Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Leica CL: 55-135mm-TL versus 90mm Summicron-M and 50mm Summilux-M

Leica CL: 55-135mm-TL versus 90mm Summicron-M and 50mm Summilux-M

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  Leica CL with 90mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH
Leica CL with 90mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH

I recently swapped my Leica M10 for the Leica CL you see above. A rash decision? After finally obtaining my “dream kit” of an M10, 24 Lux, 50 Lux and 90 Cron, how could I let the M10 go?

The Leica CL is really rather lovely. Does it have any “magic”? Not really, but neither did the M10 that I sold to get the CL. What the CL does have is beautiful build quality, a very simple and intuitive user interface, and simple, clean controls. I am very happy with it so far, especially when using M lenses which work very nicely indeed, albeit with a 1.5x focal length. 

I bought a 55-135mm zoom (80-200ish) and I could never have got a 200mm lens for the M10 and focused it correctly without using the EVF stuck on the top. I will also be getting the 18mm f/2.8 pancake lens as soon as one appears in stock anywhere.

So why swap from the amazingly gorgeous M10 to the seemingly less competent, smaller sensor CL?

It actually happened as soon as I handled a CL for the first time. It oozes quality, and is effectively a “mini M” in a number of ways. The UI is very similar, three buttons on the back, offset viewfinder, all very lovely. The two top dials are very clever. It is a small, dense little package that I immediately felt at home with. The EVF is great – I will miss a rangefinder sometimes, but I gain the flexibility of autofocus if I want it, and the ability to actually get accurate, reliable focus on longer lenses. 

I loved my M10, and the thing is that I can always buy another one if I want to. But my photography has changed a lot over the past year. I used to shoot professionally, but have knocked that on the head now and shoot just for pleasure. With the CL and the 18mm I get something that is a bit like my much-loved old Fuji X100T ie a compact, go-anywhere, excellent IQ autofocus serious-but-casual camera. And then I can put one of my three lovely M lenses on and get manual focus with beautiful contrasty Leica glass. Plus the CL will properly recognise my M lenses and apply the same sort of corrections the M10 will (and Lightroom will be able to do the same for me). The CL is made to work well with M lenses from both an image perspective and a usability perspective which can’t be said of other alternatives. And then I can plonk on a long autofocus zoom for things that are far away. I know I could do all that with a Sony A6300 or whatever, but then I’d have that awful Sony menu, loads of buttons and a generally dissatisfying experience, and no Leica M lens recognition.

I happen to prefer the CL to something like a Sony or a Fuji largely because of the way it feels and how it is to use. There are a few technical differences but overall, I prefer a camera that I enjoy using rather than one that frustrates me. But that’s just me. Your mileage may vary.

I’ve also got a couple of grand in the bank following the swap over which I’ll use to go to nice places and take pictures of stuff. Always a good thing to do.

Incidentally I sold the M10 for £450 less than I bought it for in January, so I effectively rented my M10 for just under £40/month, which is a pretty good deal in my book.

Enough of the naval gazing. Having bought the incredibly named Leica APO-Vario-Elmar-TL 55-135 lens (effectively 80-200mm) I was keen to find out how it would perform on the CL in comparison to the 50 Summilux-M ASPH and 90 APO-Summicron-M ASPH lenses that I’m keeping hold of. The 50 becomes an effective 75mm on the crop-sensor TL, and the 90 is effectively 135mm. Clear? Good. 

  Leica CL with 55-135 zoom
Leica CL with 55-135 zoom

I am particularly interested in the relative image quality of all these lenses to work out whether I take the M lenses with me on landscaping trips, where I typically won’t need their wide-open aperture performance. Or do I leave the 50 and 90 at home and just take the 55-135 instead. 

The site of choice was Bowers Lock just near Guildford, with early morning light skimming through the trees. White balance set to “daylight”, and the settings on the camera as consistent as possible. The camera was on a tripod with the 2-second shutter delay activated. All images are imported into Lightroom and then exported out again as full-size jpegs. Incidentally, using the image zoom function to get perfect focus on the 90mm M lens was simplicity itself. 

