Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Leica CL Unboxed: A surprising but impressive first encounter

Leica CL Unboxed: A surprising but impressive first encounter

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Unboxing moments are not something I generally bother myself with. But this morning I took delivery of my Leica CL and 18mm f/2.8 Elmarit pancake and was surprised by the packaging. I was at Red Dot Cameras in London and Ivor Cooper and I opened the first kit box to be delivered to the store. We both commented on the size of the box, with its pretty artwork showing the picture of the camera with lens — as Leica users will know, this is in itself unusual. But the large black “cabinet” inside was something of a revelation. I cannot remember Leica selling a camera/lens kit (other than for special editions) in recent years. 

But the packaging of the CL is exceptional, matching if not bettering that of the SL and M. It bears comparison with the treatment accorded to exclusive lenses such as the 50mm Apo-Summicron-M and the Noctilux. I see this attention to detail as evidence of the importance Leica places on this latest addition to the range. 

   Ivor Cooper opens a CL kit box for the first time. Cl and lens are encased in a massive box of luxury pretensions.  This was number one on the order list when the camera was released for sale earlier this morning
Ivor Cooper opens a CL kit box for the first time. Cl and lens are encased in a massive box of luxury pretensions.  This was number one on the order list when the camera was released for sale earlier this morning

Possession

Handling the CL at the press conference last Tuesday, as I did, is no preparation for actually possessing the camera and setting it up. Now I have the CL on my desk I can better appreciate its looks and clean design ethics. It is an exceptionally pretty camera, with the raised viewfinder hump acting as an important design cue to set the CL apart from the competition. It looks just right. I do believe it could look even prettier in silver chrome, although this option is not currently being imported to the UK. 

The more I handle this camera, the smaller and more compact it feels. The stunning achievement is that the CL is virtually the same size as the original X1 and creates the same Barnack Leica impression. Leica refers to the CL as a modern incarnation of the Leica III from the 1930s and 1940s. Indeed, it does have the look of the III but, to my eyes, it resembles even more the earlier so-called Barnack models. 

  The CL is a very pretty camera, especially with the new 18mm Elmarit mounted
The CL is a very pretty camera, especially with the new 18mm Elmarit mounted

The new X1?

  Time zone: Wetzlar
Time zone: Wetzlar

I have the CL and the X1 in front of me as I write. The depth of the bodies are identical — a remarkable achievement considering that once is a fixed-lens camera, the other a fully fledged system camera. The CL is about 5mm longer and 5mm higher (at the lower step of the CL’s top plate). However, the viewfinder hump of the CL is 5mm lower than the X1 with a 35mm optical finder mounted.

There isn’t a lot in it and, in fact, the difference is forgotten as soon as you pick up the CL and move the X1 out of sight. There isn’t even much difference in overall depth between the CL with the new pancake and the X1 with its fixed lens. The CL combo is 55mm deep while the X1 is 52mm. But switch on the X1 and the lens powers out to bring the operational depth to all of 70mm. The pancake is static and all the better for it. I never liked prime lenses that extend when called to duty.

So far I have done little more than set up the camera. But I was amused to see that the time zone settings include “Wetzlar, Berlin, Madrid, Paris.” At least they seem to have their priorities right. 

A big improvement has been made in the diopter setting wheel. These controls are notoriously wayward on must cameras and are easily knocked out of kilter. On the CL, however, it is first necessary to pull the wheel out from the camera before turning it to adjust the viewfinder to your eyesight. This is a worthwhile innovation, somewhat reminiscent of the ISO control on the new M10 which has to be pulled upwards before adjustments can be made. 

Quickstart

I think I will like the twin control dials with their push-button options — once I’ve fully learned what they do. Contrary to my normal practice, this might demand a viewing of the instructions. Indeed, there appear to be a number of aspects I will need to mug up on. Fortunately there is a “Quickstart” PDF to download and this contains instructions for all the buttons and dials plus a complete menu overview with information on which functions can be assigned to the Favourites menu (FV), the function button 1 or the centre button on the right-hand click wheel (RW). 

The LCD display between the function buttons is in reality rather disappointing. It is small, very small, and doesn’t give the same confidence and general overview as the display on the SL. There isn’t much space, so I don’t know how Leica could have made this screen bigger. But it is initially rather disappointing and toy-like.

Positive

Overall, though, my first impressions of the CL are extremely positive. This is a camera that can fully replace some of the recently deleted models in the range, including the X, and the X Vario — not to mention the still current TL2. And it can comprehensively demolish the old X1 and X2 while offering exactly the same handling pleasure and small size.

As an aside, I notice that Leica has taken to calling its crop-sensor system the “Leica APS-C system”. The brochure covers both the CL and TL2. The lenses are still designated as TL but I am fairly certain the T will be dropped as soon as decently possible, perhaps for the next batch. It will be interesting to see how the TL2, which hasn’t exactly flown off the shelves since it was launched in the summer, will cope with this direct competition from a camera that performs just as well but offers a more well-rounded experience for the keen photographer. 

But I do believe Leica is on to a winner here with the CL. 

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18 COMMENTS

  1. Agree 100 per cent with Don, Leica is insulting it’s cusromers by not being bothered to include a manual. We are not all online junkies and I like to read from paper. How much money are Leica charging for this? No ports on the camera and no manual in the box. we are now paying for nothing. hHow does Leica feel about me taking the camera home and sending them the money later online? yep, thought so. shame on you Leica. shame!

