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Leica CL: A reluctant goodbye but it’s now time to look to the future

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On this day exactly five years ago I attended a snazzy Leica press conference at The Den in St Martin’s Lane, London, to launch the new CL. At the time, it was the answer to everyone’s dream: A tiny camera with a built-in viewfinder that looked every bit the reincarnated Barnack Leica. We left the conference with such grand hopes of a new and successful series of APS-C cameras after Leica’s on-off relationship with the crop sensor since the debut of the X1 in 2009.

Phil Coomes gets to grips with the exciting new Leica CL at the London launch party on 21 November 2017 (Image Mike Evans)

Despite a couple of small niggles, including the lack of stabilisation, the CL was well received. It felt just right in comparison with the T range, introduced in 2014, which had been a bold attempt to attract a new generation of camera users, tempted away from the rapidly ascending smartphone.

The final iteration, the TL2, is still a sensible secondhand buy, but it was aimed at a nebulous market. The well-heeled smartphone switcher, casually passing the Leica store and handing over a couple of grand, didn’t really exist. The T was bought mainly by existing Leica fans who found it wanting, largely because of the lack of an in-built viewfinder and the smartphone-like touch controls. With this background, the CL came as a breath of fresh air in 2017.

Leica Akademie’s Robin Sinha demonstrates the brand new Leica CL at the London press conference five years ago today. In the end, the CL fared no better than Queen Anne Boleyn, monitoring proceedings from the rear wall

Been and gone

Sadly, however, the CL turned out to be something of a supernova. In under five years, it had quietly slipped into oblivion and we had to wait until last month in Dublin to get the official death certificate. Worse, Leica has exited the APS-C market and will henceforth concentrate on full-frame cameras, although there is the promise of a new medium-format mirrorless range to come in the mid-Twenties.

It would be an understatement to say that Leica fans are disappointed by the cancellation of the APS-C line. Many had been looking forward to a new CL2 but, instead, now feel abandoned. Their expensive lenses are redundant, usable only on a defunct CL or TL or as compromised optics on the full-frame SL. A lot of the trust has gone out of the window.

Leica has made it clear that the decision was taken for commercial reasons. Not only were sales inadequate to justify continued development, but the tough competition in the APS-C market was difficult to counter. On the other hand, Leica has lost its entry-level model and the marque is now seen as even more exclusive, with the cheapest camera in the range now costing well over £4,000.

If you are in the market for an interchangeable mirrorless camera smaller than the SL, you will now have to look to Fuji, Sony or another manufacturer. All seem to be able to make money out of APS-C. And once that choice is made, Leica may have lost a customer for good.

Take your pick: APS-C has gone, is now full-frame nor nothing as far as Leica is concerned... (Mike Evans, Leica CL and 18-56mm f3.5-5.6 Vario-Elmar-TL ASPH)
Take your pick: APS-C has gone, it is now full-frame or nothing as far as Leica is concerned… (Mike Evans, Leica CL and 18-56mm f3.5-5.6 Vario-Elmar-TL ASPH)

Over the past six months, the Macfilos comments columns have been dominated by lamentations for the Leica CL and the APS-C system. Unfortunately, nothing will now bring back the CL. It’s gone and we’d better accept the fact. It’s time to move on.

Many CL fans will now be looking at alternative interchangeable-lens APS-C systems in the quest for a small, lightweight travel outfit. But for dyed-in-the-wool Leica enthusiasts, the future now lies with the Q, M and SL. True, the “Luxes”, the so-called Panaleicas, are still in the range but there is already a question mark over the future of Panasonic’s compacts. Soon, I suspect, there will be nothing smaller than the M in Leica’s product range.

Are there any opportunities for Leica to introduce a new entry-level system?

The smaller sensor

Not for the first time, I wonder why Leica has not considered micro four-thirds. The LUMIX m43 system is still alive and well and Panasonic offers a large range of superb Leica-badged lenses. I am sure that a rebadged LUMIX m43, camera (perhaps the GX9) would attract Leica fans and would allow the company to offer a truly compact, relatively inexpensive system (even when the red-dot premium is added on to the price). A rebadging job would follow the Lux tradition and, indeed, would complement the Leica D-Lux as a fixed-lens four-thirds camera — while it lasts, that is.