Firstly, the 90mm shootout at f/11

  Leica CL + 90mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/11 1/15th ISO 100
Leica CL + 90mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/11 1/15th ISO 100
  LEICA CL APO-Vario-Elmar-TL at 90mm f/11 1/15th ISO 100
LEICA CL APO-Vario-Elmar-TL at 90mm f/11 1/15th ISO 100

And a 100% zoom of the images side by side

  90mm f/11 comparison. Summicron-M left, 55-135 right
90mm f/11 comparison. Summicron-M left, 55-135 right

As you can see, there’s very little in it. The colours on the 55-135 zoom are a bit warmer. Sharpness is pretty much identical. 

I also thought I should try things at f/4.5 as well just in case:

  Leica CL 90mm APO-Summicron-M-ASPH f/4 1/100th ISO 100
Leica CL 90mm APO-Summicron-M-ASPH f/4 1/100th ISO 100
  Leica CL APO-Vario-Elmar-TL at 90mm 1/100th f/4.5 ISO 100
Leica CL APO-Vario-Elmar-TL at 90mm 1/100th f/4.5 ISO 100
  1-1 crop: 90mm-f4.5 comparison. Summicron on the left, 55-135 TL on the right
1-1 crop: 90mm-f4.5 comparison. Summicron on the left, 55-135 TL on the right

Again, very little in it. The M lens is slightly wider open than the TL hence the minor exposure difference. Now on to the 50mm comparison at f/11.

  Leica CL 50mm Summilux-M-ASPH f/11 1/25th ISO 100
Leica CL 50mm Summilux-M-ASPH f/11 1/25th ISO 100
  Leica CL APO-Vario-Elmar-TL at 55mm f/11 1/25th ISO 100
Leica CL APO-Vario-Elmar-TL at 55mm f/11 1/25th ISO 100
  1-1 crop: 50mm f/11 comparison. Summilux on the left, 55-135 TL on the right
1-1 crop: 50mm f/11 comparison. Summilux on the left, 55-135 TL on the right

And again at f/4

  Leica CL + 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/4 1/80th ISO 100
Leica CL + 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/4 1/80th ISO 100
  Leica CL + APO-Vario-Elmar-TL at 55mm f/4 1/100th ISO 100
Leica CL + APO-Vario-Elmar-TL at 55mm f/4 1/100th ISO 100
  1-1 crop: 50mm f4 comparison. Summilux on the left, 55-135 zoom on the right
1-1 crop: 50mm f4 comparison. Summilux on the left, 55-135 zoom on the right

And there you have it. Very very minimal differences at these apertures. I have to say I am suitably impressed by the 55-135 in comparison to the “gold standard” M lenses. I was expecting to see less sharpness and contrast in the variable aperture zoom due to the inevitable compromises making the thing work.

One of the benefits of an APS-C sensor is being able to make smaller lenses with very high quality. The M lenses are the top of the tree when it comes to light gathering in a small package so it’s good to see that the 55-135 is as sharp and clear and contrasty while also being relatively diminutive. I know the M lenses will give me a much faster shutter speed when used wide open, but generally for landscape shooting I’m around f/11 unless I’m getting particularly creative.

One issue with the 55-135 though is that it is relatively slow, from f/3.5 to f/4.5 max aperture. With no image stabilisation at all, this means that you do need to be careful when the light drops. I had the CL set to auto-ISO with a shutter speed of 1 x focal length, but soon changed it to 2 x focal length which is rather better for avoiding camera shake. I’ll normally use a tripod when landscaping so this is a relatively minor issue.

I’ve got an 18mm prime lens on order. It looks like an ideal tiny companion for the CL for all sorts of landscape and general shooting. Having seen the performance of this 55-135 I’m also now considering the 11-23 short zoom as well, but not instead of. Having a tiny autofocus lens on the CL will be fantastic, and a couple of zooms should make a very effective landscaping kit.

The M lenses stay with me though!

