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The Leica alternative: The Leica CL analogue rangefinder with its 40/2 and 90/4

The M Files, part 7 of 9


With the sixth and almost last camera covered in this article, we now get as close to the Leica M world as we can get in The M Files. This episode is about the Leica CL analogue rangefinder camera – the camera which Leica themselves wanted to offer as a less expensive option for people who wouldn’t buy an M. In some respects it is simplified, but in others, it is much more advanced than anything Leica had in its range before. I tested it with the Leica Summicron-C 40/2 and the Leica Elmar-C 90/4.

This is why the CL was manufactured by Minolta in Japan. In some respects, it is simplified, but in others, it is much more advanced than anything Leica had in their range before. I tested it with the Leica Summicron-C 40/2 and the Leica Elmar-C 90/4.

A Leica, certainly. But not one of the M series. The CL from 1973 offered M mount and a considerably lighter and smaller body

So much has already been written about the Leica CL that I can be very brief here. At the end of the 60s and beginning of the 70s, Leitz came under massive pressure caused both by lack of innovation and by the new competition from Japan. The far-eastern rivals no longer offered what were more or less cheap Leica copies, but rather serious SLR cameras that were marketed as technologically superior. And this whiff of superiority did have some justification. The Leica M4, introduced in 1967, was of excellent quality, but by the time it was introduced to the market it was already outdated. What’s more, it was extremely expensive.

The “Compact-Leica” and its short life

So Leitz developed a new camera together with Minolta, the CL. The letters stand for “Compact-Leica”, as it was literally expressed in the maker’s manual. The CL was to be considerably cheaper, but at the same time it was to retain some connection to the M system. 

In the same market segment: When the Leica CL appeared, the Rollei 35 had already been available for seven years. The standards for a high-quality miniature 35mm camera were set. The CL added TTL exposure metering, interchangeable lenses and rangefinder focusing

The result was a handy (and handsome) camera with a built-in light meter, easier usability especially when loading a film, a nice bright viewfinder and two specially designed lenses with M-mount. The CL was introduced in 1973, but it was taken off the market again in 1976. Allegedly, the still impressive number of 65,000 cameras was sold.  And, to this day, there is the rumour that the CL was actually discontinued because of cannibalisation.

The Leica CL analogue rangefinder: A retro design that looks cool in 2020

The copy I used for this review came as a full kit, in a 1970s leatherette bag that would fit any hipster very nicely with its plain form. Inside are compartments for the additional 90 millimetre telephoto lens, for filters, and the camera with the attached 40. 

You store and transport the Leica CL analogue rangefinder camera in an upright position—quite unusual. Also, the lugs for the carrying strap are on the short side. This is so uncommon that buyers of the M5 with the same arrangement initially were quite unhappy and Leica decided to add a third lug to let customers chose in which way they want to carry their camera. 

Set your exposure time manually on this all-mechanical camera – the dial at the front of the CL is unfamiliar to all who normally work with M cameras. But once you got used to it, you will really like it

Look through the viewfinder, and you will be surprised

When you take the Leica CL analogue rangefinder camera in your hands, it feels surprisingly light—and it is. At first glance, the technique of film loading appears somewhat fragile. To do this, you entirely remove the rear cover and lock it back in place afterwards. This works surprisingly well, and just as pleasing is the view through the viewfinder. At the top edge, a rather nice mechanism shows the selected exposure time (something the M6 or today’s MP still do not offer). 

You set the exposure time using the front dial that also serves for ISO setting. On the righthand side of the viewfinder is a needle that indicates over- or under-exposure. But beware, it is not as intuitive as you would expect: The needle below the middle actually means overexposed. And it is said that the meter reading is only correct when the camera is held in horizontal direction. Well, I tried out the metering in portrait mode, and even then, exposure was correct on the basis of 18% grey.

