Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Leica CL and the new Brooklands Aircraft Factory

Leica CL and the new Brooklands Aircraft Factory

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  The resurrected Wellington is centre stage in the new Brooklands Aircraft Factory exhibit. Leica CL with 50mm f/1.1 Voigtländer Nokton, ISO 6400
The resurrected Wellington is centre stage in the new Brooklands Aircraft Factory exhibit. Leica CL with 50mm f/1.1 Voigtländer Nokton, ISO 6400
  Bendy prop — this is what happens if you jump in the water to play with the Loch Ness Monster. Leica CL with the 11-23mm Super-Vario-Elmar, ISO 6400
Bendy prop — this is what happens if you jump in the water to play with the Loch Ness Monster. Leica CL with the 11-23mm Super-Vario-Elmar, ISO 6400

My first serious outing with the Leica CL came last Saturday when I decided to grab a few snaps of the new Aircraft Factory hangar at the Brooklands Museum¹. Since the War the old hangar had been sitting athwart the famous finishing straight of the original 1907 race track. Thanks to funding from the National Lottery, a new hangar as been constructed alongside the finishing straight. The new Bellman Hangar recreates the atmosphere of a wartime aircraft factory.

The hangar was opened two weeks ago by Prince Michael of Kent, a keen motoring enthusiast, president of the Royal Automobile Club and an honorary member of the Brooklands Trust. 

  While I tend to feel more at home with a car or motorcycle engine, there
While I tend to feel more at home with a car or motorcycle engine, there’s no denying the beauty of fine engineering as performed at Brooklands in its aircraft-manufacturing heyday. Leica CL with 50mm f/1.1 Nokton at ISO 6400

Centrepiece of the exhibit is the “Loch Ness Wellington”, the bomber which crashed in Loch Ness on New Year’s Eve, 1940².  In 1976 she was discovered at the bottom of the Loch by Marty Klein, working with the Academy of Applied Science. In 1985 the the Wellington was raised from a depth of 70m and despatched to Brooklands, where it has been built before the war. Since then it has been under restoration by the volunteers at the museum and is now preserved as the centre of the Aircraft Factory exhibit. 

  Delivering the parts for all that fine engineering demanded a far simpler piece of machinery. Leica CL with 11-23mm Super-Vario-Elmar at ISO 6400
Delivering the parts for all that fine engineering demanded a far simpler piece of machinery. Leica CL with 11-23mm Super-Vario-Elmar at ISO 6400

The CL on this occasion was accompanied by two great lenses, the 11-23mm Super-Vario-Elmar — just the job for indoor shots of the hangar — and a not-so-obvious contender from Voigtländer.

Well, you see, I can’t afford £10,250 for Leica’s latest bauble, the 75mm f/1.25 Noctilux-M ASPH. Pity. But, needs must when the devil drives and I fished out the bargain Voigtländer 50mm f/1.1 Nokton which I currently have on test. Onto the new Leica CL it went. And, hey presto, I have a 75mm faux Noctilux that is even faster than Leica’s piece. And it costs only 6.8% of the price of the Noctilux. I could buy 14 of them and have change in my pocket. Or, perhaps, 13 other lenses to add a bit of spice to life.

  Brooding presence: The Loch Ness Monster again, this time showing more of itself thanks to the wider 11-23mm Super-Vario-Elmar, again at ISO 6400
Brooding presence: The Loch Ness Monster again, this time showing more of itself thanks to the wider 11-23mm Super-Vario-Elmar, again at ISO 6400

Cheat! I know what you mean, I am definitely stretching things here. I acknowledge there is a world of difference between the modern state-of-the-art Noctilux and the older design of the VM50 Nokton. But it does make you think, especially if your need for “the ideal portrait lens” isn’t an irresistible daily nag. Of course, the Leica 50mm Noctilux f/0.95 would make a much better direct comparison and it is much nearer in price to the new 75. But both 50mm lenses translate to 75mm on an APS-C sensor, so both offer benefits when it comes to portraiture. Indeed, it will be very interesting to compare results from the new 75mm f/1.1 with those from the 0.95 Noctilux 50mm on a crop-frame sensor. It’s something I’ll try when (or if) I can get my hands on a review copy of the £10k Wetzlar behemoth.

  Factory panorama from the Super-Vario-Elmar at 11mm (equivalent to 16.5mm full-frame equivalence). Taken at ISO 3200
Factory panorama from the Super-Vario-Elmar at 11mm (equivalent to 16.5mm full-frame equivalence). Taken at ISO 3200

As a camera of record, the CL did a sterling job, aided by these two lenses. I’ve been using the Nokton for several weeks on the M10 and SL but I asked Hardy Haase of the importers, Flaghead Photographic, if I could keep it another week with a view to trying it on the new CL. I’m glad I did because I found it easy to use and just as easy to focus as on the SL. Both the SL, with its 4.4MP viewfinder and the CL offered a better focusing experience than the M10 with the Visoflex. I’ll be covering that in a fuller review. 