Tags: 50mm Summilux-M ASPH, 55-135 APO-Vario-Elmar-TL, 90mm APO Summicron-M ASPH, APS-C, comparison, crop, landscape, Leica, Leica CL, test, testing, zoo

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© Andrew Tobin 2018

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12 COMMENTS

  1. "Or do I leave the 50 and 90 at home and just take the 55-135 instead."
    Absolutely! I think your test shows that your native zoom lens is outperforming both of your primes in terms of contrast and sharpness. Also in terms of usability I think it would be a pain to first focus wide open and the stop down to working aperture each time you used your M lenses.
    Their only advantage may be wide open bokeh, but if thats not you bag…

    • Totally agree with Kwesi comment. Just bolt the 55-135 onto the CL then only need is to concentrate on Light and Subject and Composition – Not necessary to be concerned with the added complication of "Oh gee, now which prime should I be using…..?".

    • I’m reaching the same conclusion. Although the CL plays extremely well with most M glass, there isn’t that much reason to use manual lenses except, as you say, for the odd bokehfest. I find that the 35mm Summilux-TL does a good job of subject separation in any case, so there is even less reason to obsess over using M lenses. In fact, the 18-56mm "standard" zoom is as good as the lens on the X Vario and that’s saying something. It’s a bit faster at the long end, too. Both the 55-135 and the 11-23 are absolutely stunning lenses.

  2. Thank you for the side by side comparison, and the excellent images – I find myself waiting to see if Leica will generate an X 35mm fixed camera off the CL body, as I would probably buy one at release.. Or waiting to see if a Q2 arrives.. But this is food for thought, just I have had my fill of carrying lenses, camera’s etc around with me.

  3. I have the CL, the 11-23 and the 18-56, I also have a couple of M Summicrons, as mentioned in previous comments.

    Whilst away in Rome recently I tended to take the "most likely" combination out for the day.

    So for instance, when I was dragged off to the Pope’s gaff, I took the 11-23 and I had the 35 Summicron in my pocket, I cheated a bit as my wife took the 18-56 stuck to the beater "model T". She would argue that she didn’t need all the stuff that I was carrying, because she is naturally better at everything 🙂 which my daughter would agree with, since she only has an iPhone SE and an entry level Canon DSLR.

    I suppose joking aside, what I think is that it is a matter of horses for courses, it is not necessary to take the kitchen sink, the missus is right, if you can see well, the MOR zoom is as good as anything. Her picture of one of the painted ceilings that is about a 100 yards long is more interesting, even though she only has part of it, than mine, I managed to get all of it, and my daughter consistently does better than any of us with her little iPhone SE, as she is a natural.

    So if Dave is interested in buying a fixed lens camera, that is great, but if the wait is too long., one can do equally well by thinking about what sort of day is ahead, and fitting the MOR zoom, for an X-Vario day, or the 23mm Summicron, for a X1/2 day. No pocket stuffing is necessary.

    The M lenses are excellent though, even if some of the light and DOF is lost by comparison with mounting on an M camera, I have found that I am almost happier with one on the CL (definitely not the T though) than on my old M-P type 240… The older eyes find focus easier with magnification and/or focus peaking, than with the OVF.

    I agree with Andy (the writer) and thank him for his painstaking tripod testing, the results confirm my anecdotal experience.

    On the M front, I have been playing a lot recently with my Nikon S2, the lens is beautiful, it is a Japanese copy of a Sonnar, and is in excellent condition. However it does not stop me hankering for an old M3 (or similar) and to keep my M lenses for black and white film and mediative walks. But of course then the mind starts to wander… What would it be like to have an old Russian Sonnar instead of that fancy Leica 50?

    …and the beat goes on.

    StephenJ

    • Stephen, I hope that you did not upset the Pope by taking photos of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. There used to be a ban on photography in the Chapel, but I imagine that it would be difficult to enforce now that almost everyone has a camera in their phone. I once dropped a Minolta compact in St Peters, halfway through a roll of film. The thing got stuck and I could not move the film backwards or forwards. I had to search for another film compact in Rome and ended up with a less good Yashica. I had the Minolta in a press for years hoping that the Pope might finally let me see my photos of St Peters, but no good came of it.

