4 Reasons Why the Leica M2 is Better Than the M3


[Editor’s Note : Someone read this article and sent me a message that, in part, told me to kill myself. Pretty ridiculous, but I wanted to clarify that this tongue-in-cheek article is more of a silly conversation starter than a true examination into which Leica is best. And in any event, favoring any camera over another isn’t really grounds for death. Happy shooting, friends.]

The Leica M2 is just a simplified and cheapened version of the M3, right? Yeah, it’s a good camera, but if you’re going to buy a Leica M why not buy the best, why not buy the original? Right? Well what if we told you that there are valid reasons for using an M2 over its legendary predecessor? What if we told you that, today, the M3 is actually the worse of the two classic rangefinders, and that anyone looking to buy an M3 would be better served shopping for an M2?

With clear understanding that we’ve already sent half of you running for your pitchforks, hear us out. Both cameras are amazing, and a case can be made for each, but we honestly think at this moment the M2 is best. Here are four justifications for our heretical blaspheming. And no, I couldn’t come up with five. So what?

Reason #1 – The M3 is Ugly

Alright, it’s not ugly, but the M3 is a bit cluttered aesthetically speaking. The physical allure of the M rangefinder is in its no-nonsense, clinical approach to design. It’s a camera that’s sleek, clean, and streamlined. Except, the M3 kind of isn’t. It’s got bulges, ridges, and knobs all over the place. Did we not know better we’d assume Leica was the German word for “bezels”.

The M2, by contrast, is decidedly more refined. All optical windows are flush-mounted, and the raised ridge on the front of the M3 has been shaved away. This gives the M2 a more modern and contemporary design, and seems to adhere more closely to the Bauhaus aesthetic that’s surely at the heart of the M rangefinder’s design brief.

M2M3 front compare

We know some fans love the moldings surrounding nearly every feature of the camera, but we don’t. We feel they’re overwrought and add nothing to the overall aesthetic. Even worse, they actually detract from the whole.

We just can’t understand why Leica embellished their flagship camera with so many useless bits of metal. And those photophiles who are truly obsessed with simplicity can even search out an M2 with virtually nothing extraneous hanging off the front. It’s possible to get an M2 minus the frame line selector lever or self-timer lever, and with a surreptitious rewind button in place of the M3’s rewind lever. You can’t possibly find an M3 without that giant self-timer lever protruding from the front.

Are we picking nits here? Yeah, a little bit. But if you like concise design, the M2 is the best choice.

Reason #2 – Viewfinder Woes

This is the big one; the most important difference between the two cameras and the number one reason to shoot an M2 over an M3. It’s so important that we’ve nonsensically embedded it here in the very middle of the article. It’s the viewfinder.

Yep, the M2 has a better viewfinder than the M3. There, we said it, and we can already hear the raucous harangues over .92X magnification, 50mm focal length, and the prevailing opinion that the M3 is the best viewfinder in the history of the universe. But we’re going out on a limb and proclaiming that none of that matters, because the M3’s viewfinder is two-thirds useless.

It’s all in the frame lines. Both the M2 and M3 have automatically selected frame lines correlating to the focal length of the mounted lens. With both cameras, attach a 50mm lens and 50mm frame lines appear in the viewfinder. Or attach a 90mm lens and 90mm frame lines appear. But mount a 35mm lens and only one of these two Ms will show 35mm frame lines. Guess which?

clumsy goggle glasses

That’s right, the M2 is designed to work with the 35mm focal length without adding any extra weight, cumbersome accessory viewfinders, or shelling out humongous sacks of cash for specialized “goggle” lenses. If you want to shoot 35mm with an M3 you’ll be spending a lot of money, carrying extra weight, and losing viewfinder brightness. The alternative is to guess your framing and go for it, but that’s so… un-German.

Some will argue that the M3’s native 50mm, 90mm, and 135mm frame lines are a better set compared to the 35mm, 50mm, and 90mm found in the M2, but we disagree mightily. For our money, the frame lines found in the M2 are far more practical. 35mm and 50mm are among the most important focal lengths in all of photography, and having the choice to use one or the other is vital.

Not to mention that when shooting at 50mm with an M2 there’s the added benefit of extra viewfinder coverage. Shooting this way with an M2 allows one to look through the viewfinder and watch as subjects pass in and out of the image field. This is especially useful in street photography, or to easily scan the environment for elements that will work best with your composition.

