The Leica CL Digital Camera Review 2017. Is this a REAL Mini M?

The Leica CL Digital Camera Review 2017. Is this a REAL Mini M?

By Steve Huff

Yes indeed my friends out there in camera land. The Leica CL has landed! It is indeed real, has been in my hands for the last two weeks and yes I have been enjoying the heck out of it for all of this time. Around 3 weeks ago Leica contacted me and asked if I could do a Skype chat. Usually this means something new is on the horizon and this time, with rumors flying around about the new “CL”, I had a feeling that this Skype chat would be a good one. But who here remembers the original ANALOG CL? I do, and I used to own one and even did a video overview of it many years ago (Seven years ago). See that video HERE for a refresh, but if you watch only one video..see the one below ON THE NEW CL FOR 2017 because I have been using it for the last two weeks and have a few things to say…

Watch this FIRST! My video review of the NEW LEICA CL! Watch, Share and Enjoy! 

This video goes over the camera and my thoughts after 2 weeks of use, shows some video footage shot by the CL and I also share loads of images shot with the camera. 

The Modern Rebirth of a Classic

The original analog Leica CL is a classic camera from the 1970’s that I actually used to own. I bet that some of you may have owned one as well. I am certain that those of you here reading this, with an interest in Leica, at least KNOWS about the old CL. To some out there who shot this old film camera from the 70’s, it was their favorite Leica analog film camera of all time. To others it was just a cute little version of the Leica M. Yes indeed, when the original Leica CL was released, it was in a way, a cheaper, smaller M system camera. A MINI M. It had an M mount, and was a very nice little rangefinder camera. It was created in collaboration with Minolta back in the day to help create a way to get into the M system in a more affordable way. It was released with the then new 40mm f/2 Summicron, which I owned later in life and found to be a decent lens but not as good as the 35 and 50 Summicrons we all know and love.

So did Leica recreate the old CL in digital form for the end of 2017? Well, YES and NO! This post and video will go over the new camera, its features, what it offers and of course, I will share some images I snapped over the last two weeks. But yes indeed, the new digital CL is here but it is not a true Mini M as it does not have a rangefinder nor is it M mount or full frame. But even so, I suggest you read on to hear about my experience with this little Leica GEM.

So here we are now, November 2017 and inching our way into 2018. Digital camera tech has peaked in some areas (IQ) and is starting to really take off in others (speed, AF, etc). Many cameras today are filled with so much tech, and in my opinion, TOO much in some cameras. Today there are cameras with 10 page menus, and several sub menu pages hidden within. I STRONGLY prefer (personally) when cameras keep it as simple as possible, as IMO, it really enhances the enjoyment we get from using a camera. The simpler it is, the better it can be when out and about. When this happens we tend to use our cameras more, and therefore come away with many more images and some we would have never captured otherwise. So yes indeed this new CL is simple, small, can use almost any Leica lens (native and adapted) and this time around we get the full Leica treatment with style, and control. Yes, this is a good thing.

Cameras are indeed extensions of our own mind, eyes and even thoughts. It allows others to see what WE see. We can share our visions, our creativity, and our emotions all through photographs. I do not know about you, but for me, when I have a camera that I bond with I enjoy the process so much more than if I use a camera that means nothing to me. It’s part psychology, part emotion and part love for what it is that we do.

Reflections…Leica CL and 18mm f/2.8 – click image for larger

Leica has always excelled in this area. With minimal menus, minimal buttons and designs that offers the photographer only what they need and want in controls, well, for me that makes almost any Leica a joy to shoot. My faves in the Leica line up have been the M, SL, and the Q. At least for my tastes. It seems these days that Leica tries all kinds of new things in hopes something sticks. They have had success with the M and the Q over the last year or two. Two very successful, gorgeous and well reviewed cameras. The SL, as good as it is, has seen some sales success it seems but I feel those large AF lenses are holding it back, which is why I shot it with M lenses when I owned one ; ) See, small is usually preferred by myself, and honestly, if I can get a small yet powerful camera that can do what I need, I am all in.

The Mini M

So the new CL is here and once again I am hearing the term “Mini M”? Who here remembers when the X Vario was released and Leica touted it as a “Mini M”? I do, and I was not thrilled with that as the X Vario was not anything like an M, besides the shape of the body. It did not have IC lenses, did not use M lenses and was APS-C as well as being slow and quirky at the time. The IQ is and was stellar (in good light) with it but at the time I preferred the M by far.  You can see my review of that camera HERE.  BTW, you can sometimes find the now discontinued X Vario used, and at a great price over at B&H Photo HERE. 

