Tuesday, March 25, 2014

1981 "LEICA M6 ELECTRONIC" PROTOTYPE


I have been fascinated for many years by the history of the Leica.  Especially prototypes and test models which never reached the market are of great interest to me.  They give us some insight of what the people behind the camera have been thinking of, and what directions the further development of the camera might have taken.

Such a camera caught my eye just recently with the announcement of the special WestLicht auction in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Leica camera.  A photograph showing some of the rare Leica items that will be auctioned off showed a Leica rangefinder model unlike any I had ever seen.

The camera is shown on the right side of the picture below the microscope

A bit of research revealed that it is a prototype M6 with electronic shutter which ultimately was replaced by the M6 we know.  It was designed by Peter Loseries and produced in 1981.  The camera was based on the Leica R4 body.  The pentaprism and the mirror box were removed and replaced by the Leica M rangefinder.  It also included the angled rewind knob of the Leica M4.  The camera maintained the shutter of the R4 as well as most of the electronics.  This resulted in an M Leica with TTL metering and automatic exposure control.  This was achieved by placing the sensor of the light meter on an arm which would swing out of the way prior to making any exposure, reminiscent of the Leica M5.  The camera would also accept the data back and the motor drives of the R4.  The so-called “M6 electronic” was finished in late 1981 and only four complete prototypes were ever produced.

LEICA M6 with an electronic shutter, 1981 prototype

None of these remained at Leica and only two of them are known to exist. The M6 which finally went to production in 1984 was completely different from this first concept.

Along with the camera, Leica also made a prototype Elmarit-M 28mm f/2.8 with a built-in square lens hood, designed by Rolf Crema.  Only two of these lenses were ever assembled and it never went into production.

Overall, this hybrid LEICA camera has a mix of features of M6 and the R4 with an exterior that is more reminiscent of the M5.  Would it have been a sales success?  We will never know, but considering the resistance to the M5, we should not be surprised that Leica took a more conservative approach with the actual, marketed version of the M6.

Front view of LEICA M6 electronic with ELMARIT-M 1:2.8/28mm lens incoporrated with an electronic shutter, 1981 prototype model

LEICA M4-style design in a LEICA M6 Prototype camera, 1981

Emarit-M 1:2.8/28mm mounted on a LEICA M6 prototype camera in 1981

Base plate, LEICA M6 prototype body with electronic shutter, 1981


Special thanks to Peter Coeln of WestLicht for giving permission to use his photographs of the “M6 electronic” on these pages.

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10 comments:

  1. I must say that this camera appeals to me. I like the features beyond those of the marketed M6. The departure from the standard M body shape doesn't bother me, but then I also liked the M5 I once owned.

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  2. Wouldn't this camera have cheapened the Leica by converting a Minolta to a Leica? Makes me think the M stands for Minolta.

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    1. Not at all. I have heard this criticism before in regard to the Leica R4. Many believed that the camera was nothing more than a rebadged Minolta. Nothing could be more from the truth. The extend of the Minolta involvement was that they furnished the basic body casting to Leica. The rest was actually quite different. The electronics were entirely different from the Minolta, as were most other aspects of the camera. The metering system was substantially more sophisticated than anything Minolta had to offer at the time. The differences were even greater with the M6 prototype because it required an entirely different metering system. To call the R4 or the M6 prototype a rebadged Minolta is, quite frankly, extremely unfair.

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  3. Why did Leica have Minolta make the basic body casting for them?

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    1. Cost. It would have been substantially more expensive for Leica to make the basic body casting themselves. As such, this has be looked upon as a welcome cost saving measure.

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  4. This being the 100 anniversary year for Leica and also a Photokina year, is Leica introducing some new camera gear?

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    1. We don't need to wait til this year's Photokina, Leica has sent out invitations to a special event in Berlin on April 10 Where they will introduce some new equipment. Of course nothing has been said about what that might be. Of course, they will keep the best stuff for Photokina, I am sure. The rumormills are full of guesses as to what that might be, one typical hater even went so fat to claim that whatever they introduce will be substandard, out of date and too expensive. I prefer not to participate in this madness. I can wait til April 10 and til this Fall and then report about the new equipment with facts rather than guesses.

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    2. Slight correction. The event in Berlin is on April 24.

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  5. I wonder if the M5 disaster ultimately kept Leica from marketing this version of the M6?

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    1. I am sure that entered into the decision.

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