Home Features Bièvres Photo Fair: Leica M body prices soar

Bièvres Photo Fair: Leica M body prices soar

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Not exactly your run-of-the-mill special edition, this "Ivory Custom" camera and lens was first prize winner at the Paris Photokina in 1985. It was on sale for €6,000 last weekend

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.

Not exactly your run-of-the-mill special edition, this "Ivory Custom" camera and lens was first prize winner at the Paris Photokina in 1985. It was on sale for €6,000 last weekend
Not exactly your run-of-the-mill special edition, this “Ivory Custom” camera and lens was first prize winner at the Paris Photokina in 1985. It was on sale for €6,000 last weekend

Doubled

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 Bièvres I bought a mint M6 TTL, boxed, with original receipt, for about £850 (enjoying a better exchange rate against the pound). Now, that body will probably fetch twice as much. And it has given me a lot of pleasure along the way….

Early bird dealers from London waiting to pounce on the worms. Mark Krukowski of JK Cameras and Ivor Cooper of Red Dot Cameras
Early bird dealers from London waiting to pounce on the worms. Mark Krukowski of JK Cameras and Ivor Cooper of Red Dot Cameras

Sensible buy

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.

Many dealers simply set up shop on a blanket. Good on dry days, not so good when it rains
Many dealers or private sellers simply set up shop on a blanket. Good on dry days, not so good when it rains

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.

Rummage, rummage - the low end of the market
Rummage, rummage – the bottom of the market. Not quite the place to look for M6 Special Editions

Stocking up

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.

Bièvres is noted for the vast quanity of ancient plate cameras, brass lenses and magic lanterns with their impressive chimneys
Bièvres is noted for the vast quanity of ancient plate cameras, brass lenses and magic lanterns with their impressive chimneys

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 are still in existence. But, even so, there must be a lot of churning going on from year to year.

I suspect it’s not unknown for a dealer to re-buy a body he had previously bought and sold on.

Special editions

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.

Claus Sassenberg's M6 TTL on the left  and his M6 on the right. Note that the M6TTL is slightly taller and has the larger shutter speed dial which I find easier to operate (Image Claus Sassenberg of Messsucherwelt.com
Claus Sassenberg’s M6 TTL on the left and his M6 on the right. Note that the TTL is slightly taller and has the larger shutter speed dial which I find easier to operate (Image Claus Sassenberg of Messsucherwelt.com

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.

Ideal buys

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 do into reverse. Who knows? But, for the moment, it’s full steam ahead.

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

Related articles

Claus Sassenberg on buying his M6 TTL

Bièvres 2016 when there were still bargains to be had!

  1. Source: Red Dot Photo Books’ Leica Pocket Book, 8th Edition

10 COMMENTS

  1. “..steeples automatic exposure control”? (Third para from the end.)

    Perhaps “steeples” – darn; the spell-checker’s done it for me too! – I think it was meant to be “STEPLESS”!

  2. Greetings from Naples. Not many cameras here in Italy with the ubiquitous smartphone ruling the roost with all nationalities, natives and visitors. Next Saturday the Leitz Photographica Auction ( formerly WestLicht) takes place in Wetzlar and while it will be largely a collector audience, it will be interesting to see which way the Leica prices go. I will be watching my favorites, the LTM models, but there are many interesting Ms, including the fifth M3 ever made and also one of the first MPs with a motor drive from the 1950s. Steep 6 figure sums are expected for those items, but there also quite a few more ‘ordinary’ film Ms to test the market.

    William

    • Hello William, yes, collector items are a law unto themselves. It’s the common-or-garden M6/M3/M4 bodies that seem to be rising rapidly. I suppose it could be a bubble but who knows? Enjoy Naples.

      • There are some ‘vin ordinaire’ items at the Leitz Auction which can be used to measure the market. As they say ‘ a rising tide raises all boats’.

        William

  3. Where you mention “the last fully mechanical Leica bodies” you should also include the M-A. The M-A has no light meter, but it is fully mechanical and in current production like the MP.

    • Yes of course you are right and I hadn’t forgotten it. I just didn’t think it was relevant in this context. It’s a new camera costing £3,600 so of limited relevance to the secondhand market. The MP, although still current, is also available on the used market. If I were in the market for an M-A I would probably go for an M4 or earlier. Still, thanks for raising this.

  4. Makes me nostalgic for the M bodies I traded – the M3, the M4, the M6 and the M6TTL — Im sure that I got good prices for them but …. In the end I don’t regret this – in return I have the most delightful digital CL,M10, and for a time the Q. Shooting has become easier and low light for y architectural interior photography has increased in quality and with the CL everything has become lighter and even auto focus! And Im waiting to trade my Panasonic Lumix S1R and lens for the new SL2 — if ever it emerges out of the Leica works. Not sure I can resist the design quality and simple menus of the SL….

  5. I have always regretted selling my M4P and 50mm summicron to buy a Minolta 9 and some AF primes. Minolta had some gorgeous primes such as the 85/1.4 and 200/2.8 but it was not a Leica M. I wish I had kept the M but I had a young family at the time and had to make some choices. Even my wife missed the look of my Leica images afterwards. It is the only camera body I have ever regretted selling. The only lens I have truly regretted selling is the Leica 50/1.4 which I loved everything about it: built-in hood, tiny, beautiful rendering.

    There is something wonderful about picking up a Leica M of most vintages: the fine craftsmanship, the feel in your hand.

    My Minolta 9 will not be sitting on someones shelf being admired and worth anything. My Leica M4P is probably still in use and I do not want to look up what it is worth.

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