The CL, as a Mini M..well, it does better than the X Vario IMO because first and foremost we can use M lenses with it, as it has that capability (The X Vario did not)! While being a TL mount camera (which is smart for Leica to do over making it an M mount) we can easily use M lenses on the camera with the Leica TL to M adapter. Being an APS-C Sensor means we will not have issues with the corners of the lenses, or funky colors in the edges. In fact M lenses work amazing on the camera and because of that, the CL had me falling for it over and over again. With that said, the little and new 18mm f/2.8 (27mm FOV) also delivered a few cool shots…

Shooting a Rooster with the CL and 18mm F/2.8 – Click it for larger! Shot at f/2.8.

I shot this camera with this new 18mm f/2.8 AF TL mount lens, and three “more affordable” M mount lenses. The Voigtlander lenses, the 35 1.7 Ultron and 50 f/1.5 Nokton as well as the 100mm f/2.8 Meyer Optik Trioplan which gave me nice results as well. Where I found this camera to really shine is with little M lenses. It felt amazing and the EVF experience helped so much (compared to the T series) and when out and about, I felt as if I was shooting a “REAL LEICA” because I was ; ) That vintage style and feel and control…ahhhhhhh!

While not to the build and feel of an M, it still feels nice. Light, small, and SNAPPY as can be in performance when using AF lenses. With the 18mm, the AF was fast, quick, and accurate. It is also quite the handsome camera.

This may be the camera many have been waiting for Leica to release. It comes in at $4200 less than an M, has a built in EVF, can use ANY Leica lens made on it either natively (TL) or via adapters sold by Leica and 3rd Parties. Want to use an M, R, TL or vintage screw mount RF lens? No problem. While I know many wished for a small full frame M mount “Mini M”, Leica could not do that as it would kill their M sales, and they probably could not create one and sell for less than $5k, so I feel they made the right move here with the CL, as it is. It keeps it lower priced and more accessible as well as making it more versatile and without focus issues or having a RF that needs adjusting every year or two.

The controls are beautiful, the design is pure simplicity and small in size and the feel is very nice (if not a teeny bit too small). The built-in EVF is a HUGE welcome addition. We have only been asking for a built in EVF for what? 5 years? Lol. But is it a real Mini M? Well, no not really for the reasons I have already stated. It’s EVF vs RF, it’s APS-C vs Full Frame and it is TL Mount and not an M mount. Even so, it feels like a modern day mini M when shooting it with M lenses.

This image with the CL and Voigtlander 50 1.5 Nokton M mount. Below that, Debby shot with the 10mm f/2.8

So WHY TL Mount? 

I feel Leica made the right choice here with the TL mount and APS-C sensor for this camera. If you shoot or own an M, SL, S, X or ANY Leica, this camera would make an awesome backup or solution for when you want small, fun, and powerful IQ. With the TL mount Leica was able to bring us AUTO FOCUS, and pretty quick AF at that. We have many TL lenses these days to choose from, so if you are in an Auto Focus mood, slap on a 35 1.4 T and you will have amazing beautiful IQ, with that Summilux signature and AF. That lens is gorgeous and THE ONE lens I would buy for AF with the CL. See my review of the 35 1.4 Tl lens HERE if you have missed it. 

You can expect that IQ, if not a bit better with the CL. That lens is one of TWO TL lenses made in Germany and it’s a true Leica in IQ and performance.

If Leica made this CL with an M mount, we would not be able to use the TL lenses and many would skip the camera as some are not manual focus fans. So by making the camera with the TL mount, we now can use ANY Leica lens we desire on the camera and use it with AF when we get the itch. I love M lenses on the CL, as shooting with them not only FEELS right, it’s so easy to expand the MF area for perfect pinpoint focus. Just turn the thumb dial up top closest to your thumb and BINGO! Focus aid kicks in and magnifies the view. Turn it again and it expands even more. This makes manual focus so easy on the CL. Using any manual lens is a breeze.

With APS-C over full frame we get a more speedy, more responsive camera as well. Auto Focus is fast, and while not for sports or action, it is the best/snappiest AF in a Leica I have seen to date. The 24 MP sensor inside is the same as the one in the TL2 and provides astounding color accuracy if you desire that. The IQ follows in the same tradition as the TL2, Q and even M in some ways. Low light is very good as well and while I only went to ISO 10k outside in the real world, there is little noise for 10K in the dark.

ISO 10,000 at night, after the successful launch of Beers and Cameras Phoenix! 

Click it for larger but this is an out of camera JPEG.

The Leica CL which was code named “Clooney” surprised me in some areas and while my experience with it was much better than expected, I struggled to find a true weakness. I mean, the form factor is nice and if you enjoy Leica’s design and style, it is reminiscent of the older smaller Leica 35mm cameras. It’s image quality is different from most other cameras as each brand has their own “signature” look. They all do. Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fuji, Olympus, Panasonic. So the CL IQ is beautiful. I wish I was able to take it somewhere nice, where I could have taken some gorgeous photos but for this test, I do what I normally do for reviews. Take shots that show off the color, the details, low light, and convey my thoughts on use..handling, speed, EVF, battery, etc. I hope to give you an idea of what the camera is like via test photos and words.

