Leica CL Camera Review
If it is the first time you hear of the name Leica CL camera then a short trip in memory lane is needed. Let’s go back forty years, to the days of the Cold war while the Berlin wall was stood strong. The year is 1973, Leica Camera is turning out some of the best film cameras in the world.
While across the ocean, at Ernst Leitz Canada (ELCAN) (Leica Canada) Dr. Walter Mandler is designing specialty lenses for US military while redefining the optical limits of lens design.
Just in that year, Leica camera release a minimalistic, compact size, competitively low priced camera to attract a new generation of mostly first-time buyers of Leica cameras. Leica Camera to reduce cost and make the new Leica CL more affordable has Minolta manufacture this new Leica CL camera in Japan.
Leica CL camera first appeared in April of 1973 and released in the Japanese market in November 1973, not as Leica CL but Leitz Minolta CL. Leica CL, the name used for other markets and Leitz Minolta CL were manufactured in Minolta’s factory in Osaka.
Sixty-five thousand serial numbers were allotted to the Leica CL camera but this number did not include the Leitz Minolta CL model. A la Leica Camera tradition, ’50 Jahre’ special edition, marking the 1975 year anniversary of Leica camera had 3500 units produced.
Fast forward to 2017, in the midst of Leica Camera’s 45% stakeholder Blackstone is looking to bail out of their shares and repeated reshuffling having a new chief executive officer, Matthias Harsch by being appointed, Leica Camera announces yet another new camera named Leica CL.
Leica Camera claims that new Leica CL camera is priced at $2750 USD plus tax (body only) to attract a new generation of photographers to Leica cameras with such features as 24.2-million-pixel APS-C sensor, 2.36-million-dot EVF, and Leica’s mirrorless TL/L mount.
Interestingly, Leica TL2 camera is priced at $1950 with identical features which also uses the same L/TL mount. For obvious reasons, the question of why a new Leica camera that costs more was needed eludes most save the top brass at Wetzlar, Germany.
Leica CL – Features
What is Leica CL camera is deep down is a Leica TL2 in a new package. The concoction to create this new camera included a 24.2-million-pixel paired with Leica’s Maestro 2 processor that offers a sensitivity range of ISO 100-50,000. A 49-point contrast-detection autofocus system is at the heart of Leica CL’s impressive 10 frames per second of continuous shooting that allows for a 33 frame buffer to record JPG and DNG RAW files. This means you can shoot about 3 seconds of continuous images in a single burst. Leica CL features a 30-1/8000sec mechanical shutter while silent electronic shutter allows 1/25,000sec image capture.
VIDEO CAPTURE & TOUCH SCREEN
Leica CL to remain competitive also offers 4K recording is at 3840 x 2160 resolution and 30fps which does not allow any manual setting except exposure compensation. There is no video output nor any audio input resulting in less than ideal video recording options especially when compared to its competition in the compact camera segment. More on that later…
There is a touchscreen menu which allows you to pull focus from a point on the screen to another but using the viewfinder conflicts with the use of this feature making it not a viable option. It is best to use either the viewfinder or the touchscreen for accurate image capture. Since Leica CL does not permit manual operation in video capture pulling focus from one point on the screen to another point will often result in shifts in exposure compensation resulting in not so pleasant exposure changes when used in video function.
For Leica CL’s intended market segment not having any control over the shutter speed, aperture or ISO with no headphone input or microphone will not be a deal breaker as most Leica camera owners prefer to shoot still images. As one review site pointed out, “If you’re serious about video there are much better cameras available, but the CL will do a reasonable job for casual shooting.”
I wholeheartedly agree with the observation.
No modern compact camera would complete without the inclusion of a built-in Wi-Fi, in this respect, Leica CL delivers image sharing, remote control from your smartphone and an app for both iOS (Apple) and Android users.
The minimalistic design of the Leica CL camera has proudly omitted such options as USB, HDMI, microphone, headphone options. The memory card is in the battery compartment meaning the only other way of transferring images is to take it out and download it or send via Wi-Fi connection.
Image stabilization which is found in just about all other compact cameras in the market is not a feature in the all-new Leica CL camera except in video capture mode. Whether you are using a native lens or an adapted lens will mean that you are somewhat limited in your options in capturing photographs in low light save if you have a tripod or set your shutter speed to compensate for potential vibrations from shutter release or hand movement.
