Leica M2 and 50mm Jupiter 8 Lens, Review and Street Photographs . . .

. . . Yes I have a soft spot for Leica cameras, especially film M’s.

Just a cursory glance through past articles here on the Street Photography Blog will reveal a recurrent theme. Two M8’s, three CL’s (yes they are real Leica’s) and an M5. Now despite selling these and giving up film around 11 months ago for a Fuji X-E1, the siren call of 35mm simply refused to go away. So now a new ‘M’ joins the fray, the Leica M2.

Leica M2 with Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.4 Classic Lens. Street Photography.

There are several factors that keep bringing me back to film. A comfortably equipped darkroom (the Chicken Shed) and a faithful old screwmount 50mm Jupiter 8 Russian Lens with M adapter, are two of them. Also some bulk film loaders full of Ilford FP4 and HP5 and an almost full bottle of Rodinal (Adox Adonal). How could I let it all go to waste?

leica m2 jupiter 50 f2 lens top view review

This particular M2 dates from 1966 and incredibly, still has the black Leica ‘L’ wax-plug at the top of the lens mount. These were placed there by Leica at the time of manufacture to give an indicator of whether the camera had been ‘fiddled’ with, in the event of a warranty claim. Obviously the M2 is now well passed that, but it also shows that this body has never been opened or serviced by anyone outside of Leica Germany themselves. In fact, it may never been serviced at all !

With that in mind, it’s testament to the widely appreciated quality of workmanship that despite this, the camera still operates as smoothly and accurately as the day it was made, even after nearly 50 years. Ask anyone what an early Leica M ‘feels like’ and sooner or later the words ‘buttery smooth’ will crop up, especially with regards the film advance, which is errr . . . buttery smooth. The top plate has a minor selection of dints that to me, tell of a camera that has been used. This is ultimately more desirable than one which has sat in a display cabinet, allowing the various greases and oils inside to solidify like toffee. On the underside, the base plate proudly wears a wonderful mixture of chrome and brass, though I think this has been done deliberately, rather than from natural wear over the course of time.

leica m2 jupiter 50 f2 lens review bottom view

To complete this appraisal of the ‘body’, here’s a rear shot of the top plate. A previous owner has seen fit to scribe a couple of handy exposure settings for both flash photography and poor light.

leica m2 rear top plate view review

Lens wise, the piece of glass stuck on the front is a chromed Jupiter 8, a Russian made 50mm ‘clone’ of the much revered Zeiss 50mm LTM lens. Indeed, the Russian manufacturers did such a good job that it even produces similarly contrasty images.

The keen eyed among you may have noticed that the lens in the two previous photos is a ‘black’ Jupiter 8. This is in fact a lens which came with the camera and having known it was scratched beyond use, it makes a nice paperweight.

So what is the camera like to shoot?

musicians and relaxing with coffee whitehaven street photography uk photographer kevin shelley prints for sale leica m2 jupiter 8 50 f2

If you’ve never handled an M2 (or any film M) before, you might be surprised by it’s size. It is incredibly compact and reassuringly weighty for something so small. As a matter of fact it is smaller than the Fuji X-E1, though actually heavier. It’s a stealthy package, which is one of the reasons it has been so popular.

caution abnormal road garage millom street photography uk photographer kevin shelley prints for sale leica m2 jupiter 8 50 f2

The Leica M2 is a fully-manual camera, with no internal light metering. As a result there are two methods available of measuring light. The first is a handheld meter, such as the Sekonic L308s that I use, or any one of the smartphone based light metering app’s that are now so popular.

