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 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 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.
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
- Full test of the new CL by Jonathan Slack
- Breakfast with Leica, the new CL
- Introduction of the 18mm f/2.8 Elmarit-L
- Introduction of the CL (with full specification)
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