Needless to say, all of Leica CL camera competitors offer image stabilization, some up to 4 stops for capturing images in low light circumstances. One of the benefits of image stabilization is that a lower ISO setting can be used to lower possible digital noise in images.
Leica CL does offer traditional Auto ISO setting offering some aid in reducing camera shake and subject blur from handshakes and shutter button vibration. The camera does, however, require lens-to-camera-body electronic connection to assess focal length for optimum operation for AUTO ISO setting.
Leica CL – Design and handling
The new Leica CL has some resemblance to the first generation Leica CL, at least in its sleek for, for me, it is a downsized version of Leica Q in design and perhaps in functionality. For those who are in the market for a camera with a minimalistic design with the famous red dot, Leica CL can be a useful addition to an existing line up of Leica cameras. It may also serve as a compact camera for travel when the bare minimum in demand regarding gear.
I believe if there is one important element that makes Leica CL a camera to own it is the subtle design, a perfect camera for those who like to avoid cynosure. It is exterior is made of magnesium alloy common used element in most professional quality cameras with top and bottom plates constructed from anodized aluminum. To add a sense of refinement a textured leatherette is overlaid on the Leica CL body.
A la Leica Camera tradition Leica CL features curved ends much like Leica Q and Leica M cameras which makes grasping the camera with one hand difficult. There is an optional matched bolt-on metal grip which can be purchased but requires the removal every time the battery changes is needed.
As a compact camera, it is relatively small reminiscent of Leica D-Lux cameras measuring 131 x 78 x 45mm in dimensions and weighs in at 403g. There are two dials on top with one shutter button insertion, the other with identical size insertion serving as a selection button. Overall, Leica Camera engineers have gone to great lengths to ensure the camera features as few buttons as possible. For example, the shutter button is encircled with a dial serves to set the shutter speed, aperture, and exposure compensation. The all-important ISO can be selected via the right dial while the left dial can be assigned for exposure bracketing or metering mode. Overall, it would take a person who has a fundamental knowledge of camera operations about 10 minutes to master all the functions of Leica CL camera.
The new Leica camera also has a very simplified rear panel featuring only three buttons, playback, menu and function (fn). Leica CL’s fn button comes with white balance control preset for the Fn button. There are parallels that can be found in operation control with other Leica cameras such as Leica M10 with such features as “favorites” or customisable menu all designed to ease the operations of the camera.
As in Leica M10, there is a four-way D-pad found on the right of the touchscreen which is used to navigate the menu and change settings. This intuitively simple design also lends to changing the autofocus point or to serve as a selection switch for customising “favorites” menu.
Playback button brings up the images captured allowing smartphone functionality of pinch-to-zoom, but unlike the much lower priced Leica TL2, the new Leica CL does not allow changing the setting via the touchscreen. The traditional way of browsing via buttons is utilized in Leica CL with the left dial enabling browsing through images, while the button in its center marks favorites. The right dial is used to zoom into images while the button in its center jumps straight to full magnification.
Leica CL – Despite its simple design it is a very traditional camera. In a way, can be considered tracing back to its traditional design roots away from Leica TL2’s futuristic design. This is most evident in its touchscreen operation where the ingenious design feature of Leica TL2 touchscreen menu operation is replaced by the traditional button-button-push-push design character of older menu designs. Perhaps Leica TL2’s design did not vibe well with the photography-only-please owners of traditional Leica M cameras, or maybe it is cheaper to produce the new Leica CL camera without such function that Leica Camera did not incorporate it to its design.
The new Leica CL features much loved corner-mounted viewfinder found in models like the Leica M10 camera. This alone is perhaps the most significant design feature that makes Leica CL stand apart from its competitors. Its closest sibling Leica TL2 does not have a built-in viewfinder while Leica Q has an electronic viewfinder similar to the one used in Leica CL making it the first Leica APS-C sensor camera to feature electronic viewfinder.
The viewfinder has 2.36m-dot offering a 0.74x magnification, a factor that is higher than traditional DSLR full frame cameras. When we look at the magnification ratio found on the new Leica M10, this number is very close to Leica CL’s viewfinder magnification ratio. The eyepiece comes with sizeable circular rubber resembling Leica S camera’s viewfinder which I think is a bit too large for this compact body.
There is also a 20mm eyepoint that allows easy viewing of each corner in the frame while lockable dioptre-adjustment control serves perfectly for those with failing eyesight or age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Electronic viewfinder of the new Leica CL camera has much more to offer with the option of uncluttered display or detailed information on camera settings set via simple D-pad toggle which comes handy if you are into using manual settings on this camera.