Just a test for color accuracy. I find the color from the CL is more accurate to the eyes than my Sony or Olympus cameras. This scene below is exactly as I remember it in regards to color. Spot on.

As for me, I am happy Leica chose the TL mount as they offer some fantastic TL lenses and it is better to have a body that can use ANY Leica lens vs only M lenses. It’s very versatile for a Leica and that is good.

The Leica Mixer

When you sit down and think about it, this camera is like a mix between the older X2, the Q, and the TL2 with some old school charm built in. It’s shaped like the older X2 and has the size of the older X2. It has the latest 24MP APS-C sensor that resides in the TL2, yet it offers a better EVF experience, and it has that unique but recognizable Leica feel that Leica fans have come to love. The IQ reminds me a lot of the Q even though that is full frame. It’s that sharp output with colors that POP without going overboard and a filmic kind of style to the IQ. NO ONE can say Leica offers shoddy image quality, as they do not. The IQ from the CL continues the tradition they have set down the line with most of their models. In fact, today, the only model in the lineup that offers a different style of IQ is the SL, which is more like the older M 240 in IQ and color.

The 18mm f/2.8 Bokeh Test ; ) Wide open.

As mentioned, I have tested it with the new 18mm f/2.8 which is tiny and borderline pancake in size. I have also used it with the M adapter along with a couple lenses I had rented to try out, the Voigtlander 35 1.7 Ultron and the Voigtlander 50 f/1.5 Nokton. Both beautiful lenses that give you the M experience on this new CL. Sure, I could have rented a few actual Leica branded M lenses but that would have cost me $500. These two cost me $100 or so for the time I rented them, so they will do just fine and besides, they are fantastic lenses ; ) It also reminded me just how GOOD these two lenses are. I usually get some who ask me to test these cameras with M lenses that are more affordable, so for all of you who ask me this, here you go!

One other lens I own and have on hand is the Unique Meyer Optik TRIOPLAN. It offers a vintage feel and some very unique Bokeh. Not an every day lens but one lens I love to use from time to time. See my review of that lens HERE.

This 1st shot was taken with the Meyer Optik Trioplan…an M mount lens.

The 2nd was with the Voigtlander 50 Nokton 1.5

PRICING

While expensive, the CL is not as pricey as a Leica SL or M. This camera is indeed made in Germany and feels very nice in the hand. Think Leica Q in feel, though this is smaller. For what we are getting here, the smaller Leica with interchangeable lenses and an EVF and iconic design, the price of admission comes in at $2795 for the body only. For comparison, a Leica M is nearly $7k. An SL is $6k. The 28mm fixed lens Leica Q is $4250. For that money one can get the CL body and a new Voigtlander 35 f/1.7 for less than the Q. This would give you a 50mm field of view and would be a killer one lens combo. Of course you would need the Leica M to T Adapter as well.

So this is less than half the cost of a much larger Leica SL. While I feel the Leica SL is a more “premium” camera I can tell you that this one would be the one that goes with you, where the SL and its weight may mean it gets left behind more (if using SL AF lenses). There is a lot to be said about a camera that feels good, looks good and is small and light. If it performs, then a smaller camera will ALWAYS come with me were larger models do not always come along for the ride. In this respect, I feel the CL is one of the best offerings from Leica. Half the cost of an M, small, well made, fantastic performance and a camera that begs you to use it.

Here is the full price list:

· Leica CL, black anodized finish : $2,795.00
· Leica CL Prime Kit 18 mm : $3,795.00
· Leica CL Vario Kit 18-56 mm : $3,995.00
· Elmarit-TL 18 / f2.8 ASPH, black anodized : $1,295.00
· Elmarti-TL 18 / 2.8 ASPH, silver anodized : $1,295.00

It’s a fact…Leica cameras have never been “cheap” to buy. Never. I remember buying my 1st M7, M6 and a couple of lenses MANY years ago, well before I started reviewing cameras publicly 10 years ago. It was a hard pill to swallow then, and even more so today. But LEICA is not your everyday camera company. They are not Sony, they are not Fuji, they are not Olympus or anyone else. They are special IMO due to their heritage and history, and what they have done for the world of 35mm photography over the decades. It’s no secret I am a guy who loves to shoot with a Leica, but today in 2017, nearing 2018….is Leica still a good option? Camera tech is so insane these days and we can get a hold of some amazing cameras that cost anywhere from $1000 to $50,000. For example, as I said in my CL video near the top of this page (a must see) a Sony A7RIII at $3300 is only about $500 more than a Leica CL yet offers full frame, 42MP, higher ISO, longer Battery life, nicer EVF and Dynamic Range that outperforms the Leica.