The exposure meter needs a battery – normally a 1.35 Volt mercury cell which is not available anymore. I had my CL converted to 1.5 Volt with the result that PX625A batteries can be used

The Leica analogue CL’s mercury battery issue and how it can be cured

Much has been written about the, well, very special mechanics of exposure metering with its mechanical swivel arm. It was not the perfect solution and, on my Leica CL analogue rangefinder camera it was misaligned. I had a CLA done in a professional workshop and, since then, everything works fine. On this occasion the light meter was also changed to 1.5 Volt. Unfortunately, the 1.35 volt mercury batteries that are normally required for the CL have not been available for years (which also affects other great cameras such as the Leica M5, the Olympus OM-1 or the Minolta SRT). Since the conversion I can now use easily available alkaline batteries of type V625U or PX625A rated at 1.5 Volt.

Here, you see the swivel arm (sometimes called a “lollipop”) with the CdS cell for exposure measuring. This was an awkward construction even back in the 70s – just look how Olympus solved the problem on the OM-1 which was developed at the same time

Do not expect wonders when it comes to focusing accuracy

Focusing with the Leica CL analogue rangefinder is easy for those who are experienced with the rangefinder principle. The viewfinder is large and, for its age, quite immune to light from oblique angles. However, the measuring base is only 31 millimetres long (remember: The CL was expressly intended to be a small Leica!) With the magnification factor of 0.6, the effective base length is only 18.6 millimetres. This is less than any of the cameras reviewed so far, including the Bessa R4M with its unique wide-angle rangefinder. 

The longer the focal length and the wider the aperture, the more difficult it is to focus. This is characteristic of all rangefinder cameras. I did manage to bring the CL to its limits with very fast/long lenses. But I was able to get very decent focus with the f/2 aperture of the 40 and the f/4 aperture of the 90. In both cases, there was enough depth of field to compensate for the eventual inaccuracy.

An issue with the (vertically travelling) shutter of the 1970s Leica CL: The upper part of the film is not exposed. Obviously, you will notice the problem only weeks afterwards when you get your scans from the lab. In my copy, the problem occurred in varying degrees always when shooting the first film. In the middle of the second film, a sudden healing took place, and everything was good

With an old camera such as the Leica CL analogue rangefinder, all kind of issues may occur

As I wrote earlier, you start in a kind of adventure with any of the cameras which are featured in The M Files. I got some of them on loan, others I was able to acquire from other enthusiasts whom I told about my project and who were happy to make a contribution in the form of a special price. 

Of the Leica CL analogue rangefinder camera I was told that it might have shutter issues. And so it was. In some pictures, the upper part of the image is not exposed at all. A pity of course and a lesson for everybody to test any camera (old or new, recently serviced or long-time neglected, very familiar or unknown) before using it for an important assignment. 

I added some of the more or less ruined pictures to this text because I have a strong feeling that this is the stuff that really belongs to a project like The M Files (and because some of them are otherwise nice pictures).

The 40 Summicron—an underrated lens

So small and yet a Summicron: Leica’s 40/2 for the CL camera. Other than the body, the lens was made in Germany

I have mainly used the Summicron-C 40/2 so far. If you attach it to the Leica CL analogue rangefinder camera, you see 40 and 50 millimetre frame lines, both clearly designated with “40” and “50”, which is a nice feature. The lens is super tiny and featherlight (148 grams, I always refer to lens plus both caps plus hood) especially when you look at the respectable f/2 maximum aperture. 

The lens performed favourably during my testing. It is a tad soft when fully open and at close distance (0.8 metres), but very sharp and crisp from f/4 onwards. I tested it also during an early winter day in the Swiss Alps, with a slightly overcast sky and snow. Under such circumstances, you have the light coming from everywhere. When the sun came out, I forced the lens into uncomfortable angles to the light. It worked better than expected, with its early 70s single-coating (see also the next episode which covers the Minolta CLE with its M-Rokkor 40/2).

You need this hood for the Summicron-C because it is the only reasonable way to attach filters. And these you will definitely need when shooting on black and white film. Leitz C-lenses have a rare M39x0.75 thread and work with 5.5 series filters

Hood, filter and a very special screw-in thread

I always used the original hood for my Leica CL analogue rangefinder review. Be sure to get one if you plan to buy the lens. It screws into the lens thread, which has the exotic dimensions of 39×0.75. That means the diameter would be fine for a standards 39-millimetre filter or screw-in-hood. But the pitch is different. If you force a standard E39 filter on it, you are likely to ruin the thread. 