The second ‘device’ which I try to use as much as possible, is my eye. Using the Sunny 16 rule, it is possible to achieve as-near-as-makes-no-difference, correct exposures in good light. Sunny 16 can appear daunting at first, but with practice can become almost instinctive. All of the shots presented here were taken at 500th of a second and an aperture of f/8 in the sunshine and between f/4 & f/5.6 in shadier spots.

two men smoke outside pub whitehaven street photography uk photographer kevin shelley prints for sale leica m2 jupiter 8 50 f2

Manual focusing is like no other system when using a rangefinder. A simple task of lining-up two separate rectangular ‘windows’ of the same scene. If the rangefinder patch is to the right, twist the focusing ring to the left to ‘drag’ it over and vice versa.

old man in shorts carries packages whitehaven street photography uk photographer kevin shelley prints for sale leica m2 jupiter 8 50 f2

Such is the nature of the M’s viewfinder that it not only shows what will be captured via the framelines, it also shows what’s happening outside that area. Unlike with an EVF or the viewfinder of a DSLR, it’s possible to spot additional subject matter that could be included in ‘the frame’.

dog looks out of window egremont street photography uk photographer kevin shelley prints for sale leica m2 jupiter 8 50 f2

Focusing, composition, and taking the picture become a single operation. Without having to worry whether the camera has picked the correct AF point, or that the internal metering has exposed correctly, the act of pressing the beautifully light yet precise shutter button becomes part of the whole. An almost seamless act of lifting the camera, focusing, composing and tripping the shutter.

man walks labrador egremont street photography uk photographer kevin shelley prints for sale leica m2 jupiter 8 50 f2

Every stage of using the Leica M2 feels like a reward, ending with a brief but sweet ‘swing’ of that ‘buttery smooth’ film advance lever.

man leans against car whitehaven street photography uk photographer kevin shelley prints for sale leica m2 jupiter 8 50 f2

When it comes to unloading and loading the film, many have said what a ‘pain’ it can be with the early M’s. Yes the M2 (and M3 & MP) has a round knob that you have to twist in order to rewind the film, rather than a small handle on later cameras. However, such is the quality and precision of the internal workings, that this is a ‘smooth’ operation.

biker with helmet sat on head post office whitehaven street photography uk photographer kevin shelley prints for sale leica m2 jupiter 8 50 f2

You’re now ready to load the next roll and once again, this is often regarded as a faff. In my experience though, it’s something that’s quickly mastered. Take the unexposed roll in one hand and the removable take up spool in the other. Insert the end of the film leader (I cut mine straight across) and push it in as far as it will go, into the sprung ‘leaf’ of the spool. Then with the backdoor of the camera open, slide the joined cassette and spool into their respective cavities. Finish up with a quick check to ensure the ‘teeth’ of the guide roller are engaged in the film’s sprocket holes (gently wind the film advance lever a little if not), close the door, reattach the bottom plate and fire off a couple of frames, not forgetting to reset the manual film counter to zero (another bone of contention for some).

woman and giant ice cream outside cafe whitehaven street photography uk photographer kevin shelley prints for sale leica m2 jupiter 8 50 f2

There’s an immense amount of snobbery surrounding Leica’s and I’ve never subscribed to it.

Even among some of the owners themselves, you can still regularly read on various internet ‘hangouts’ how (for example), the CL isn’t a real Leica because it was built by Minolta (though designed by Leica). The M5 is a ‘huge’ ugly monstrosity (it isn’t), forgetting the fact that it was the last ‘M’ made by Leica in Wetzlar to the old ‘fit & adjust’ methods of construction and is an extremely capable shooter.

public toilets fish for sale millom street photography uk photographer kevin shelley prints for sale leica m2 jupiter 8 50 f2

It doesn’t end there either. The M4-2 is a poor substitute because it has a ‘stamped’ top plate rather than an engraved one and some of the gears are steel rather than brass. Ultimately you’d be silly to buy one because it was made in Canada of all places. 😀

man sat outside cafe whitehaven street photography uk photographer kevin shelley prints for sale leica m2 jupiter 8 50 f2

And so we come to the M2. Of course the ‘daddy’ of all the M’s is the M3. The first of many. Yes the M2 (rather confusingly) came afterwards but in my opinion, it improved the breed and benefited from 3 years of improvements since the M3’s launch. Sure you have to reset the counter to zero once you’ve changed a roll, but it comes with 35mm framelines built-in. The widest the M3 could manage was 50mm, requiring an auxiliary viewfinder for anything wider. The M2 also disposed of those unsightly ‘window’ surrounds on the front for a cleaner design.

young mother and push chair sat on wall whitehaven street photography uk photographer kevin shelley prints for sale leica m2 jupiter 8 50 f2

