M: Special Models
The Leica M6 was introduced in 1984 (Orwells year) as the successor to the M4P. The M6 offered exposure metering through the lens, but was practically similar to the M4P, that was practically similar to the M4 from 1969. The M6 should not have been seen the light of the day. Around 1980, Leitz was very close on the decision to merge the lines of the M4 and the R4 in a platform camera, sharing much of the same components, as the vertically running electronically controlled shutter, the same body chassis, but with a different bayonet. The semi-automatic M-camera was already developed in 1982, but the management did not want to risk alienating the clientele and so decided to go for the M6. It was the Konica Hexar RF that jumped to the same specs the enigmatic Mx from 1982 should have offered. The Hexar was not the success the makers hoped for and is now discontinued or in low demand. The M7 picked up, where the Mx left off and is one of the best M-cameras ever.
In 1998 the M6TTL was announced, an M6 with sensible flash automation. For the M afficionado who only accepts the existing photons as the means to expose the subject, this was already a bold step and the M7 with aperture priority exposure automation, was almost an insult. Leica responded quite quickly with the MP, in fact similar to the previous M6, but with improved internal gears and a retrolook. Over a period of 20 years we have come more than full circle and not without reason, many persons in the Leica world complain about the lack of innovative drive to evolve the M series into the best up-to-date mechanical camera for the 21 century. The announcement of the Mdigital might signal the writing on the wall for the superbly manufactured mechanical high precision 35mm camera.
Maybe the real lack of progress has been the argument to introduce the many M specials, that are the play things of the collectors. Below the surface, all M cameras, special or regular, have the same engineering quality and specifications.
The list that is attached to this article shows all special M models I have been able to find. Presumably there are models that I did not cover. Give me an email and I will add them. When known, I have added the serial numbers, otherwise it is up to the collector the find the numbers. Sometimes Leica has provided a specially designed range, as with the M6J, that has a range of 40 consecutive numbers for every year since 1954.
On many occasions, there is a special lens combined with camera. Most often the Elmar-M 1:2.8/50mm has been used, but the Summilux-M 1:1.4/50mm, the Summicron-M 1:2/50mm and the Summicron-M 1:2/35mm ASPH are quite frequent too.
The special series (150 years of optics) used a metal cover with a platinum layer and a body cover from the Karung snake, a not-endangered species. Even so, as a snake, you will not be pleased to be forced to give your skin to a camera that will be put for ever in a cabinet, as the place where most of these specials will end. The special Henri Cartier-Bresson camera with signature was delivered in a box, designed by Louis Vuitton. Presumably out of anger, Hermes bought 30% of the Leica shares to promote their own design. Indeed, with the current announcement that users can personalise their M camera with signatures and other options, the famous M camera is in danger of becoming a designer gadget for the ones who do not photograph but are in the business of conspicuous consumption.
This is a worrying trend. The Hermes Leica will cost you Euro 8.500 at least. As a bonus you will get Barenia calfs-skin, and you may cross your fingers that the leather in your Porsche cayenne has the same atmosphere.
Normal versus special.
The single M7 titanium model for the Sheik al Thani, built by three engineers during a full year may be rather unique, the hammertone model from the LHSA with more than a thousand items seems rather ordinary. In fact many so called special versions are simply normal models wit a special paint or some engraved logo. The rewind knob and the lever wind of the M3 are the most used items to give the special model some additional cachet.
Gold and platinum are the materials to use if you want a truly special model and the rich on this earth have no hesitations in this area. The black paint model is in special demand, because it gives the buyer/user the feeling that he owns a precious product. With such a camera, the collector may dream and identify himself with the famous photographers who actually used the cameras as intended: to create pictures with impact and passion.
In addition to the models with real engravings, one will also encounter models with stickers, a quite cheap method of creating a special model. As is the custom in the car industry, you can boost sales of the older model, by designating it as the last of xxx model.
The role model
By now about 17.000 M-cameras are designated as a special model. That is a large number for a model that would appeal to the true collector. In recent years the introduction of special models has increased. There has been some comment from the Leica community about the proliferation of these so-called special models. The official answer from Leica is simply this: as long as it sells, we will produce them.
It is a pity that Leica gives more attention to the collectors than to the real users. The current M7 and MP can be improved and expanded with very useful options that will enhance the quality and reliability of the picture taking process. An engraved personal signature on the top cover may not be the best way to proceed.