BUT…the A7RIII is a Sony. Sony for many, even me, do not speak to my heart. Instead, it is what I use when I have a specific thing I need to accomplish (as they do deliver the goods). I never use my Sony A9 “for fun” really as it is more of a technical marvel than a camera that speaks to my heart and soul. I love my Sony but I have always truly loved my Leica cameras even more. They motivate me, they speak to me, they are so simple to use and they let me focus on the task at hand…TAKING PHOTOS.

1st Shot, OOC JPEG using the 35 f/1.7 Ultron from Voigtlander in M Mount. 2nd shot with the new Leica 18 f/2.8

So while Leica is and always have been and always will be more pricey than Sony, or Olympus or any other camera manufacturer that makes 35mm and APS-C cameras, for some of us they are well worth the extra cost. We can not, or should I say, I can not put a price tag on inspiration, quality and uniqueness when it comes to photo gear. For my day to day shooting or having a camera to come with me when I leave the house, not knowing what the day will bring….I need to have a camera that INSPIRES me. This is why I love my Hasselblad X1D (see my review here). But man, the X1D is priced even higher than most Leica’s. $11k for a body and lens. But it has inspired me to shoot more, print more and because of that, I am enjoying life more than ever with my photography. THAT is what it is all about for me.

So does the CL do what the X1D does for me? Well, to some degree, and in a different way. The CL, being a Leica and being small, does indeed inspire me to bring it with me everywhere. Does it offer the richness of a full frame file? No, but it offers a different look and feel to images that to me, have more dynamics and crispness, and again, that unique color signature that Leica has adopted these days.

At $2795, while it may sound expensive right off the bat. In reality, if the camera inspires you and drives you to be a better photographer, then that price is OK and honestly, a little less than I expected for a Leica CL. I predicted a price tag of $3500 for body only, so $2795 makes sense. Especially since it is not full frame, as some have hoped it to be.

Yes we will lose out on some DR, Some high ISO performance, Speed and all of the mega features of some high end full frame cameras but for some of you reading this review, YOU WELCOME THIS! It goes back to what I always mention with Leica. A nice, beautiful, simple camera that does ONE thing AMAZINGLY WELL instead of doing 20 things VERY WELL. ; ) The CL is a jack of one trade and master of one. Taking Photographs. Making Memories. Capturing Life. Can a Sony, Fuji, Olympus or other camera do this? Of course, but none do it like a Leica does. So while you miss out on some things, you may not need them depending on your wants, needs and what you shoot. The fact is that for today, the end of 2017, Leica has a camera model out that does everything we need when it comes to taking photos at under $3k and this camera is the CL.

Voigtlander 35 f/1.7 Ultron with the M Mount Adapter

VS the Q?

The Q is a lovely camera and does quite well for Leica. You can see my review HERE.  With its high quality full frame sensor, 28mm fixed lens and sleek M style body, the Q delivered with AF speed, lower light and overall IQ and experience. At $4250 the Q is not cheap, but I never hear many complain about the price. Maybe that is because the Sony RX1RII, it’s closest competitor comes in at $3300, about a grand less. Sony vs Leica. I think most would take the Leica for the name, style, etc as usually its price premium is more than $1k over. competitor.

Some will say the CL is too costly. I do not feel that after extensive use and that is because for $700 less than a Q, I can get a CL body only for $2795 and then buy the Voigtlander 35 1.7 Lens in M mount and use my adapter with said lens. This combo would cost me around $3590 or so without discounts. Less than a Q. Add in an adapter and you will be around $500 less than a Q. BUT I feel the CL, while being APS-C, offers a more versatile experience than the Q as YOU CAN CHANGE LENSES. You can use TL, M or R lenses (adapter needed for M and R) and the implementation is very nice. For the money, less money, the CL offers an experience much like an interchangeable lens Q. With that said, the Q is gorgeous to use and in IQ and offers the full frame advantage.

VS the M?

The M does one thing and it does it masterfully. It is a manual rangefinder camera that uses some of the best lenses in the world. It can not use TL lenses, it is full frame and the M10 is a masterpiece of design, build, and for the Leica M, IQ. It’s a cross between the M9 and M 240 and offers the best M sensor ever. At $6900, it is not cheap as that is for a body only. Add a nice M lens, even a old 50 Summicron and you are at over $9000. You lose the EVF, there is no close focusing, and no video. You have no touch screen, and you have no “WYSIWYG” style of shooting. You gain a full frame sensor and quality but the IQ is not that far off between the two cameras. The M10, just like this camera, seems to blow highlights easier than most cameras today, so they are more similar in color, tone, sharpness and overall vibe than different. The CL, while not a true Mini M by any stretch, is more like a mini interchangeable lens Q. If you have the disposable income, go for an M10 and a nice lens. Even the 50 APO. THAT is a stunning combo. If you do not want to go nuts with the price, and want a Leica, then think about the CL as it offers a Leica experience and IQ for much less. No you do not have the build and quality of the M camera but you are paying much less. If Leica made the CL full frame and M mount, it would have been $5k or slightly more, maybe $5500. Would have been no point. So they did the right thing with the CL for what they needed to offer.

