The title says Leica M2, but I can’t get to it without first mentioning how I ended up with one. You know that saying about the journey being more, or at least as, important as the destination. I had a Zorki-4k. I bought the Zorki so I could use my Jupiter-3 lens. Now it might be a little difficult to believe but I bought the Jupiter-3 lens after reading a review of it on Steve Huff’s website… what can I say? I used it with an adapter on my digital camera but then I stopped using the digital camera and started shooting film. Anyway, as you can see, a camera body led to a lens, and the lens led to another body. That’s how I got the Zorki. But the Zorki, cute as it is, isn’t very functional for me. There are a couple reasons.
- I wear glasses. The Zorki uses a 1:1 magnification for its viewfinder. There are no frame lines. Whatever you see in there is in your frame. Granted there is a diopter adjustment lever, but that gets knocked out of position every time I put the camera in the bag and take it out. Anyway, since I wear glasses I cannot get my eye close enough to the viewfinder to see the full frame. So essentially I was composing the centre without knowing what was around the edge. Now that’s not very good composition, is it?
I wear glasses. This means I have bad eyesight. The Zorki focus patch is very dim. All these things together means I couldn’t see the patch well enough to focus properly. I used zone focusing at an aperture that worked but I didn’t like that all the time. Sometimes you just have to bring it up and focus quickly. And I couldn’t do that.
The Zorki-4k has no strap lugs! It might seem trivial, but carry a camera all day long in your hand, and by that I mean in your hand only, and see if you still like it. I didn’t. I got a Gordy wrist strap but since there were no strap lugs, I had to attach it to the tripod socket: under the camera! Not a great way to hang a camera from your wrist.
The shutter speed selector is a &%^$! Let’s just say it isn’t very friendly to my nails and fingers. Add to that the fact that you can only change the speed after you have moved the frame forward and you have a nearly 100% chance of screwing up and breaking that mechanism. No other camera has this strange coupling between shutter speed and film winding. (Edit: Dan Schneider of schneidan.com tells me it is more common than I think so I’ll relax a bit, but it’s still a bad system!)
Now, four (4) is my number. And I reached 4 with the Zorki-4k. So it had to go (into storage). Then I started looking for a Leica. I could have used a Nikon S but old vintage Leicas seem to be more readily available than the Nikon S. It may be just my bias for German, as opposed to Japanese, cameras though. Now, contrary to popular belief or the lack thereof, I am not made of money like many people are. I find the M-A outrageously, and unreasonably, expensive. It’s made of brass and glass, not gold and silver, okay? It’s intrinsic value is barely $50 (I’m being generous–it’s probably more like $15). Add to that the manufacturing value multiplication of 10x and it should be worth $500. At 20x it is still $1000. Not $5000. It doesn’t even have hidden software in it that could account for the absurd price. But going with my appraisal for a metal and glass device with a ten-fold value multiplication through manufacturing, I decided that I will not spend more than $500 for a Leica.
After several weeks of searching, I was notified by Mike Pouliot ( on Twitter) about one that fit the price range. It needed a little servicing from the legendary Youxin Ye but after that it appeared in excellent condition. Mind you, it is not “mint”. There are scratches, nicks and marks on it. I chose the M2 because of reason 1. I wanted the frame lines to be far away from the edges of the viewfinder so that I could see them. Otherwise, an M3 would have worked just as well. I didn’t care for a meter, because I have a handheld meter and even that I use only to confirm my guesstimate. Now that I have a Leica M2 in my hands, how does it compare against the Zorki-4k? Well, I am glad to report that it solves all of the 4 problems. I can see the framelines. The focus patch is bright. The M2 does have strap lugs and the shutter speed selector is the usual kind, uncoupled from the film winding lever/mechanism. I should be happy. I am not. And you are wondering why.
Everywhere you hear how well the Leica is designed, how elegant, how perfect. Perhaps from an artist’s point of view. However, my left brain is fully functional and my engineering analytical mind is in decent condition as well. After the first few days of use, I have to declare there are distinct design issues with the M2. However, in its defense, these are ergonomic, not functional, issues.
Here they are:
- The lens release button is too centered. It’s right where your fingers might be if you are holding the camera. May be over time you learn to curl your fingers away. But as a first time user I shouldn’t have to worry about that. That should be the designer’s headache not the user’s. Anyway, the result was I was touching the button by frequent accident. This made the mount loose every time, resulting in the frame lines disappearing or the wrong ones getting selected. I was very confused when it happened the first time. I figured out what happened and I have been very careful. But it has still happened again. It should have been placed slightly off center, that is a bit lower than where it is. The Sony α cameras have that button placed in just the right place. But Sony has hindsight which Leitz Camera didn’t.
There is the timer on the front of the camera and that also gets in the way of my fingers. When I hold the camera, it gets pushed and it starts moving and buzzing. The Zorki has this timer too but for some reason, it is sturdier and requires more force to engage than the Leica timer. Also, the Zorki is about a quarter of an inch longer than the Leica. It may not sound like much but it’s crucial real estate on the front of a camera which lets you grip it without placing your finger over or near the timer.
The M2 has strap lugs. That in itself should justify dumping the Zorki for the Leica. However, there is a however. These strap lugs are not on the side as I expected but slightly offset towards the front. Once again, it might not seem like much, but when you have straps with split rings on those lugs they get in the way of holding the camera comfortably. They are right where the mount of Jupiter on your hand is.
Last, and not the least, the rounded rectangle shape isn’t exactly ergonomic, but that’s the same issue with the Zorki, so it cancels out.
As I mentioned, these are ergonomic issues and not nearly as serious as a dim, nearly invisible focus patch or a viewfinder that I can’t see fully, yet they do take away from the ease of using a camera which boasts itself to be easy to use.