Leica M2 Review (+ Leica vs Voigtlander Bessa R3A)
Leica M2 review providing key information, hints and tips and example images. I compare the Leica vs Voigtlander Bessa R3A and against the popular Leica M3 and M6 plus a cheaper Nikon SLR.
If you are struggling to decide between buying a Leica and say a cheaper alternative like a Voigtlander Bessa R3A or a Nikon FM this might be of interest.
Leica M2 Review
Leica M2 – My first Leica film camera!
The first Leica film camera I bought was a Leica M2. What most people don’t realise is the M2 was actually released after the very popular Leica M3 camera. (The Leica M3 was release in 1954 and the Leica M2 in 1957).
Leica M2 Price.. Cheaper than a Leica M3!
The new Leica M2 model was designed as a cheap alternative to the Leica M3. Even today the used price of a Leica M2 camera is almost always less than a Leica M3. That was the reason I bought an M2 and not the M3. I had my heart set on a film Leica and limited money to spend so the Leica M2 was the best option I found.
Leica M2 Specs – 15 Facts on the M2 (All you need!)
- 0.72x magnification viewfinder (Leica M3 is 0.91x magnification so is easier to critically focus)
- 35mm, 50mm, 90mm framelines (for 28mm I use the full viewfinder view to approximate)(can add external hotshoe viewfinder for wider than 35mm)
- Leica M2 is optimised for the 35mm focal length (if you prefer 50mm buy a Leica M3)
- No built light meter (I use a separate handheld Sekonic light meter or do a test shot with a digital Leica)
- No battery required – fully manual camera
- Built in self timer
- Leica M2 weight – 560g (body only)
- 1/50 flash sync speed – uses 2 rear flash sync ports and can use with PC sync cable via adapter (1/50 is generally too slow for flash portraits in daylight)
- Coldshoe not hotshoe so a speedlight or trigger will not work without modifications (cables)
- Maximum shutter speed 1/1000 (for when wanting to use wide apertures in daylight) (again this can be too slow if using a fast f1.4@f1,4 lens on a bright day)(you can you ND filters to fix this)
- Leica M2 is a rangefinder camera – like all Leica M cameras (easier and faster to focus than a SLR camera)
- Quiet horizontal cloth shutter (much more discrete than a SLR camera)
- Film loaded from the bottom plate (see below for film loading video)
- Tripod socket on Leica M2 base plate (3/8″ size so might need 1/4″-3/8″ adapter for most tripod quick release plates)
- Leica build quality – compact, solid build with slimline ergonomics
Leica M2 lenses
Different lenses suit different Leica cameras. The Leica M2 is optimised for 35mm as the view from a 35mm lens fills the uncluttered Leica M2 viewfinder. If I was to use a 50mm lens I would choose a Leica M3 camera instead. The Leica M3 50mm framelines paired with a 50mm lens gives the same experience as a 35mm lens on the Leica M2. (Well the same except better as the Leica M3 viewfinder is magnified making focusing easier).
Of the lenses I use the ones I would choose to mount on the Leica M2 camera are –
- Leica Elmarit-M 28mm f2.8 lens
- Leica Summaron 35mm f3.5 lens
- Voigtlander Color Skopar 35mm f2.5 lens
- Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.4 lens
- Leica Elmar 50mm f2.8 lens – Collapsible
The other 35mm lens I use is the 35mm f1.2 but it is a heavier lens making the Leica M2 front heavy.
If I could pick one 35mm lens of those listed it would be the super compact Voigtlander Color Skopar 35mm f2.5. Sharp wide open and flare resistent.
Leica M2 Engineering + Versions
Some people call the Leica M2 the pinnacle of Leica engineering when it was released in 1957. I have one of the later Leica M2 models with a self timer and rewind lever. (You can see the self timer lever on the front left of the camera if you are looking at cameras on eBay).
Leica M2 vs Leica M3 (Reasons to buy a Leica M2)
I have already covered this above but to summarise I bought the Leica M2 because –
- The Leica M2 is cheaper than a Leica M3
- It still gives access to all the desirable Leica M mount lenses
- The Leica M2 can be used for 35mm and 50mm lenses (easily) and even 28mm,40mm and 90mm lenses (less ideal). The Leica M3 is designed for 50mm/90mm/135mm only (+40mm less ideal)
Leica M2 vs Leica M6
I toyed with the idea of getting the newer Leica M6 Classic camera. Leica M6 cameras have a built in light meter but cost more than 1.5x the cost of a used Leica M2. I did not need the light meter as I was shooting film along side digital for model photoshoots.
