Leica CL – A Feel Good Camera
Last week, I presented a video in our Leica Story series with Maike Harberts, Product Manager for APS at Leica. She covered Leica’s APS-C Line and surprised us with the introduction of the Leica CL. It didn’t seem that long ago (July 2017) when Leica introduced the Leica TL – the other Leica APS-C camera.
The Leica TL was pretty innovative as it had clean lines, no accessory ports and a unique tile menu system. However, it had no rangefinder and that was one of the most requested features. It did have an auxiliary viewfinder that could be attached on to the accessory shoe, but in the end, it was costly and clunky.
Leica certainly was not asleep at the wheel and a few months later (November 2017), the company introduced the Leica CL. This is the camera the TL should have been. Paying tribute to the historical Leica cameras, the new Leica TL takes its design inspiration from Oskar Barnack and some of the company’s most iconic cameras from the last century.
Lens Mount – Leica L
Camera Format – APS-C (1.5x Crop Factor)
Pixels – Actual: 24.96 Megapixel – Effective: 24.24 Megapixel
Max Resolution – 6016 x 4014
Aspect Ratio – 3:2
Sensor Type / Size – CMOS, 23.6 x 15.7 mm
File Formats – -Still Images: DNG, JPEG – -Movies: MP4
Memory Card Type- -SD – SDHC – SDXC
Video Recording – Yes
Video Format – 3840 x 2160p at 30 fps – 1920 x 1080p at 30, 60 fps – 1280 x 720p at 30 fps
Aspect Ratio – 16:9
Video Clip Length – Up to 29 Min
Audio Recording – From Internal Microphone only
Focus Type – Auto & Manual
Focus Mode – Continuous-Servo AF (C), Manual Focus (M), Single-servo AF (S)
Autofocus Points – Contrast Detection: 49
Viewfinder Type – Electronic
Viewfinder Pixel Count – 2,360,000
Viewfinder Eye Point – 20.00 mm
Viewfinder Coverage – 100%
Viewfinder Magnification – Approx. 0.74x
Diopter Adjustment – -4 to +4 m
Display Screen – 3″ Rear Touchscreen LCD (1,040,000)
Screen Coverage – 100%
ISO Sensitivity – Auto, 100-50000
Shutter – Type: Mechanical – Speed: 30 – 1/8000 Second – Type: Electronic – Speed: 1/8000 – 1/25000 Second
Metering Method – Center-Weighted Average Metering, Spot Metering
Exposure Modes – Modes: Aperture Priority, Auto, Manual, Program, Shutter Priority
Compensation: -3 EV to +3 EV (in 1/3 EV Steps)
White Balance Modes – Auto, Cloudy, Color Temperature, Custom, Daylight, Flash, Halogen, Shade
Buffer/Continuous Shooting – Up to 10 fps at 24.2 MP for up to 33 Frames in Raw Format – Up to 10 fps at 24.2 MP for up to 140 Frames in JPEG Format
Flash Modes -Not specified
Built-in Flash – No
Max Sync Speed – 1 / 180 Second
Flash Compensation – -3 EV to +3 EV (in 1/3 EV steps)
Dedicated Flash System – TTL
External Flash Connection – Hot Shoe
Self Timer – 12 Seconds, 2 Seconds
Connectivity – HDMI D (Micro), USB 3.0, USB Type-C
Wi-Fi Capable – Yes
Battery – 1 x BP-DC12 Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery Pack, 7.2 VDC, 1200 mAh
Dimensions (W x H x D) – 5.2 x 3.1 x 1.8″ / 131.0 x 78.0 x 45.0 mm
Weight – 14.22 oz / 403 g with battery
Kit Lens- Focal Length 18mm – Comparable 35mm Focal Length: 27 mm
Aperture – Maximum: f/2.8 – Minimum: f/16
Angle of View – 75°
Minimum Focus Distance – 11.81″ (30 cm)
Maximum Reproduction Ratio – 1:14
Elements/Groups – 8 / 6
Autofocus – Yes
Filter Thread – Front: 39 mm
Dimensions (DxL) – Approx. 2.40 x 0.83″ (61 x 21 mm)
Weight – 2.82 oz (80 g)
My Experience With The Leica CL
I had the chance to shoot with the prototype CL (code-named Clooney) while in Germany and then during my last few weeks here in the US. The first thing you notice when holding the camera for the first time is how different the camera feels from other cameras like it. Once again, Leica has reduced the number of buttons and especially the labels for the buttons. There are three buttons on the back of the camera and two dials with push buttons inside them on the top. There is also the shutter release and the power on-off switch.
In between the two dials is a small LCD display that gives an indication of the settings based on the shooting mode you are in. More on that in a minute.
The only external door is for the battery and SD card at the bottom of the camera. There are no ports for the microphone, headphone, USB, HDMI or any other port. The camera is sealed tight.
The standout difference of the new CL is the addition of a viewfinder. And, what a nice viewfinder it is. Leica calls this viewfinder an EyeRes Viewfinder with 2.36 million dots. It’s a gorgeous and bright viewfinder that makes composing and taking pictures a joy.
