The old Leica M2 that my grandfather used to shoot every day as a photojournalist got me started with the hobby of shooting film. Even though my grandfather used this camera for decades, it allowed me to take some of my favourite shots with the first film in over 20 years passing through it. This Leica M2 review is dedicated to my grandfather.
After all the years, the viewfinder, the frame lines and the viewfinder patch were all still intact and had good visibility when I shot the first roll of CineStill 800T thank to my friend Chris) at the ‘Prater’ in Vienna with a friend of mine.
Using this Leica was something different because it is a privilege to continue the passion of my grandfather. I never doubted the camera when shooting film but only my skills and my choice of aperture and shutter speed.
As a camera, the Leica M2 is excellent. It gives great confidence to the user and feels perfect for everyday shooting. People often complain about the M2’s frame counter that has to be manually reset and is not displayed through a small glass window like on the M3. I don’t have a problem with it partly because I cannot break it if it isn’t there in the first place. The existence of the 35mm frame lines that the M3 does not offer is more important to me as they did come in handy with the self-timer when I took pictures with a group of friends.
In general, the camera features a bright viewfinder with a magnification of .72, which allows for accurate, easy, and fast focusing. The magnification is different from the M3’s .92 even if you wear glasses (like me) to easily see the frame lines. While I heard that the viewfinder was prone to flaring, I never encountered any problems with it. Even though often criticised for its weight, I still feel that the camera’s handling is good and suits daily use. I used the camera multiple times a week in Vienna before lockdown struck. I spent hours while wandering the streets, looking for good photo opportunities.
Admittedly it may be tricky to load the very first film into the camera or while on the move. But after some time, it is relatively easy to use. A rather strange way of loading film into the camera even created some security as I never encountered any problems with it. I even got to the point where I could load the camera in a dark room. I think it is not as tricky to load the camera as some people portray it.
The film lever on the M2 is smooth, probably even smoother than any other camera I have ever used. Also, the rewind knob is easy to use in good weather conditions but can be difficult when it is cold outside as you will feel pain in your fingers if you need to rewind your film.
Nevertheless, there are still a lot of good things about the M2 camera. For example, the choice of lenses for the Leica M-Mount is huge. It is compatible with M39 screw mount adapters. It offers a great variety of superb lenses that can easily fit every film photographer’s needs (and budget). Combined with the clear and bright viewfinder patch, it offers a great way into Leica M cameras, while still being on the more affordable spectrum of the M models and offering 35/50/90mm frame lines.
In general, using the camera is a great experience. It only took me one week before I was confident enough to use it for street photography. Even though there is no in-built meter, it does not feel outdated compared to later Leica M models, and it certainly does not lack character. I see the absence of light meter as an opportunity to take a step further as a film photographer and use the sunny 16 rule while shooting. Alternatively, you can use a smartphone as a light meter with a range of free and paid apps. I mainly shoot film as a way of escaping from the everyday hustle and bustle. I even enjoy the camera’s lack of optimisation to minimise the loading time or rewinding it as it just makes the process of shooting more vital for me.
While a lot of the pictures I take may not be perfect, or even in the slightest way aesthetically pleasing to a broader audience, I enjoy using the Leica M2. This camera is an artefact that allows me to slow down and take in new perceptions. I still think that if it weren’t for the M2, I would have never started photography and developed an interest in it.
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