Leica M2

Leica M2 Review – Unique in its own Subtle Way

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.

Model Commitment

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.

Leica M2 Summarit 50mm 1.5 ltm

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!

M2 and Summarit 50mm 1.5 ltm

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.

M2 and v3 cron

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.

Leica M2 frame counter
Leica M2 frame counter

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?

M2 and v3 cron

Model variations

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


Links and more ref:
More of my pictures on flickr
A review by Ray Larose
More content featuring the Leica M2 can be found on 35mmc here

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35 thoughts on “Leica M2 Review – Unique in its own Subtle Way”

  1. I have and adore the M3, but reach for an M2 more often because I’m an eyeglass wearer and enjoy the eye relief of the 50mm finder on the M2. They’re very near the same shooting experience, but it’s just easier for me to see the entire 50mm frame on the M2.

    I’m sure the M-A is a wonderful camera. Maybe if it were just OLD there would be more positive reaction to it. 🙂

    Chris Hunt

    1. Yeah, think you might be right … It is another common scepticism of Some leica users – scepticism of the new…
      Look what happened to the M5 for example!
      There was a comment on a forum I read somewhere whilst researching this post. People talked about the M2 as the obvious answer to the M-A. They argued the M-A should have had a different, faster, possibly metal shutter, maybe worked like an M7 combined with a Nikon F3. Eventually some sensible chap perked up with something along the lines of “can you imagine the uproar” …

      Cheers for the thoughts from a glasses wearer, I don’t wear mine so never think about these things 🙂

  2. I am an MP & m6 user myself. But if I were to choose to shoot on one lens that would (like Henri Cartier Bresson as he so claimed) the 50mm and because of its larger field of view for this lens my choice of Leica would be the M3

    1. I shoot a lot of 50mm too … And definitely love it on the M3, but for me, the versatility of the .72 finder wins.

      How do you find the M6 compared to the MP?

      1. Hi hamish

        In answer to your question about the comparison between the MP and M6. There are slight but not insignificant differences between these two; the MP to the touch feels a bit more hefty than the M6 but with a less’ gripp’y feel – it’s really in the material used on the body of the MP which has a slight slippy-sheen. But the camera is perhaps more durable and exudes a slight mark up in apparent qualit., Again, in comparison to the M6, another difference is found in the film rewind mechanism, on the MP it is all metal, more solid but takes ages to use. When I first got the camera I was always opening the bottom plate to remove the film only to find that the film had not been completely re-spooled. A heart sinking experience. Because this made me paranoid I always check that the film has been completely rewound by cocking the film advance lever a few times once I think the film has been fully re-spooled. If the rewind spools two red dots moves I know that the film has not fully re-entered its housing. All-in-all the MP is my prefered camera. It seems to age with grace.

  3. Pingback: The Leica M2 | 35mmc

  4. I have both the M2 and an MP. I shoot 21, 35 and 50mm. I bought the M2 a few weeks ago in mint condition because I wanted one camera with the 35mm permanently mounted. The M2 seemed the logical choice because of the frame lines. I am really pleased with the M2, the bright viewfinder and frame lines are very clear. I would struggle to justify the M-A when there are so many 50 year old M2 models out there for a fraction of the price. I even find the film loading into the clip on the M2 spool slightly easier than the MP. I have some digital bodies as well but I look at the M2 and know my kids will still enjoy it in another 50 years as long as someone makes film! I don’t think the digital bricks will be good at 100 though!!

    1. I think this is the justifications of the M-A
      Based on 50 years of ownership an M2 at £500 would cost £10 a year to own
      An M-A at £3250 would cost £65 a year to own.
      Assuming the M-E last 10 years and the equivalent replacement cost is the same at £4200, it will cost £420 a Year …
      By that merit, the M-A becomes actually quite justifiable … … as long as – as you point out – they keep making film …

  5. jeremy north

    I bought an M2 a couple of months ago. A pal of mine had one before, sold it then regretted selling then bought another. He did all the homework etc and concluded that the M2 was the best of all the Leicas. I followed suit.

    Then there’s the lens thing. I don’t get Leitz when it comes to lenses. So many names with which to contend. Why so many? Summi this and Summi that! Then Summar and Elmar! Grr. My preference is Zeiss as until now I have used Contax and love them. I also like large apertures but compromised on price grounds for now just to get going with the M2. I bought a Leitz Elmar 50/2.8. I think I’m going to like the Leica (pun very much intended) and forsee ending up with Zeiss Sonnar 50/1.5 and Biogon 35/2
    That way I’ll not be duplicating the lenses I have for the Contax G2 which is currently my favourite 35mm set up. 45 & 35 Planar, both f2, and Biogons 28 & 21 both f2.8.