I think what makes Leica CL better in usability than most of the cameras in Leica camera line up is the incremental improvements of crucial features like the histogram or the dual axis leveler even the overexposure warning that keeps blinking if your camera has not been dialed for correct exposure.
Leica CL – Autofocus
Leica CL uses contrast based autofocus much like the Leica TL2 camera with Field and Spot modes that offer subject-tracking and face detection. While the new camera can be used via touchscreen menu to select focusing points even have a focus-release option of capturing images without the use of shutter button accuracy is dictated via a 49-point grid.
The number of focus points is one of the critical determinants of autofocus of any modern digital camera along the side of subject tracking for capturing accurate, in-focus images. Most cameras of APS-C size or even MFT offer 160 or higher number of focus points with excellent subject tracking that lends to great bokeh and three dimensional pop from the background. In this respect, 49-focus-points of the Leica CL may not yield as accurate nor as fast results as most of the cameras in the market.
Leica CL is recommended to be “purchased” with the new Leica 18mm f/2.8 TL lens which of course has almost everything –in-focus capture due to the wide angle of view. In another word, if you are going to use this 18mm lens only, Leica CL will give you that smartphone-like “we-have-everything-in-focus” look with almost no bokeh. The choice of lens for obvious reasons will help to circumvent the issues related to autofocus speed or accuracy.
If you have already watched your dose of raving Leica CL camera reviews on Youtube, you might have seen the touchscreen autofocus demonstrations with stationary subjects with relatively good lit circumstances. In these instances, Leica CL delivers accurate focus; I have yet to see one review that captures an image of a moving subject even with the ultra-wide angle lens of 18mm.
It is important to point out that the viewfinder will set the autofocus via touchscreen the viewfinder will not operate properly because Leica This means you can’t move autofocus points while looking through the viewfinder. This issue may be corrected with future firmware upgrades.
For those who wish to use this lens with manual focus, peaking will come handy as well as the 0.74x viewfinder magnification. Leica CL is a very compact camera similar to the size of an iPhone but broader which makes it ideal to use as a point and shoot camera; attempting to focus with the pancake Leica 18mm f/2.8 lens seems difficult and cumbersome due to the dimensions.
Leica CL – Performance
There is no denying that Leica CL camera is adapt for everyday use as a compact camera. It has intuitive controls and is a good performer overall especially if native TL lenses are used on the camera body.
What makes Leica CL a good camera is the fact that you can use Leica lenses on the camera body which are probably some of the best lenses in the world. I personally love the color renditions, and character Leica lenses yield regardless of which camera is used.
Since Leica CL is a modern camera, it has some of the latest technological innovations incorporated into its design including accurate light metering, high-quality viewfinder, and touchscreen panel that incorporates some of the advancements borrowed from smartphone design.
As a professional tool, I like the focus peaking feature and clip highlights which will aid in circumstances where the screen can’t be seen to easily. The histogram is another feature that makes the camera a useful tool for enthusiasts and Leica fans. The images captured in RAW /DNG can be protected against blown highlights while providing a sensible dynamic range that allows adjustments in post.
Leica CL camera also allows options when capturing images such as in monochrome or vivid mode or altering the saturation or other settings to suit personal taste. In my opinion for those who don’t wish to lug around a much heavier Leica M camera can achieve very similar results by using Leica CL in most photography applications.
One of the bragging points that surfaced when Leica CL camera was announced was the fact that it could capture a high number of frames in continuous shooting mode. That, of course, is true but the camera’s buffer is limited to 33 frames which means you will not capture fast action sports such as sprints, horse races or slamdunks for more than 3 seconds at a burst.
The issue is the buffer which in when Leica CL camera is used in burst mode live view display does not work but has a slideshow of images captured. This may not be a concern for those who are photographing stationary subjects, but if you are attempting to capture images of moving subjects, this will be a severe drawback.
Leica cameras always had a behind-the-competition track record for buffer size and speed and issues stemming from a slower buffer is not only a concern for when you are capturing images but also when playing back what you have captured. For example, when using the playback mode the touchscreen with zoom for images, scrolling back and forth feels slow especially when compared to smartphones or other state of the art compact cameras. It may not be a deal breaker for those who absolutely must have the red dot on the front of the camera but for a multitude of reasons may not be something that most professionals are comfortable as having with their cameras.