The Micro Four Thirds system (MFT or M4/3) (マイクロフォーサーズシステム, Maikuro Fō Sāzu Shisutemu) is a standard released by Olympus and Panasonic in 2008, for the design and development of mirrorless interchangeable lens digital camerascamcorders and lenses. Camera bodies are available from BlackmagicDJIJVCKodak, Olympus, Panasonic, Sharp, and Xiaomi. MFT lenses are produced by Cosina Voigtländer, DJI, Kowa, Kodak, Mitakon, Olympus, Panasonic, Samyang, Sharp, Sigma, SLR Magic, TamronTokina, TTArtisan, Veydra, Xiaomi, Laowa, Yongnuo, Zonlai, Lensbaby, KowaVenus Optics and 7artisans amongst others.

— Wikipedia
Oven ready: The Panasonic GX8, immediate predecessor of the current GX9 with the outstanding 12 mm Leica Summilux (complete with red dot) which equates to 24mm on m43. Both cameras and a full range of Leica lenses are there for the taking. Stick a Leica badge on the camera and Bob’s your uncle… Or is he? (Image Mike Evans)

There is a big question mark over licensing, of course. Leica is not part of the system and could well not be eligible for membership. And it is possible that Panasonic could be prevented from allowing a third party to sell re-badged cameras. We aren’t privy to the details, but in theory, a rebadged LUMIX m43 camera, sprinkled with a pinch of red-dot dust, seems to be an inexpensive and straightforward way for Leica to introduce an entry-level system.

It is significant that Panasonic has avoided APS-C and chosen to go with a combination of m43 and full frame. The m43 sensor has a crop factor of 2, compared with APS-C at 1.5, a clearer delineation between the systems than between APS-C and full-frame. Fujifilm recognised this when it introduced the GFX system, instead of attempting to enter the full-frame market. Perhaps full frame and APS-C are now too close for comfortable marketing.

The smaller SL

While a smaller and lighter full-frame camera could never be a direct replacement for the CL, such a model could make sense if Leica wishes to launch a cheaper entry system. We can rule out a much smaller homegrown SL3, but there is one possibility worth considering. Panasonic is about to launch a new S5 and this could be sold by Leica in the same way that it currently sells the D-Lux 7 and the other Luxes. In theory, at least.

We know from past experience that buyers will accept a reasonable premium for the Leica badge, even though they know deep down that they are basically buying a Panasonic camera. So it would be with the S5. It could be sold for little more than the CL and, to my mind, would be the ideal entry camera for the Leica range.

I do not hold out high hopes for this type of collaboration on either the m43 or S5 cameras, but I believe there is a lot of sense there. I would be surprised if Leica had not at least considered both options.

Panasonic's full-frame S5 is identical in size to the company's flagship micro-four-thirds cameras. Could the next generation of the S5 be a suitable case for Leica-isation? (Image Panasonic press office)
Panasonic’s full-frame S5 is identical in size to the company’s flagship micro-four-thirds cameras. That is, small for a full-frame body. It is no bigger than Panasonic’s G9 m43 camera, which comes as something of a shock. Could the next generation of the S5 be a suitable case for Leica-isation? (Image Panasonic press office)

In the meantime, we should now accept the facts. The CL is no more, and no amount of complaining will bring it back. It’s time to move on and concentrate on what we have in the Q, M and SL ranges. And, perhaps, give thought to some alternatives for Leica’s entry-level range. There is much to discuss here, and that’s where Macfilos will be concentrating in the future.

What do you think? Would you welcome a Leica-badged m43 system? And would you like to see a Leica version of the new LUMIX S5 for sale at around £$€ 3,000, give or take the odd penny?


45 COMMENTS

  1. Oh Mike, I was surprised you raised the demise of the Leica CL once again. I am reconciled to the fact. Furthermore, sadly, I have probably finished buying new Leica cameras. Why? Because I feel Leica has lost direction, and I cannot see them establishing a consistent, supported, new line of cameras. I may be wrong. They might persevere with their medium format offering, but that would be an extremely small market, probably much smaller than the late lamented CL.