Leica M2 vs Nikon FM
I already own a ‘beater’ or ‘user’ brassed black Nikon FM 35mm SLR camera. The Nikon FM was less than 5x the cost of the Leica M2 camera price. I asked myself can I do without the Leica film camera? I slept on it but my M2 purchase decision came down to my Leica M mount lenses (a mix of Leica, Zeiss and Voigtlander lenses). Their compact size, the focal lengths available and most importantly the fantastic image quality made it a no brainer. For a small film camera setup to throw in a bag the Leica M2 wins every time. I still have my Nikon FM to use with some of my nice Nikon glass.
*To see the detailed pros and cons of a Nikon FM (and similar Nikon F cameras) vs a Leica see the seperate review here –
Leica M2 vs Voigtlander Bessa R3A
My Leica M2 camera was actually an unplanned buy. The weekend was fast approaching and I was excited to shoot some 35mm film during a model photoshoot. When I picked up the Voigtlander Bessa R3A camera I found the shutter completely jammed. I tried the usual tricks to rectify the problem per YouTube but no luck. The Bessa’s are well known to be a poor man’s Leica and although they are great when they work I need a camera body I can rely on. For that reason I turned to Leica.
Leica Film Photography
I wanted to get back into shooting film for some time after having done almost none for 12 months after buying the digital Leica M9 camera. Getting a Leica M2 film camera was the quickest and easiest way to get my interest in film photography back very quickly!
Leica M2 vs M3 ..follow up
After buying my Leica M2 I got a taste for Leica film camers! My next camera purchase was a Leica M3 so now I use the Leica M3 for 50mm and Leica M2 for 28mm and 35mm lenses.
Leica M2 Photos – test
First test photo using the Leica M2.. it even makes rubbish bins look good!
Leica M2 Travel photos
Leica M2 Portraits
Leica M2 Portrait – Colour
Leica M2 Film Loading + Unloading
Poor Man’s Leica – Voigtlander Bessa R3A
After buying the Leica M2 I now owned both a 1950s Leica M2 and a more modern Voigtlander Bessa R3A (aka The poor man’s Leica) . Both these cameras accept Leica M lenses and are basically just a light box to mount the lens on and to shoot to 35mm film.
Leica vs Voigtlander? So what do I prefer?
To help consider this question first we need to understand what the Voigtlander Bessa offers –
Voigtlander Bessa R3A Specs – 11 Facts on the R3A
- Large bright 1:1 magnification viewfinder with 40, 50, 75, 90 framelines (even more magnified than the 0.91x Leica M3!)
- 1/125 flash sync speed (better than the 1/50 of Leica M film cameras)
- Hotshoe rather than coldshoe (so can use speedlights without adapters)
- Fastest shutter speed 1/2000 (for when wanting to use wide apertures in daylight without ND filters)
- Vertical metal shutter prone to jamming (vs cloth shutter of Leica M2)
- Voigtlander Bessa R3A weight – 430g (vs 560g of Leica M2)
- Cheaper more plastic feel build but lighter to carry
- Rangefinder more prone to being knocked out of alignment (so you can’t focus accurately).
- More affordable (approximately half price of a Leica)
- Film loaded from the back door (not via bottom plate)
- TTL Centerweighted light metering (vs no light meter in Leica M2)
Leica or Voigtlander Bessa R3A? Which is better?
For ambient light photography the Leica M2 is reliable and rugged and hard to beat. For flash photography the Voigtlander Bessa R3A makes Leica M lens film camera strobist work possible and far easier than using the M2. The large Bessa viewfinder is beautiful to use but the rangefinder calibration gets knocked out of alignment easily (so much that it currently needs calibrating again so I don’t use it for portraits now). I just use the Voigtlander Bessa when I can have a broad depth of field such as for landscapes. Having experienced the metal shutter jamming on the Bessa this is also worrying. If it was my only film camera and I was abroad on a photoshoot I would become stuck. I find Leica film cameras much more reliable. The Bessa R3A has the built in light meter which I find useful if only using one camera (and no digital).
Summary – Both cameras are good!
As you can see it is difficult to pick a clear winner between the Leica vs Voigtlander. Both cameras provide certain benefits but also bring their weaknesses too. If the Voigtlander Bessa R3A was as reliable as a Leica it would be amazing. Sadly it isn’t so I guess you get what you pay for as they say.
Leica M2 Related Posts
- Leica M2 Sample Images (On the Cinestill 50D vs. Portra 160 Review)
- Leica M2 Wedding
- Leica M 50mm Lenses Compared + Leica Lens Guide!
- Leica M Film Cameras Buyer’s Guide!
- 50 Leica Film Portraits (Budapest Girls)
- Cheap Leica Lenses?
- Buying a Leica M3
- Leica M2 Wikipedia
You may also like… What Gear I Use for Portraits!
- See full details of my portrait photography lighting kit – HERE
- See full details of my portrait photography equipment kit – HERE