The Leica M2 was Leica’s answer to a requirement for a more affordable and more versatile M camera. In many regards it can be seen as a simplified Leica M3, but actually as far as the history of the Leica M goes, it was a little more significant than just that. And not only is it significant in Leica’s history, it’s had its own little affect on me.
Like the Leica M-A I recently borrowed from Leica UK, the Leica M2 is also a borrowed camera. This time the camera is on loan from my mate Ben. Ben is what I call a jammy git, as only a few months ago, in a market where to a greater extent Leica M2s go for around £400-500, Ben paid around £250 for his, and got a pretty good one too. He might have to pay for a CLA to have the viewfinder cleaned up a bit, but in the grand scheme of things I’d rather add c.£100 for a CLA to a £250 purchase than to a £450 purchase… So yeah, Ben, you’re a jammy git, but I appreciate the loan!
Whilst I am obviously appreciative of the loan for the fact that it’s allowed me to experience yet another Leica M camera, it has also caused me a small issue. You see, prior to trying Ben’s Leica M2 I had concluded that I didn’t need to try an M2, or an M4 or an M6(again) or an MP. The differences between some of these cameras is so slight, I’d come to the conclusion that I didn’t need to experience them to draw my own conclusions, I could just base my views on assumption. Well, you know what they say about assumption… I was wrong about the Leica M2, so now I feel like I’d like to have a go with all of them.
Playing with two M3s, the Leica M2 and M-A has really helped me join a few dots about why folks get so committed to one model or another. The fact is, the subtleties between Leicas do matter to people. Sometimes, so much so, that to the owner of say a Leica M2, it might seem unfathomable why anyone would possibly want a different model. This passion can take a turn for the extreme, as is evident in some comments about the Leica M-A. As I mentioned in my post about it some people’s response is that of such commitment to their Leica M2 or M4 or whatever, that they can’t even fathom a justification for the existence of the M-A, never mind owning one.
I think I’m beginning to come to a couple of fairly sound conclusions as why this happens. For a start, I think some people are sceptical of other Leica cameras for financial reasons. ‘I have this Leica, I like it, I can’t financially justify that Leica, so I’m going to judge it as not relevant to me’.
Spending a large sum of money on anything imparts a level of commitment to a thing, and less face it, there aren’t really any Leica M mount cameras that don’t demand large sums of money. Ben was lucky at £250 for his Leica M2, the average entry level is more like £400 now I’d say, that’s a lot of cash by the standards of the majority.
Sinking that cash is definitely going to lend itself to an emotional attachment to the object, and rightfully so. Considering a Leica M-A is 8x as much, or 13x as much as what Ben paid, it’s easy so see why many would just roll their eyes and dismiss it.
There are also the somewhat more objective reasons why people commit to one model over another. My better understanding of this has been born out of my recent experiences of these subtle differences between the likes of an M-A and a Leica M2. There are small but significant differences between these cameras.
The funny thing is, the closer I get to them, the more I learn about them, the more profound the differences between them appear to me to be. I shall get into some of the specifics of what makes the Leica M2 a little different from any other Leica in a moment, but for now, I shall just say, I can completely understand why some people would show such allegiance to this camera, it does after all offer something no other Leica M rangefinder does… Not even a £3250 Leica M-A!
Of course some people may use these slightly different mechanical functions to justify a purchase. Note for example how elegantly I have constructed an argument for me to try them all – ‘I write a blog about cameras, a like Leicas, I’ve discovered the beauty in their subtle differences, now for the good of my own education, and maybe even that of others, I need to try ALL of them!’ If I was someone else, I’d probably laugh at me behind my back!
The fact is, Leica have made no less than 10 larger-scale production Leica M-mount rangefinder cameras that in reality are even by the extremes of differences largely similar. What this gives the Leica user is the opportunity to be fussy, to pick the right one for them.
Reasons and justifications may vary, but who is anyone else to argue? For many, the Leica is the perfect tool, and for it to be perfect, this can mean being picky about a very specific way in which it functions. Of course, almost amusingly, it can also mean being a bit bloody minded, or stubborn, or outspoken or – as was commented on my Leica M-A post – “earnest”, which was the best word I’ve never thought of to describe some Leica shooters.
I mention this, as I must admit to being quite pleased to have been identified as not being earnest about Leicas… Though I do sometimes wonder how long it will take for me to get that way?!
So on to the Leica M2 and what makes it so special
One of the biggest inconveniences of the Leica M3 was for the wide angle photographer. If a 35mm lens was to be mounted, a pair of “goggles” attached to the 35mm lens were required to demagnify the viewfinder. As a solution to this the Leica M2 had a lesser magnification finder. Reduced from the 0.91x of the Leica M3, the M2 was the first Leica M to have a 0.72x magnification finder.
This 0.72x finder, now the standard magnification for the Leica M viewfinder, provided what can be best described as a happy medium with just the right balance of magnification to make framing and focusing with lenses ranging from 28mm all the way up to 135mm possible. I think this is possibly the Leica M2’s claim to fame as a body; it will always be the first widely available 0.72 finder Leica M.