VS a Sony A6500 or A7RIII?

Some will say “Why not buy a Sony A6500”. True, this camera, the Sony is an APS-C and probably closer to what the CL is than a full blown A7RIII. But the price of the CL is closer to the Sony A&RIII than the A6500 so we would expect to get something more from the CL for our money. Well, we do. We get a much more inspiring body, a made in Germany Leica with the styling of an M camera. To me, the A6500 is nice but I have never been a huge fan of its styling, menus, or controls. Even the IQ, IMO, is a tad “sterile”. It’s a good camera but for me, I would take MANY over an A6500 for the same or more money. The A6500 can get the job done but the Leica inspires, and is a camera that brings pride of ownership, as well as the basic approach where photography is all that matters when you use it. Not video, not FPS, not play memories apps and not anything else but what we buy a stills camera for. The CL is a STILLs camera. Period. It is made for this, and sticks with the Leica philosophy of simple, small and capable. The A7RIII is a better camera in every way over the CL, and my money would go there if I wanted a camera that can do ANYTHING at ANYTIME. But again, the Sony’s do not speak to my soul. The design is OK, and while they are powerhouse cameras that are the best on the market today for 35mm mirrorless, the Leica just has that something about it with it’s IQ signature, and ease of use that draws you in. But make no mistake, the A7RIII is a better camera “technically” for all situations though if one wants a Leica, one wants a Leica.

Leica Camera overview of the CL

High ISO Performance

The Leica CL will not beat out a Sony for low light, but in reality, not much will or does in the mirrorless realm. With that said, the low light capabilities have come a long long way since the Leica M8 which topped off at ISO 640 for usability back in the day. These days, I would say ISO 6400 is solid, and 12500 would be the max ISO that I went up to. I have prints in my home using a Hasselblad X1D shot at ISO 25,600 so I am no stranger to low light and high ISO shooting, in fact, that is where I live most of the time. With the CL, I’d say try your best to keep the ISO capped at 6400 and in a bind, go 12500. Just like with the SL or M. These samples shot on a tripod using the 18mm f/2.8 at 2.8.THE RESULTS, IMO, ARE FANTASTIC.

These are 100% crops of the above image. Shot in my living room at 9PM at night, with only a floor lamp in the room. 

The Controls are Cool

On top of the CL you have three dials/buttons. One is the on and off dial. The other two are dials you turn with your right thumb but they also have buttons embedded within them. So turn the left dial and you will change exposure compensation. Press the button inside that dial and now you can control what mode you are in. Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, etc. The right dial will control aperture but press in the button within that dial and you will now control ISO. Pretty easy and intuitive.

The Leica CL Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Small, light, but well made
  • Quick snappy AF, at least with the 18mm f/2.8
  • Brilliant with M mount lenses. Easy Manual Focus.
  • Design is minimal, which is AWESOME.
  • Uses the nice Q battery.
  • Can use any Leica lens made. M, TL, R, Etc. (Via adapters)
  • Leica color signature and vibe
  • Price of $2795 is steep but for a German Made IC Leica, not as bad as I had thought
  • Low light abilities are nice. ISO 10K looks great in low light.
  • OOC JPEGS look snappy, high contrast and bold. Sometimes they “look” better than the RAW. Easy.
  • Top display that glows in low light is welcome. Lets us see settings at a glance.
  • Comes with a nice Leica leather strap in the box
  • EVF IS VERY WELCOME! NO more WART we have to add!
  • Images keep detail even at high ISO
  • 30 Seconds to 1/25000s Shutter – Auto electronic shutter setting

Cons

  • As stated, price of $2795 is decent for what it is, but still expensive.
  • TL Lenses are expensive. The 18mm f.2.8 is $1295 for an APS-C near pancake sized lens that does not “feel” Leica like.
  • Not for action or sports obviously, but we knew this already.
  • EVF can get laggy in very low light, like some older EVF’s.

MY FINAL CONCLUSION ON THE CL

The Leica CL has been long asked for in digital form and while Leica did not create this body with an M mount, I applaud them for this choice. We already have an M camera and it is brilliant.

Think about this…This body is more versatile than an M, and smaller than an M and comes in at around $4k less than an M body only. We can use TL mount lenses, M or R lenses via adapter and a slew of vintage RF lenses in screw mount using adapters. The camera offers an ease of use like only a Leica can. It allows you to focus on one thing, PHOTOGRAPHY! This is what the camera is made for. In fact I have yet to see any recent camera besides the Hasselblad X1D and Leica’s own M that are made in a way that forces you to focus on your photo, your image..and yes, the experience.

