Tuesday, October 12, 2021


By Heinz Richter

It isn't very often that we have a chance to look at Leica prototype cameras, especially ones that are relatively recent.  When electronic controls in cameras became an important part of camera design, Leica was not to be left out.  After the Leica M4, the unfortunately not too successful Leica M5, and the resurrections of the M4, like the M4-2, it was time to come up with a new model, aptly labelled as the Leica M6.

The Leica M6 has come and gone, but it is interesting to see what Leica was considering prior to settling on the M6 as we know it.  This was the Leica M6 electronic, which never made it past the prototype stage.  It was a Leica rangefinder camera unlike any I have ever seen.

 Leica M6 Electronic Prototype.  The light meter on a swing arm clearly visible

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.

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.

LEICA M6 electronic with ELMARIT-M 1:2.8/28mm prototype lens and Leica R4 motor drive

The styling clearly shows a mix of the Leica M4 and Leica M5 design

The prototype Elmarit 28mm f/2.8 mounted on the M6 Electronic with the Leica R4 motor attached

Base plate, LEICA M6 prototype body showing the R4 type motor drive connections.

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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  1. Wouldn't it have made more sense to incrporate the automatic features and light meter into a Leica M4 body?

    1. Yes, that's why this camera never went beyond the prototype stage and that's why Leica eventually came out with the M7.