes a helluva difference. Visit a highland distillery and try the 3, 8, 10, 12, 15, 20, 25 & 40 year old versions of the same stuff (you can usually do it free at the distillery), the difference is massive. The law is different in USA, ‘fresh’ whiskey has caramel, glycerine and other adjuncts added to please the unsophisticated palate.
        In uk ‘fresh’ whisky is 3 years old and the cheap stuff has caramel added. Nothing else by law.

        • Oh, that guy wasn’t trying to sell fresh whiskey or anything. But it’s okay for you to not believe the story if you don’t want.

        • And note in my initial comment I did not say anything about whether fresh whiskey is “better” (nor did the person telling the story.) But at the time the perception was fresh was better, and it took some clever marketing to shift that perception.

      • I did not mean for this conversation to go off into the weeds of whiskey afficionado-ness. What I mean, and what I think you understood me to mean, is that paying top dollar is not necessary in order for someone to enjoy a luxury such as film photography, or whiskey drinking. But as a luxury, nobody needs to shoot film or drink whiskey at all. There are cheaper ways to do it, to have a good time, and get good results, but it’s still not necessarily cheap. I just don’t like it when people whine about the cost of shooting film and/or buying camera gear. There are cheaper options out there than the top-shelf, super-popular, over-hyped stuff that you get fed on YouTube and Instagram. IMO, the whiners are the ones who don’t really want to do the work to find the good deals. They aren’t necessarily willing to consider less popular or 3rd party gear brands, to develop and/or scan their own film, or even to consider shooting cheaper black and white. That’s their problem, and it comes at a cost. If they don’t want to pay it, then they shouldn’t be shooting film.

        • Lee, I get what you are saying. A big problem is that when people decide to get into film, they search for the “best” beginner camera in a specific class, a subject that gets talked up a lot on the interwebs. If they want an SLR, the K1000 is high on a pedestal, and if it’s a fixed lens rangefinder, the QL17 is the top of the pile. Of course the prices have gone up on these cameras because of all the talk so the newbies either get discouraged or end up paying serious cash on these machines. But if they searched a little bit more they could have found out that an SR-T 101 or Hi-Matic 7s are just as good and usually quite cheaper. This is what I did when I decided to get back into film a few years ago.

          And when I got back into film, there was still a notion that film photography was “cheap”, with tales of getting cameras for free or $10 and 3 packs of Fuji C200 for $7. Those days were over in January of 2000, and it’s gotten much worse now. But there still is that notion out there. For those who got into film because it’s supposed to be “cheap”, they’ll get discouraged pretty fast. Those folks will get out of the hobby quickly.

          I’ve tried to keep my film hobby on the economical side. I’ve stuck to Minolta manual focus SLRs: Since they are a “dead” brand, they don’t get the hype and attention of other SLRs. But they are good cameras with great glass. I got into home developing earlier this year and now I’m learning printing in the darkroom. It’s been a fun adventure, and what helped me keep it on the fun side is by not going after expensive, hyped cameras.

  • 5k for a camera is just silly. My last film camera was the Yashica 200 af. Cost: 30 euros including a lens. That’s all you need. Leica is more like Gucci these days

    • When you adjust for inflation the new M6 is pretty much the same price that the Leica M cameras have always been. Leica has never been a camera for the masses. The good new is that the cameras are superb quality, easily serviced and last for many decades.

  • Agreed. It seems to me that every small creator on YouTube or other social media outlet follows the same arc. Buy a cheap camera like an AE-1, shoot a bunch of Kodak gold or HP5. Get some traction on social media, start shooting Portra exclusively, move to medium format, buy a Lecia, then no real new content. Those channels are then big and new folks in the hobby think you haven’t made it as a film photographer unless your blasting away on your M6 with slide films. What James has been saying for years, and I also agree, is all you really need is a film AF camera that works with your digital setup, so you can swap lenses, and go shoot some cheap color film. Walmart sells 3 packs of Fuji 400 color film. They even have mail away development. You don’t get your negatives back, but not a big deal. Shoot what you like and leave the Insta-famous to their own devices.

  • James,
    Like a flu shot (I’d say a Covid booster, but that can be too political!) you need to re-post this every year.
    I’ve never disagreed with your statements about dorky 35mm cameras. They were riding the wave of high-quality, low-cost camera gear. Buy a Nikon N6006, and you had at your disposal almost the entire line of Nikkor lenses; buy a Nikon FM and any Nikkor made would fit the FM. The same was true for Minolta, Pentax, Canon, et al. Nothing has changed, but the prices are more reasonable now.
    I owned a classic M6. I sold it after a few months of ownership because the viewfinder was fussy with LEDs, and I’m not a fan of spot metering.

    I have a M2. It was handmade, each piece fitted by a highly skilled tech till the camera would purr. I respect my M2 because I grew with a father who was a skilled toolmaker – top of his profession. He regularly worked to mil specs on the machines he made. I know the process.