Ignoring these minor differences, the M2 is basically an M3, including the brass top and bottom plates machined from solid metal. Sure there’s some differences to the rangefinder mechanism itself, but from the outside and whilst shooting, you’d be none the wiser.

man smokes outside pub whitehaven street photography uk photographer kevin shelley prints for sale leica m2 jupiter 8 50 f2

Leica originally released the M2 as a ‘budget’ model and this stigma still reverberates today. So much so that a used M2 can be bought for half of what you’d pay for an equivalent condition M3.

man with tartan trolley whitehaven street photography uk photographer kevin shelley prints for sale leica m2 jupiter 8 50 f2

Because of this, I paid £399 for my M2 and I for one am delighted it’s still regarded as the ‘Poor Mans Leica’. 🙂


If you are looking to buy a Leica M2, eBay UK always has a good selection on offer here.

 

Author: Kevin Shelley

Street Photography. eBooks. Blog. Shoots and reviews cameras. Develops film. Writes novelesque articles.

15 thoughts on “Leica M2 and 50mm Jupiter 8 Lens, Review and Street Photographs . . .”

  1. I thought I had the poor man’s Leica Yashica Electro 35 GT, yeah I don’t think film is going away anytime soon it still has that pull and personally I don’t think you can beat a good darkroom print, but that’s where it ends for me as I don’t have a darkroom plus after spending so much getting my digital kit I don’t think err in doors would like it say no more, good on you Kevin for keeping a hold on film.

    Mick.

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    1. Hi Mick,

      I had an Electro 35 GT a while ago. From memory, I remember the lens (a 45 1.7 ?) being very good and contrasty and the metering system being very easy to use with the two led’s.

      I must get back into doing prints cos I made some 16×12’s a while ago and yes, nothing compares to a ‘real’ print.

      The ‘old’ halide days just refuse to go away.

      Kev

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  2. I have an x2 I am new to photo world I am retired and now have the time to indulge in this pasttime.In Vietnam I knew Catherine Leroy she used m2 as a war photojournalist she was amazing. I named my x2 Catherine, I have been contemplating an m2 and your article has convinced me I’m just not sure if I should get 35 or 50 lens, the digital Catherine needs a companion and being film she would somehow make my memories of the real Catherine more vivid. Thank you for easing my fears about film, I never had any type of camera in my life excluding i phone.

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    1. Hello John and thank you for visiting my blog. Pleased that you want to take the plunge with an M2.

      And thank you for introducing me to Catherine Leroy. I hadn’t heard of her before but what an incredible person she was. Amazing that she never felt more alive than when being shot at !!

      Your choice of lens would depend mainly on what you will be photographing and if Street Photography, how close you can comfortably get to your subjects. It’s really down to what finished ‘product’ you want to achieve.

      All the recent photographs I’ve uploaded from the M2 and Fuji X-E1 are shot with a 50mm focal length, which allows me to shoot my preferred style of full portrait and keep a respectable distance.

      I would caution though that the M2 is a fully manual camera, with no built in metering, or automatic shutter and aperture control and with the greatest of respect, may be a struggle if you’ve only used an iPhone before.

      Or you may take to it like a duck to water. 🙂

      Either way, good luck, have fun and I would love to see the pictures you take with it.

      Cheers,

      Kevin

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  3. Hi John i purchased my m2 a few months ago from a large antiques center in Lincolnshire,the camera came with its case and elmar 1:2.8/50 lens, the cameras conditon is very good,every thing works like clockwork ,i have on it at the moment a jupiter 35mm 2.8 lens plus a voigtlander vc meter 2,but have used the sunny sixteen rule before i got the vc meter.This camera joins my voigtlander Bessa R2m that is a bit lighter than the leica,anyway just one other thing i have started developing my own films with the Paterson tank ,and the black bag as a darkroom .like your pics cheers Steve

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    1. Hi Steve,

      Sounds like you found a good deal with the M2 and to come with a lens as well. Bet you couldn’t believe your eyes? 🙂

      How do you find the Jupiter lens? They have good write ups on the net.

      Processing your own film never loses it’s wonder. I still get a buzz everytime I get the neg’s out of the tank.

