Mike Evans did a terrific job of summarising the “plight” that CL owners find themselves in now that Leica has ‘pensioned off’ its favourite camera. I and many others regarded the Leica CL as one of the best APS-C format cameras in the world. Yet I put plight in quotes because it has taken all of 60 days to show what a short-sighted decision Leica made. Within weeks of signalling Leica’s discontinuing the CL, Canon announced the R10 and R7 APS-C cameras.
Canon EOS R10
The R10 is an entry-level model with the body selling for $979 net in the USA (£899 in the UK, including 20% tax). With an RF-S 18-150mm f3.5-f6.3 stabilised lens weighing about 10 ounces (284g), the price rises to $1,379 (£1,249). The R10 body includes a 24.2 MP sensor, IBIS stabilisation, and a 15-fps mechanical shutter.
The body weighs 11 ounces (312g), less than the Leica CL. Also, you can save a couple of hundred by buying it with a collapsible 18-45mm lens. Since I haven’t yet used or seen an R10, I won’t say more about it. The EOS R7 is a different case since I have owned and used it for close to a month.
Canon EOS R7
I love the Leica CL’s overall quality and the photos I was getting from it. Still, I knew from 60 years’ experience that I invariably upgrade my cameras and lenses every 18-24 months. I don’t want to have orphan camera bodies that I can’t sell for close to what I spent. That’s why my photo activities have never turned into a money pit.
I really appreciate APS-C cameras, and I have shot different Fujifilm cameras for more than ten years. Yet, I felt the newly announced Canon R7 was the best choice for me. According to the early reviews, it provided both in-camera IBIS stabilisation and lens stabilisation, which is a deadly-effective combination, as we’ll see below. It has a 32-megapixel sensor and auto-focusing that’s faster and more accurate than the Leica CL.
Some weatherproofing claims were made for the R7 body, but I bet the newly issued RF lenses weakened that assertion. The auto-exposure and focusing are uncanny; it’s the only camera I trust to set to P (Program) and come away with 95% perfectly exposed and focused shots! It has cut my chimping activities sharply and let me concentrate on composition and lighting.
The R7 body is somewhat larger and heavier than the CL. It reminds me of the early DSLR Pentax and Olympus bodies in weight, size, and handling. I’ve already bought a Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 five-ounce (142g) lens that permits me to carry the camera slung under my jacket, out of sight. With the R7, the RF50 is an 80mm full-frame equivalent; the focal length I prefer for shooting people, pets, life on the streets, and many indoor activities.
When I wanted to mount even lightweight, long lenses on the CL, I had to use it with a baseplate/grip and thumb support to steady the lens. Because the grip and “feel” of the Canon R7 body fits my hand so well, I don’t have to bother with any accessories. The slightly heavier R7 is more stable and comfortable than the CL, regardless of which lens is mounted on it.
The built-in grip and the stabilisation make it feasible to often shoot indoors without special lighting. Mocha’s headshot was taken at midnight by the light of a single bulb in the hallway. Although it’s ISO 6400, as I view it full screen on my 32in monitor, the background is creamy with no apparent grain, his whiskers are sharp, and the R7 automatically focused on his eyes.
The Canon R7 body costs $1,499 (£1,348). When bought with the RF-S 18-150mm, 3.5-6.3 IS STM lens, the cost is $1,899 (£1,699). That’s within $50 of what I received for the Leica CL with the 18mm f/2.8 pancake lens when I sold it on eBay. Without lens stabilisation, I doubt if I could have captured this image with such clarity on the Leica CL.
RF-S 18-150mm 3.5-6.3 IS STM Lens
My favourite lens for the CL is the Leica APO Vario-Elmar 55-135mm f/3.5-f/4.5 ASPH, which sells for $2,195 at B&H (£1,550 UK street price). I used Sigma f/1.4 30mm and 56mm L-mounts to augment the zoom, but the telephoto usually gave me all the range I needed (83-203mm full-frame equivalent), and it is built like a tank.
The RF-S lens that Canon sells for the R7 is the RF-S 18-150mm 3.5-6.3 IS STM lens. It weighs only 10 ounces (284g) and offers a full-frame equivalent range of 29-240mm. But it doesn’t have a metal mount, nor any controls or weatherproofing; its maximum aperture is 5.6 or worse at most focal lengths. I bought it with the idea of selling it off when Canon or a third-party manufacturer came out with “enthusiast” lenses that were faster but still lightweight.
Within a day of receiving the camera and lens, I ran my usual telephone pole test in which I photographed the top of the telephone pole in my backyard, which is about 30 feet from my back door. By comparing the photos to the ones I’ve taken with earlier camera-lens combos, I can quickly determine those lenses that I want to return immediately. Of the 20-30 combos I’ve tested, the Leica Vario-Elmar 55-135mm on the CL is one of the best. The Leica image looked like this when I took it last year.
The pole is about 30 feet from the house, and this gear is about 30ft above the ground. The connections bring internet and video into my home.
Here is the same image shot with the Canon R7 and its RF-S 18-150mm lens. Both photos were made with the lens nearly extended for full magnification. Canon reserves the “RF-S” designation for lenses designed for APS-C cameras.
The most significant difference I see is the Leica shot was made on a cloudy day. There doesn’t seem to be any quality difference between the two images, except that the Canon RF appears to provide more of a feeling of depth. If you view both images on a 32in monitor, the labels on the connections can be read. The Leica lens lists for $2,199 (£1,550); the Canon lens lists for $499 (£519). This is the virtue of mass production. Contrary to what many people believe, the Leica lens is made in Japan, and the Canon lens is made in Taiwan.
The Canon R7 will interest Leica CL owners considering upgrades. The camera body appears as well-built as my Leica CL, and it outguns the CL in nearly all other ways.
When Canon releases more RF-S lenses with weatherproofing and metal mounts – WATCH OUT! The Canon RF-S cameras and the Fujifilm X-2HS (see below) will dominate the market and start to cause doubt in those who are now considering (or reconsidering) full-frame cameras.
In the meantime, if you have any qualms regarding longevity or build quality, simply buy the 48-month Canon CarePAK plan that adds about 10% to the purchase price.
Here Comes the Fujifilm X-2HS!
As if Canon wasn’t causing enough problems for Leica, the Fujifilm X-2Hs with its advanced APS-C sensor has just been released. This is precisely the high-end APS-C camera that Leica should have developed as an upgrade to the CL. It goes beyond the features of the Canon R7 by including a sensor similar in design to that used in the Canon R3, professional-grade video, a sturdy metal body, and full weatherproofing.
The Fujifilm X-2HS body sells for $2,499 (£2,499). The recommended new lens, an 18-120 f/4 stabilised zoom, adds $899 to the basic package (no UK price as yet). Thus, the total is about $3,500 (£3,500). This is about $1,600 more than the R7 with the 18-150mm zoom but only about half the cost of a full-frame Nikon Z9 with a 24-120mm lens. Fujifilm’s roadmap has also promised several small fixed-length lenses.
Here’s hoping that Canon follows Fujifilm’s roadmap for their RF-S lenses: First, release a high-quality 24-120mm f/4 weatherproof zoom selling for less than $1,000 and weighing less than a pound; and later, even smaller f/1.4 16mm 30mm, and 56mm, weatherproof fixed-length lenses. These three fixed-length lenses may well become the “Holy Trinity” for APS-C lenses and be sold as a set by major APS-C brands such as Canon, Fujifilm, and Sony.
Reflections on being Leicaless
Already I somewhat regret selling my Leica CL and its lenses. They are collector’s cameras and terrific in the field too. I know I’ll return to the fold if Leica comes out with an even smaller, more pocketable version of the CL that is about the same size as the Leica IIIg with a collapsable lens.
The first camera with which earned money was a “Luftwaffe Leica”, a Model IIIg, with a collapsable 50mm f3.5 Elmar lens that had seen service during World War II. I bought it from a military photographer who used it as a backup camera during the Korean War. I carried it everywhere and used it to shoot weddings and even a college queen contest.
I sold it to pay for a new Konica with an unbelievably-sharp f1.9 lens. This became my favourite wedding camera for my last year of college. Today, that genuine Luftwaffe Leica IIIg would be worth a small fortune — maybe I made the same mistake in selling the CL last month.
One of the most satisfying parts of shooting with a Leica is the Leica community, a group of fanatics who are honest, helpful, and enthusiastic. They, alone, are a good reason for shooting with a Leica; the cameras themselves are icing on the cake.
My dream camera for travel would have the form factor and weight of a Leica IIIg, plus a very small (or collapsable) 18-55mm lens, body and lens stabilization, weatherproofing, and an APS-C sensor. I also hope that it would be an affordable Leica rather than a replica made by Canon, Fuji, or any of the other major camera manufacturers.
Here’s what I aspire to with my personal photography. The first photo was taken in Halong Bay, Vietnam, with one of the Sony RX100 cameras. As we got underway in our small boat, I grabbed the camera out of my jacket pocket and took the shot. This is right out of the camera, and I’ve exhibited 20×30-inch prints of this despite it being taken with a 1” sensor.
All my favourite photos are grab shots where I had about a second to get the image I wanted. My cameras must be small and inconspicuous. I typically prefocus on the distance at which I’ll be shooting, or I rely on a very fast autofocus system. The Sony RX100 models are all tiny and fast-focusing, but their pop-up viewfinders and menu are close to useless.
The Leica CL is great for its size and imaging, but most of its lenses I consider heavy and oversized. The Canon R7 leads the pack (of the 50-odd cameras which I’ve owned) for its fast and accurate focusing and superb viewfinder, but it still needs to go on a diet for the size and weight of its body and most of its lenses. Until a still-newer and smaller body comes out, I’ll be doing most of my shooting with the RF 50mm f/1.8 lens that makes the package not much larger than the Leica Q2.
Ah well. At least the world hasn’t ended with the demise of CL. We owe it to ourselves to keep an open mind for new opportunities and, arguably, better options. It will be interesting to find where I am with all this in a year’s time…
Steve Frankel is a successful cruise and tour planner through his company, Cruises and Cameras. He specialises in planning small-ship cruises exceeding 15 days, food and wine experiences, travel photo opportunities, and Covid-19 mitigation strategies. You can find him at Cruises and Cameras.