Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Leica CL Reflections: This camera will be a huge success for Wetzlar

Leica CL Reflections: This camera will be a huge success for Wetzlar

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  Image: Leica Camera AG
Image: Leica Camera AG

Hallelujah, we might have been forgiven for exclaiming on Tuesday afternoon. At long last Leica has peeled the scales from its peepers and done what everyone has been asking it to do for five years — introduced an APS-C L-mount camera with a built-in viewfinder. There now, wasn’t so difficult after all, was it? 

After fiddling with eye-less Xs, Varios and Ts while Fujifilm burned brightly in opposition, Leica has at last done the decent thing. The CL ticks most boxes for Leica’s loyal band of followers. It doesn’t have to compete directly with Fuji, it is different in a Leica sort way and it will sell like no X, Vario or T has done in recent years. I will go out on a limb and say that the CL will rival the Q in popularity.

  The three-button trick. Image Leica Camera AG
The three-button trick. Image Leica Camera AG

The CL is right in so many respects. The design is a triumph, combining modern capabilities and performance with a gorgeous retro image. It is a very good looking camera and will sell on its looks as well as its abilities. The addition of a viewfinder means that it can compete on almost equal terms with the main opposition, the Fuji X and Sony. It lacks stabilisation and weather protection but otherwise it is calculated to appeal to a very fussy market segment, the premium mirrorless ILC. 

It is also attractively priced. £2,250 for the body is an acceptable premium over the competition. With many APS-C and Micro four-thirds bodies now nudging £1,900, the small extra cost for a Leica is nothing. On the other hand, the CL system remains expensive overall because of the high cost of the lenses. Leica say these lenses are best in the class and believe them; indeed, I can attest to this from personal experience. However, existing Leica fans who shunned the TL and TL2 will not be phased overmuch by the extra cost. 

  The 18mm pancake on the CL makes a perfect carry around street combo to rival the Fuji X100F in convenience and performance. Yet the CL, as a system, is much more versatile (image Mike Evans)
The 18mm pancake on the CL makes a perfect carry around street combo to rival the Fuji X100F in convenience and performance. Yet the CL, as a system, is much more versatile (image Mike Evans)

The new 18mm f/2.8 Elmarit pancake is a perfect complement for the CL. It puts the camera in Fuji X100F territory in terms of size and convenience. And, in my opinion, the simplicity of operation of the CL is a bonus when compared with the Fuji.

Nevertheless, there is one important omission in the lens stable when compared with competitors. That is the lack of a standard zoom lens incorporating a 24mm equivalent widest angle and a slightly longer reach at the long end. 16-55mm zooms are now common in the APS-C world, as are zooms starting at 12mm in micro four-thirds. The Leica DG 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0 m4/3 zoom is my one of my favourites largely because of its massive range — 24mm to 120mm in full-frame equivalence — and small size. I would suggest that Leica needs a 16-55mm or (ideally) a 16-80mm L lens as a matter of urgency. And, perhaps, in-lens stabilisation and a bit of weather proofing could set the trend for the future of the L system. Ultimately, there is no gainsaying the appeal of having a 24-120mm range in one general-purposes lens.

The CL will be a huge success, of that I am sure. But where does this leave the TL2, a camera that Leica says will continue in tandem with the CL? Leica believes that the TL2 addresses a completely different market segment, the wealthy millennialist weaned on smartphone photography. I remain unconvinced. I am not sure this market actually exists and, from personal observation, most T cameras have been purchased by existing Leica enthusiasts and not by smartphone upgraders. 

  Simplicity, M10-style menus: Image Leica Camera AG
Simplicity, M10-style menus: Image Leica Camera AG

That in mind, there is a distinct possibility that the TL2 is now holed below the waterline. Time will tell, but I don’t think we will have to wait very long to find out. The T is a bold design that deserves success. If only it had started life with a viewfinder it would have been a different story. 

