Leica CL - First look and thoughts... / by nicole struppert

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As Oskar Barnack began the development the first Leica in the early years of the last century, his goal was to construct a camera that would unite compact size, easy handling and superior picture quality without any compromises. A bit more than one week ago, Leica presented the digital version - the Leica CL, an APS-C system camera with 24 MP. 

When I heard of the new CL I was very curious. How would the image quality compare to the Leica Q? Would it be interesting to change my system? I love the Q but from time to time I wish to have the advantages of using different focal lengths. With the new CL you can attach all Leica TL, M, SL & R lenses - which is fab!

I was very delighted when the team of the Leica store in Munich offered me to test the new Leica CL with the brand new 18 mm Elmarit 2.8 ASPH lens for the weekend.

Here are my impressions and thoughts of the brand new CL. This is not a technical review, it is just about my personal thoughts about the handling and output of the camera. Getting to know a camera needs much more time - one weekend is not enough, but it helps to figure out if the camera would be interesting enough to consider a purchase.

Leica CL

Leica CL

First impression

Like any Leica camera the CL has a superb build quality. The body is smaller than the Leica Q and slightly thinner. The camera with the Pancake lens is so small that it fits easily into a pocket. For my opinion the CL is a bit to slim - sometimes I had had the feeling the CL would slip out of my hand. My recommendation would be to get a grip.

Viewfinder & AF

The viewfinder is fantastic. Bright and responsive - no lag of time. The autofocus is snappy and precise. My impression was the the AF was slightly snappier than my Leica Q.

Controls

The worklow of the CL is totally different of the Leica Q. On top of the CL you have two new control dials and in between a small display which shows the shooting mode. 

With the left dial you set the shooting mode. Depending on the shooting mode you can see also the aperture set, the time or the exposure compensation.  Pressing the control dial on the right activates a function you can configure. It is like a second FN Button of the camera. It may sound a bit complicated but it isn’t. Once you understood the workflow of the CL everything makes sense. 

I sometimes had some issues with the control dials. I must have changed the right control dial a few times without noticing it and so my settings changed. It would have been better to put kind of a click wheel on the right site. I didn't have an instruction manual of the CL, but I have heard that there must be a setting in the menu to change it.

Manual Focus

The CL will be most used in AF mode, but as with my Q I prefer to have full control and so I use the manual focus a lot. The downside of the CL is, that you have to get into the menu to change the settings for MF. I wished that there would be a possibility to change this setting with the control dials. But maybe this will come with a software update in the future...

Manual focusing works perfect. Like with the Q, the CL provides a 3x and 6x magnifier and focus peaking as focusing aids. I had the feeling that the focus peaking had a bit more contrast than with the Q. In the Leica Store we added a M lens on the CL and the focusing was easy and smooth.

Image Quality

I shot in DNG & Jpeg (B&W) Mode - The CL performs very well and the Image quality is very good, but not superbe like with the Leica Q. The images of the Q are much more detailed and sharper, which might come from the full frame sensor and the excellent 28mm Summilux lens. 

However it was no problem to restore the shadows and highlights in Capture One. I am sure there would be a difference while using other lenses on the CL.

Leica CL, 100 % crop(click to see full size)

Leica Q, 100% crop (click to see full size)

Final thoughts.

The CL is a great little camera and fun to use. It is small, responsive and you can use all Leica lenses. For me the workflow was a bit to „complicated“. For me Leica stands for craftsmanship and focusing on the essential. The CL is a beautiful, a very well made modern camera but with to many setting possibilities. When I photograph I want to concentrate on the essential, the picture and the composing. I know exactly where I need to change my settings without looking to the camera. That is why I love to shoot with a Rangefinder or the Q.

I am sure you will get used to the workflow of the Leica CL, but for me the CL didn’t fit to my personal workflow. However, there is also a price fact. The CL without a lens costs 2.490 €. Add the 18mm Pancake lens for 1190€ you pay 3.680 € for this combo. This is a lot of money for a camera with an APS-C sensor. Of course you get a very well build camera, a good image quality and the red dot on top, but I have to admit I wouldn’t pay so much money for it. 

I’d rather add 500 € for the Leica Q, with the superbe Image quality, the 28 mm Summilux and the full frame sensor. 

If this is to much money for you, I highly recommend the Fuji X.series with the APS-C sensor. Fuji has a lot of good lenses and the systems are more affordable. At the end of the day, you must be happy with your camera and the image quality and then it doesn't matter which brand you choose ;)...

If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch with me. I am happy to help!