Over the past year inflation in Leica M film bodies has gathered pace rapidly. I was surprised last weekend at the Bièvres Photo Fair to find some rather fanciful asking prices. The M6 Classic, which is currently the most popular body among the new breed of younger film photographers, could be had for around €700 at Bièvres a couple of years ago.
Now most dealers are asking between €1,500 and €1,600. Indeed, visiting traders from Britain were having to pay more than they expected for most M bodies, from the M3 through to the M6 and MP.
While the MP is still a current model (listed at £3,700 in the UK) it remains in very short supply and, as a result, used versions are fetching up to £2,800. Only last year £2,000 was considered normal for a used MP. Even the M6 TTL, the successor to the M6 Classic, is now pushing £2,000 in the UK. Three years ago at
There is no doubt that if you are into film photography, a Leica M body — almost any M body — is a sensible buy. It may cost over the odds compared with run-of-the-mill SLRs, but it will almost certainly hold its value well. In fact, the increase in value over a few years could well pay for all your film and processing.
Last weekend’s Bièvres event was unusually hot. I remember back in 2016 it rained most of the time. Wet weather doesn’t sit well with an open-air fair, so dry and not too warm is the perfect combination. Tramping around on Saturday was hard work, but most of the big deals were done early in the day as usual.
Stalls at Bièvres offer a vast range of cameras and equipment covering the whole gamut of photography from the earliest days. Ancient plate cameras and accompanying brass lenses are still in great demand and there is always a fine array of curiosities to keep you entertained. Serious buyers come from all over the world, including a large contingent from Hong Kong and China.
One Hong Kong dealer explained that Leica M bodies from Europe are prized because, in general, they have existed in ideal temperature and humidity conditions. While Hong Kong is noted for good deals on modern equipment, film bodies are generally more expensive than in Europe, possibly because of this climate problem. So Bièvres and other similar fairs provide a ready source of new blood for the used camera market in Asia. This, in itself, is a factor in pushing up prices.
Trade buyers from know what they are looking for and, generally, they will home in on the bargains early in the day. When you are prepared to buy several dozen cameras and lenses, quantity discounts prevail and give the traders advantages over the average private buyer. But this is what keeps the home stores stocked.
What surprises me is that there are always stacks of used bodies on show at any major photo fair. You might be forgiven for wondering where they all come from, whether there is an inexhaustible supply. Of course, there isn’t, and that helps feed inflation. Take the popular M6, for instance. Leica made 132,4541 of them — including 75,453 black bodies, 51,725 chrome and 5,276 special editions. Clearly, most of them seem to have survived, just as something like 70% of all Porsches ever produced
I suspect it’s not unknown for a dealer to re-buy a body he had previously bought and sold on.
The successor to the M6 Classic, the M6 TTL (made between 1998 and 2002) continued the tradition of special editions, with no fewer than 11 listed. All these sets, many of them beautifully packaged, naturally command a substantial premium and are almost entirely in the hands of collectors.
The special edition market really took off during the reign of the M6 Classic between 1984 and the end of the century. No fewer than six pages of the Leica Pocket Book 8th Edition, published by Red Dot Books, are devoted to M6 editions. They include the 1989 75th Anniversary of Leica photography edition, a platinum M6 and matching 50mm Summilux, which was supplied in a mahogany box and limited to 1,250 examples. Others were made in smaller numbers, including the 300 Year of the Rooster models made for a Far East Leica agent in 1993. The LHSA (Leica Historical Society of America) has commissioned many special editions of cameras and lenses over the years, including the LHSA 25th anniversary M6 which was limited to just 151 sets.
There is a new boom likely in specials made to order under the Leica à la carte programme which is ending on Thursday this week. With advance warning, individuals and dealers from all over the world have been ordering custom versions which will represent the last of the breed. They will be sold at a premium once Leica stops production, and will eventually filter their way through to the used market at a future Bièvres fair. These are not special editions in the accepted sense, but they will undoubtedly help fuel inflation.
For the rest of us, though, the standard M6 Classic or M6 TTL represents the ideal Leica film cameras. They are certainly the models to go for if you need exposure metering. Although the M5 had been the first M body to include metering, it was the M6 that really got things moving and was far more successful than the M5.
It’s worth mentioning, also, the MP (which is still being made) is highly regarded as the true successor to the M6 Classic, sharing the same dimensions (the M6 TTL was taller) but with an M6 TTL meter read-out with a central red dot to signify correct exposure and a more sturdy construction. It also features a brass top plate in contrast to the zinc of the M6 and it wears well, often showing signs of “brassing”, where the paint rubs away to reveal the metal, and this feature is desirable.
The M6 Classic, M6 TTL and MP were the last fully mechanical Leica bodies and tend to be prized (and priced) over the successor M7 with its electronically controlled shutter with aperture-priority stepless automatic exposure control.
Do bear in mind that while M bodies appear to be on the up and up, this is fuelled largely by a resurgence in the use of film cameras, particularly for street photography. Mark Krukowski of JK Cameras in London told me that last Christmas nearly every photography student had an M6 at the top of their wishlist and, as a result, supplies dried up. But it could equally work in the opposite direction if film again goes out of fashion. Then, the inflation in Leica bodies could
I went to Bièvres, as you gathered. But did I find any bargains? No. All I got for my troubles was a used 77mm UV filter for €15 which I needed but couldn’t find in my extensive filter drawer. Must try harder next year