More than 80,000 models of the Leica M2 left the factory in the decade following the camera's release in 1958.
Originally intended as a more affordable alternative to the Leica M3, many collectors now consider the M2 one of the most desirable of all M systems. Aside from the original price difference of 100 Deutsche Mark, the most distinctive feature to set the two cameras apart was the M2's smooth top plate and absent bevels around the windows, a design that would continue in all subsequent M models.
While the M4 later introduced the canted rewind lever, the M2 still featured the original Button Rewind that makes it so attractive to M purists today. In technical terms, the M2's most deciding departure from the M3 was its newly developed rangefinder.
While the M3's 0.91x magnification pleased many photographers, it also made it impossible to achieve a frameline for a 35 mm focal length without resorting to various tricks. In addition, the M2's specially developed viewfinder with its 0.72x magnification was far less costly to produce than that of the M3.
All subsequent M viewfinders are based on the M2 – making the Leica M2 not just a simplified version of the M3, but also something of a pioneering model in the history of the M.