    I am not bitter. To the contrary. I am very pleased with the many cameras I possess, and use, on a rotational basis. It is invigorating and stimulating, and it gives me a great deal of pleasure. I have Leica kit, light enough, to travel with comfortably. And the remainder is used, and gives me much pleasure, on my home territory. I am a very happy and lucky photographer.

  2. Very sad, and a massive own goal by Leica I suspect.

    As I watched Jean wrestle his aging X2 to its death, I started researching what would fill the gap should my X ever give up the ghost. And with a small bit of research you can quickly discover the logical alternative the Fuji X100V is out of stock across the world, and Fujifilm are stalling orders now. Either a new model is due, or the demand is just too high.

    A CL with the X113s lens would have been a potential Fuji beater. I love my X113, but when it expires I’ll probably move over to Fuji’s offerings, assuming I can find one of course.

  3. Hi Mike, could it be that you have your dates wrong? As far as I recall the CL was announced in November of 2017. You mention a launch party in February of 2017.

    • Ah… it was definitely 21 November 2017 so if February appears it must have been a typo… I will check and alter if necessary. Thanks for pointing it out. — yes, checked and it was my mistake in captioning the photography. Updated now.

  4. I was much saddened and angry by the demise of the CL and the poor way the company handled it. That’s now history.

    I’m going to keep using my CL and TL lenses until the camera fails and can’t be fixed. When the CL finally pegs out I will look to see what’s available but until then I will keep taking out to see what I can capture.

    In the meantime I have a Q2 to run alongside it and that’s a joy to use and will keep me going for a few years yet.

  5. Thanks Mike, good of you to destroy the last faint hopes us CL owners had.:-)
    Like other CL owners I think it’s close to the perfect camera and plan to keep it for as long as it keeps working.
    I’ve never had a digital camera fail on me, other than one I dropped in a river, so I’m confident I’ll get 8-10 years from it if I want.
    Of course most of us sell or trade our cameras after a few years to get something better and if so I’m confident to get most if not all my outlay back.
    By the sounds of it the replacement won’t be a Leica which is a shame but that’s life.
    In the meantime I will continue to shoot with the perfect (for me) camera.

  6. OK, I´ve already got the message… Tried the DLux 7: didn´t work for me with all nonsense buttons and gimmicks. So, my last Leicas will be my M9 and my M9M, both still going strong with new sensors. If either one gives up the ghost before me (I´m 80), something non-Leica will grace my last years…. Too bad, really. But, it hasn´t happened yet.

  7. Hi,
    It’s sad that Leica is dropping the CL TL2 and APSC. I have the TL2 and all zoom and 35 f.1.4. But what – for me – is most sad is I now have become very worried about the SL Mount system. When I bought the TL I was ready to buy the SL. Fortunately I didn’t reach it and don’t dare to buy the system now – even if it is a good system. If I buy SL(3) it will be to use M optics but not SL lenses. So that Leica has stopped (and not put anything else instead) makes me stay away from Leica L Mount. I am not done with Leica at all. I have M and just bought 35 APO but I really wanted to test SL but – no not now.

    • Yes, the SL system seems to be on shaky ground, too, if one takes into account all of the “incentives” and discount offers of late.
      Perhaps the subject of another article?

      • Yes, I would welcome any information, perhaps from local dealers in various parts of the world. I too have a definite suspicion that sales are at best patchy.

      • Hi Jono,
        Thanks for your reply 🙏. I’m excited to see what happens with SL. Not just loose rumors that sometime in the future, there will be a new SL or a new lens. We all know from experience that it has taken many years to make the new summichrom SL and the line is not yet finished.
        I work as a photojournalist and would like too give SL a try. I don’t make a lot of sports and tasks that require the best AF.
        But it should work much better.
        If I’m going to try the SL it must replace my Canon R3. Two systems are not to work with. I think I am the first in this country who is want to try whether the Leica SL is suitable for the job. For photojournalist – reportage work. If Leica wants to, they can.
        In the meantime, I’m playing with my new APO summichrom M35. I am really happy about that. But I need a proper camera for close focus now. I have M-D. And is it the SL? I should try as the 1st SL ? ☺️

      • Good to have confirmation that the SL line is alive and kicking. I’m sure we all look forward to the new announcements.

  8. I’m with Le Chef – still have my TL2 and CL and most of the TL lenses and will keep shooting until they die – and even then the lenses are light and magnificent and fit all L Mount cameras – so what’s the problem?

