A brief introduction to LEICA "Panda" rangefinder camera models, 1992~1994 - MIR Image Library

After approx. 10 years in production, for some unknown reasons some of the LEICA M6 standard silver chrome bodies produced/assembled were given a little different face lift done with their exterior appearance. There were no official clarification nor confirmation from LEICA AG how many of these were made and why did these series of LEICA M6 which had black fittings were being intermixed with regular production M6 silver chrome bodies. ON the other hand, it was probably after 1994 that Leica had eventually phased out these M6 with black fittings and reverted all Leica M6 chrome back to regular specification. The series of M6 chrome w/odd configuration had film wind lever, rewind knob, shutter speed knob, rewind lever fitted with an uncustomary black colour on the chrome bodies. Generally M6 bodies with black fittings are rarer than a standard production chrome M6.
   
Comparison among the Leica M6 chrome, Black and Leica M6 Panda
Comparing regular production LEICA M6 with a LEICA M6 chrome with black fittings.
   
No body can trace the original source or who was the first (a truly smart ass ...) who innovativelly referring these Black fittings LEICA M6 as "M6 PANDA" models. In an article prepared by Stephen Gandy stated ".. The rumor is that originally the M6 Panda were born not from design, but from a temporary shortage of the proper chrome parts at the factory. They were NOT a special edition by Leica....". One way or another, I might partially agree with Stephan where such possibility could exist. But even then, it can be equally amazing to relate an established corporation such as LEICA couldn't resolved a production issue over a long, few years period in their inventory shortage of parts for smooth production flow on one of their flagship rangefinder camera model. Besides, Germany was facing a brief spell of unstable state during the 1989~1990's German Reunification ("Deutsche Einheit") period where some Leica vendors may or could be having some problems on their own. (Refer to LEICA M6 Partner-Aktion Model for related info on German reunification)

Illustration of features and  characteristic of Leica M6 Panda w/black fittings models

Actually, if ever there were some truth with rumors circulating, a more complete version would be Leica did faced shortages once, but when shipment with these mismatched bodies rolled out to the market, people were a little excited, since sales had picked up; Leica continued to produced them in such manner; until -- one fine day, some top executive woke up; while looking at the blue sky and all of a sudden they felt something was not right with their "newly configured" M6 at that time, hence they have decided to stop production for these again. Regardless, that was how the batch of of metalica Panda born from SOLMS, Germany during that period... (a more spicy add-ons:- in protesting Mainland China human rights record, refusal to offer Germany a pair of PANDA for genetic research in the lab and mass reproduction in their Zoo...).

Joke aside. The whole problem was, even today LEICA had never officially acknowledged nor offered a proper clarification for these LEICA M6 chrome bodies with black fittings. It can quite difficult for users to get a clue how many were being produced or the exact span of time these Panda M6 were being assembled. Below are rough records of both the M6 chrome / black production figures with estimated year from 1991~mid '94 marked; can anyone help to identify which were the Panda ? Probably not. I guess only Leica AG had the answer.

8/22/1991 M6 chrome 1903501 1904500 1000 units
9/4/1991 M6 black 1904501 1906500 2000 units
9/4/1991 M6
chrome 1906501 1907500 1000 units
4/3/1992 M6
chrome 1914001 1915000 1000 units
4/28/1992 M6 black 1915001 1918000 3000 units
6/1/1992 M6
chrome 1918021 1919020 1000 units
9/4/1992 M6
chrome 1926001 1928000 2000 units
10/27/1992 M6
chrome 1928001 1931000 3000 units
12/10/1992 M6
chrome 1931001 1932000 1000 units
5/25/1993 M6
chrome 1935001 1936000 1000 units
  6/17/1993 M6 chrome 1936001 1937000 1000 units
10/1/1993 M6
chrome 1991001 1993000 2000 units
11/15/1993 M6 black 1995001 1997000 2000 units
3/17/1994 M6
chrome 2000011 2000999 989 units
6/15/1994 M6
chrome 2001354 2001999 645 units
7/11/1994 M6
chrome 2002101 2003000 900 units
7/28/1994 M6 black 2003001 2004000 1000 units
8/15/1994 M6
chrome 2004001 2005000 1000 units
9/6/1994 M6
chrome 2005001 2005941 941 units
9/6/1994 M6 black 2005942 2007000 1059 units
Approx. Ratio:- 2:1 chrome/blk   Ref: Stephan Gandy's Compiled listing

Link to LEICA M6 Royal Photographic Society (RPS) edition 1994
Further, over the years Leica used to entertain (still does) special request as alternate income generating source. In general, most (but not all) special edition LEICA rangefinder models were only being produced in small quantity - so as to preserve the rarity element while enhancing their collectible status. While many of the LEICA M6 special editions which surfaced during the period such as Colombo (1492~1992) 500th Anniv. 200 units Edition; 300 units M6 Year of Rooster, 1993; 151 units LHSA 3-lens 25th Anniv. edition; M6 Traveler Kit Edition, 1994 and Leica M6 Traveler Kit Edition, 1994. Each of these chrome bodies had basic spec of a silver chrome M6. However, there was ONE EXCEPTION: the Leica M6 Royal Photographic Society (RPS) Royal Centenary 100 units Edition issued in 1994. The model has identical black fittings Chrome M6 body which resembles with M6 "Panda". Q:- Can't Leica find regular parts to make just 100 units of M6 RPS Centenary models ? Couldn't be right ?
   
