The Leica CL

Feb 8, 2018  By Jonathan Slack
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When I was an impoverished student in London in the 70s I used to cycle past a camera shop in Paddington (I’ve long since forgotten the name and I imagine that it has long since disappeared). In the window was a Leica CL. I lusted after it, once or twice I went inside to fondle it, but usually it just got a wistful glance as I cycled by.

I’ve often considered buying a CL in the intervening years, but by the time I could afford a Leica I bought a used M6ttl and the lure of the CL faded.

If you want to read more about the original CL, there’s a good article on Wikipedia (wikipedia.org/wiki/Leica_CL).

Forty years have passed, and I’ve just spent 4 months with Leica’s new CL, the philosophy is demonstrably the same; Small and perfectly formed, with excellent compact lenses designed with an ability to use all the M lenses (and in the case of the new CL all the SL and R lenses as well).

It may seem strange to be producing another new camera so soon after the excellent TL2, but although still definitely a product of “Das Wesentliche” the CL is aimed at a different audience, or at least a different mood. It’s much more of a traditional photographer’s camera; a little brother of the SL, or possibly a big sister to the X camera range.

As usual I should point out that as a camera tester for Leica it is my duty to tell Leica what is wrong with the camera. I am not an unbiased third party! On the other hand, I will never write anything which I do not believe to be the case and as far as I can remember Leica have only ever asked me to say one thing, which is relevant here as well: “Remember – If you are in autofocus mode you can always adjust the focus with the manual focus ring whilst half-pressing the shutter”.

I have tried to describe the camera as clearly as possible, often giving the settings I have chosen to use. Hopefully this might be of help both to those deciding whether to buy the camera, but also to those who have just bought it.

The camera I have been testing is a prototype model, and the images have been taken with various iterations of the firmware (right up to and including the production firmware). I’m aware that there have been small improvements to the final body, and you should bear in mind that many of the images have been taken with pre-production firmware.

DESIGN

I’m fascinated by the divisions and similarities of design between different cameras at the moment. With image quality being universally excellent the haptics and ergonomics seem to be increasingly relevant. To this end, in the last six months I’ve shot extensively with the Leica M10, SL, M9, MM, TL2, Olympus OMD EM1ii, Fujifilm X-T2, Sony RX10iv, Nikon D810 and (very briefly) with the Nikon D850, the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and the Panasonic G7.

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