The Leica CL uses Series 5.5 filters. They are hard to find nowadays and, to make things worse, you need the original rubber hood to attach them

You put the filter, which has no thread at all, into the hood that connects with the lens via a non-standard screw-in thread, thus holding the filter in place

Using the original hood is also the only way of working with filters, for example in black-and-white photography. You need series 5.5 filters. B+W have thrown them out of their programme even earlier than the series VII and VIII filters (necessary for the M Summiluxes 24 and 21). The German manufacturer Heliopan still made series 5.5 filters in 2020. My advice is – if you need one, do not wait. This source could also dry up soon.

Everything is delicate on this super-small Summicron

You better have slender fingers for this tiny lens

Back to the Summicron-C: You can often read that this lens may not focus well on M cameras due to a certain constructive design. This may or may not be true. In a brief test, my copy worked excellent on an M10, even wide open and at short distance, with the optical viewfinder. And the frequently criticised bokeh? Not that bad, I found. So, if there is a drawback, then it is handling from my point of view. This lens is so tiny that you have to get used to finding the aperture ring and the small focusing lever. With slender fingers, you have a clear advantage. Hmm, wasn’t the Leica CL analogue rangefinder camera also marketed as a “ladies’ camera” by Leitz? 

Close-up sharpness is not so easy to achieve with the C-Summicon on a normal M camera. But it’s no problem if you can use live view, such as here with the SL. Also note the bokeh

The 40’s limited usability on other rangefinder cameras

If you want to use this nice Summicron 40 on any M mount body without 40 millimetre frame lines (that is, on any Leica M), you will see the 50 millimetre frame lines instead of the better-suited 35 mm lines. This is a pity because it is quite easy to imagine a slightly narrower frame, while I found it really difficult to figure out how much less than shown in the 50 millimetre frame might be in the picture. 

No problem with live view or EVFs, but a big issue on analogue cameras especially if you shoot slide film which leaves no room for cropping. So, you have to operate the frame selection lever (if present on your camera) manually or fix it with some paper squeezed in (you will find all the details in various online reviews). The Rollei 40/2.8 I wrote about earlier suffers from the same problem by the way. But there, you could solve it easily by using a different LTM to M mount adapter.

Photos shot with the Leica CL analogue rangefinder camera on film and 40/2

Early winter in North-Eastern Switzerland, just an hour from our home on the Bodensee. Summicron-C 40/2 on  Leica CL. Fujifilm C200 
The Säntis, which also dominates the view to the south from the Bodensee. Summicron-C 40/2 on  Leica CL. Fujifilm C200
Mild early winter evening light. Note the flare resistance of the almost 50-year-old lens. Summicron-C 40/2 on  Leica CL. Fujifilm C200
On the shores of the Bodensee, white Christmas is a rare exception. But it was otherwise nice on December 24. Summicron-C 40/2 on  Leica CL. Fujifilm C200
Is there such a thing as a “classic” or “analogue” look? This picture supports my tendency to answer that question with yes. Summicron-C 40/2 on  Leica CL. Fujifilm C200
One last shot from the Appenzell area in Switzerland (which became almost inaccessible only days after this photo was taken). Stunning tiny Summicron. Summicron-C 40/2 on  Leica CL. Fujifilm C200

In the forests around Konstanz, you can find surprisingly wild places. Summicron-C 40/2 on  Leica CL. Fujifilm C200
Yes, old cameras are a risk, and if there is an issue you are like to be late in noticing. Otherwise a fine document of the Summicron-C’s abilities. Summicron-C 40/2 on  Leica CL. Fujifilm C200