Plus, when was the last time anyone shot an M with a 90 or 135mm lens? Honestly. That just never happens.*

*We acknowledge this is a highly subjective opinion, but you’re reading an opinion piece. What do you expect?

Reason #3 – Price

The Leica M2 was released as a simplified “budget” version of the M3, originally costing around $250 compared with the M3’s price of around $290. The well-known secret then being that while the M2 was marketed as a lesser M3, it really never was. Build quality is of the same impressive caliber as found in its more-respected brother. Cock the shutter and fire both cameras while wearing a blindfold and you won’t feel any difference.

So why does the M2 cost less than the M3? There are different opinions on this, but we’re chalking it up to reputation. Featured in everything from James Bond novels to Steve Jobs’ keynote presentations, virtually everyone’s heard of the legendary M3. When someone says “Leica”, people reflexively think “M3”.

Conversely there are many people who’ve simply never heard of the M2. And it’s human nature for many people to operate under the assumption that “if it were any good I would have heard of it.” So essentially, M2s cost less because less people know of them, and less people want them. Simple enough.

Leica M2 Vulcanite Replacement 1

While the price difference between an M3 and an M2 has shrunk since they were newly released machines, and continues to shrink these days, there are still substantial savings to be had by choosing an M2 over an M3. Often the difference in price today falls between $100 and $300, depending on condition and how lucky you may be. Look for a copy with worn vulcanite, replace it yourself with new leather, and you’ll save even more.

Just this past weekend we picked up an M2 for $400. Pretty amazing.

Reason #4 – It’s not an M3

To our earlier point, literally (figuratively) everyone’s heard of the M3. All the hipsters are shooting M3s, and that makes shooting an M3 lame. The M3 is so last year. Yawn. Who wants to be seen with the camera that everyone else is shooting? What’s up? You don’t have a mind of your own? You can’t make your own decisions? If you want to be cool, you’ll shoot an M2. Simple as that.

Owning an M2 shows you’re a smarter, more discerning, more specialized photographer. You know what’s truly hip. You’re likely better looking, have higher taste, know more things about stuff, and are better in bed than a comparable shooter with an M3. Obviously.

Well, we hope we’ve presented this with enough delicacy to avoid the pitchforks and flaming torches of the mob. If not, let us backpedal a bit. Is the M3 a bad camera? Of course not. It’s amazing. It’s one of the best machines ever made. It’s just that we think the M2 is marginally better and feel it deserves more recognition.

Do you agree? Disagree? Maybe you think the M6 is better than them both? Or maybe you think the M1 is all you really need! If that’s the case, let us hear about it in the comments. Just don’t tell me that everyone’s shooting Alpa now.

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  • Reply
    April 9, 2015 at 9:10 pm

    I almost agree with you, though the M2 is one I do not shoot: I currently use an M3/M4 combo. The M3 really is ugly – those window frames! Being a 50mm nut I prefer the M3 viewfinder and focusing a cron 90 at f/2 is much easier on the M3. Both are better than the M9 which has a really bad viewfinder. Ultimately though my favourite Leica is a 1934 Model F which goes to show it is all about the heart rather than the head (or the viewfinder).

    • Reply
      April 10, 2015 at 11:01 pm

      Hey, the older the better in our opinion, and the III F is a beauty. No fault there.

  • Reply
    April 10, 2015 at 10:53 pm

    Shooting M3 single and duble stroke, M2 and M6 – (the M6 being almost vintage by now i can mention it) – I would agree with you except for 3 reasons – when shooting 50 mm the M3 is best, I love the double stroke action, and the film frame counter on the M2 is awful. The M6 is better then both the M3 and M2

    • Reply
      April 10, 2015 at 11:03 pm

      You’ve definitely got some good points. While I don’t personally mind the frame counter on the M2, I admit it’s a much less elegant solution. Happy shooting, my friend!

  • Reply
    April 11, 2015 at 1:19 am

    I too shoot an M6 and an M4-P(such an underrated camera) which is perfect for me since I shoot almost all wide angle lenses, the 28 frame lines are nice to have. I agree with most of what you said but I do have to go with the consensus on this, focusing a 50mm lens on an M3 does seem easier. If given the chance to a pick up an M2R though, I would gladly trade one of my current Leica bodies to get it.