  9. Really glad you have given this topic another airing, Mike, if only because you offer a useful prompt to look in the direction of Panasonic’s Leica lens MFT system, which wasn’t on my screen before now.

    • Some ask what the problem is ? It’s not the TL lenses. I have old Canon and Nikon lenses they are 20-30 years old. So why shouldn’t the Leica TL lenses live long ? If Leica had decided to stop the production of TL lenses but continue the CL camera line (CL2-3..) it Ok.
      CL is an excellent camera for M lenses and Sigma and SL. And the big advantage is that the camera write which M is on the CL camera. A CL with image stabilizer would be a perfect complement to my M and M lenses.
      APSC or FF it doesn’t matter as long as it is compact. That’s where Leica should bet in my opinion. Big and fast AF systems they already exist and Leica will never compete with Nikon and Canon and Sony.

  10. I completely accept Leica chose to end the T,TL,TL” and CL range for commercial reasons, indeed although I still own a T, CL plus several T type lenses I am not even much bothered by the fact all now are obsolete and will almost certainly continue to lose value. Conversely I hope Leica in turn will understand why I thus have decided to drop them from any future buying plans, a decision likewise taken for purely for commercial reasons. I.E. Leica’s vastly over priced products are not nearly good enough compared to others in my view which are both better and cheaper.

  11. “Leica has made it clear that the decision was made for marketing reasons”.
    Yes, and there’s the problem.
    Are they thinking about photographers and photography first… or… marketing first?
    “Marketing” is not their strong point. The website for example, only gives a simple overview of what all the Leica cameras’ specifications are but no in-depth details or good sample photographs to show what they are really capable of. You have to go to another site to find that. Printed brochures / catalogues are virtually non existent now and you actually get no manual in the box. After paying a premium price you have to request and wait for it. Great marketing Leica! These little ‘touches’ really make the customer feel appreciated.
    If they were going to be driven by marketing then the CL likely needed to be more competitively priced.The fact that every other manufacturer can sell their APS-C cameras tells their marketing department what? However they are definitely keeping up the Leica tradition of killing off CL cameras!

    I must say, in all fairness and with a healthy dose of sarcasm, they are doing an excellent job at marketing in the case of their batteries. Made in China but far more expensive than any other brand out there.They can market those, but not the CL? The CL might actually have been the best and most versatile product in the Leica line up. if you bought one, good for you. If you can still find a new one, grab it.
    For everyone else, not to worry, when Leica realizes in another 50 years that the CL was such a classic, they’ll make it again but with a brass top plate or back paint , because….marketing. 🙂

  12. 1947 was the year I was born, the Romantic fantasy movie of the year, Rex Harrison, Gene Tierney forgive Leica they brought back Rex (the GHOST Q2) and I am awaiting your resurrection Mrs. Muir! That is all Leica seems to do now, play dress up with cameras. The ALBATROSS line SL doesn’t sell. With the state of the worlds economy people are going to buy anything they feel gives value for their money, E.G. NIKON Z line vs Leica that’s remaining, get bigger bang for full frame there at Nikon.I really wonder if Leica has a future.

    • I’m sorry John
      The SL line is selling (giving people deals doesn’t mean it doesn’t sell)
      Leica just had their best year ever
      Just now their future looks better than ever

      • “Giving people deals means it should sell.” It’s SOP across multiple industries to offer deals to shift product. When you have a successful product you don’t need to offer deals.

        I too would love to see sales of individual product lines over a 5-year period. I can do that in other industries from cars to cornflakes but apparently not cameras.