Already I am hearing from friends who have forsaken Leica in the wake of the T and turned to Fuji. They are now thinking seriously of returning to the CL. But all are worried about their investment in Fujinon glass and the relatively more costly L lenses. It’s a pity, but Leica has let the grass grow under its feet in the APS-C world. The CL will stop the rot, but it must also win back converts if Leica is to take its rightful place in the market. 

Read more about the CL system

 

31 COMMENTS

  1. If I did have a need to upgrade my busy X Vario, it could be met by the new CL – at a price well over £3,000 once hand grip and lens hood are added. (No mention of whether a lens hood is included with the kit zoom lens). That is quite a price to pay just for faster AF and built-in vf. So I can understand why existing XV owners might choose to continue with their worthy old models.

    I have no need for an APCS version of my Q; nor do I have need for a new system camera, tempting though the new CL is. So I am in no rush, at present, to join any waiting lists.

    • Hi There David
      I was very fond of the X-Vario when it appeared mid 2013, but it was hardly at the cutting edge with respect to AF speed and high ISO, even then. What it did have is a lovely lens and a fine interface.

      The CL, whilst it might not be a step ahead of the opposition, is certainly not behind it. It isn’t just an upgrade in terms of AF and a built in Viewfinder, it’s an upgrade in terms of Speed, High ISO, EVF quality, interface and image quality. I haven’t got an X-Vario to compare the lens quality, but the TL lens is a fine lens with a slightly longer range and slightly faster aperture.

      Try one – I think you’ll agree

      All the best
      Jonathan

  2. I must ask my 21 year old ‘millennial’ grandson what he thinks about all of this. I bought him a Lumix compact when he was a pre-teen, but I have not seen him use a stand alone camera since he hit his teens about 8 years ago. His smartphone is, of course, with him at all times. As he is still a college student and, therefore, buying a Leica of any kind is out of the question (unless I buy one for him). The question I would ask him is whether a camera that would require a card to be taken out or some other device for processing would interest him and his friends rather than the convenience of a smartphone which can be used to send photos instantly to wherever or whoever they want. I suspect that would be a bigger issue rather than whether or not the camera had an eye-level EVF. I have said before, that the way to make a camera like the TL a success was to make it a truly connected device. The CL will, I suspect, appeal to older photographers.

    William

  3. Hi Mike, I agree that the CL is a great minimalist design that appeals me. However, about the current crop of L lenses. Leica should look seriously at the gorgeous M4/3 designs done for Panasonic. I’m thinking specifically of the primes with aperture rings – the 12/1.4, 15/1.7 and 42.5/1.2. I have the 15/1.7 on my GX85. Just imagine the CL with the 15/1.7. It would be much better looking than their new 18/2.8 offering. Keep up the great writing and reporting.

    • James, You are absolutely right and I am embarrassed that I forgot to add this. I will take your tip and do something on the primes later. I also think that the Leica DG primes would translate well to the L system. The physical aperture ring on most of these lenses (with the 25mm being the obvious exception) is a masterstroke and would be so popular on an L prime. Of course an APS-C version would be larger — but then the 35mm f/1.4 L lens is no midget. Thank you for your positive comments.

    • James (and Mike)
      I wonder whether these (excellent) Panasonic primes would translate well to APS-C in terms of image circle. Although it isn’t that much bigger than µ43 the different aspect ratio of APS-C means that you need a much bigger image circle. . . .
      As for the aperture ring – surely the point about the CL is that it’s controlled from the camera (like Canon, Nikon cameras for many years). I understand the current passion for literal controls, but after shooting the CL alongside the Fuji X-T2 I don’t think I agree.
      Best

  4. Nice write up – I enjoyed it. David A – if you love your X-Vario be very very careful not to play with a CL with the 18-55 lens.

    • Thanks, Jonathan. I agree with your message to David. Beware the CL with the 18-55. Furthermore, I think this camera could at last cure me of my dalliance with the old X1, not to mention the X Vario.

