Leica M2: What to look for while inspecting?

Discussion in 'Leica and Rangefinders' started by mechs, Feb 16, 2021.

  1. Hi All,

    I recently moved a lot of photography and musical gear I no longer use to make room for some new (to me) photographic gear. The first purchase was a Leica M4-2 which I love (and started a thread about). Yesterday, an opportunity came up to inspect and possibly purchase a Leica M2 in good condition. The camera is at a brick-and-mortar store with years of reputation so I am comfortable purchasing there. They mentioned that the camera had had its last service two years ago and everything on it is buttery smooth. It would come with a three-month warranty.

    I've read several Leica buyer guides and am generally comfortable buying used gear. However, I wanted to ask for your collective wisdom (especially those who own an M2) for any tips as to what to look for during the inspection.

    I've heard horror stories about balsam separation but don't really know what the early warning signs of it are. Any specific and descriptive signs of potential issues would be appreciated.

    Last edited: Feb 16, 2021
  2. I would think pretty much the same things as you would on your M4-2 or any film M. Don't forget its age. But if it was recently CLA's and sounds as nice as it does it should be great. Check the film advance, the slow speeds (now you know what to look for) the condition of the shutter curtains. The frame lines (all visible and clear) and of course any fungus. Is the covering in decent condition? Does the bottom plate come off and go back on smoothly. The film advance should be very smooth on that camera. Sounds nice!
  3. Tha
    Thanks, Barry. I've heard conflicting reports on balsam separation. Is that something that one could detect early signs of? For instance, I've heard that some bubbling along the left margin of the rf patch is not unusual or unexpected, but short of a pitch-black viewfinder, is there anything else I should look out for? Or is separation something that only ever happens if the camera is dropped?
  4. So you are talking about separation of the elements in the rf/vf in Canadian made Leicas where the Balsalm fails and forms "golden droplets" and then the prism just comes apart. (I just looked it up because I have never heard of it.) In any older M the glass in the rangefinder mechanism can separate over time. From what I've seen it will appear milky and/or the range finder spot will disappear or fade which should be different then if it was fungus. I once dropped an M3, which I still have off a table at a party and the rf spot disappeared. I had to get a replacement because it was a double stroke M3. I was lucky I was able to get a replacement. Otherwise, I believe most M rf/vf can be re-glued or replaced or updated.

    I really don't know much about that problem and there's other folks here that know much more about the technical aspects of Lecia's then I do, but to finally, answer your question, they can separate over time and if dropped. It happens, but I think its camera specific. If it looks clear, should be ok.
  5. When I looked for my first Leica, of the first 10 I looked at (M2's and M3's), half had small edge droplets of brownish/golden color which I was told was a pre-stage to de-cementing by online forum members. I rejected some pretty good deals because of my paranoia.
    The camera I ended up buying was a ratty beat up M3 with a lovely 50mm Summicron lens. The camera had actual de-cementing in the finder, clearly visible as a shiny uneven patch across 1/3 of the finder area when looking from the front towards the back, but perfectly clear when looking normally through the finder.
    I bought it because it was so cheap, and even if the camera should break the next day, it would still have been a good deal because of the lens.
    I ended up using the M3 for a year, before selling it in favour of a M2 (I needed the 35mm frame-lines). That is 20 years ago and I know for a fact that the camera has been in use up until now without further deterioration of the finder.

    I later bought an M4. It had just been CLA'd - I saw the paperwork - but after two days of using it, the shutter curtains jammed and ripped apart. Surgery was needed at Leica and the cost of restoration set me back just as much as the price had I paid for the camera itself.

    I had a friend who owned a perfect M3. Like many Leica owners, he had a mild degree of OCD and babied the camera. One day he put it down normally on a marble cafe table and the finder blacked out - separated!

    My point is that you can do a lot of research - and you should, but the outcome of your choice is not really predictable when we are talking about cameras of this age.
    If you make sure the camera feels good and operates as intended, and otherwise looks healthy, you can't really do much more - other than make sure you can afford an overhaul if it is needed.