    1. I know of a good few people who swear by zeiss lenses for their Leicas, I often think they might be on to something! Good luck with your M2, and whatever lenses you eventually choose! 🙂

      1. jeremy north

        For now I’ll stick with the Elmar. After a roll or so of film I’ll have a better idea if I want to drop the £700 or so for a Biogon or Sonnar ZM.
        At the moment I have too many other great camera/lens setups to justify such an outlay.

        For now it is great to have and hold. It is nicer to use than the Contax iia though it is bigger, and not sure if the Elmar will come close to the Carl Zeiss 50/1.5 on the Contax. Build quality of the M2 is way beyond any other of my mechanical cameras.

        Regarding overall experience, the Contax G2 remains my favourite 35mm camera for its amazing performance under all conditions. Its only weakness is that it doesn’t have a truly manual focus. The trouble is that it is just too easy. I have loved the purely manual experience I’ve been through this year with Nikon F, Contax iia, Canon F1 etc. Also I’ve been teaching my daughter the same.

        Speaking of manual shooting, I see you use a top mounted light meter on your Leicas. Currently I have a Sekonic meter which is half the size of a camera. Do you have any thoughts regarding compact, hand held light meters? Sorry if this takes this post off topic. Perhaps it could be the subject of a future blog.

        1. I have a G2 review on the way as it goes, not by me, another reader… Keep an eye out, I’d be interested to hear how your views compare!

          Re meters, as I mentioned on Instagram/twitter I am a fan of the Weston master v. I’ve also been playing with a Pentax digital spot meter recently… More light meter posts are in the pupeline for sure, especially as I’m shooting with more meter less cameras than ever before …

          Which sekonic do you use?

        2. Not going into a discussion about Leica prices are realistic or over the top compared to the results you get in the picture and of course there are many calculations who make it look better in worth over years but to be honest – how many money do you loose when you buy Leica gear new and sell it again ?
          Like with cars this will be a poor deal I guess !
          Used cameras and lenses on the other side offer always the chance to make a bargain buy and sell later without loos ……

  6. Sekonic L358 is the one I use, very good it is too. There is a spot meter attachment available for it but I don’t have that.

    I am going to use the Weston Master V, about which we tweeted yesterday. A roll of HP5 in the M2 is waiting to be exposed, I’ll use Master V for that.

    I look forward to your contributor’s G2 forthcoming review. I’m not an apologist for the G system but it is perfect but for a true manual focus option. I’ll keep my powder dry though for now.

    I have a Pentax Spotmeter too which came in a job lot of gear I bought from a local retiring Photographer. I’ve not played with it much so I’ll hold my breath for your impressions…

  7. jeremy north

    Spotmeter III. I even got the correct battery for it and tried it out. Definitely one for LF work or perhaps for shooting trannies (that may get me in trouble haha)

  8. The external frame counter of the M2 was also seen on the M1 (viewfinder but no rangefinder) and MD (neither) I have an MD + Visoflex 2 and 280mm f4.8 Telyt I use at cricket matches on a tripod. The camera, viso and lens fit neatly in a Billingham Beta 45 bag and there’s room for a Weston V, couple of films (XP2) and notebook and pencil.
    The frame counter is very easy to get on with.

    1. Horses for courses really, I don’t think there is anything really wrong with the shot counter, I just prefer the internal one…

  9. When I bought my first M Leica, I examined the choice between M3 & M2.
    I decided that having an M3 and a spectacles Summaron, would give me the use of 35/50/90/15mm lenses and I have never regretted this decision.
    Of course, using the 35mm f2.8 Summaron on the M3 does give a slightly dim viewfinder in this country, but abroad it’s a different matter. I bought a spectacle-less Summaron, f3.5. I also bought an MDa body and SBLOO 35mm viewfinder. Now that gives a very bright image. I now use two MDa bodies for UK trips.

  10. I had sent my M3 (first Leica) off for CLA and adjustment/repair to damaged rangefinder mechanism. About month 7 of my wait for return of the M3 I had an opportunity to purchase a very nice M2; that opportunity, combined with innate impatience, lead to my becoming an M2 owner. To my surprise, I greatly favor the M2 over the M3-now back in my hands about 6 months. The most significant difference, and it may be all in my head, is the fact that the M2 just feels better hanging from my neck. I know, looking at the two cameras, it is impossible to believe such a thing possible….but, at least in my case, it is.