    • Jonathan, thank you for your cautionary warning. However, I recall your initial enthusiasm for the X Vario; indeed, one might still lurk in your family collection. Please tell me more, if you can, about the comparitive performance merits of the X Vario zoom lens and that forming part of the CL launch kit.

      In theory higher resolution (24mp) should outperform the 16mp of the X Vario until you realise they both use a similar sized sensor. Squeezing more pixels into the same area surely comes at a cost. So much for theory. Calling on your unique experience over time with both cameras, how would you define the relative performances of the two zoom lenses?

      Peter Karbe designed the older lens to match performance from contemporary M bodies and lenses. What do you know about the design of the new zoom? Looking at your test files, is there a performance improvement over the classic lens on the X Vario? I really am looking for some tangible benefits before getting carried away by the new CL.

      • For what it’s worth, and not pre-empting Jonathan’s views, I think the 18-56mm TL zoom is more than a match for the X Vario’s lens. It’s a bit faster but that’s a minor consideration. I firmly believe that the CL and the 18-56 will more than meet the challenge of bettering the X Vario. It’s a more expensive option, of course, but you do get the flexibility of an interchangeable lens system. Over to Jonathan…..

      • Hi David
        Sadly I haven’t got an X-Vario lurking any more (generally speaking I try and avoid being a collector).

        This means that I can’t give you actual comparisons, but I think that the CL outperforms the X-Vario at every level, and the standard zoom (18-56) really is a fine lens. 4 years of development means that the 24mp of the CL definitely outperforms the 16mp of the X-vario – despite the same sensor size – squeezing more pixels in has definitely not come at a cost (the CL has better high ISO, better dynamic range and better resolution).

        Peter Karbe (as I understand it) was also responsible for the TL lenses and has become rather enamoured of APS-C. I imagine that the X-Vario lens was the direct forerunner of the 18-56.

        Of course, you might not like the interface, which reflects the recent Leica designs with a favorites menu and buttons / dials with multiple functions.

        All the best

  5. Sarah M Lee has great photos on Leica Camera Blog from the CL, and others have terrific Videos, what bothers me is that this CL, is being pushed as an assist to your M, and mini M. I think it should be sold as a primary system with out referencing other Leica’s. It’s like selling a Rolls and buy a mini-cooper for the trunk!

    • I met Sarah at the press breakfast on Tuesday. She said that she had been "blown away" by the quality of the CL output and that she couldn’t really tell the difference between it and the Q without checking. I agree with your assessment of the CL/Mini M comparison. The CL can and should stand on its own feet and the only comparison should be with Fuji X and Sony.

  6. Nice write up mike. I am considering putting in an order for one, and not just so that I can design and make a case for it for Classic Cases. I had Leica Q for a while and loved it. The one omission from the Q was a zoom lens and this has one!

    • Indeed, you are right. The CL appears to have everything going for it, except that full-frame sensor in the Q. At the press breakfast, Sarah from The Guardian was reporting on her use of the CL over the previous two weeks. She had been using it on a personal project alongside the M10 and Q. She said she was "blown away" by the results from the CL and honestly couldn’t really see the different between the CL and Q files without checking. Obviously at small sizes, iPhone, iPad, computer, there is no real difference except in ultimate depth of field (and the Q with 28mm doesn’t excel at that in any case).

  7. It seems to me that the TL2 still has some advanteges over the CL: In camera charging, GPS (with the visoflex), HDMI and price (at least in Germany a TL 2 plus Visoflex is a little bit cheaper than the CL). On the other hand, Leica offers CL bundles (CL plus 18 mm or CL plus Standard zoom) at a Discount, something it does not with the TL 2. This may be a sign that TL 2 sales are satisfactory from Leica’s perspective.

    I had hoped for a more X Vario like camera: Designwise the top plate of the CL is less convincing than the X Vario. From a functional point of view the Vario can be set up even when it is turned of – the CL has more or ess the same user Interface as the T namely the two dials wich are not marked and Change their function dependeing on the mode you are in.