Add in the large built in EVF, vintage Leica style and controls that are how they should be and you have one hell of a camera that is up there with some of Leica’s best ever digital models. I rank it with the M, the SL, and the Q. My three fave digital Leica models EVER. For me it beats the T, TL and TL2 and it is much more fun to use, and also offers a touch screen for image playback or setting a focus point. Yes, the CL has video (as I talked about and shared an example of in my video review at the top of this page) but it is not a video camera. In fact if you buy this thinking you will do video and photo, think again. THIS Leica CL is BUILT for one thing, PHOTOGRAPHY. Stills. Yes, you can shoot video but use it only as B roll or family footage, personal. It’s not a pro level video machine.

The shutter speeds of the CL go from 30 seconds to 1/25000 of a second. You can even set the electronic shutter to come on automatically when faster than 1/8000s is needed. This way, let’s say you have a Noctilux on your CL, and you want to shoot at f/0.95 in full sun. No need for an ND filter here, as the electronic shutter will kick in when you need that faster speed to expose the scene correctly. Very cool.

If you want a small, light, gorgeous camera to take with you everywhere… one that has brilliant image quality and capabilities and allows you to use any Leica lens made, and you want to be inspired to get out and take photos then I suggest you take a look at the Leica CL. It’s really good and Leica has hit one out of the park with the new CL.

WHERE TO BUY, WHERE I WOULD BUY.

The CL comes in three bundles. #1. Body only at $2795. #2. The “Prime” kit with 18 f/2.8 for $3795. #3. The “Vario” kit with the 18-56 at $3995. Me? I would take the Body only and then add some M lenses along with the adapter. In my video above I state if I bought a kit, it would be the 18-56 Zoom but on 2nd though and more use, I would most likely take the 18 2.8 due to small size, light weight and decent performance. Below are 100% TRUSTWORTHY and HONEST Leica dealers that I love. The CL will start shipping at the end of November 2017. 

KEN HANSEN – For 10 years I have bought my Leica gear from Ken Hansen. He is a legendary old school Leica dealer who really delivers on all fronts. Service, price and product. He sells only Leica, so you can email him to see if he has any in stock, or has a pre order list going. He will get back to you quick with the details. I have been recommending him for years, as he helped me start this very website long ago by providing me review samples of Leica lenses when I could not get Leica to send them ; ) You can email him HERE. Tell him I sent you!

PopFlash.com – Another legendary Leica seller/dealer, Tony Rose has been in the Leica game for a long time. You can check out their website HERE as they will be selling the new CL! I have been shopping with Tony for years and years.

B&H Photo – Some will only buy cameras from B&H Photo and I have been buying from them for as log as I can remember. In fact, in 2017 I spent over $15k with B&H. They have an amazing return policy, fast shipping and an unsurpassed website experience. Click here to see their page for the Leica CL. 

AMAZON – Who doesn’t shop here? Amazon is..well..amazing and taking over the world. You can get the Leica at Amazon using the link HERE.

The 18mm f/2.8 can be seen at B&H Photo HERE

I will leave you with a few more snaps but be sure to watch my video review! You can see it HERE if you missed it above. 


 

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114 Comments

    • Same as using it on the TL2. The TL2 and CL are the same camera internally and IQ wise. Only difference is the change of body style and the EVF. So it works the same as it does on the TL2.

      • Thanks Steve. You are the best.

        Do you have a view on the pros/cons of the using the Elmarit-TL 18 f/2.8 ASPH versus the Summicron-TL 23 f/2 ASPH on the CL?

        Which would you choose?

        • Id take the 23 as to me, seems like a better lens in the IQ dept. Also, has the Summicron name which you can never go wrong with a Summicron ; ) Lovely little lens. The 18mm is also nice but I feel it’s value is at $499 not the current price. Doesn’t feel, shoot or image like a Leica lens, at least to me. The 23 does.

    • I bought my CL with the 18mm lens. However I keep the 23mm on the camera as my main walk around lens. The images are very sharp and have good colors. I am very happy with it.

  1. Hello Steve,
    I’m a little surprised that the lack of IS in the CL is not mentioned in this review. Even more if I remember your review of the Olympus cameras (em 1, etc.) The 5 axis system got a wow, was fantastic! and that’s right. A gain of 4 stops is a huge advantage. I can imagine that M users would like to have a second camera special for tele work, since the M can hardly do that. Wouldn’t you think that in this respect they are better off with an Olympus? Four stops is a hell of an advantage! Or is the rendering and the color of the CL so much better that it compensates its lack of IS? In that case I also remember what you wrote about the IQ and rendering of Olympus: wonderful. Fantastic. What would you say?
    Kind regards,