      Cheers, Kevin

      Like

      1. Hi Kevin have a few hits and misses with the developing still on a learning curve ,have the odd botch up in the black bag, the jupiter 35mm lense i find ok from my limited experiance of lenses,but am really pleased with the leica m2 have been useing it without the lightmeter and just with sunny sixteen rule seems to workout ok .Steve

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  4. Hi,
    Did u have any trouble in using adapter fot your jupiter 8? Cause there’s a common problem about infinity focus for j8 using m adapters.

    Like

    1. Hi. I did have to adjust the infinity focus on the focusing arm screw of the M2 a little bit.

      Had to change it again when I bought the Voigtlander 50 1.5, so not sure which was correct but not so bad now, if a little soft depending on distance to subject and apperture.

      Cheers, Kevin

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  5. I use the black Jupiter 8 on a 1955 double-stroke M3. My experience of this lens is that mono images are more suited to the lens rather than colour which can appear wishy-washy at times. I sometimes use a Weston Master 111 meter as it has the earlier speeds of 5.10.25.50.100 as the shutter speed dial of the early M3. Sunny 16 rule is used too, although in this country we can have pretty poor light and it can change rapidly. Funny, I find the Jupiter 8 lens much easier to focus than the Leica ones with small levers that I have to look for. With the 8 I simply use the edge of my finger.

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  6. Re-setting the frame counter on the M2 also applies to the M1 and MD. I use an MD with a Visoflex 2 and 280mm f4.8 Telyt lens, kept exclusively for cricket matches. It slips nicely into a Billingham Beta 45 case, and is used on a tripod. My problem is forgetting to reset the film counter as I also use a pair of MDa bodies with a 35mm lens and SBLOO viewfinder for street photography. For cities I use the MD2 black body with 21mm Super-Angulon f3.4 lens. This is the 2nd 21 for Leica M and made 64-80. Then we had two f2.8 and now we are back to f3.4 for the fifth 21!

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    1. My word, you’ve used the full gambit of lenses there. Now you’ve arrived at a setup that you’re happy with.

      Keep shooting that intense jet of creativity and you’ll be sure to hit the mark.

      Keep it clean and fresh my man.

      Cheers,

      Like

  7. Imagine my surprise while reading this to discover that the M2 you’re writing about is actually in my possession now having purchased it from eBay a few weeks ago!

    It still has the Leica seal in place and still ‘buttery smooth’ and the text scrawled on the camera adds to its wonderful charm. Although not new to rangefinders this is my first Leica and I’m enjoying shooting with this camera immensely!

    Regards,

    Ashley

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    1. Hi Ashley,

      Yes, that is a surprise, for both of us.

      It’s good to hear that my old M2 is enjoying itself in the hands of someone who appreciates it’s rugged appearance.

      I sold the camera in June and about 2 months before that, I had sent it to Leica in Germany for a good old clean and service. When she came back, it was like a different camera. All the shutter speeds were accurate, the viewfinder was crystal clear and even more ‘buttery smooth’ than before and they’d fitted a new seal as well.

      Enjoy the camera,

      Kevin

      P.S. My favourite street shot was taken with this camera. 🙂 https://www.streetphotographyblog.co.uk/wordpress/wp-content/gallery/Shocking.jpg

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  8. Further to what I wrote above, I see no justification whatsoever for regarding the M2 as a “poor man’s Leica, even though I do not have one. I agree that the Yashica 35 GTN is a very good camera, a friend used a black one in the early 90s before losing it! The whole M3/M2/M1/MD is a timescale of early M. The M3 1954 had frames for 50/90/135 and is the best body for 50mm lens enthusiasts as the 50 frame is constant and bright with 0.91X magnification. The
    1958 M2 had frames for 35/50/90 and is the best body of you’re a 35 enthusiast. The M2 can be regarded as perhaps more professional as the frames are the ‘photojournalists trinity.’
    The M1 1959, was an M2 with no rangefinder and frames for 35 & 50 constantly present in the viewfinder. The MD 1964, was an M2 with no rangefinder and viewfinder. When, in 1967, all were swept away with the introduction of the M4 with 35/50/90/135 frames, the MDa was introduced. A viewfinderless/rangefinderless M4.

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