Photos shot with a digital camera with the Summicron 40/2

With more post-processing, this picture could gain contrast. Or you use a more modern lens right away. Leica Summicron-C 40/2 on M10
Good, but not excellent sharpness when used at minimal focusing distance (0.8 metres). If you count in the tiny shape and the age of the Summicron-C, this is quite good. Leica Summicron-C 40/2 on M10
Wide perspectives. 40 is a really nice focal length, especially for a one-lens-kit. Leica Summicron-C 40/2 on SL
Flare control is good for a lens that received only a single coating when it was manufactured back in the early 70s. Leica Summicron-C 40/2 on SL
Stopped down, the tiny Summicron is wonderful for my taste. The summit is the Säntis (2502 m) in the Swiss Alps. The buildings on the top (cable car station and broadcast facilities) are clearly visible. Leica Summicron-C 40/2 on SL
Bokeh is always a matter of taste. In the background, there are more troll houses built by children in this forest. Leica Summicron-C 40/2 on SL
Calmness – this is what the small Summicron-C conveys for me. Not only here, where a local had built a beautiful and unique Christmas Nativity scene above Lake Constance. Leica Summicron-C 40/2 on SL

A small tele not only for the Leica CL analogue rangefinder camera

The other lens that was made for the CL: The Elmar-C 90/4, a very lightweight telephoto lens. With its moderate aperture, if forgives small errors in focusing accuracy (caused by user or cameras)

The Elmar-C 90/4 is easier to handle because it is compact, too, but not tiny. It is lightweight but solid. It has the same lens hood/filter issue with the strange M39x0.75 thread. This becomes even more prominent because, when shooting black and white, you want to use this lens with a yellow filter as a standard. Why that? It will considerably improve the somewhat limited contrast of the optic. 

Otherwise, the Elmar-C is more than okay, even when shot more or less against the sun. It can be very inexpensive, and if you have developed some feeling for its strengths and weaknesses it will be good enough for many situations. The absence of brutal sharpness in the close range and wide open might even be helpful when shooting portraits (remember the brilliant marketing idea of the “portrait lens” – obsolete today because you can always take away sharpness in digital post-processing, but never really add it).

Nice render but hefty vignetting. Elmar-C on Leica SL, fully open

Dark corners when you use the Elmar-C on an SL body

Wide open, heavy vignetting occurred when I used the Elmar-C on the SL. I made sure it was not the lens hood (again: check that it is included and in good condition if you think about buying the lens). The effect is less prominent when you use the lens on an M10 (no correction profile activated), and it is almost absent when the lens is attached to a film camera and stopped down to f/5.6, so it might have something to do with the angles of light rays and the sensor (or its cover glass) construction. 

There are so many other 90s…

All in all, the 270-gram Elmar-C lens was the least convincing part of the CL outfit for me. It has many of the weaknesses of the Summicron-C (filter thread, front cap, minor optical limitations) but unfortunately not all if its strengths (it boasts neither tiny size not exceptionally low weight). What both CL lenses share is affordability. If money matters, it is worthwhile to have some patience however. You could get a 90/2.8 (last version, Elmarit-M, or second last version, Tele-Elmarit) for a good price and have a far better lens in the end. If size and weight do matter, consider the Macro-Elmar 90/4. It weighs even less than the Elmar-C and is lightyears ahead optically.

Photos shot on film with CL and 90/4

I decided not to crop this image for the sake of authenticity despite the certain improvement. Nice rendering, even with sun shining in. Elmar-C 90/4 on Leica CL. Kodak Ultramax 400
Nothing to complain about when you work with the Elmar-C. Sharpness is a bit of a lottery wide open and on short distance. Elmar-C 90/4 on Leica CL. Kodak Ultramax 400
Just follow the road, it will take you to beautiful places. Elmar-C 90/4 on Leica CL (cropped to reduce the black upper margin issue caused by a shutter problem). Kodak Ultramax 400
If you have a subject that is well lit and has good contrast, focusing with the CL is remarkably easy, but only if your camera has as clean a rangefinder as the copy used by me. Elmar-C 90/4 on Leica CL (cropped to reduce the black upper margin issue caused by a shutter problem). Kodak Ultramax 400
This is more of touristic interest – you see the thick fog sitting in the Rhine valley (upper left): Down there, or on my home Bodensee, you really have to firmly believe that it is not so far into the sun. Elmar-C 90/4 on Leica CL (cropped to reduce the black upper margin issue caused by a shutter problem). Kodak Ultramax 400
After one and a half rolls, the shutter issue was suddenly cured. Unfortunately, we had almost reached the valley at that time. The Summit in the background is called Hoher Kasten, one of the top viewpoints in the Swiss Canton of Appenzell. Elmar-C 90/4 on Leica CL. Kodak Ultramax 400