    The neu M6 is a response to marketing research. I would tell people who would like to get a working Leica to buy any M from the unique M1 up to the M5. They were hand built; each one is unique. Get it serviced, and you have a bespoke camera.
    I have Leica gear. Probably too much. Probably should sell some stuff off. I’m now 71 and could downsize. But…

    I should be raking leaves this afternoon; the rain brought down most in my corner of Connecticut, but the cost of film got me thinking. I shoot B&W film. I looked up the cost of color neg film on B&H photo. It’s expensive. So, my advice to the color shooters out there is make every exposure count. Use you iPhone for random color work.

    I have two words for the B&W shooters: bulk load. I scanned eBay, and the average cost of a new, old stock bulk loader is around $25.00. Freestyle Photo sells reloadable 35mm magazines for $28.00 for 25. B&H photo sells 100-foot rolls of B&W film (depending on the brand) from around $60.00 to 90.00. Put together a kit, learn to develop film. Find a local lab that will scan your work. Or equip a darkroom. Lots of info out there.
    At the beginning of the pandemic, I returned to bulk loading HP-5. Scarcity of inventory and mostly keeping close to home helped me make the decision. I can bulk load small rolls (about 16 exp.) up to 36 exp. I ask for 100 ft. rolls of HP-5 for my birthday and Christmas.

    Solutions are out there. But it means people need to work a little harder to make it work.

    BTW, I’ve read Kirkland whiskey is bottled in Kentucky by a well-known & respected distillery. After a couple of glasses, most people wouldn’t know the difference. Same goes with a pic from a Pentax lens and a Leica lens. Just saying…
    Happy Halloween to you and your family.
    -Dan (flickr.com/photos/dcastelli9574/)

    • I love to read Casualphotophile, all the readers, especially Dan, with Sroyon and many others, of course James. You have a M2 Dan, such a marvellous M, I have a M3, for the same reasons. I love to have this kind of work in my hands. All the ways to do something for climate change it’s to return to this philosophy of things made for long time, like a Leica M, but now, this is not the spirit.
      You can make also nice colour pictures with a Sony Xperia 1 IV because it is really like a camera. I still continue, only with Gold 200, others are too expensive, Velvia, Ektachrome are too expensive now.
      Thank you DAN. Enjoy life. Happy Halloween.

    • I like your approach to shooting film affordably, Dan. The process you proposed matches my own, including the bulk-rolling of HP5 and asking for 100′ rolls for Xmas! But I’d recommend shooters go even one step further: Learn to scan your negatives at home. You can shoot, dev, scan, and upload (to Flickr, Grainery, etc.) all in the same day. It’ll pay for itself after a few dozen rolls of film, plus the scans are better. I use the Plustek 8200i, which is a manual-feed 35mm scanner, and it’s simple. They’re $400 now online, which is more expensive than they’v ever been, but they’ll still pay for themselves within 2-4 dozen rolls depending on how much gas you save by not having to drive to the lab to drop off and pick up your negatives.

      Enjoyed your Flickr! Mine is flickr.com/photos/146311150@N03/

      Thanks for the great advice.

  • Some good points. The Leica cameras are beautifully made to last a lifetime, but have become expensive fashion accessories, which is fine if that is what makes you happy. Just like high end wrist watches with their eye watering prices. Their purpose is not to tell the time, it is to make a statement. They also tell the time. I have had Contax cameras since buying my first in 1984. When I started shooting film again four years ago I added some bodies and lenses to my collection. I love shooting with them, and the Zeiss glass is right up there with Leica, but at a much lower cost. Although prices are rising now….. I also have a Canon EOS 500 AF SLR, which I picked up at the charity shop for peanuts. It is VERY capable, takes any EF full frame lens, and a Canon DSLR shooter will feel immediately at home with it. I keep it because that is what I would lend to anyone wanting to try film for the first time. They will get great results from their first roll of film, at a very low cost, even better if they have Canon glass already, and they can learn as little or as much about the art of shooting film as they choose. Without needing to decide whether to eat, or to take photos.

  • Thank you for the great article. Someone mentioned it: We shoot film because we love it. Many ways to cut costs to continue with film – I for one have negatives (B & W) developed and then digitize using a dslr. Many people question why on earth do I go to such lengths to get my Nikon FE out, shoot film and end up with a digital image – could have just used a digital body to achieve the same…Taking out the FE means leaving my cellphone at home, slowing down, I have time to take in the environment around me and fine tune composition, trying my utmost to see the world in black and white, to not spray and pray, waiting in anticipation for the final image after development. May film photography continue to live and grow in the hands of both rich (new M6) and owners/prospective owners of point and shoots and AF SLRs, and those in between! Greetings

  • Yet another camera from Leitz, they’re all made for the collector market like Batman action figures. Destined never to be taken out of the box and played with. I read here that the price is body only. Stuff that, I’d want a lens with it at that price.

  • Try Sharp Prints if you don’t have a local option. They pay shipping on your film.

