Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Leica CL after one year: A personal view

Leica CL after one year: A personal view

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  Image Leica Camera AG
Image Leica Camera AG

The Leica CL has now been with us for a year. I love the size of the camera and the feeling that this is a modern incarnation of the original Barnack Leica. It is one of the prettiest designs Leica has produced to date. The native TL lenses are exceptional and help produce high-quality imagery.

On the other hand, the lack of image stabilisation, whether in-body or in-lens, is a concern. Like most users, however, I can accommodate this and ensure that the settings avoid problems. And Leica make a virtue out of its absence because it helps keep down the size and weight of the lenses which are thus more suited to the small CL and TL2.

I tolerate the soft control rings and the tiny, almost irrelevant status screen. I would much prefer manual controls such as those on the Leica X cameras — a clear and unambiguous rendering of speed and aperture. However, I do understand that this is a divisive issue and many owners absolutely love the flexibility afforded by soft controls.

  The soft control dials combined with the small (very small) status screen offer flexibility. But I prefer old-fashioned physical dials for speed, aperture and compensation, although not everyone will agree with me on this. (Image Leica Camera AG).
The soft control dials combined with the small (very small) status screen offer flexibility. But I prefer old-fashioned physical dials for speed, aperture and compensation, although not everyone will agree with me on this. (Image Leica Camera AG).

One thing doesn’t change. I hate the way the focus point moves around unbidden and the impossibility of anchoring it in the centre of the frame.

The only solution is to use the sledgehammer lock-down facility, introduced in the last firmware update, which also also prevents any changes to other settings, including exposure and mode. I live in hope of a fix for this in the next firmware update, but why is it so difficult for manufacturers to provide an option to work with a fixed central focus point? It is beyond me.

However, after a year it is time to take stock. I feel that the benefits of the CL outline the disadvantages and I still find it an entertaining and competent APS-C camera. I try to take a balanced view and I was intrigued to read a very positive review of the CL by fashion photographer. Rick Birt. As he says:

I’ve been going through a phase where I value 3D depth in my images.  I sold my Fuji X-Pro2 kit because I felt the images where “flat” compared to my other larger- sensored-cameras.  So I was a little apprehensive about going back to an APS-C camera.  However, the appeal of owning a Leica “Mini-M” with a built-in EVF, and Autofocus was too strong.

The Leica CL is so small and light that you will never have to ask – “Do I really want to lug this around with me all day?”  Due to its gorgeous outward appearance, great image quality, and speedy performance, it’s a camera that you’ll want to have with you.  As others have said before me – the best camera is the one you have with you.

  The CL looks gorgeous in its new silver trim, every inch the modern equivalent of the Barnack Leica (Image Leica Camera AG)
The CL looks gorgeous in its new silver trim, every inch the modern equivalent of the Barnack Leica (Image Leica Camera AG)

So that‘s one CL sold, then. I know that many Macfilos readers have bought the CL and enjoy using it. What is your assessment after one year? Have Leica got it right? Or is there more they could do to improve their APS-C system camera?

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16 COMMENTS

  1. As soon as Leica (or maybe Panasonic? Or Sigma?) release a reasonably sized 35mm lens, whether a Summicron or even a Summarit, I would buy one. I need my 50mm equivalent field of view!

    • I agree Leica (or someone) needs to produce a Summicron equivalent. The Summilux 35mm is a terrific lens but it is too big and heavy for general use — especially on a compact camera like the CL.

  2. I did try the cl at a leica workshop last week along with the Q. I did find the CL menus were a bit complicated when used to leica minimalistic menus of the X2. The CL menus and function remind me a bit of the sony A7 which I hdid not like at all despite its 24 full frame MP resolution. I don’t personally the use of all that when all you really need is aperture, speed, white balance and iso. The image quality is certainly better than the X or X2 but I just can’t get used to the way it renders.
    Looking at shots I made on my computer screen I definitely prefer the lower resolution and bigger pixel size of the X2.
    Jean

  3. If they made a full sensor cl, I’d sell my M10, even though I like the simplicity of the M better. (Wouldn’t miss the rangefinder). The cl is lightweight, compact and easy to use. Don’t like the bulky and rediculously priced M adapter L. I found a used 23mm on KEH for $1k (yay).

    Come on Leica dudes, I want the adapter because I own a small fortune worth of your lenses. How about throwing me a bone?

  4. Thanks for this, Mike. I’d been toying with the idea of a small interchangeable lens Leica, but your negatives take the CL right out of the stakes for me.

  5. I have had the Leica Q-P for a week and it is the most natural AF capable camera I have owned. It has the most intelligent user interface I have seen. An aperature ring with scale and an A for auto removing need for A on a mode dial. It has a shutter speed dial with an A for auto removing need for S for shutter priority. If both are off A, you are in manual mode, removing need for a M on a mode dial. Yeah, there is no mode dial – one less complication on the camera! Manual to AF is brilliantly done but I did have to read manual to figure that out. I set exposure compensation to permanently stay on upper dial. Auto ISO works in manual mode along with exposure compensation.
    I have never been so happy with a camera. I am still getting used to 28mm but it is coming. I have no problem with af point moving around like on my SL (and apparently SL). If I had an interchangeable lens version of this, Full Frame or APS-C, I would be happy. Hence, my view is the next CL should be with Q haptics.

    By the way, I will be selling my mint/new condition Leica m to SL adapter for reasonable offer (at least half price) to Macfilios reader or I will sell on e-bay shortly. Merry Christmas!

    • I forgot to mention that I can glance at the camera and know exactly what it is set at or quickly adjust before I raise it to my eye, How, brilliant – a tool that gets out of the way of my creative vision and I can capture the decisive moment. Plus the image rendering is amazing!