  13. Mike, when I read the article I thought of the phrase “bayoneting the wounded” ….. Anyway, ignoring the fact that I invested in a Leica CL and four lenses, but if I was setting out now to find a small format, travel or everyday camera I would probably head for either the Fuji or Sony APS-C ranges before MFT. Two reasons: MFT sensors seem to be at least one to two generations behind their FF or APS-C rivals unless you buy the top of the range Olympus or Panasonic body (but they are not compact). For example, the recently released OM5 still has the same 20MP sensor as the 2015 EM5 body. Secondly, physically the smaller sensor size means reduced focal length for the same angle of view. But this also means increased depth of field for the same angle of view at the same aperture. To combat this, the MFT pro lens offerings tend to offer f2.0 in their pro zooms rather than say f2.8 in FF to give similar subject separation. This means the MFT pro lenses tend to be bigger than the sensor size would suggest. I did contemplate a small Olympus body such as the EM5 plus the 12-100mm Pro lens as an ideal travel camera, and if I was into bird photography or wildlife in general the super zoom offerings are more attractive for size and weight. So I can’t see the sense in Leica entering the MFT market with a rebranded Panasonic body as I see that the two established MFT suppliers are already struggling to keep the MFT market viable. If it was vibrant and growing then surely OM Systems would have offered the newer 26MP sensor in the OM5 instead of a seven or eight year old sensor.

  14. I’m a relatively late adopter of the CL after Leica UK offered a part exchange (for my X1) 45% discount deal on a CL / Elmarit TL 18mm combination last July as a goodwill gesture after advising my Leica X1 could no longer be serviced / repaired. I’m very pleased with the CL’s capabilities – particularly with the Panasonic 20-60mm f4 and Sigma 105mm f2.8 L-mount lenses. Friends were not so impressed with the CL – citing its excessive (for them) weight, lack of IBIS and non-articulated monitor. Both elderly friends are very experienced Leica users but their arthritic and shaky hands require lighter cameras and IBIS. One friend was pleased to PX his CL for a M4/3 EM1-Mk III. The other friend did not buy the CL as he found it too large / heavy and difficult to handle (arthritis) – and it was not quite pocketable (in his large pockets). Given that many Leica users are deemed ‘senior citizens’ with age related ailments, maybe Leica could pay more attention to their needs as regards camera ergonomics. When Leitz announced the original Leica Model 1 way back in 1925 it weighed just 125g (body only) and less than 300g c/w 50mm Elmar f3.5 lens. After acquiring my CL I had no regular use for my now ancient Leica T (Type 701) so made the decision to have it ‘full spectrum’ converted by Alan Burch at Infrared Camera Conversions IOW. To say I’m thrilled with the conversion is an understatement; I’ve’ not had so much fun and interesting results in many years. And being ‘full spectrum’ enables use of any type of IR filter – and ‘UV pass’ filters – but the latter are expensive and require modification for flora imaging.

  15. I have two additional thoughts to add to this article and commentary.

    Sigma now sells its 18-50 lens with Fuji, Leica and Sony mounts and apparently has the ability to modify mounts so you can use the same lens on different cameras. Cannot someone engineer a mount conversion from L to Fuji? That would give T/TL/TL2/CL owners a path forward without having to go to something as big as the SL2.

    The Leica X and Vario seemed to have developed a bit of a cult status amongst owners. Does anyone think that the T/TL/TL2/CL cameras might also develop a cult following?

    If that were the case you could argue pretty convincingly that Leica can design and develop good APSC cameras but has difficulty on converting that to cost efficient production volumes that meet their business targets. It would lead you to think that with Leica leading design and another company (Panasonic? Sigma?) leading manufacturing, probably somewhere in SEA, that a Leica (badged) branded APSC camera might have a viable future.

    Am I barking at a full moon or might there be something there?

    • I do think the Leica T deserving of gaining cult status, maybe even more so then the TL and TL2 even though they arguably better cameras, there is just something unique about the T as first of the line.

    • Sigma does offer a lens mounting changing service. Just google it. I have no idea how much it costs and if it’s worth doing on an inexpensive lens like the 30mm apsc L mount .

      Probably very worthwhile for the Art range.

      Cheers

  16. Jumping in, on a windy, rainy autumn day (as leaves gradually bury our decks and driveway).

    I never bought a CL, but I suspect mentioning CL and m43 in the same breath is what philosophers call a ‘category error’.

    I need to start by saying I own, use and enjoy a m43 and an ASP-C camera. I’m no kind of serious photographer: I have fun, snap what creates a feeling in me, and share with a few friends. It’s supposed to be fun.

    But, also: I have an M240 with Summicron 50 and Elmarit 90. I had never heard of Leica (other than from colleagues who used their microscopes) so never connected the name with camera, luxury or exclusivity. I used consumer grade digital Nikon and Panasonic. When the Leica Digilux 2 came out, I read reviews, liked what I read, but it was way out of my price range.