  • We have the chance to have a website which talks mostly about films, and as we can see many of us come to make some interesting comments.
    Mechanic watch are still used, some are marvellous despite digital watch are very precise,
    Famous cook cut with sharp knifes despite there are robots which can do this job
    A beautiful mechanic bike cycle is used by people who like to ride and use their muscles despite there are powerful electrical bike cycle …
    … …
    Fountain pen are very nice away to write, but computers can do the same job…
    Books, we can find on line and read on our smartphone, why to keep all these bookstores and librairies, … we dont need too, …..
    If we think like that, we can through many things, why not human beings who are not capable to keep this Planet nice, safe without any climate problems ?????
    The same for film cameras and film.
    Every time I use my film camera I am happy, I feel joy, what I can not feel with a digital camera which is a tool, with a film camera I have something else which gives more feelings, and if we use a medium format camera and very capable scanner, results are very very competitive.
    If I am not a big fan of Leica now, I just want to thank them to show that film is still very useful, and more than that because more and more people use it. In life, the criteria of capabilities of tools is not my criteria, mine is to enjoy the tool !!!

  • One thing. They market it as the most popular and not “the best”. There is a difference.

  • I am glad they built a new film camera and it would be nice if Nikon made another manual focus one – but that will never happen. I wish it was a new M3 instead! A camera without a meter would have been a real stretch, but coupled with the “best gadget ever made” moniker, I think it would have sold well. Get one Tik Tok fab to hype the camera, and would be off to the races like my Fuji X100V that is now selling for 1.5X to 2X what I paid for it from a Tik Tok endorsement! By the way, I have never used Tik Tok and never will. I own the original M6 .7ish viewfinder model and it is a wonderful camera. I broke the chintzy rewind knob from user error, forcing a stuck roll during rewind. After having it repaired and CLA’d the meter wonked out. Then I got the meter repaired. I took pictures of the CLA being performed by Youxin Ye with my M3. He told me there is delamination in its viewfinder, but I don’t notice anything and have left it alone – it just goes and goes without issues. Don’t get me wrong, I love both cameras. Which one I use depends on the whim of the day….

  • Leica has always been an expensive camera. That comes from the days when most cameras were assembled by talented machinists who could have been watchmakers. Leica just trades on that cache. Some modern lenses and cameras are equally as good at a fraction of the price. Some two generation old equipment is even more affordable with the same quality.

    Film photography is accessible. Yes, the raw film does cost more these days as does developing. To offset that cost- yep buy the late 90s dorky AF camera body and a quality lens. And then find a basic photography class at a junior college that will teach you f stops, depth of field, shutter speeds and to think about the image instead of spraying and praying.. Some still teach with film and teach developing and printing.

  • The poor person’s M6 is the Olympus OM1-n. Similar size, not much louder, great finder and high quality, smallish lenses that do perform. All at a fraction of the price. A jewel of a camera it is.

    • The Olympus is not a rangefinder. The poor person’s Leica is a Nikon S2. Really nice 35mm RF camera with interchangeable lenses. I like it more than the S3 or SP because the VF is clearer and the RF blob is brighter. You can get one with a decent lens for $500-ish.

  • Leica never teased that they would make an affordable camera. That was the website leicarumors which teases whatever they can to draw clicks. Leicarumors is not affiliated with Leica.
    Why would Leica make an “affordable” camera, when they sell all the ones they currently make. Just make more of those, which is what they apparently are doing with the M6.

  • The affordable Leica is the 111F Barnack with a 50mm Elmar lens. You can probably buy into one for $500, perhaps a bit more for a really good one. With a bit of effort it can take pictures as well as an M3, M4 or M6. I know this because I’ve owned all those M cameras and also the Barnack. Indeed, I still have my M6. It’s compact and great for travel, but I really prefer my Nikon F6. And yes, James, you are whining. A camera is a means to an end, not an end in its self. Anything else is a fetish.

  • My favorite feature of the AF SLR’s…the A[uto] F[ocus]! When I dove back into film photography during the lockdown, I went a bit crazy buying equipment. After narrowing down what I liked using, I ended up with a Canon EOS 3 (AF SLR), a Canon EOS 5Dsr (DSLR) and a Minolta SRT 101 (manual SLR). I primarily use the Canon cameras and save the Minolta for the “just for fun” experience. There is nothing quite like shooting film on an old school manual camera and the Minolta just feels good to shoot! However, the rolls shot with the Minolta are a bit of a crap shoot in the focus department since my eyes aren’t as good as they once were. I have to rely more on the distance setting than what I see. For someone without perfect vision, the auto-focus feature is a god-send; especially when going to the effort to shoot film! There is nothing quite as dis-heartening than setting up the “perfect” shot only to get your film back and realize you were just that little bit out of focus! So, let’s hear it for the AF SLR’s!!

    On the Leica front, I prefer to shoot with a SLR rather than a rangefinder; but, I do have to give kudos to Leica for continuing to issue film cameras. It helps ensure there will be film cameras out there for us to buy further into the future. It would be great if Canon, Nikon and Sony would get back into the film market!

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio