Leica M2 + M3 Review

This review of the Leica M2 & M3 won't be overly technical. Back in January I picked up a 1958 Leica M2 from the fine folks at Green Mountain Camera in Vermont - let's just say the deal was too good to pass up. During that time I had been shooting almost exclusively with this camera and a 1957 Summicron 2/50. Then in June, I picked up a 1961 Leica M3 from Youxin Ye of YYe Camera.  Until June, the Leica M2 was loaded with either Kodak Tri-X or Kodak Portra 160/400 film.  Now, the Leica M2 is usually loaded with just the Kodak Tri-X and my Carl Zeiss 2.8/35 while the Leica M3 is loaded with Kodak Portra 400 and the Leica Summicron 2/50 or Carl Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1.5/50.  This has spoiled me rotten and has returned me to a simplicity in look and style that I adore - so much so that the Leica ME sits rarely used on a shelf.

Here's a little more detail on the two film bodies:

The 1958 Leica M2

The Leica M2 came out in 1957 - after the Leica M3 which was released in 1954. The Leica M2 was created by Ernst Leitz GmbH of Wetzlar, Germany, as an easier to use (and less costly) Leica M3. It has a 0.72 rangefinder and framelines for 35mm, 50mm and 90mm lenses - something being demanded by photojournalists of the time. The Leica M2 has a disc for the film counter that you manually reset when reloading film in contrast to the auto-reset of the M3. There were two versions of film release on the Leica M2, the traditional lever and the slightly rare button-rewind (as mine pictured above). You also had a choice of colors: chrome or black (the blacks for a premium in Leica shops and online today).

First thing I noticed with this body: It's built like a tank.  No wonder so many are still around today.

  • Weight: 580g
  • Dimensions: 138 x 77 x 33.5mm
  • Years: 1957-1968
  • Mount: M
  • First Serial: 926001

I have to say, mine is in pristine condition.  The winding lever is butter smooth - slightly more so than my CLA'd Leica M3. The shutter release is quite quiet, though not as quiet as the M3. It was my first film rangefinder, so has a sweet spot in my heart.

Mine now works as my dedicated B&W film camera. I usually shoot 35mm with it and keep a fresh roll of Kodak Tri-X ready to go.

1961 M3 CLA'd by Youxin Ye

The 1961 Leica M3

The Leica M3 debuted in 1954 as the first M-mount body - replacing the previous screw-mounts by Leica. It has a 0.92 rangefinder and arguably the best and brightest framelines on the market.  The framelines are for 50mm, 90mm and 135mm lenses - a longer range than the Leica M2. Simply attaching a longer lens will adjust the lines, or you can use the lever next to the lens to give you a visualization of the shot without the lens attached. These cameras came in a choice of single-stroke or double-stroke. (Simply a matter of preference.) The double-strokes are two short strokes to advance while the singles are one long one. I opted for the single.

The shutter - damned quiet.  Butterfly wings make more noise.

You had a choice of colors of chrome or black - as well as limited releases of green enamel. Like the M2's, the black and green versions are highly coveted and go for a fortune. Be aware or repaints out there if you are hunting for an original black paint. Research your serial numbers.

  • Weight: 580g
  • Dimensions: 138 x 77 x 33.5mm
  • Years: 1954-1967
  • Mount: M
  • First Serial: 700000

My M3 was CLA'd by Mr. Ye so basically came to me as a brand new camera. This is why it functions as my main color film camera - usually loaded with Portra 400 or Portra 400 NC (when I can find it). It almost always has a 50mm mounted to it.

OK, so that's the specifics of the cameras; now I will continue on to the general use of these beauties.

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Use of the Leica M2 & M3

The use of a rangefinder is quite different than that of a (D)SLR, MF or MFT body. (D)SLR users block most of their face when holding up the camera - but rangefinders and many modern MFT's only cover one eye, making you feel more in touch with your subject.  I've written a bunch of articles on Going from DSLR to Rangefinder, so I won't rehash any of the differences here. I have to say, it's such a joy shooting these old cameras. You really have to slow down and think about your shots. When I was thinking about going to film, I turned off the screen on the back of my Leica M-E and limited myself to 36 exposures before I would download and review the images. If you're thinking about this - give that a shot with your gear. 36 exposures, no peeking.

What I like best is the small unassuming size. My bag has become so light! My M3 with a lens weighs close to a single lens I used to use on my D700. I also love that these Leica's are film (therefore uncompromising full frame) and have zero bells and whistles - a mechanical work of art.  No meters, no batteries, no anything other than a shutter, glass and film. Mastering light is the art of these (and other) old bodies. And talk about IQ and range of tones... in my book, nothing compares to film.

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You need to know how to manually set shutter speeds and aperture by mastering the external light meter (again, nothing is built-in). These do not have TTL focusing either - so you will not see a preview of your bokeh. I love having to think about the photo and visualize what it will look like, then wait for the development to see if you nailed it.

You have nothing to blame for a bad photo other than yourself.

You can develop the B&W easily enough on your own, but for color, I highly recommend a good lab. Those that are adept with color development and printing/scanning can tackle this on their own as well.  I have not been this brave yet.

If you are thinking about shooting film, I can't recommend these high enough.  They are very affordable; especially if you know what you're looking for. And getting glass for them is a snap - there is 60 years of used and new M-Mount glass available to you - without the need for an adapter.

Leica M2
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Leica M2 + M3
Leica M2 + M3
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