But even with so many subsequent iterations of the M camera having this finder, and indeed further “advancements”, the Leica M2 – as previously mentioned – still manages to be quite unique amongst its younger siblings in a couple of significant ways.
I mentioned that the 0.72 finder allowed easy use of lenses from 28-135mm, but of course the Leica M2 didn’t have framing lines for all those lenses, in fact like the M3 before it there are only actually 3 sets of frame lines. This for me is either the biggest selling point or pretty much the biggest flaw of the Leica M2, depending of course on a subjective and personal preference.
The 3 sets of frame lines on the Leica M2 are 35mm, 50mm and 90mm, non of them paired. Because of this it’s actually the only non-special edition/custom Leica that doesn’t share any of its frame lines with any others. The M3 50mm lines are always visible, the M4 that came after had 135mm lines with the 35mm, the M4-2 had 75mm lines with the 50mm and by the M4-P the 90mm lines shared their view with the 28mm lines.
Now, to a great extent, I don’t find frame lines distracting, so I don’t mind the “cluttered” viewfinders that followed. But I must admit, mounting a 35mm lens on a Leica M2 and seeing only those lines and a rangefinder patch is surprisingly pleasant. Certainly more so than I had expected.
I mention the 35mm lines specifically as for many, the 35mm lens is the natural choice for a rangefinder, in fact, I’ve read a good few accounts of people who only shoot with a 35mm lens. So for those who do shoot only 35mm, the Leica M2 makes a very strong argument for itself above and beyond any other model.
There also also the tactile features to consider
Short of the new Leica MP, M-A and of course M3, the Leica M2 is also the only standard M rangefinder to have the classic all metal film film advance and knurled rewind knob. It’s not even that I find the plastic tipped advance particularly poor in function, in fact, were they on top of a Nikon I might find them to be a good quality well-functioning part of the camera.
But on a Leica, when the alternative is the all metal advance, for me there is no contest. Call me a snob, but on a camera that should represent all that is wonderful about precision and mechanical excellence, a bit of flappy plastic doesn’t sit well with me. In short, personally I find the original film advance much more pleasing to use and behold than the later plastic tipped ones. As for the rewind knob, well, my preference for that is less rational… I just think it looks nicer, and really don’t care how long it takes me to rewind a film.
The Leica M2 is also unique amongst its peers for having a manually set external shot counter. To be honest, I’m not a fan of this part of the camera. The internal automatically resetting shot counter just appeals to me, it somehow makes the camera feel more of a precision thing, more mechanically advanced I suppose? It is also possible to forget to set the counter on the Leica M2, which would be little more than a minor annoyance for me… But as I say, this is Leicas we are talking about, I’m allowed to be fussy, right?
Interestingly, the Leica M2 also has a bunch of variations over the course of its production run, some that are down to date of manufacture, and some – at least as far as I can work out -that aren’t. The early ones for example had a button release for the rewind, later ones had a lever like on most other Ms.
I’ve read the button can be a little temperamental, and even that it can fall off. I don’t know how true this is, and to be honest, if I was looking for one, I’d probably go for a button one for the same reason I prefer a knob rewind… There were also versions with self timers, and those without, there were even runs with and without frame line preview levers. I’d imagine, if such a camera exists, a button rewind, that didn’t have either lever on the front would be a very smart looking Leica M2. If I were to buy one, I suspect that would be the camera I’d try to find.
So what does the Leica M2 stand for today?
Well, firstly, it seems to be a camera that is slowly creeping up in value. As was pointed out to me on Twitter the other day, it was only a couple of years ago they were going for more like £250. I’d guess this is to do with maybe a slight increase in those looking for high quality film cameras.
It also puts it in broadly the same price bracket as the M3, M4, M4-2 and M4-P. In short, if you have somewhere between £300 and £500, any of these cameras are there to be chosen from. But out of all of them, if you don’t mind the external shot counter, and you only shoot 35mm, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Leica M2.
For me, I must admit this experience has made me question my convictions about the Leica M-A; it’s made me wonder if I might just be nuts deciding to fork out all that cash. But as I keep pointing out, the beauty of the Leica M is choice, and for the various reasons in my review, the M-A is the camera I’ve chosen for me.
That said, had I not got quite a few cameras to sell to help me afford it, would I be satisfied with a Leica M2? Well for a start, I realised the other day that I only really shoot 35mm, 50mm and 90mm, so the Leica M2 certainly wouldn’t impose a limit on me in that regard. The problem is, the M-A is a sweet fruit I’ve now tasted… I want more! But to those out there who have a Leica M2, and don’t see the point in an M-A – pretty much however you choose to justify that opinion – whilst I don’t necessarily agree with you, I can definitely empathise!
The Leica M2 is of course a wonderful Leica, that – although you might have to look quite closely to see it – is unique in ways that mean for right photographer it can quite easily stand proud of its siblings.
Cheers for reading