  • Reply
    Travel and Fashion
    April 11, 2015 at 7:50 am

    Good points there, good Leica teaser and nice angle of view for the M2.
    M3 clearly is a good combo with the 50mm. If 35mm your points are clearly interesting. If you want to be super super cool shoot an MD with 28mm ( or more ) 😉

    • Reply
      April 11, 2015 at 8:53 am

      Oh the CLE is definitely the coolest. 😉

  • Reply
    Jeremy Hicks
    April 11, 2015 at 8:13 am

    I agree completely, which is why I chose an M2 over an M3 when i got back into film about 6 months ago.

    The M3 is uglier and does not have 35mm lines.

    My choice to start shooting film again was about simplicity.

    The M2 is simpler than the M3. Ok I could live without the self timer and even he frame selector. But I like the simplicity of the frame counter.

    • Reply
      April 11, 2015 at 8:54 am

      Glad you like it. Honestly it is all about personal preference, but that doesn’t make for very good articles, does it? Thanks for the comment, my friend.

      • Reply
        April 17, 2015 at 8:24 pm

        By way of strange coincidence I saw this article and the picture of the ‘blue M2’ the day after I recovered my M2 in a similar crinkle blue.

        • Reply
          April 17, 2015 at 8:27 pm

          It’s a beautiful way to go. Shoot a blue M2 myself.

  • Reply
    April 11, 2015 at 12:19 pm


    By the same arguments, though, the M4 is better than both the M3 and the M2. Better film loading, easier rewinding. Same frame lines as the M2, to boot.

    • Reply
      April 11, 2015 at 12:54 pm

      Sounds like another article to be written. Thanks for writing in.

  • Reply
    April 11, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    M2-R is the best ever!

  • Reply
    April 11, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    No, no, no. The one M to rule them all is definitely the M5. Uncluttered 50mm frame line with metering circle. Uncluttered (sort of) 35mm frame line with 135mm frame line as metering area (no other use for that 135 frame). Uncluttered 90mm frame line.

    Most importantly though are the mechanical differences. Steeples shutter speeds with indicator in the viewfinder and selector that overhands the front. THE FASTEST and easiest film loading of any Leica rangefinder (far better than the M4 system still in use today). Largest and fastest rewind crank. And then the big one, TRUE SPOT METERING.

    Yeah, it looks different, but its aged well, and it was the last Leica with traditional hand assembly.

    Once you shoot with an M5, there is no going back.

    • Reply
      April 11, 2015 at 4:54 pm

      We have a feeling the M5 is going to become more expensive as time goes on…

      • Reply
        April 11, 2015 at 5:03 pm

        Already has.

  • Reply
    April 12, 2015 at 1:36 am

    Agree! I choose the m2 because of the price.
    But doesn’t mean I don’t like the m3 or the other m cameras.
    All the film m cameras are the same to me because they all have the same function apart from some of them has built in light meter.
    Happy shooting!

    • Reply
      April 12, 2015 at 1:38 am

      And happy shooting to you!

  • Reply
    April 19, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    With each year, the number of gears on my bike gets less, can’t push a big front and a small back, so they have gone, and the number of lenses I carry goes down, I might as well super glue a 50mm to an M and be done with it, so when I found this M2/3 hybrid it kinda hit me in the sweet spots, an M2 with an M3 viewfinder/rangefinder, then leave a 50mm on it, and its a bit like an old racer bike turned into a single speed fixie. its here https://www.flickr.com/photos/77437968@N00/16821816220/

    • Reply
      April 19, 2015 at 1:37 pm

      Very nice.

  • Reply
    I Hate Morons
    June 3, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    The are the most stupid reasons I’ve ever heard. M3 is ugly ? M3 is so last year ? M2 has better frame lines ? M3 is $40 more expensive. Who wrote these, a 6 year old ?

    • Reply
      June 3, 2015 at 8:27 pm

      Thanks for your passionate comment my friend. To answer your question, I’m 7 and 3/4 years old.

  • Reply
    July 3, 2015 at 4:30 am

    I would almost agree, except as a glasses wearer, the 35mm frame lines on the m2 are basically invisible, so I would need an external viewfinder anyway. Given that, I would much rather have the big lovely m3’s vf.

    As for aesthetics, bevels may not be ideal, but functionality is more important.