I’m a right-eyed guy and the viewfinder is placed on the left of the camera. It has a cool bump in the body design with a super useful diopter adjustment dial next to it. To adjust it, you pull it out, adjust it to your preferred setting, and push it back in to lock it. I wish more camera companies would use this kind of adjustment dial. It would be set and forget. I can’t tell you how much time I spend adjusting diopters on other cameras. This convenience is something we have come to expect from Leica’s superb engineering and design.
The rear of the camera body has three buttons on the left – Play, FN and Menu. On the right side of the viewfinder, there is a multi-function dial with four navigation arrows and a push button in the center. The rear screen, to my disappointment, is not articulating. It would have been nice to have a tilt screen. This seems to be something Leica has yet to put on any of their cameras. The screen, however, is touch-sensitive, but only for certain functions. Compared to many of Leica’s recent cameras, such as the SL which is a heavy camera, the CL feels light and comfortable in your hands.
You can tell a lot of thought has gone into the design of the camera and its ergonomics. In many ways, this camera feels and acts like an “M” camera and the sound of the shutter is just perfect. While this may seem like kind of a silly thing, the shutter is the best sounding Leica shutter there is.
The APS-C sensor is a 24mp sensor. The internal Maestro II series processor makes auto-focusing fast under normal lighting conditions. There are 49 metering points and several different focus modes. I found AF to be good except in low light where the camera did a lot of hunting before locking on focus.
Speaking of focus, you can select from Spot and Field focus modes as well as single and continuous AF. This is not unlike most cameras. The issue for me is that you have to go to the menu to make the changes. This is unlike some other cameras where you can set the type of AF as well as SF and CF directly from the dials or switches found on the camera body. Here, you have to go into the menu to set up the type of AF with the Leica CL. There is also an auto-tracking feature that works OK but not like I have experienced with other cameras. I almost forgot to mention, there is also a Face Detection AF mode.
A Look At The Leica CL Menus
One of the nice features of the CL is that the rear screen is touch sensitive. You can touch where you want the camera to focus on. This worked OK but this is the age of joysticks and a joystick would have been ideal. You can also use the navigation buttons on the rear of the camera to move the AF point around.
The rear screen and using gestures allow you to switch to full-screen displays, such as when you switch from shooting stills to video.
The screen is very sensitive, so you can do a single tap, double tap etc. In play mode, a double tap will zoom into 100%. You can swipe and also do a two-finger swipe, or pinch, much like the way we interact with mobile devices. Once you get the hang of this, it is a nice feature. A feature I liked was that in shooting mode, you can take the histogram window and reposition it to another location on the screen. You can also set the rear screen to touch where you want the AF to be, as well as take the exposure.
The CL has two shutter types. There is a mechanical shutter with shutter speeds from 30 seconds to 1/8000th of a second, and an electronic shutter that can be used from 30 seconds to 1/25,000th of a second. I used both types but preferred the mechanical shutter simply because I enjoy the sound of a shutter opening and closing.
The camera has a frame rate with continuous shooting of 10 frames per second. You can set the shutter frame rate to low, medium or high speed. I kept it on medium for most of what I shot. I did a high-speed sequence with AF on continuous tracking of a tractor-trailer driving by. As mentioned above, unlike other cameras, setting these settings was not as fast as it is on other camera makes.
The camera records a DNG RAW as well as JPEG in three sizes. I shot at DNG and JPEG – Large. White balance was used by me on auto the whole time but you can select from seven different white balances.
The beauty of the CL is that you can use an adapter to use M, SL, L and R lenses. This encompasses a great number of lenses. I envision many M and SL users will opt for this camera as their smaller camera to keep close by, as it allows them to use any of their existing lenses. I know a friend who used the M lenses on the CL and loved the whole experience.
Speaking of lenses, I had only one lens to use during my testing. The newest lens that was part of the CL kit I was testing with was the 18mm Elmarit TL f/2.8. It’s a pancake lens and very small and very light. It’s equivalent to a 27mm full frame lens. For a lot of what I wanted to shoot, it was too wide. There are currently seven different lenses available in the TL lenses line up. I would have preferred the 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 as my main lens. The lens performed well and the image quality from the lens seems excellent. You can see a number of examples below. Click on any image to see it at 100%.
A nice and innovative feature of the CL is the two dials with push buttons on the top of the camera. Using the two dials can be a bit tricky and it may take you a few attempts to master it. But, once you get the hang of how the dials function, you learn to appreciate the simplicity as well as the functionality of the design.
The illustration below shows how the dials change for each different shooting mode. You can also use the dials to set ISO. Pushing the left button, you can then use the left dial to set the shooting mode. Sounds confusing but you do get it figured out pretty quickly.
During my use of the camera, I shot 60% of the images on Aperture Priority. I used the Auto ISO setting and selected the f/stop I wanted. The lens, even when wide open, has a good depth of field. If I found the histogram and metering going low or high, I found it very easy to use the exposure compensation feature to balance things out. All in all, it was really easy.
A surprise feature of the camera is its interval timer function. It makes doing time-lapse photography fairly easy. There are other higher-end cameras out there that don’t offer this feature, so kudos to Leica.