Photos shot with a digital camera and 90/4

Good resolution even of fine detail, average contrast. You will finder better 90s for your Leica M but probably none cheaper than the Elmar-C. Leica Elmar-C 90/4 on SL
The other prominent summit in the lovely Appenzell region in eastern Switzerland is called Hoher Kasten (1793 m), a nice hike in summer but a serious undertaking in winter. Or you take the cable car. Leica Elmar-C 90/4 on SL
90 millimetres? You have to test such a lens with a portrait. Good sharpness wide open, pleasing bokeh… but not the 3D pop that some newer M lenses such as my much loved 75 Summarit have. Leica Elmar-C 90/4 on SL
Vignetting is an issue with the Elmar-C, even if stopped down a bit – but the effect is far less prominent on a digital M body or when you shoot on film. Leica Elmar-C 90/4 on SL
50 shades of white. On a solitary early winter hike in the Swiss mountains, the Elmar-C shows its strengths. Colour rendition is certainly one. Leica Elmar-C 90/4 on SL
Once more the Säntis in Switzerland, shot from North around noon. In backlit situations, the Elmar-C shows definitely less contrast than more modern lenses. Leica Elmar-C 90/4 on SL
Again, vignetting, but more than decent sharpness and contrast for this almost 50-year-old lens. Leica Elmar-C 90/4 on M10

Conclusion about the Leica CL analogue rangefinder camera: The Leica that almost was

To sum up: The Leica CL is a wonderful camera and, although made in Japan by Minolta, a pretty real Leica. It has many of the classic Leica virtues. It is small and handy, easy to use (after gaining some basic proficiency) and of high manufacturing quality. It also has its limitations, especially when focusing with a wide aperture and/or longer focal lengths. But you can rely on the fact that the two dedicated C-lenses fit this camera very well in every respect. 

It is also worth taking a look at the successor model to the Leica CL, the Minolta CLE. It even offers auto exposure and TTL flash control. For a long time, I saw no real chance to include this camera in The M Files because a good and flawlessly working CLE seems even harder to get than a good CL. But then… stay tuned and read the next episode! 

In any case, the Leica CL is, despite its limitations (mainly in terms of usable lenses) perhaps the most affordable way to enter the world of M mount rangefinders with exchangeable lenses. If you take good care when buying it (pay very close attention to the wearing parts) and, if necessary, you are prepared to invest some money in a CLA, you will get a truly charming camera.

I work on a completely independent basis, but I wish to thank Lichtblick and Leica Store Konstanz for their support in providing some accessories used for this review. Both are very recommendable; they take phone or mail orders and offer shipping also outside the EU. However, if there still is one, please do not forget to support your local photo equipment dealer in these challenging times. 

The M Files: Get in-depth knowledge of M-Mount lenses, cameras and suitable accessories

The M Files is an ongoing project on Macfilos that focuses on photographic equipment with or for Leica M-Mount, made by companies other than Leica or which are otherwise not part of Leica’s M system. It follows a more or less encyclopaedic approach without being scientific. The focus is always on the real-life use and useability of cameras, lenses and other items. Products covered by The M Files include cameras, lenses, viewfinders, light meters and more. Some of the brands in the growing list are Contax, Konica, Minolta, Rollei, Voigtländer and Zeiss. 

Click here for the M Files Navigator, which gives you easy access to all articles and reviews by product type and brand.

Die M-Files: M-Mount-Objektive, -Kameras und passendes Zubehör jenseits von Leica M

Die M-Files sind ein Langzeit-Projekt, das sich auf Foto-Ausrüstungsteile mit oder für Leica M-Bajonett konzentriert, die von anderen Firmen als Leica hergestellt wurden oder die nicht zum M-System von Leica gehören. Es verfolgt einen mehr oder weniger enzyklopädischen Ansatz, ohne wissenschaftlich zu sein. Der Schwerpunkt liegt immer auf der praktischen Nutzung von Kameras, Objektiven und anderen Produkten. Zu den in den M-Files besprochenen Produkten gehören Kameras, Objektive, Sucher, Belichtungsmesser und mehr. Einige der Marken auf der wachsenden Liste sind Contax, Konica, Minolta, Rollei, Voigtländer und Zeiss. In deutscher Sprache erscheinen die Inhalte auf www.messsucherwelt.com.

Hier geht es zum deutschsprachigen M-Files Navigator, der einen einfachen Zugang zu allen Artikeln und Reviews nach Produkttyp und Marke ermöglicht.

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  1. On impulse, I bought a 40mm Summicron a few years ago. With my M8, it makes a delightful, compact standard lens. Wanting to use the 39mm filters and lens hood that I already owned, I bought a lens adapter from Don Goldberg in the USA. It works a treat and sells for about $35.

    • Dear Richard, thank you very much for sharing this knowledge! I always wondered if there is such an adapter but never found exactely the combination required for CL lenses from any source here in Germany. JP

      • It’s a pleasure, Jorg-Peter. If you search under ‘Don Goldberg Leica’ you should be directed to his website. I look forward to your next article ; I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the series so far.

    • Thanks again, Richard, I ordered two of the adaptors from Don Goldberg and they arrived here today. They seem to be of excellent quality and they apparently cause no vignetting on the 40/2 (the 90/4 vignettes heavily on a digital body anyway). I can full-heartedly recommend this solution and hope that Don Goldberg will not run out of supply too fast. With this add-on, one of the drawbacks of the Leica CL I mentioned is resolved. JP

      • I’m pleased to have been of help, Jorg-Peter. After buying the 40/2 on impulse, I did wonder if I would regret it, but I haven’t. It has been a pleasure to use on my M8.

  2. I owned the Rollei 35 – a real jewel. We need digital versions of these tiny treasures. No video, ..

    A great article that brought back fond memories of simply photography and not computerized cameras that make being in control of your image capture more disassociated- sort of like a Tesla 😆. Sorry Mike, I could not help myself – I better get back on my meds.

    An earlier comment suggested Leica should get into making film. They could do special edition packaging and charge a fortune – limited editions of 500 hand painted packages and matching cassettes. The “lego” edition would be perfect to attract young people.

    • And the only digital M camera currently sitting in Macfilos Towers is the M10-D with no screen. It complements the Tesla. Did I mention I’d bought a Tesla?

      • Nice to see you still have a sense of humour. Did you see the news some time back, of a Tesla in driving itself and its passengers into the side of a transport crossing the road in the US. I suppose they did a firmware update afterwards. I like shifting gears as it keeps me attentive but I am old school.

  3. Hello Jorg-Peter, Thank you very much for bringing back some interesting memories. I joined Leica’s UK advertising agency at about the same time the CL was being launched here – and I must confess we didn’t quite know what to make of it, as it seemed too small and light for ‘serious’ use. Also, as you say, the controls (particularly on the 40mm lens) were not easily used with fat male fingers – perhaps that’s why we secretly called it The Mistress Camera, a nice thank you present for an obliging special friend (we were allowed to be sexist in those days!). Your shot of the dismantling needed for film loading reminded me of the time I almost upset the marketing manager for Leitz (always a perfect gentleman and totally unflappable) when I mentioned the CL used the same system for loading a film as the No. 1 Folding Pocket Kodak of about 1900 that I’d recently bought at an auction, though the Kodak does have a wooden take-up spool. And I have to agree about mercury cells – the Nikon F with Photomic FTn head also used them and though you can probably still find substitute Wein cells for it, it’s much easier and more consistent to have it converted to 1.5 V. Thanks again for an interesting read..

    • Tony, thanks a lot for sharing this special expertise!
      In Germany, the CL was in fact advertised as the camera for ladies. I have the original manual, and there it also a woman holding this little, er, gem. And as to the rest – let’s put it this way: This camera has character. And it only came to my mind how many parallels there are with the Rollei 35 after I borrowed my mother’s. I was her graduation gift from her then fiancé (my late dad) and saw extensiv use for many years but not recently. Shutter and exposure times seem to be working. I will bring the Rollei back to life on Easter! Probably I will write about it (when the M Files are completed)

      • Jorg-Peter. The Rollei 35 was sweet – my mother had one, too! I also liked the little Minox 35 – Leitz was the offical agent for Minox in the UK, so I was able to borrow one for a weekend. I’m not sure but maybe it was even smaller than the Rollei? A nice lens, too, altough with nothing to help you focus it apart from your judgement (somehow, we seemed to manage then). Perhaps another subject after the M files (we don’t want to think of you becoming bored!). T.T.

        • The Minox plastic camera (..there’s probably some special name for the plastic, to make it sound more grandiose than just ‘plastic’ ..like Montblanc say their plastic pens are made of “precious resin”..!..) ..it was certainly lighter than the ‘gem like’ little Rollei 35 ..but the odd thing about the Minox was that on sunny days, when the sunlight might shine directly into the lens, the best way to shade the lens was to hold the camera upside-down, so that the broad flap which covered and protected the lens – when the camera was closed – would act as a horizontal sun-shade, like a lowered drawbridge, when the camera was open!

          (Phew – I think that’s the longest single sentence I’ve ever written.)

  4. Thanks for this – and for all your M files Jörn-Peter! I had the Leica CL and loved it, but because of the battery issue, and my equal love of 28mm, I traded it for the later Minolta CLE which I still have and use with great pleasure. Having had and tried the LeicaM7, I find (heresy!) the Minolta much easier to use, and of course lighter. The Minolta Rokker version of the Summicron 40 is also a splendid lens and a little sharper wide open.

    • Tony, you’re welcome. This is a demanding project but great fun at the same time. The CLE will be featured in the next The M Files episode, planned for publishing on April 12. And just a small spoiler: The M-Rokkors turned out to be excellent lenses. JP

  5. Dear Jörg-Peter, Thank you for the nice CL report. I used my CL with a Rokkor 40 mm as my business travel set over years. Very compact and light but good even for difficult light. With some experience the regular Elmarit 90 mm could be used too. Like your M File Series!

    • Thank you for your kind feedback, Ulrich. There are quite a few enthusiasts around with good memories of their CLs. I will continue to use mine but mostly with the 40 mm. This is a focal length I came like! And thanks for your appreciation for The M Files. There is much work in it, but it is great fun to share the knowledge and to feel that others are really interested. JP

  6. Thanks Jörg-Peter for this article which led took back to memory lane. The CL was my first Leica camera with the 40mm summicron and the minolta 28mm. I loved the camera and the way it rendered. I mainly used it with Kodachrome 64 asa. That was at the time a match in heaven. The 40mm was at the time a stellar lens and the Minolta 28mm was quite good too. It was an truly portable combo which covered much of my use. I’m looking forward to the next episode. I truly enjoy your series although I’m sold to digital imaging nowadays.

    • You’re welcome, Jean. Oh yes, Kodachrome 64 was an incredible film. Such a shame it was discontinued, and thenew Ektachrome, as good as it is, is no replacement. Disturbingly, I notice the whole slide thing is going down. One small example: I used to buy slide mounts from Gepe for decades (No. 7011, withot glass, but with metal mask; I found this to be the best compromise for flatness) only to find out that they have recently stopped the complete manufacturing of slide mounts. Such things make me even sadder now that I am rediscovering the full potential of film photography thanks to The M Files project.

        • Sorry, David, probably I did not get this one right. In my Pradovit at least, slides are moving horizonally 🙂 JP

          • No, no; in a children’s playground, a ‘slide’ (Rutsche) is something which the kiddies slide down. It was a play on words: ‘Dia’ is a Kodachrome slide ..a transparency.. but ‘slide’ (rutschen) is what children do.

            Just my daftness ..you know; having a little laugh ..not being too serious!