    The CL seems to be a gorgeous camera and of course it has the wonderful build in viewfinder. But in comparison the TL 2 looks more attractive than I had thought. If Mike is right on should be able to get a good deal on a used TL 2 – if TL 2 users now all Switch to CL…

    • You make a good case, Georg. I actually like the TL2, with that sole proviso about the viewfinder. And even there, I have friends who prefer the add-on finder because it tilts and makes things easier for old bones. If I am right and there is a flood of part exchanges I might even take the opportunity to upgrade my old first-generation T with a TL or TL2. We shall see what happens over the next month or so.

  8. You can today buy an X-Pro2 for £1109 (after a £380 cashback) from Fuji. Is this camera worth more than twice that price? From watching and reading the reviews, I doubt it very much…I know, I know, it has a Leica badge…but that is an awfully expensive tiny piece of red plastic.

    • Of course you are right and no one is saying that the Leica CL is not expensive compared with Fuji and others. It’s actually a different market, with Leica offering a premium brand at a premium price. My point is that with the CL, the body itself is not ridiculously overpriced in comparison with the opposition (look at the Olympus O-MD E-M1 Mk II, for instance which, for a micro four-thirds body has a long price as well as a long lens. Leica will never compete directly, but there are sufficient people out there who will buy their products. I suppose it’s back to the old adage, you pays your money and you takes your choice.

    • Hi there Ian
      I can chip in here – I haven’t been using an X-Pro2 in any meaningful way, but the viewfinder is really rather small (0.64x). I did, however, shoot the CL alongside the X_T2 (which has better magnification). But I still preferred the CL viewfinder which seemed to have better colour and contrast (it’s 0.74x FWIW).

      But the real point isn’t really the money (or even the viewfinder). Fuji, like Sony, have made a point of listening to their customers – and implementing their requests – with the result that the menus are huge and complicated, and the default settings often not what you would want. . . . an example is that if you want the spot metering to follow the focus point in the Fuji there is a complex menu option for this, which is hidden in menu somewhere deep in it’s belly – default is to keep it central . . . Leica have simply assumed that you would want spot metering to follow spot focus – so it does.

      Leica on the other hand also listen to their customers, but they don’t implement pointless features willy nilly. The CL has a very tight menu system which is easy to understand and negotiate.

      I understand that if you are looking at price / performance ratio then you simply wouldn’t look at a Leica – but if you’re interested in the shooting experience it’s a different matter.

      Surprisingly I found the AF on the CL to be better than the X-T2 (I was using the 16-55 f2.8 and the 50 f2 on the fuji). I also thought the image quality was better (but hey, all these modern sensors are good).

      All the best

      • As you know, I am mainly a Leica user. I also use the Fujifilm X-Pro 2. Just as with microwave ovens and smartphones etc, you do not have to use all of the features of any electronic item. For me, menus are for restaurants and, even there, I hardly look at them, if I spot something I like. With the Fujifilm X-Pro 2, if you stick to the basics of good photography, it is one of the nicest, most intuitive and best handling cameras on the market. Digital photography has created a lot of unnecessary additional features on cameras which distract from the basics of photography. Leica is trying its best to get back to the basics, but every time I hear people talking about saved profiles, colour temperature, noise reduction and chromatic aberration and all of the other digi-speak, I feel we are getting away from the basics of good photography. Used sensibly, the Fujfilm models are right up there with the great cameras from yesteryear. I don’t use any pointless features on any of the cameras I have and, indeed, when I pick a camera up, I immediately check where the basic settings are. I never read camera manuals, unless I get stuck. Thus, I rarely know fully what is in the menus of any of the cameras I own. Of the menus I have actually used, the M10 is pretty good in regard to the simplicity aspect and Leica have done a good job in respect of that, but my preference is always for nice simple physical controls.

        William

        • Hmm, William
          There are something like 24 buttons and dials on an X-T2 and possibly the same on an X-Pro2 together with at least 10 pages of menu options
          Alltogether the CL has 11 buttons/dials and 5 pages of menu options (one more than the M10)

          User presets are a 2 button no-brainer – saving them is 3 button presses – then you can have a different situation for nighttime, dog walkies and weddings . . Rather than having to check on 20 dials and buttons scattered around the camera.