I didn’t use the video feature as I found it limited and I wouldn’t use the camera for that feature. It’s nice though that you can do video. Remember there is no external microphone jack or USB or HDMI output. The video capabilities are pretty basic and good for quick video captures. The chart below shows the three resolutions available as well as frame rates. The microphones for video capture are the two holes on top of the camera.
What I do like is that switching from Still to Video shooting is a screen swipe away, using a gesture on the rear screen.
In my discussion with Leica, they said they are focusing heavily on connectivity to mobile devices. The CL and many of their cameras now work well with that. There is an app specifically for the CL camera in the App store and it is available to download for Android and IOS devices. I did use this feature and it worked pretty darn well. It allows you to pair the camera with your mobile device using an OCR code on the back of the camera. Once again, this may take a try or two to get it right but once you get the procedure, it is a fun and useful feature to have.
Finally, there is the LCD screen on top of the camera. This screen is really small and gives some basic shooting and functionality. It has a cool feature too that backlights the LCD when it is in the dark. This screen normally when in shooting mode displays f/stop, shooting mode and shutter speed. You can also see exp. compensations, a shooting mode selection as well as the battery status. It’s a great addition to the camera and follows suit with the SL LCD screen.
The Leica CL is a change and a refreshing one. The first thing you notice when you pick up the camera is how different it feels from any other camera out here.
Leica has over the last few years dared to go where other camera companies haven’t gone – especially with design. They have introduced a camera with no labels. They have innovated menu design and how we as photographers interact with their cameras. The CL is part of that revolution. The smooth no-hatch or port design with two dials with push buttons is totally different. It constitutes a paradigm shift in the way we interact with our cameras.
At first, I was put off by it. It wasn’t familiar and it took a little while to get used to it. Kind of like when the first iPhone was introduced. We didn’t quite get it at first but we quickly caught on. The Leica CL is fun to use and shoot with. It brings the same mystique as the M10 did when I shot with it. I am sure most readers expect a camera that does everything. The cameras of today are so smart and so feature-rich – and frankly, also fairly affordable.
Leica did not let these existing thoughts stand in their way. They let their design team and engineers lose and created a different camera. While it misses some features we all have come to expect, like image stabilization and 4K video with many shooting options, it hasn’t forgotten its roots as well as the fact that it is a camera.
If you are already a Leica owner and user, you’ll instantly respect the camera for what it is. If you are new to Leica, it will take you a bit to catch on, but when you do, you’ll enjoy the experience that comes with using this camera. The CL will be the second camera for M and SL owners. You can use your lenses on the camera with an adapter and not have to buy new lenses. This is the camera that when you’re going out to dinner or an event, you’ll grab first. If you like to do street photography, it will be a great camera.
Using silent (electronic shutter) mode, you can shoot pictures without drawing attention to yourself. The camera is small enough such that you can use a wrist strap and keep the camera down at your side until you are ready to shoot. It’s fast and responsive when you raise it up. The viewfinder is beautiful and because it is set to the left side of the camera, you won’t be smearing your rear screen with nose grease. The touchscreen adds fast functionality for setting focus points or switching modes.
You can playback images and using pinching, zoom into a part of an image for inspection or zoom out to light table mode. It’s all rather cool and fun once you get used to it.
The downer is the price, but that is not unexpected. The Leica CL with the 18mm lens as tested by me will run you $3,795.00 USD. In today’s world of cameras, there are a lot of options with more features for less. But, that is true for anything Leica.
If you have been watching our continuing series on the Leica Story, you’ll come to understand that Leica is pretty smart at knowing their customer demographic. They clearly don’t want to be like everyone else. Their products are clearly targeted for an audience who is not your everyday consumer. They are so successful that they are on a continual back order for their M series of cameras. The CL is positioned and priced to be very attractive to an existing and new audience.
Price aside, it is a fun camera to shoot with. I sorely miss image stabilization. If you use one of the Leica lenses with IS, then IS will work with the CL.
This is the kind of camera that is small enough and easy enough to use that you will want to keep it with you all the time. If you are a Leica aficionado, then this camera will be a must-have for you. For others, this is a great entry-level Leica and you will surely be hooked on shooting with a Leica.
Once more thing . . . image quality. While this is very subjective, the look of a Leica CL file has its own uniqueness. There is a smooth and hard to define but very obvious feel of a Leica file and especially one from the CL. This is a fun camera and well designed and just different enough to be intriguing.
The Leica CL Camera is available from B&H Photo. By clicking this link you help support the Luminous-Landscape website
Sample Image Gallery
The gallery below is an ISO test. You can click on any image to see it at 100% and move around the image with your mouse. You can navigate to the next image using the left or right arrow keys in the middle of the image. You can return to the article by clicking on the arrow key on the top left. You can make your own judgment about ISO performance.
The images below are various photos shot during my time with the camera. You can click on any image to see it at 100% and navigate around the image with your mouse. You can move from one image to another using the arrow keys on the left and right side of the images. You can return to the article by clicking on the top left arrow.