LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE LEICA M2
by Jesse Hayes
1957 brought about the introduction of the Leica M2, a so called “budget option” to the Leica M3. It was sleek and simple, calling less attention than its older sibling. The M2 has always seemed somewhat of an underdog in the M series, never having the cachet of the M3 nor the popularity of the M6. Yet for some reason it’s the model I’ve always been drawn to.
THE SILVER M2
Like many photographers before me, I had long been searching for that perfect camera. Nothing had fully clicked with me. Looking to many of my heroes in photography such as Garry Winogrand, Henri Cartier Bresson, and Jim Marshall, I wanted to believe their magic would somehow transfer from a camera through the tips of my fingers. I knew it wouldn’t, but what I did know is they shot a Leica.
When my budget matched my desire, I was ready to pull the trigger. At the time the two Leica models within financial reach were the M2 and M3. I ruled out the M3 based on the absence of 35mm frame lines.
After weeks of trolling eBay, I eventually found and purchased my first Leica. What arrived on my doorstep was a 1962 silver Leica M2. It wasn’t perfect. It had scratches and dents, but it was my first M2 and it was mine. With money I had left over, I also bought a 35mm Leica Summaron and shot with that setup unchanged for a year.
THE BLACK M2
Then something happened. A shiny black Leica M2 caught my eye on a used camera forum. The description stated it had been restored by Kanto Camera in Tokyo. I knew from that moment it had to be mine. I franticly emailed the seller to which he replied, “Sorry, it’s sold.” Then by some stroke of luck, he messaged me an hour later saying the buyer had backed out. No sooner were the funds transferred from my PayPal and into his. Excitement that had been dashed away the hour before returned.
Black painted Leicas fill the dreams of many Leica enthusiasts and I was one of them. Unlike my previous Leica M2 this one was mint condition with no signs of abuse. It was obvious that it had be properly restored. Soon after I acquired a 35 and 50mm Summicron to compete my kit. Gone were excuses relating to gear as to why my photos were not successful. It was up to me to make it happen.
I can recall my first trip abroad with the Leica M2. I spent four weeks backpacking in Ireland. A pilgrimage of sorts filled with walking and photography. I had my M2, 35mm Summicron, and many rolls of Tri-X in my bag. During the trip I slept in hostels. Like a child clutching their teddy bear, my M2 tight against my side.
It was the perfect camera in every way. It was small, discreet, and quiet. There when I needed it and unnoticed when I didn’t. Every trip since then it has been around my neck, waiting to take the next shot. Through hundreds of rolls, it has never once let me down.
WHY THE LEICA M2?
I’m not here to debate which Leica M body is the best, nor would I try to convince you that the M2 is it. I will say why my M2 works for me. It has a clear view finder with 35/50/90 frame lines. No meter or double set of frame lines to clutter up your view. It works with Leica brass film cassettes and not all M models do (I am a bulk loader, so this is a plus for me). No self-timer, which I find is more comfortable to hold. Older style film rewind knob, although a bit slower to rewind is stronger than the M4/M6/M7 style. Metal advance lever which I prefer over the later plastic tipped version.
It’s a simple classic look which doesn’t scream Leica. I’ve heard complaints about the manual frame counter but if you shoot 36 exposure rolls consistently the frame counter ends up a couple frames before one. The quality of this so called “budget model,” is on par with any Leica made before or after it.
I call this a love affair because there is a romantic nature to film cameras and shooting on film. There is a legacy, a nostalgia, and a love for a time when history was captured on celluloid. My Leica M2 was made in 1958. At that time Dwight D. Eisenhower was president of the US, Hitchcock’s Vertigo was in cinemas, the hula hoop was all the rage, and a 25-year-old photographer named Robert Frank released a book called The Americans. As you can see my M2 is no shelf queen. Every brass battle scar has been earned through countless exposures. Why do I shoot an M2? Because it inspires and pushes me to become a better photographer. Six years and counting the affair is just as strong as the first time I held this old camera. Here’s to many more years with my Leica M2.
About the author:
Leica M2, Leica M3: the best of Leica.
Now this is a brand which is a luxury brand, and only wants to make a lot of money. So we have all these crazy cooperation with brands we have nothing to do with Leica, such before Huawei, now Xiaomi, … when we go to mobiles the cream is: Apple, Samsung and Sony, because they are very good and safe for communication and datas!
I have a M3, not a M2, but this is nearly the same for the quality. These cameras are the Rolex or RR of photography. We can not find better.
Just be happy with your choice – that’s all fine – use it
but pls spare us from your comparisons – they’re hideous.
It’s a valid point, yet not entirely true.
The MP is excellent. Leica still makes it. Leica still services it.
The MA is excellent. Leica still makes it. Leica still services it.
The MP was so enticing, that I decided to buy one brand new almost two years ago even though I own an excellent and pristine M3 single stroke. The MP is still under the original warranty by Leica. Why did I add an MP? Flash. Everything before the M4-P SUCKS when using flash. I wanted the option. Frame lines. The M3 is king for 50mm. The M2 added 35mm frame lines while staying mechanically perfect. I wanted 28mm frame lines. Also, I didn’t mind the built in meter, even though it’s just a safeguard at this point.
Fantastic story and what a good looking camera
I have visited your Instagram and your pictures are simply gorgeous: great, perfect, high level composition, great rendering. This is not possible to get that with a digital camera. I read an about the Fuji 27mm with a Fuji XE-4, image are very great, but in your images, I find soul, the soul of film.
The images of your gallery are awesome; High level pictures with the soul and charm of film.
What a great read!
Hey! Thanks for yours advice a few years ago. It was thanks to you that i bought my m2 and it became my favorite and most often used.
Great Article. I don’t remember if I told you, but seeing some of your posts years ago was what sparked my interest in looking at M2s when I was shopping for an M3. Very happy that I went with the M2, and after reading your article, I feel I’ve neglected her since I got an M6. Think I’ll have to take her on a date soon. Haha
So thanks! M2 was the perfect entry into Leica for me and was the one to confirm the hype around Leica.
nice patina – have fun and a great time using it taking excellent documentary work – that’s what it’s made for.
The Manual Frame Counter paired with the simple lines of the top plate ( without the raised windows ) makes the M2 the most beautiful M for me.
I don’t know why, but the Manual frame counter looks so much better to me then the „normal“ ones on the M3, M4 etc.
especially in all black!
Great read. I can rely to your experience. I use a black painted m4 with an m2 finder and a m3 winding lever. A kind of Frankenstein but among my 3 m4 it’s the one I use the most.
Your M2 story brings back memories. My silver M2 is also dated 1958. I carried it and an M4 as I roamed the streets of San Francisco in the late 60’s. In the early 70’s I attended and graduated from the Art Institute with those two cameras. I still have them and the Leitz enlarger I used to make all my prints. I acquired a Leica
M-A (Typ 127) several years ago. The lenses I use are 28mm 2.8, 35mm 2.0 V1 and 50mm DR 2.0.
Long live film.
My M2 evokes the same feelings. My M2 (1964) somewhere got converted to a M4 viewfinder. I love the film counter disk, the deliberate slow process of the film rewind and the intangible feeling of hand-assembled film advance. It’s just a sweet camera.
After a few years of shooting with a Canon Canonet QL17, I was determined to get my hands on a Leica. I pulled the trigger on an M2 body that a guy I knew wanted to part ways with and then bought an old Elmar lens soon after. Been shooting it for over 10 years now and it’s truly a thing of sheer beauty!