  • Reply
    July 12, 2015 at 11:03 am

    The best Leica is the one you hold in your hand and use.

    I love the M2 – like the M3 – sold and regretted selling the M4’s and, I think about my M6 0.85 when I shoot with the mighty M7 in black.

    Overall I starting hating the M7 when the DX reader let me down. But as Leica repaired it for free, I forgave and select, if not any Leica in the hand, the M7.

    (and yes, the auto exposure is a blessing)

    • Reply
      July 12, 2015 at 1:02 pm

      Obviously the M3 is better otherwise her Majesty the Queen would not own one. Liz ll the original tiara wearing magnum pro. I am standing to attention as I write this humming the national anthem. .. maybe not. I have two M2s, and a ‘bastard’ M2 with a M3 viewfinder and an M3. I tend to towards what in cycling terms is known as a fixie, a single geared bike, and wander about with just one lens. When young it was mostly a 35mm, as 50mm was for squares and aged uncles. If you were cool it had to be an M2, and a 35mm Now I am old my Uncle may have been right and its usually a 50mm, and if its a fast 50 , Noctilux or 1.2 Cannon, or a 1.1 MS Sonnetar , the M3 rangefinder really helps. Oh I had an M7 which I regard as the onset of Leica spread, its waistline was thicker than the preceding Ms , and what felt like a sports car in the hand edged towards limo. Think Jag XK 120 then 150, or Aston DB4 then DB6, The M7 was the beginning of Leica lardification, the M7 is just a tad fatter than an M6, the M8 a tad fatter than the M7, the M240 a tad fatter than the M9,and so it goes on. Which is why I have not bought a 240. I am hoping there is Dr in a white coat advising a product meeting in darkest Wetzlar on how he can fit a gastric band to the Leica 260……. Thus my goto film Leica in a hurry is an M3, as with a 50mm lens it has the least cluttered viewfinder. The most practical Leica for daily commuting, shopping, parking at the supermarket, is for me an M6. But I have just discovered the joys of the 111G which of course is just an obese Leica 1. But an M2 is great, but really if its aesthetics and cool you are after ‘stuff it’ get a Nikon SP.

  • Reply
    January 11, 2016 at 7:42 pm

    I agree it seems a bit infantile to reduce the comparison to such crude and simplistic terms. I think they’re both beautiful pieces of machinery. Each has their place in history and each has their sweet spot, the M3 with 50mm and the M2 with 35mm. A rigid Summicron 50 lives on my M3 but I actually use the M2 with a Zeiss 25/2.8 most of the time. An M6 0.85 gets all my modern glass (35/50/90 ASPH).

    • Reply
      January 11, 2016 at 8:14 pm

      Happy shooting!

  • Reply
    Colin Templeton
    February 2, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    Nice article. I shoot an M2 myself, and love it. But I’m surprised nobody has mentioned the purpose of the window bevels. The top of the M2 might look a little less Bauhaus than the smooth (and cheaper to make) brass cap of the M2, but those bevels do a magnificent job of keeping fingers away from the windows. With the M3, Leica thought of absolutely everything. Nothing on that camera is a frivolity. Shoot with a flush-windowed M6, M7, or any digital M, and you’ll spend plenty of time wiping fingerprints from the windows.

    Best wishes,


  • Reply
    Donato Chirulli
    March 3, 2016 at 10:26 pm

    In fact….. I’ve just bought a nice M2….. 😉

  • Reply
    Jordi Vollom
    June 7, 2016 at 7:28 am

    Very nice review of a legendary camera. I think they are all great and we can be proud to own any one of them. In fact, we should collect them all;-)

  • Reply
    Wilson Laidlaw
    October 12, 2016 at 8:35 am

    M4 every time. The best built of all M Leicas, just before the cost accounts/management consultants arrived, the end result of which was the cheaper to build M4-2. In effect the M4 is an improved M2 and I would agree with the M2 v M3 argument, as my favourite every day lens is a 35mm, either the very good but very heavy chrome/brass f1.4 Summilux ASPH or the far lighter black/alloy f2 Summicron ASPH. I have had my M4 from new in 1967, where the body was my 21st present. It is a very early one (the 47th production M4 1175047) and was bought from Lizars in Aberdeen, Scotland. It still works perfectly after its first CLA last year by Peter at CRR in Luton and also now looks like new again.

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