    • What I don’t know — and perhaps ought to find out — is whether other camera manufacturers still included a printed instructions manual. As I said previously, I am one of those people who seldom consults manuals unless I get really stuck. I’ve reviewed many Leicas without opening the little drawer in the box containing the literature. So I was completely unaware that there is no manual included. It doesn’t worry me, of course, because I prefer to have reference material stored electronically, but I can understand the feeling that, for the price, Leica should be the last company to do away with printed instructions.

  2. The packaging is just fine I know having just bought one however its impact and initial exitement was ruined for me as it seemed Leica had spent so much on the boxes they could not afford to enclose a full instruction book! Plain daft in my view. Seems we new owners have to fill in a VERY badly put together online form to order the instruction book from Germany so having done that with great difficulty I am now wondering if what I regard as the necessary printed book will even come this year? Sorry Leica you have spoiled it for me.

    • Don, it is increasingly common for manufacturers of all types to offer instructions manuals as downloads. There are a number of good reasons for this — primarily that the on-line file can be updated to reflect and changes, including firmware improvements.

      Also, I think, most people thesse days prefer a digital version which can be kept on the computer, phone or iPad — or in book reading applications such as Kindle and iBooks. It’s much easier to refer to a digital version in my opinion.

      You can download the CL manual and the quick start (which is excellent by the way) here:

      https://uk.leica-camera.com/Photography/Leica-APS-C/Leica-CL/Downloads

      I seldom bother to open printed instructions that come with any product (if they come….) and the first thing I do is download the digital version which is more likely to be up to date.

  3. As the happy owner of a used X Vario and X-E that cost me $2,500 total, including grip, EVF, thumbs up, etc., can I convince myself that the marginal improvement in performance is worth an investment of $7K+ in a CL plus a few lenses ? Because I know if I walk into the local Leica shop reason will be overtaken by desire………

  4. Those dimensions suggest that those of whose who wish for an X, with the EVF integrated instead of the flash are well on the money.

    If only Leica would listen to this thinking – not all of us want a system camera with changeable lenses. My assumption is that as a consumer I am in a majority, or one that does not make sufficient cash for me to be considered. Looks like my Leica Q fund will continue to grow – now if they release a Q2 in twelve months time, maybe I will have saved wisely – but all I really want is a Leica X with a small number of adjustments. The CL for me is not what I want.

    • Dave, I think we can read a couple of things into the CL announcement. The first is that Leica is committed to APS-C and that we will see more system cameras. I wouldn’t mind betting they have a bigger CL, perhaps a mini SL in form, on the stocks. With a substantial grip and bigger viewfinder, this would definitely appeal to those who like the SL but can’t cope with the weight. Second, the removal of all the fixed-lens cameras other than the full-frame Q is probably a temporary clearing of the shelves. I agree with you that there is a market for fixed-lens compacts. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a fixed-lens version of the CL — a sort of replacement X or X2 — in the near future. I do believe Leica has taken the APS-C to heart after years of vacillation, and that can only be good for the future.

      • I will pray at the font of Leica if they deliver a CL body with the X typ 113 lens.. in my humblest of photographic opinions – I would order at the point it was announced. I love my X, but sometimes wrestle with its weaknesses.. ode to have them fixed..

        In fairness to the CL, I like the layout, the buttons, and the menus – but then Leica real do, do menu’s. And simplistic photographers dials, and settings.

        • I would suggest that the X 113 lens exists in the form of the 23mm Summicron. Sure, it is half a stop slower but I’m not sure this would be a dealbreaker. Of course, I imagine they could graft on the Summilux of the X onto the CL body without too much trouble. In the meantime, I’ve mounted the Summicron on the CL and, to all intents and purposes, I have an X. Swap to the 18mm and I have a compact camera like the X1/3. Swap to the 18-56mm and I have an X Vario.

  5. The eagle has landed Mike, I might well have been the first at Red Dot Cameras with my sticky bunch of fivers to pick up a "body only" not-a-kit, well I was at the top of that list/scrap of paper on Ivor’s desk anyway.

    Betwixt announcement and collection, I have been looking at the similar offerings from Fuji and Sony. The prices are significantly cheaper for their aps-c cameras with a viewfinder at the corner type offerings. The specs are quite a bit higher too, so I wanted to see something spectacular in the Barbican today.

    I think it is, it’s a cracker and I expect that Leica will sell truckloads.

    Forget the review, just pick it up… Make sure you have the serious urge though because you won’t want to put it down.

    • Hello Stephen, we must have missed each other by inches. I thought I was top of Ivor’s Post-It note because I ordered "any APS-C camera with a viewfinder that Leica may or may not introduce within the next year" some months ago but you are clearly even more prescient. It must be the Saarth London air. But I agree, it is something special and I intend to bore readers to death over the next few months. Incidentally, you are quite right about Fuji and Sony — great cameras and, probably, more bells and whistles. But that isn’t the point, as we both well know. I’m glad you now have a home for your TL glass.

  6. I’m amazed, Mike, to read how close in size it is to the X1 ! I was thinking basically in terms of ILX-Vario (rather bulky than compact when all is said and done), but this comparison certainly increases the GAS pressure……

    • It is certainly taller than the X1 but overall it is compact and light. After using it for a few hours I see it as being just as convenient to use and carry as the X1. With the 18-56mm zoom I believe it is capable of bettering the X Vario and, with the 23mm Summicron, it is more than a match for the X.

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