  6. I would have bought this over my Df if it had, had the control mechanism of my wonderful X typ 113. But those unusual controls, just don’t do it for me regardless of its image quality. If it had, M styled controls, or even something akin to the Df – which is M like, then my money would have ended up in Leica’s ecosystem.

    Maybe we will one day see a CL, with M style controls, but I won’t hold my breath looking at the amount of discussion you have had about the focus point issue, without a fix to your liking.

    I can only sit back save my pennies, and see what unfolds in the years yet to come.

    Dave S

  7. Overall I feel that the Leica CL is a well put together, simple to operate camera with superb lenses (albeit limited range at this point). I am definitely keeping mine. Things that should be fixable in firmware right now include:
    1) Having a fixed central focus point either as a standalone option, or as a sub-option to either Spot or Field focusing methods. I constantly find myself having to move the focus point back to the centre having inadvertently moved it between shots, or putting it into my bag.
    2) Distance scale (like the TL) when manually focusing the TL lenses.
    3) ISO visible on the top display so that you can discretely turn the camera on, glance down to confirm speed, aperture and ISO are right, adjust as necessary then bring camera to eye and shoot. If you have an M mount lenses attached then you can also range focus. This achieves all the key controls used for M shooting, just in a different form factor.

    I wonder whether Leica missed a trick with its product differentiation with the TL and CL. Add a built-in EVF to the TL and it is a very well designed, modern camera with an excellent interface design. Put aperture rings (including A for auto) on all (most lenses) and you could then make the CL a much more traditional form factor using the design cues of the Leica X Vario or Leica Q. That is having an aperture ring (with auto), a speed dial (with auto) and no need for a mode dial as you now have PASM options from these two controls. Leica achieved an aperture ring on the X Vario lens, so why not the 18-56mm ? If you want to keep the simplicity of the TL just set the lens aperture to Auto. If you want more visual control using the CL, set the aperture yourself in the traditional fashion.

    This way Leica could fully accommodate the needs of two very different markets. Those who like TL/iPhone style versus those (like me) you want a more traditional control layout that you get with the Leica Q, but with the added benefit of interchangeable lenses. It always strikes me as odd that Leica did not simply take the best of the X Vario or Q and make it into a system camera format with interchangeable lenses. At the moment the CL seems to sit somewhere between these two and its not clear to me, at least, who the target market is.

  8. I had a brief play with the CL last week and didnt really have an issue with the controls. Probably because im not coming from a Leica background. In fact, the control layout reminded me a little of the Olympus Em-5.

    That said, instinctively i want a more ‘traditional’ layout from Leica. Aperture rings on the lenses are a must, imo, and have thought that since it was released.

    The quote about the fuji images feeling "flat" is intriguing. I watched an interview by Hugh Brownstone with Leica’s Maike Harberts recently, and she made the point that a lot of effort has gone into making the sensor and lenses work together to produce M style images in terms of rendering, etc.

    so, after a year of use, Mike, which lens(es) is your favourite?

  9. Hi Mike.. I rented this twice, once with 18 and another time with 23mm. I didn’t enjoy the camera and found the images flat with these lenses. The 35mm is a stunner and makes images more interesting while also making camera big. The camera has no grip which I am not happy with. Yes you can attach something but that looks ugly to me and the question is why Leica can’t provide an attachment free in that case, like Pentax did with their recent camera. Fuji definitely had feeling of flat images but not anymore. The xt3 I’ve been using is magical and Fuji has finally made something worthy of buying and using for the next 5 years at least. The existing lenses sing on xt3 in terms of focus and rendering. I’m no Fuji fanboy and I hated every camera they released after x100.

  10. I own the Q, and I own the CL with 23, 11-23 and 18-56 lenses. The lenses render nicely, but I would have preferred the CL body have a dedicated shutter speed dial, and the lenses have an aperture ring- more like the Q. I think the Q delivers a far more satisfying user experience. Also, the CL desperately needs image stabilization. At low ISO, the slow lenses force slow shutter speeds in all but the brightest of lighting conditions. Leica, especially since they use so much of Panasonic’s technologies in their cameras, really missed the boat on this, and I hope that a future generation CL will have image stabilization.

  11. I borrowed a CL in the summer with the only lens available that day being the TL 60mm: not ideal for shooting in the city but a good test nevertheless.

    It took me 10 minutes to set up how I wanted it to function, with the exception of finding a way to have the EVF display in B&W. After that I just forgot about the controls, shot in Aperture Priority and happily used the left wheel for exposure compensation against the histogram.

    I download the images to LR and converted to B&W in Silver EfexPro and liked what I had shot.

    The CL was out of my budget at that time, but I have since since been offered a lightly used one with 18-56mm and a 23mm which I should pick up next week.

    I grew up with film and prefer analog controls as per the Q and my little DL-109, but I found the adjustment to the CL easy to make with the controls getting out of the way until you need them. Let’s see what images I can produce!

    • I am now quite used to the CL and really don’t mind the soft controls. I think I’d prefer a Q-like layout if truth were known, but as a camera that exists today, the CL is great. I just wish I could get the focus point to stay in the centre of the frame, however.

      • It’s a shame the default for the focus point can’t be “Fixed”, and the option being to uncheck it and let it off the leash. Not sure, as I’m not a coder, why that would be so hard to do and why that’s not the logical thing to have done from the first off. Beta testing surely highlighted this issue long before the camera went on sale.

        • I agree with you. But I know at least one beta tester who does not agree that a fixed central focus point is a good idea. He thinks we should have the flexibility to move it around the frame. So far I have not managed to fix the focus point on the new D-Lux 7 but I notice that pressing the DISP button does always move it back to the centre. It’s all a bit beyond me since I thought that many photographers still adhere to focus-and-recompose, which is my preferred method.

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