    A few years later, it was selling used, at a price I could just manage. When I got it, I thought: ‘Yes. This is how a camera should be.’ The haptics….

    Then a bad thing happened: I went to my local camera store (Precision Camera Austin) and asked to see an M9 with a Summicron 50. It was immediate: I had to have it (as my spouse, the psychologist, describes the effect of cocaine on addicts). It was right, it was an amazing. Again, several years before I could afford a used M8, but — it’s. It’s not a verbal thing (as my brother, the humanities prof, says: seeing classic sculpture or art, words are not what should immediately come to mind). I’ve never held a Hasselblad, so I don’t know if the feeling is the same, but for me, the only response is: it’s a Leica.

    In going from the Leica to an m43, I went from brilliant engineering, design, haptics, fit-and-finish, to a mass-produced consumer item. I assume the same would be true going from the Leica CL to any commercial m43.

    They are not even the same kind of thing.

    I’d like to talk a little about using m43 or APS-C, in another post. As I said, I enjoy both. Even though there will be many ‘but then….’

  17. m43/APs-C wishlist.

    In response to Mike’s question: I’d take my pension check and throw it at a Leica m43 camera. With some qualifications.

    I have the Leica D-Lux Typ109 and the Fuji X-E3 (somehow the XPro series just didn’t work for me). I enjoy both, and trusted the former to be my sole camera in a once-in-a-lifetime six week trip to Japan (though my spouse contends it’s going to be five or six times in a ….).

    Essentially, I bought ‘rangefinder-like’ cameras. From two bad experiences, I am not going to be happy with PASM cameras. That’s the first qualification.

    To address the second — most of these kinds of cameras are designed for auto-focus. I know many professionals use auto-focus to great effect, but I always manage to get it wrong (as the saying goes: that’s why they’re the professionals). One of the side effects though, is that manual focus on these is fly-by-wire. I’ve invested the time and effort to make that work, but it’s still quite a fiddly technique. For the Fuji, the solution is simple: buy the excellent Fuji M adapter, use M lenses. For the kind of personal thing I do, this gives first-rate results.

    I’ve read reviews praising the Pana-Leica lenses (Nocticron, oh, my), but these lenses still are auto-focus, and are still going to use fly-by-wire. So that would be a second consideration: real manual focus lenses of similar quality to the Pana-Leica.

    The third issue is EVF. Of my three cameras, the most accurate EVF is the simple Epson-made EVF for the M240. I’ve spent much silly-time demonstrating that I can get equally accurate focus with EVF or rangefinder. And, with the Vario-Elmar R 35-70 f4, that’s important.

    The EVF on the Fuji and the D-Lux are markedly harder for me to use. I’ve read that the EVF on the CL is spectacular; even better is that on the SL2. That’s my third qualification: a CL-level EVF.

    Then — there goes the pension check …

  18. Jono I just read best year ever jul 2022 for 2021, and the CEO touts greater things for SMART PHONES, since you have better access than me how many of each camera sold, m q sl, ? I’m seriously interested since the optic system and microscope figures got be in there somewhere which is their biggest profit center? Would love to know, thank you

  19. As the saying goes, “They’ll pry that CL out of my cold, dead hands.” This camera simply works for me. Besides a few minor quibbles, it’s just right in so many ways. Alongside the CL, I’ve shot Fuji and Olympus for many years. The camera that comes closest is the Fuji X100V but that’s a single focal length which doesn’t always work for me. However, the main difference that I notice is what I call the “color science” of the CL. Leica color/processing algorithms seemed to be superior to the other two brands. I’ve shot the same scene with all three brands using similar lenses, etc and you can see a marked difference. None are bad, but the CL files are, to my eye, clearly better. I did a “blind” test showing each of the three files together on a large monitor to some friends. Hands down, they all choose the CL files.

    Thanks for this article. Perhaps I’ll get a second CL just to hold in reserve.

    Rene

    • Well appraised. I strongly recommend that you buy a second CL, not just to store, but to spread the duties, keeping it trim.

    • Great camera CL. with quibbles, but excellent use experience. Being Leica Q not far in release date, there’s a world between both. I don’t spend time in Leica stores but yesterday tried one.

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