          I like simplicity – Leica aren’t ‘trying it’s best to get back to basics’ they’ve never left it . . Whereas Fuji are demonstrably and vocally trying to incorporate all their customers bells and whistles . . Which is fine, if, like you, you don’t ever want to change any settings, but a nightmare for someone who would like to learn the camera, tuck the settings away and never have to go back into a menu!

          • I don’t use any buttons when I use the X-Pro 2, just the dials. I thought that I had made that clear. I don’t find the camera any more complex than my M10. Am I doing something right or something wrong?

            I like real simplicity. See my recent article comparing the I Model A to the M10, for example. The simplicity of early cameras is very liberating. I like to use modern cameras the same way.

            William

      • Many thanks Jonathan.

        I take your point re the menu system and camera being ‘simpler’, however I do think that the Fuji is as simple or complicated as you want to make it, whereas the Leica is as simple or complicated as Leica want to make it (no bad thing0 and of course Leica know their market very well.

        I have to admit to having had a poor experience with an M9 some time ago which ever since has coloured my view of Leica somewhat.

        Maybe it is time to take a second look at the brand and go try one when they are at the dealers.

        Many thanks for the response.

  9. Sadly I feel like the only person in the room who wants the EVF, the better sensor (more for its higher ISO), the quicker AF system, but inside the body of my X typ 113, with the same lens that the X typ came with. Maybe this wish will never be granted, and I will have to keep saving for a Q to satisfy that need, not that I overly need a full frame camera.

    • Dave, I think the CL with the 23mm Summicron is a very worthy replacement for the X113. I do think, however, that Leica needs to consider replacing the fixed-lens X cameras with a version based on the body of the CL. They have the basic structure, with viewfinder, in the CL and all they need to do is produce the body with a fixed lens. Sounds simple but probably isn’t. I have an article on the subject prepared and will publish it next week.

      • That is all current X Vario users need. An upgraded body and the latest kit zoom lens. In manufacturing terms that should not be difficult, nor punitively costly. Although I prefer analogue controls, I would accept the anonymous dials of the CL.

  10. Mike , I am not so sure that you are right that the CL will be a raging success for Leica. The train may well have left the station on this one. It will sell but not in the volumes it would have sold if Leica had launched it 4 years earlier instead of using scarce resources to produce the viewfinderless X Vario and the TL series. Since then Fuji have done a great job with quality and affordable bodies and a wide range of well priced lenses. Fuji have eaten Leica’s lunch in this sector. The Leica lenses are just too expensive for the market. I am sure that they are superb lenses-they always are- but they will be unaffordable for many potential buyers of the CL.
    The Q has undoubtedy been a major sales success but it is a really special camera -the CL sounds as if it is very good but it is not "special".
    I agree with you on the TL cameras. Leica have imagined that there is a target market for them.I am pretty certain that it does not exist. The TL 2 will go the way of the X Vario and very quickly.
    Leica would not be playing catchup if they had designed the X Vario with an EVF and taken that model forward with interchangeable lens variants.
    Unlike most of the armchair "experts" spouting forth their "views" on the CL across the various gear sites and forums I do actually own an X1, a Q and an X Vario but the subtle charms of the TL series have never enticed me and I anticipate that a CL will also not be on my shopping list. A man can actually have enough Leicas-or so my wife tells me.

  11. the CL looks to me to be the camera that a lot of M glass owners like me have been waiting for. in practice I expect it to be a good user.
    My problem with Leica is nothing to do with the camera itself but the fact that they don’t even bother to put a manual in the box. Yes. I know it’s online. But I want it in the box because I happen to like reading a paper manual. and really…I feel insulted that after Leica takes my money I then have to waste time going online and wait how long for something they deliberately forgot to include. This is what internet mentality has contributed to the world.

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