    1. I have a feeling the early M3 strap lugs are on the side of the body. Later on in production and on the m2 they brought them slightly round the front to help counterbalance the lens.
      Is that the difference? Or is it psychological?

  11. I took my M2 with me to Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Burma a couple of years ago. I was surprised how many people came up to me to express admiration or interest, far more than I would encounter in USA. The customs people zipped us right through with quick hand inspection. In Burma, I used Tri-X to compare and contrast with photos my dad took in the 1950s. By the way, my M2 viewfinder has frames for 35, 50, 90, AND 135. Odd, indeed.

    1. I had a young lady in a phone shop comment – “is that a 1960’s leica?” about my M3 the other day – If I wasn’t already married, I might have asked her on the spot…

    2. Ha! My M2 has the identical viewfinder! I bought my M2 in a backroad antique shop in Vermont many years ago. Cost me $650, plus a couple of hundred more to have Sherry @ Golden Touch in NY to go through it and bring it back up to snuff. Worth every penny.
      I use a 40mm M-Rokkor and a Voigtlander 40mm aux. viewfinder on the M2. I’m having fun.

  12. I bought an M2 in 1959 it had a f2.8 Elmar. When digital came I surrendered and sold it. But now I am back with a iiif with a f2 Summar. Wish I could have my M2 back.

    1. I’m sure it is making someone else extremely happy – I’d take solace in that…. And then buy another! 🙂

  13. Thank heavens so many of us are using our film cameras – means Ilford and Kodak will keep making the stuff. I gave in to temptation last year and bought a digital camera – a Nikon D1X + 18-70mm lens. With the cropped sensor this gives 27-105mm in 35mm terms. Thats 5 of the best lenses you can use for a 35mm film camera – 28-35-50-85-105. However, it came with two batteries. I charge them up. Put the outfit away for a week or more, then, when I get it out to use, batteries are flat. My 1935 Leica model 111 lives in a bookcase, ready loaded, and I just reach it out and pocket it. Cannot do this with something one has to plug into the mains overnight. So, progress? For me? No.

  14. I await “my” M2 today or tomorrow … I’ve been reading this review a couple of weeks ago and it made me decide not to take the M-A but to try the M2 first … I have quite a lot of M-lenses, Voigtlander, Zeiss ZM and Leica and even the famous 7artisans 50mm which I discovered here and ordered even here!
    I’m using that stuff on a Sony A7R II and a M9-P but have less and less fun using digital, film is so much more fun… After using M6, M7 and MP, I want a meterless one, with the meter just doesn’t “feel” right 😉
    Thanks Hamish for your wonderful pages!

  15. I’m still using my M2. I switched from a couple of Leica lenses to a Zeiss 35mm (and then a great deal on a Zeiss 50mm Planar.)
    Silver lens & silver camera: I was in Galway (Ireland) w/my wife on a vacation last week and a guy came up to me and said to his g/f “That’s fuckin’ fashion, don’tca know!” then he snapped a few pics of the M2/35mm f/2.0 Biogon/Voigtlander.
    I knew I was a classic, but the M2 made me fashionable. Who says ya can’t work it, babe?!

  16. That is weird, that there is no mention about different viewfinder in M2 comparing to m4-6-7-mp. All reviewers state it as same 0.72 viewfinder in all of them – which is not 100% true! I used to have an M6 for a long time, and then when i decided to go for a cleaner and simplier camera – i bought an m2 and was very disappointed with viewfinder – it turned out that in m2 leica was using different output mask in eyepiece, which makes field of view narrower. If in M6 there is some space to see around framelines when you shoot 35, in M2 framelines are on the dark edge of viewfinder, there is no space. They changed it in M4, when decided to add 28mm frameline.

    1. Alexey,

      The M2 does have a slightly narrower eye piece mask, and it is an easy fix to just change it to a later one, but be aware that when added a 28mm frame line to the M4-p, m6, ect., they actually shrunk all the others to fit it in. So your M6 has more space around the frame line to shoot the 35mm, because it is a smaller box. On the M6 ect., the 35mm frame lines are about 40mm and the 50mm frame line is about 60mm. Lots of folks go for an older Leica just to have a more accurate framing of these lenses.

  17. Pingback: Walker Evans' Leicas M2 to be sold at auction - Kosmo Foto

  18. Pingback: Leica M2 – The sibling classic - Photo Thinking - Camera Review

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