    • Well I spoke bout it as it is indeed in the Olympus. It’s not in the CL, so nothing to talk about. I do not ding camera that do not have built in IS, ESPECIALLY Leica’s as they never do and most likely never will. IS is not everything and does not make anyone a better photographer. It helps in low light for static subjects, or video with wide angle lenses but for the most part, I really do not buy a camera on wether it has IS. Which is why I owned the Leica SL, one of my fave cameras ever. The X1D, my fave camera ever. If Leica puts it in an M, could be nice but I do not think most M shooters care if an M has 5 Axis IS. The only camera that really does it right anyway are all from Olympus. Others use the tech but the Olympus does it best. The Sony 5 Axis is nice but for me, nothing spectacular. It’s nice to have, but not a dealbreaker for me. As for color, all cameras and I mean ALL of them produce different color and all have their own style. Olympus, Fuji, Sony, Leica, Hasselblad, etc. I have my faves (Leica, Hasselblad, Olympus) and others have their faves. It’s a personal choice. Like an artists tool. The Olympus IQ is fantastic. Leica’s is also fantastic. Sony is fantastic. Hasselblad is Fantastic. Nikon is Fantastic. BUT ALL are different. BTW, M users do have a camera for tele work, even tough there are no tele M lenses besides the 135, which works well on the M. M shooters do not care about telephoto. If they did, they would not be buying a $7k M ; ) But one can use the SL with M lenses. It’s a perfect fit. The newer Sonys also works great with M lenses. So we already have those options. Now we have the CL, which is yet another option though APS-C, which means you are not using all of the lens. I remember film, and when we used to shoot Nikon film bodies with telephoto lenses. We did not have IS then, and we got by just fine ; )

      • Hi Steve, In the film days I ( as a pro) already used a couple of M bodies. For tele work, which I sometimes also had to do, I had a Leicaflex. There are moments I can remember in which IS would have been very useful. With the M and certainly the flex. I think IS ( of course it doesn’t make one a better photographer) is still an advantage.
        Kind regards, Roel Visser
        http://www.roelvisser.nl

  2. thank you for that beautiful review, do you think that the CL will be good as a second camera for professional work?(the SL is my main camera)
    thank you

  3. One big plus i have been reading is the ability to use “M glass” with the CL. Howver, doesn’t that mean that I’d have to focus manually? Is there any “M glass” lenses that would focus automatically with the CL? Sorry to sound ignorant about this Steve. J

  4. Thanks for this review + video again Steve!

    I understand you are a ‘natural light’ shooter. Something I do mostly myself also. But I do use (fill-in)flash quiet often for my assignments or just private pics. Because of that I do miss that you never? seem to test a camera with flash.

    People who by a Sony A9 or A7III could be photo journalist as well and they use flash very often.

    When the Panasonic GX8 came out I was one of the firsts in The Netherlands to own and use one. An underrated camera and sensor wise a step up from the 16mp Olympus bodies at that date.
    However…. How sophisticated the GX8 is with all its options, its is not possible to use flash any faster as in single shot modus. So at times totally unusable for a photo journalist like myself. Not anywhere this can be found in any review or manual or even asking Panasonic myself.

    I follow you now for quiet some time and like & admire your work with that own Steve signature. But I do really would appreciate if you can add the use of flash to your reviews. Thanks!

  5. Hi Steve,

    Fantastic, passionate, gutsy, detailed and informative ‘real’ review as we have come to expect so thank you. When this was announced last week I read about it and pretty much dismissed it straight away, thinking why bother, what’s this bringing to the party? Then I looked across my desk and saw my X100T sitting there, if it had hands I’m sure it would be putting them over its lens. Why you may ask?
    Well, after reading your review, and a couple of others elsewhere, the penny started to drop in my head. I scrolled down to the comments here, I have to be honest and say that I was waiting for the thing to be filled with negativity and a lot of anti-Leica rhetoric, but no, I would say the balance is very positive.
    My theory is this for me personally, and I suspect similar for many others, bear with me, you’ll hopefully see my point at the end of my drivel…
    1. I’ve spent a good few years building up an arsenal of wonderful Leica glass, mostly M but with a couple of R’s. I doubt I’ll ever sell any of it and hope my kids get something from it in the future, either photographically or financially.
    2. I delved into Leica digital with the M240, then the M-Mono. I still have the beautiful Mono but sold the M240 for an SL as my 50+ eyes were fed up squinting at the RF. Now I could still use my M & R glass with the benefit of the stunning EVF – and if I wanted to (I never did) I could delve into the world of AF- Result!
    3. Now in the background of all this is that troublesome upstart known as Sony and their A7 range. Whilst I had my SL I also dabbled with an A7R2. I loved the fact that I could stick my M & R glass on here and even ‘AF it’ with the TechPro adapter, it was supposed to be my second (way cheaper) body. BUT, I hated the dismal battery life and I really needed the safety net of twin cards so sold it and thought my way forward was with the SL range, or I did until…
    4. The A9 was announced. As much as I loved what I could do with the SL (and my whole Leica fan-boy thing) it became apparent to me I could do all this and more with the A9 so I dived in, managed to sell my SL for a very decent price and have not regretted it for 1 second, I think the A9 is a masterpiece and works beautifully with every lens I’ve put on it, even Face-detect AF & 5-axis stabilisation with my Nocti!
    5. So you’re thinking, where the hell does the X100 & CL come into this? Well here’s the point. I’ve had the X100’s since they came out as a ‘carry everywhere’ bit of kit. I love their styling, size, function, USB charging and results. I’ve always regarded it as my ‘Mini M’ and have NO issue with it being APS-C sized. To me it only lacks one thing, the ability to change lenses…
    6. If you’ve made it this far the fog is hopefully clearing and you too can see my penny dropping. HERE was my answer, the CL has the possibility to be our Mini M and X100. Buy it with the 18mm kit and you have a direct X100 competitor (albeit at 3 times the price!) BUT you also have the ability to use all your beloved Leica glass and bathe yourself in that undefinable Leica magic that so many of us love, worth £2k of anybody’s cash 😉