            Regarding the CL, of course, it’s a great little camera ..but goodness knows what it cost Leitz to have the thing made by Minolta ..only to find – as you said – that it cannibalised sales of Leitz’ own M5 (whose electronics were made for them by Minolta!) ..so Leitz really shot themselves in the foot by paying Minolta for the M5’s electronics, and then undercutting sales of that camera by selling the Minolta-made CL at a much lower price!

            A special 21mm ‘Super-Angulon’ lens was made for the M5 with a little cut-out in the bottom of the lens’ own mount, so that a feeler-pin in the M5 body wasn’t pressed in when the lens was mounted. This stopped the ‘light-meter-on-a-stick’ swinging up and into position, so preventing it from banging against the deep rear end of the 21mm lens.

            The cheaper CL – with the same ‘lollipop’ internal light-meter-on-a-stalk – didn’t have that ‘safety’ linkage which kept the lightmeter arm retracted, and so deep (non-retro-focus) wide-angles can NOT be used on the CL, as they interfere with – or could break – the swing-out meter-arm. Otherwise, almost all the other M-fit lenses could be used on the CL with through-the-lens metering! ..which was supposed to be the big selling point of the M5. (The “goggled” Dual-Range close-focusing Leica 50mm can’t be used in close range, as its slip-on “goggles” don’t line up with the closer-together CL rangefinder windows ..but then that lens – crazily! – can’t be used in its normal range with any of the digital M series cameras, as there’s not enough clearance inside the lens throat for the 2nd cam on it. So it don’t work on the CL, and it don’t work on modern M series either ..more silliness from Leitz/Leica, I’m afraid.)

            Otherwise – it’s a great little (rather noisy) camera ..if you like rangefinders!

  7. What would be really great would be Leica also manufacturing a film! i mean, why not? They could do it.
    Really enjoyed this article and since i also have a CL and these lenses plus a CLE with 28, 40 and 90 I need to get them outside now and use them.Really enjoyed the snowy images here. I seem to have got much better sharpness from the 40mm on my CL but then I’m taking pictures in sunnier conditions, also luckily, no shutter issues with my camera. I click through all the shutter speeds every other month even if I’m not using the camera for photography which helps keep the shutter from sticking..

    • Tank you, Steve, for your feedback. I also do run the shutters of my not regularly used cameras every now and then. The former owner of my newly acquired CL did not, I am afraid. And as to my C-Summicron: I find it quite good when used on a digital camera with electronic viewfinder (SL). The lens might need some minor adjustment for wide-open rangefinder use in challenging light, but I am not generally unhappy with the results on film. Best, Jörg-Peter

  8. Jorg-Peter I have the CL. It is 50th anniversary one, my only special edition in my large collection. The 40 mm and 90mm lenses are both superb and will work on an M camera in my experience. I also have a Rollei 35, which I bought at Photographica 2019 in London when I was there with Mike. The little Tessar lens on that is absolutely superb and I have got great results with it recently using Tri-X film. The CL is nice to use, certainly nicer to use than the contemporary Leica M5 which I find to be a clunky monster. The issue with mercury oxide batteries has to be taken care of – search for my article on Macfilos related to a Leica M5. In my case the CL camera came already adapted for modern batteries. However, I don’t trust old meters and I use the CL and the Rollei 35, both with built-in meters, with an external meter.

    Leica should consider introducing a small, lightweight and reasonably priced film camera to attract the ever increasing number of young film photographers.


    • Dear William,
      thank you for your feedback. I found the CL very convincing, too. While the digital CL seems to have been no great success, an analogue one would probably be. I am only afraid that it would be far too expensive if manufactured by Leica, and I have no idea if there are nay companies left which could produce such a camera for them.
      My photo dealership, Lichtblick at Konstanz, keeps telling me who many young people pop in to buy films. And the minilab in town seems to be quite busy, too. The only drawback is that there are so many excellent film cameras on the used market (albeit no rangefinder cameras any more) so there would be stiff competition for a new model unless it s somewhat unique.
      Let’s wait, the rumour about a new, less expensive film Leica is still there. I am only afraid that less expensive means something like “in the range of a used M6” instead of “under 1000 Euro”.
      Best, Jörg-Peter


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