The M2 is one of Leica’s legendary 35mm rangefinder cameras. It was introduced in 1957 – which is (rather confusingly) three whole years after the M3. If anybody can explain the logic of that naming convention, I’m all ears. But whatever, it makes mine seem older than it actually is. Yas.
I picked up an M2 from eBay back in 2015, after I came to realise just how dependent I had become on the meter of the M6. Sure, it produced perfectly exposed pictures, but I felt like I had become a slave to the red arrows in the viewfinder (though getting them both to light up was bizarrely satisfying). When the plastic tip of the advance lever of the M6 snapped off on a trip to Italy, I bit the bullet and went fully mechanical. The M2, you see, has no fancy bells or whistles. It’s about as straightforward a Leica as you can get. Purposefully simplified from the M3, even the bevels round the windows on the front of the camera have been smoothed and flattened out. There’s no meter, no battery, and you have to manually reset the frame counter with each roll. It’s almost ridiculous, but… that’s why I like it. There was no danger the single chunk of metal that comprised the M2’s advance lever was going to let me down at least, and the myriad of scratches and dents the model I got seem testament to its reliability.
If you do rely on a meter though, there’s no reason to run for the hills. There are plenty of shoe-mounted meters available, including the rather fetching Kopil.
I’m not really interested in listing long feature sets or detailed technical comparisons of the M2 here. What can really be said about a camera like this that hasn’t already? However, I have used a pile of different rangefinders over the years, so after five years of ownership, what’s the verdict? There are definitely things about the M2 that are irritating. Loading the film is a bit of a pain as you need to align the film up a certain way… so it’s not the fastest process in the world, especially if you’re picking up the camera after a while and lost the muscle memory. Rewinding is another process that is equally as slow, thanks to the old fashioned knurly knob, which never seems to stop turning. The ISO indicator on the back also has no relevance to ‘modern’ film speeds, and I never ever remember to reset the frame counter, so end up having to guess how many shots I’ve taken. All of that said, it is still one of my favourite cameras.
But why? With all of its irritants, what makes it so good? For a start, the M2 has a nice bright viewfinder with 35mm framelines (unlike the M3), and comes in at a magnification that means that even I, with my terrible eyesight can (almost) see them. The contours of the body are nice and smooth; the shutter sounds great; and there is an incredibly satisfying amount of resistance when advancing the film. I never worry about shooting the M2 in the rain, or it suddenly breaking down. I’ve seen other folks say that the M2 is impractical, and that seems like total nonsense. Firstly, what do you expect from a camera released over sixty years ago? Secondly, the fiddly idiosyncratic elements like the removable film take up-spool are annoying, but hardly get in the way of how effective a tool it is. For me, the bottom line is that I always have a lot of confidence in the M2. It is predictable, and reliable in a whole host of situations. Anything that goes wrong will almost certainly be down to me rather than the camera – which is invaluable.
The hilarious thing about Leica rangefinders is that the differences between them can seem so minor and inconsequential – especially to people who only have a passing interest in film photography. It can too easily appear as some kind of elitism or obsession with the tool rather than the process – but when you commit to a particular camera like the M2 and spend so much time using it, those details become important. Back when I got my M2 in 2015, it was slightly worse for wear, and so it went for just over £300. Nowadays, in the UK you’d be lucky to find one for less than £1,000 – which seems pretty nuts. It’s also a testament in some ways to the reputation and longevity of these cameras.
If you’re considering a Leica rangefinder, and don’t have an issue metering manually, I would always recommend the M2. If you want a meter, head for the M6.
Below are a selection of pictures I’ve taken with the M2 over the past few years. Going back through to find these, it stood out just how many photos I like from the M2.
Disclaimer: As usual, this article isn’t intended to be a comprehensive, pixel-peeping review. Rather, it’s a highly subjective, real world review, reflecting my own research and experience as someone who has shot with a lot of different cameras and lenses over the years. No aperture comparison charts here. Any flaws in the images are almost certainly down to me rather than the camera.