    I own an M2 and I don't think there are any specific things I would look out for compared with other models. If you see any signs of de-cementing, you could ask if finder separation/blackening is covered by the warranty. And make sure the take-up spool is in the camera.
  6. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    One concern I would have is condition of the "rubberized" cloth focal plane shutter. Can recall issues and discussions in past years, not necessarily on PN.
  7. SCL


    The M2 is a really rugged camera, and the fact that it has had a recent CLA is a positive. However, unless you know exactly what was done in the CLA, or if a true Leica expert repairperson did it, it may be a little questionable. However, the shop offering you the 3 year warranty is a strong positive...just check t ensure it covers the potential issues you have raised. Balsam separation typically occurs as the cements used in the 1950s have outlived their useful lives or been exposed to conditions reducing their effective lives. Top Leica repairpersons (at least in the USA) can repair or replace as appropriate...it isn't cheap, but for advanced cases well worth it. Years back my M4 slid 4 ft. off a surface in icy weather onto concrete, dislodging the mirror, and requiring a full replacement - I was delighted with the end result and happily paid the price for my negligence, My M2, rescued from a pawnshop, as far as I am aware, has never had a CLA (I keep thinking I should get it done before the legendary repairpersons die), and everything still works smoothly and accurately, and no issues with the RF mirror or mechanism. Good luck with your purchase, sounds like a good deal.
  8. 3 months, not years.
  9. One drawback to owning old Leica equipment is the shortage of experienced repair shops. My all-time favorite lens -- a 1969-vintage 50mm Summicron -- suffered a minor accident after Halloween and needed a focus adjustment. That was 3.5 months ago and I'm still waiting for it to come back from the shop. Of the top three Leica repair people generally recommended in the U.S. (Goldberg, Krauter, and Youxin), only one was willing to tackle what seems to be a minor repair.

    We've got 10 million people unemployed in this country and a few million more who dropped out of the labor market since the pandemic started. Given those grim statistics, and the lengthy backlogs at the very few Leica repair shops, you'd think we could train a few more people to work on these things. I guess it's becoming a lost art.
  10. There's enough information here to give me a high comfort level about this particular M2. Look through the finder and if everything looks clean and the RF patch is contrasty and clear - if you're really interested in buying it - then go for it!
  11. Thanks, everyone. I went ahead and inspected the camera. Cosmetically, it is in very good shape with minor scratches on the top and bottom plates and some bubbling of the vulcanite near the self-timer and frame selector levers. Nothing drastic or urgently in need of fixing.

    In terms of mechanics, the shutter and film advance lever are buttery smooth, the focusing patch is very bright and contrasty with no bubbling or any other imperfections. The viewfinder itself is clean but a shade darker than my M4-2, and seems to have a bit of a blue tint/cool quality to it. I shone a light through the viewfinder both ways and looked into it from the front to back and didn't notice anything unusual. I tested all shutter speeds and listened to the 1 sec in particular and can hear the roaring and whining of the gears. It all sounds pretty similar to my M4-2. The rewind knob is smooth in operation and otherwise solid when locked down. The bottom plate locks on pretty tight and the vulcanite is in very good shape (not sure if it's original) except for the bubbling issue. The film speed indicator in the back is pretty awesome and turns perfectly well. The self-timer lever/function doesn't seem to be working, unless I am not operating it properly.

    I put a roll of Kodak 200 color film and am getting it developed as we speak. The only problem today was me; I didn't rewind the film enough and, like an idiot, opened the bottom plate mid-roll. I'll probably lose a good 50% of the frames on that roll but the rest should be enough to tell me if there is a problem with the shutter. I loaded a new b&w roll into it today and will shoot that over the weekend. I have 7 days to return the camera and confirmed with the shop that the three-month warranty includes everything minus drops and cosmetic stuff. Here is a pic of the camera.

    View attachment 1376703
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2021
  12. Thanks for the update. It sounds great so far.
    I can't see your attachment though:
    Photo.net Photography Forums - Error
    The requested attachment could not be found.
  13. Thanks. I got the self-timer to work as well!

    IMG_2489 2.jpg
  14. Beautiful. It looks like the original vulcanite is replaced with leatherette. Vulcanite is usually stone hard and flakes off in pieces if it lifts from the camera body. No big deal unless you are a collector.
  15. Yep, poorly done as well. Not a collector but those bumps are ugly and I wonder if the metal surface underneath was damaged at all during the process. I've read that the original vulcanite is extremely difficult to scrape off.
  16. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    Had that happen to my Dad's M 3 Leica - DAG Camera had a precisely cut replacement piece. DIY repair was easy.
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2021
  17. I had always had a problem with the Leica 'fanboys', but when I got a nice Leica M3, I had to admit that Leitz Camera really did (still do, I suppose) make an exceptional product. Enjoy your cameras.
  18. Aki-Asahi in Japan is also a great and inexpensive source if one wants to refresh the covering: Aki-Asahi Camera Coverings
    Sandy Vongries likes this.
  19. This begs the question: have any of you actually seen a Leica M with Zeiss bumps before? And would putting on a new leatherette cover from Aki-Asahi require any specific set of tools, other than a scraper to clean the oxidation, some thinner/acetone, and q-tips?
  20. Look here.

Share This Page