Well, I don't entirely write-off possibility where it was the RPS executives or committee members who had made the RPS edition in such unique configuration. But it can also be LEICA UK representation at Knowlhill, Milton Keynes be telling RPS M6 w/black fittings was the prevailing specification for their M6 standard configuration during that time. Personally, I hate assumption because here it is an opened media where anything you write can seemingly being referred as a truth. But frankly, I wouldn't entirely accept part shortage as the main reason; perhaps I would rather think after 10 years cycle, Leica was experimenting with a little facelifts in their best selling rangefinder camera but how it was started remains as mystery.

 

Leica M6 Panda front view
One thing is for sure:- Chrome M6 w/black fittings ("PANDA") units have no difference whatsoever from any of the standard production M6 Classic silver chrome models. But admittedly, probably we are so used to the regular models; add-on black fittings may provide a sense of mystic look and feel. Visually, they present a better contrast among individual components in a little neat and cleaner manner on a typical silver chrome M6.
   
Further, except for the frame pre-selector lever, other common frequently used controls on the camera now has a better, well defined outlines. I was told M6 "Panda" can fetch a slightly higher premium than regular production M6 chrome. Although technically it is possible to replace those related fittings on a chrome to make it a M6 Panda-look alike (I have seen dealer who even fixed a M6 Titan top cover on a chrome M6 and claimed it was a M6/T prototype ... ). But since the premium for a M6 Panda do not usually excessive and I don't think anyone would take all the trouble in attempting to make any cheat.

Black fittings on film advance lever, shutter speed dial on top plate on a Leica M6 Panda Blackfilm rewind knob and crank on a Leica M6 Panda
Other views,  Leica M6 Panda Well, I am not phobia with "Panda" but as long as you think you are happy with what you are getting, that is fine. After all, it is YOUR CAMERA, right ? But I just don't encourage new Leica RF entry users paying extraordinary premium for the difference in relating these are very special editions and/or very collectible, that is all.

<<<--- Other views. Side and Rear section.
Further, most of us would make assumption that LEICA M6 was only beginning to emerge in the market between the period of 1991~1994*. But a recent example with this LEICA M6 "Panda" with S/N 17748xx as shown below may easily change our general perception towards this particular series of M6 model.

Leica M6 Panda with old-style Leitz logo black presentation box and wide should strap with LEICA name
Actually, if it was not the odd combination of this Panda-spec M6 which matched with a black presentation box /extra-wide plastic shoulder strap with an old-style LEICA logo/name; I wouldn't take notice of it. As we know most of the later boxes were only in white and after tracking the S/N of 17748xx from reading references such as Stephan compiled listing, which indicates this M6 Panda could be a SOLMS produce between 1988/89.
   
I have no references when actually the old-type, Leitz logo black presentation boxes were replaced by white plastic packaging but pairing the Leitz logo box with the Panda-spec M6 chrome would easily tell you something was not right somewhere. i.e. If assuming the camera was a genuine M6 chrome body produced with black fittings, the camera shown above may just push existence of M6 Panda earlier by a few years to 1989**. Lastly, Stephen's site has provided an indicative quantity of approx. 1,000 units M6 Panda-spec bodies. But if the mentioned production figure of 1,000 units was correct; then does it mean they were randomly being assembled during a long span of time which stretches between 1989~1994 ? Hmmm.. while its creator maintains their attitude, it is easier to find proper answers of Panda than this metalic "Panda" huh ?....

* Earliest recorded sale item with S/N tracking reference. ** 8/25/1989 M6 chrome 1772501~1775000, 2500 units; 4/12/1990 M6 chrome 1777001~1777500 500 units

Site progress update:
22.10.2008 1st Draft
Any additional info, correction of content or contributing pictures of this model, please contact my web buddy: rick_oleson@yahoo.com


Main Index Page - Leica M6-series models / Main Index Page - Leica-M Rangefinder camera Models

Nomenclature / Main Reference Map for Leica M6 Standard Model(s) applicable to this M6 Edition
Instruction Manuals:-
Leica M6 Classic in PDF (3.8mb) applicable to this M6 Travelers Edition by Niels H. S. Nielsen

MIR.com.my - link to Index Page

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Credit: Images appeared herein courtesy of Mr. Peter Coeln from LEICA Shop®, Austria who also operates a popular Westlicht Auction House. The LEICA M6 Panda with old Leica presentation box courtesy of some nice folks from DigifanCN®. The group also operates their own active, popular EBAY STORE, trading for many major camera brands and collectibles. Images Copyright © 2008. All rights reserved. Please respect the visual property of the contributing photographer.