Leica CL – Image quality
Leica CL camera offers what is considered the optimum balance for the number of pixels for an APS-C size lens and performance. In this respect, if you are examining and cross-references all the latest APS-C size sensor cameras the standard is about 24MP which is 24.2MP for Leica CL camera. Of course, many camera companies roll out new cameras every year implementing their latest technologies which have included 24MP APS-C sensors about two years ago.
Leica cameras have always delivered exceptional image quality at native ISO settings, Leica CL is no different in that it offers superb results with no noticeable noise at camera’s native ISO setting. Image quality remains relatively good up to 1600 ISO which is where I would do everything else but pushes the ISO levels higher. This is because I find that digital noise is not like film grain causing smudging and undesirable artifacts.
The new Leica CL camera identical low light performance a the Leica TL2 camera that delivers an acceptable level of noise when dialed up to 3200 ISO beyond this number quality of the images deteriorate rapidly. The good news is there is plenty of details in the shadows so images can be tweaked to pull more detail in the post.
A Look at The New Kit Lens – Leica Elmarit-TL 18mm f/2.8
There is no question that Leica camera has delivered yet another high-quality lens to the market with the introduction of Leica Elmarit-TL 18mm f/2.8. Although at F/2.8 the lens can be considered slow it delivers good resolving power making it especially suited to be used with the new Leica CL camera.
The answer can be found on the ring around the front lens element it reads Leica.
I like to think of Leica lenses as lenses in a different category of their own, for example, there are lenses for APS-C sensor camera that are fast delivering f/1.8 aperture with incredible sharpness and detail. These lenses are not designed for use with Leica cameras nor are they adaptable via adapters, thus, Leica lenses are in a category of their own. Leica Elmarit-TL 18mm f/2.8 lens is no exception to this rule, while some of the lenses for the Leica TL/T/TL2 cameras were made in Japan. Leica camera ensures that the quality is stellar to deliver accurate results.
Not really, Leica M10 camera costs $6895, a comparable 18mm lens, Leica Super-Elmar-M 18mm f/3.8 ASPH lens is priced at $2995. The total of a lens and camera combination comes to around $10000 USD. You can achieve just about the same results with the new Leica CL camera and the 18mm kit lens, not to mention that the Leica Super-Elmar-M 18mm at f/3.8 is as fast as a speed of a tortoise for a lens. Yes, it is sharp, yes, it is a Leica lens but in low light “forget-about-it.” In another word, getting a Leica Elmarit-TL 18mm f/2.8 is not even a question of making a prudent purchasing decision it is a logical one.
Leica lenses are beautiful, Leica Elmarit-TL 18mm f/2.8 is no exception, well-built with excellent optical performance. I have handled many lenses in my lifetime that are also well-built and perform spectacularly. But, I have never read a more laden laud as one review I have read on this lens, it goes, “It’s so drop-dead gorgeous that you might find yourself contemplating selling your vital organs on the black market to raise the funds.”
Whether you want to trade your vital organs on the black market or not, I like the conclusion that the same review draws out later on, “Rationally it’s still far too expensive for what’s on offer, but rationality isn’t necessarily the name of the game with Leica. It’s a brand for people who know what they want, and have the money to afford it.”
I think it sums up the view of some reviewers accurately as well as mine.
So why do I like them?
Because they are great tools for me in my professional work. Sometimes it is necessary to be discreet and have a compact camera. I have shot an entire published work titled “Doors” on a Leica TL2 camera. It does work for me.
Leica Review is an independent review site, it is not sponsored by a Leica Camera. Our reviews are unbiased so you will not receive this review along with the official Leica CL camera announcement nor will you see it promoted on the vast network of Leica Camera’s marketing machinery. We are not dependent on revenues from items you purchase through the links on our site either which means we can always let you know the pros and cons of each Leica Camera product.
Leica CL camera will not be an addition to my Leica cameras. When there is Leica TL2 delivering better results for less it is not a logical decision to buy a Leica CL camera. I see it as Leica Camera’s desire to offer more products to improve their bottom line.
I would recommend that you buy a Leica TL2 or a Leica X-U camera for as good or better performance and with the amount saved you can take a photography workshop like the ones I give around the world. This would be the smart choice.
If you are in the market to buy any of the Leica Camera products mentioned in this article you can check out the links below.
For my upcoming 2018 photography workshops, here are the links
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