  The design stage. Super-Vario-Elmar-TL at ISO 3200
The design stage. Super-Vario-Elmar-TL at ISO 3200

The CL’s excellent high ISO performance — similar to that of the TL2 which I reviewed last month — proved a major asset in the rather gloomy hangar. When it came to processing time I realised that almost all these shots were taken at higher sensitivity, most of them banging the ceiling of ISO 6400. I’d left the factory ISL settings as they were, topping at 6400 and 3x focal distance, and this proved ideal, with 6400 doing a great job and the slowest speed proving adequate to avoid camera shake — bearing in mind that neither the CL nor the lenses have stabilisation. 

I am more than ever impressed with the ISO capabilities of this 24MP sensor. ISO 6400 is eminently usable, as evidenced by these shots, and I intend to up the setting to 12,500 for the next outing of a similar nature. 

  Radial cylinders, CL and 50mm f/1.1 Nokton at ISO 6400. Focusing a fast lens such as this has never been easier than it is on the CL. Check the crop below (of the uppermost cylinder, as you can see from the forked shadow) — it
Radial cylinders, CL and 50mm f/1.1 Nokton at ISO 6400. Focusing a fast lens such as this has never been easier than it is on the CL. Check the crop below (of the uppermost cylinder, as you can see from the forked shadow) — it’s quite remarkable for such high sensitivity.

I also continue to be impressed by the 11-23mm TL lens which I’ve enjoyed on the Mk.I T. But it comes into its own on the CL and proved to be the perfect tool for Saturday’s outing. It isn’t fast, of course, with its aperture range of f/3.5-4.5 but, thanks to the excellent ISO performance of the CL’s 24MP sensor, it didn’t let me down. 

  Period toolbox. Leica CL with Super-Vario-Elmar-TL, ISO 5000
Period toolbox. Leica CL with Super-Vario-Elmar-TL, ISO 5000

Brooklands makes a wonderful day out for all the family. Most of the staff are volunteers and radiate enthusiasm for whichever specialism they favour — from aircraft to cars, to motorcycles and even buses. Now that the old finishing straight has been cleared of the hangar which was ugly, despite its heritage appeal, it is now possible to envisage the scene as it must have been up to September, 1939. A new scoreboard, inaugurated three months ago, now sits alongside the finishing straight outside the old clubhouse. And with a section of the 1907 banking at the end of the straight, together with the Members’ Bridge, the old circuit is now coming alive again. 

  Brooklands could not exist without its army of enthusiast volunteers such as Oscar White, acting here as gatekeeper and clocker-on at the Aircraft Factory exhibit. This is another example of how easy it is to focus the Voigtländer Nokton on the CL (and I am sure the same will apply to the Leica Noctilux) in direct contrast to the indifferent results I obtained when using the M10
Brooklands could not exist without its army of enthusiast volunteers such as Oscar White, acting here as gatekeeper and clocker-on at the Aircraft Factory exhibit. This is another example of how easy it is to focus the Voigtländer Nokton on the CL (and I am sure the same will apply to the Leica Noctilux) in direct contrast to the indifferent results I obtained when using the M10’s rangefinder. I will cover this aspect in greater detail in the Nokton test. This shot, which was taken at f/1.1  at ISO 2000, demonstrates that the Nokton, which is equivalent to 75mm on this camera, makes a great portrait lens. At £699, too, it is a little cheaper than Leica’s new £10,240 behemoth, the 75mm f/1.25 Noctilux. Note that the above is a 50% crop of the full frame which was taken originally in landscape mode. 
  All cammed up and ready for action, the new Brooklands Aircraft Factory is receiving its first visitors thanks to support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund
All cammed up and ready for action, the new Brooklands Aircraft Factory is receiving its first visitors thanks to support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund

Read more about the new CL system

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    1    The Brooklands Museum is near Weybridge in Surrey, about 25 miles south west of London. Opened in 1907 as the world’s first purpose-built motor racing track, it was the major venue for car and motorcycle racing until the outbreak of the Second World War. During and after the war it became an aircraft factory and was never reopened as a race track. The museum now covers cars, motorcycles, buses and aircraft.

    2    The World War II Wellington bomber N2980, squadron letter R for Robert, had completed fourteen missions when she was transferred to training duties at No. 20 O.T.U. at Lossiemouth. On New Year’s Eve 1940, pilots Sqdr.L. Marlwood- Elton and P/O Slatter took off in the late afternoon with a crew of 6 trainee navigators. While flying along the Great Glen at a height of 8000ft. they encountered a snowstorm and the starboard engine cut out. Losing height, Marlwood -Elton ordered the trainees to bale out. At this point, the rear gunner, Sgt. Fensome was killed when his parachute failed to open but the others landed safely. In the dusk, the two remaining men fought the aircraft down through the snow clouds to ditch in the northern basin of Loch Ness near the A82 road. They climbed onto the wing, launched their inflatable dinghy and paddled ashore where a lorry driver gave them a lift into Inverness in time to join the New Year celebrations. Marlwood-Elton thought he would never see R for Robert again.