      Moving on to the subject of the article, it has always been the case that cameras work best with the lenses for which they were designed. Back in the 1920s, Barnack and his team constantly tested the 50mm Elmar, designed by Berek, in order to improve issues like edge sharpness, which they did by making minute changes in focal length. This became even more critical in the early 1930s when interchangeable and standardised lenses were introduced. Leica is a company where tradition plays a big part and I have no doubt that more than 80 or 90 years later the company still tests new cameras with the lenses for which they were intended. I have been using Leica M lenses on Lumix and Fuji cameras for about 8 years now and, even with magnification and focus peaking, I have never found the results as good as those which can be obtained with native lenses. Also, even though I have eyesight issues, I can still manual focus faster and with more accuracy with a rangefinder than I can with an EVF, even with focus peaking and magnification which have been available on Lumix cameras for some years now. The real issue is edge sharpness, even though with an M lens you are not using the whole of the lens on a cropped sensor. The only lens where this makes little difference is the WATE where everything is sharp from here to eternity. I imagine that, over time, I may not be so good at using a rangefinder and I hope that by then EVF focussing will have improved so that it matches rangefinder focussing. One trend I have noted, is that a noticeable number of experienced M users have given up the rangefinder altogether for EVF models. That said, you should get an M3. Every Leica fan should have one and a I Model A, of course.

      William

      • William, it was one of the painted ceilings, rather than the Michelangelo job in the Sistine Chapel. You are quite right, photography is strictly prohibited, there are priestly fellows barking orders to the assembled, silenced crowd, which is reminiscent of chucking out time at the Arsenal. Throughout the rest of the public parts of his palace photography is permitted, indeed seemingly compulsory :).

        My wife has been there three or four times over the years, and she told me that she believed it to be not as "real" as it was the first time she saw it… I suggested that living with me for forty years might have jaded her view, but then I later had a look on the internet to see whether there was any credence in what she said.

        Art restorers are having quite an argument in regard to the most recent restoration of the work. It seems that those that managed the last operation, made a point of removing the candle smoke stains and soot that was ingrained, and restore it to its (as far as they are concerned) pristine state.

        The opposition believe that Michelangelo not only applied much of the staining, but also repainted some parts and used soot in the pigments, in order to achieve what some people regarded as three dimensional and unfathomable.

        As far as the native TL lenses are concerned, I agree that if using one of the APS-C cameras, those lenses are the best bet. As Andy has shown, using a zoom lens, he is getting results that the equal of the M lenses on the same camera.

        As for the M3 and the 1 Model A… I am looking, bust as I suggested, I might end up disposing of the latest model Summicrons, for earlier models.. indeed I had greater regard for my M2/50DR than I ever did for my M-P 240/50mm latest (non ASPH) Summicron.

        Stephen

  4. Thank you for the great comparison. I too am taken by the CL. I think you would find the 11-23mm a fantastic lens with great flexibility and sharpness as well.

  5. Please join me in petitioning Leica to add a menu item for how MF is implemented with "focus by wire" lenses. The Q has proven that they can mimic a good MF experience with this system, and I believe the primary culprit to be the non-linear response of the focusing motor relative to movements of the ring. (The Q has a linear response.) A new menu item for the CL and SL could give us three choices: "long throw linear, short throw linear, accelerated" … the last being the current default and only choice. If you haven’t used a Q in MF mode, it is worth comparing this to the CL/SL to see how superior the Q is in "feel."

    • I’d support this — I think you know a lot more about it than me. I haven’t used manual focus with the TL lenses except for a brief play. I tend to use an M lens if I want the manual experience. But yes, Leica should pay more attention to this. There is also the problem I highlighted a few weeks ago, the impossibility of firmly locking the focus point in the centre of the screen. And two fundamental problems in relation to the opposition — the lack of weather protection and the lack of stabilisation. Quite a list, really, but I do wonder if Leica is seriously intending to compete on a level field with Fuji, Sony, Olympus and Panasonic.

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