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11 COMMENTS

  1. Very nice read Mike, I think that the CL lends itself admirably to the task of being a (dogs)body for every occasion.

    As I mentioned yesterday, I bought the 11-23mm Super-Vario-Elmar about a week before I bought the CL. I can’t wait to get an interesting building to use it in, from a few woodland snaps so far, it is an excellent example of the genre.

    The way that a full frame lens behaves on the CL is interesting in a couple of ways, as explained above it renders the equivalent of around 1 and 1/3rd of the standard focal length, and as discussed in previous articles, the best part of the world’s best lenses is the middle, which is what the CL (APS-C sensor) utilises, it might be fun to try an old Elmar or Sonnar, to see what results, particularly those lenses that used this way, morph into portrait lenses.

    Oh and I really must get along to Brooklands, it has been too long.

    • Thanks, Stephen. The 11-23 is a much more usable lens than other similar wide zooms I’ve used, many of which have a very prominent protruding front element which is just asking to be scratched. The 11-23 is a more "normal" lens and all the better for it. With its 35mm-equivalent long range it is a lens you can leave on the camera all days. I’ve found it especially suited to use in cities and for street photography. You are right about trying out the centre of some older lenses. I will put this on my list of things to do. The crop factor of 1.5 makes for some interesting options — especially turning a small and light 50mm Summicron into a 75mm. Of course, while manual lenses gather the same light as they would in any circumstance, the depth of field does increase when M lenses are mounted on the APS-C body. So the Noctilux is probably more like a full-frame f/1.4 in terms of depth of field.

      If you fancy a trip to Brooklands one day give me a call and I could meet you there for a coffee and some photography. I can get a guest in free…. Coffee on you.

  2. Thanks Mike. Very interesting to know a Wellington is on show in the UK. Although not of general interest, your pictures show the unique geodetic airframe construction which was designed to keep a damaged aircraft airborne despite suffering severe combat battle damage.

    • That Wellington has been at Brooklands for many years, so it’s probably worth a visit (for that and for many other interesting bits). I’m afraid the geodetic airframe construction is way above my pay grade but whatever it does, it certainly helped save he bomber from total disintegration when it plunged into Loch Ness.

  3. Hello Mike,
    A couple of things.
    The company I worked for for many years Gallaher (Benson+Hedges) bought the site including the Brooklands Circuit and built their new Head Office around the corner – which is where I worked for some years 1986-96. I understand they gave the Brooklands site to the Brooklands Trust to look after the site for future generations. I was last at the Hanger in the late 80’s/early 90’s and saw the early work on the Wellington taking place shortly after it was moved there – I was also fasinated by the Barnes Wallis bouncing bomb test "baths". It was really nice to see how far the museum has advanced since those early days.
    Secondly, I was pleasantly surprised by the excellent quality of the photos taken with the new CL – and of course the skill of the photographer taking them.
    Finally – I had an SL for a year or so (loved it) but moved across to the M10 this summer due to the SL’s size v’s the M10. However, I currently have an offer of an SL and 24-90 Lens that is temping me to move back. How are you finding the switch to the SL?
    Keep up the good work,
    Mike H (Leica D Group)

    • Mike, thanks for the added information. I know the neighbours as Japan Tobacco International, so this must be the same. As a long-standing member of the Brooklands Club, I remember being a bit miffed a few years ago when it was agreed that members wouldn’t have access via the shared road during the week. We can now only get into the inner sanctum at weekends (and than only when there isn’t a big event on). I remember the bouncing bomb baths but I’m not sure they are there now (I must check). Although Barnes Wallis worked from the Brooklands Club House and designed the bomb there, I understand that the actual bath tests were conducted at Teddington.

      I agree that the SL is a superb camera and that 24-90mm zoom is one of the best of its ilk that I have ever used. Sadly, along with many people, I just can’t cope with the weight. I sold both SL and zoom but then bought the SL back at a price I couldn’t turn down. I have since looked at the zoom — I saw two of them secondhand at a good price last weekend — but drew back because I know the rig is just so big. However, the jury is still out.

      What I would say, however, is that the CL is a delight to use with M lenses and I enjoy it more than the SL simply because the SL is so heavy in comparison. Of course, if you are looking to use very fast lenses for the narrow depth of field, the CL’s APS-C sensor widens the in-focus area by a factor of 1.5 — so the Noctilux is more like a full-frame f/1.4 when mounted on the CL. Small price to pay, though.

      Mike

  4. Man what a War Horse, if only that plane could talk! Very much appreciate your take on Voigtlander, such great pics are a tribute to you and equipment .

  5. If you fancy a trip a little further afield the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre in East Kirkby, Lincolnshire, is an interesting place to visit. It’s an old WWII airfield complete with control tower, working NAAFI, and best of all a Lancaster bomber that is used for runway/taxi way trips for visitors to experience what it was like being onboard.

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