    I’ve yet to see or handle one so I’m only guessing at the size, ergonomics and usability but it’s certainly activated my GAS just in time for Christmas 😀

    • Jim
      I was surprised too. I actually used the demo model at my local shop (Samys in LA, ask for Ben) and really liked it. Handles great, feels great, really makes me want to use it, takes my M lenses, also offers AF. It costs more than the equivalent Sony or Fuji, but it feels like a much more expensive and refined piece so that makes sense when you actually use it.
      I wanted to hate it, but feel the opposite. And this is coming from a mainly film shooter!

      Excellent job Leica.

    • No they do not. The only way to get them to focus closer is using them on a Sony with a Voigtlander close focus adapter (or similar adapter). But performance is degraded when doing that anyway. But on the CL they will keep the close focus distance they already have.

  6. While interesting, the limited availability of fast lenses (autofocus) for this system would deter me from purchasing the CL. Depth of field is less on ASP-C than full frame so bigger apertures are needed. Seems only offering is the 35 1.4 from Leica. Any info on Leica’s TL lens roadmap? Do you think zeiss is considering building TL mount lenses of their own as they do for Sony E and FE? If so, this camera could get more interesting.

    • Well, I do not see others making lenses for TL mount just yet. If it took off, maybe but as of now I do not feel there are enough using the T mount for someone like Zeiss to start making lenses. Maybe one day though, would be fantastic.

  7. Dear Steve, A great reviews always. Still have my Q.Will the CL be as fast to focus and be as quiet? Is the sensor made by Tower Jazz? I also feel that the Nikon D850 with that sensor and Leica Glass is the new M11. Thanks Neal

  8. Tremendous review, Steve, even if you did only have the 18mm lens. You say: “Think of it as an Interchangeable Lens updated X2.” Actually I think of it as an IL updated X-Vario. And that’s a thought that really appeals. It’s exactly where I would want to go from the XV. I think the in-built EVF is mostly gain, but the neat Oly VF2 on the XV has the advantage of vari-angle, which I go for in a big way. So although the CL is the GAS to end all GAS, I’m very content with the XV until the domestic finance committee is more amenable! (I don’t have a Sony a6500, only the a6000 with the Zeiss 16-70mm (=24-105) which I use in the simplest possible way and find the results very satisfying. No need to navigate all those menus!)

  9. Thanks so much Steve for another beautiful review! i love my Leicas for sure…i’m just not sure where i stand on this one!!! i think i am disappointed it is not full frame. Hope your Thanksgiving was great and hope you keep doing what you do so BRILLIANTLY!!!

  10. I always look forward to your Leica reviews, so thanks for your continuing effort and passion! This camera looks like a winner to me, and I’d say that it would easily outperform quite a few modern cameras with bigger sensors, with the exception of AF performance of course.

    However, I will question one thing you said in the video: that the CL has less DR than, say, a Sony. Well, firstly, which Sony? There’s a non-trivial gap between the A9 and the A7rIII. I really don’t think you can say such a thing without measuring or testing. Real world tests are very important, but by doing a real world test you are precluded from making such specific claims without evidence. It would be no bad thing to refer to an actual DR test of this camera, even just in passing.

    • Thanks you Karim for reading it. As for the DR question, it is very very evident when shooting that the Leica M10, and this CL have lower DR than a Sony A9 or A7RIII. That is what I meant. It is well known about the ease of blowing highlight with an M10, and not that this is a problem, as it is the photographer who can make sure it doesn’t. But it is very very clear when shooting cameras that have less or more DR than each other. Even the X1D blew me away and took it up a notch from what I was used to with the A9. The CL took it down a notch as highlights are easier to blow in certain situations. No need to measure, as it is what it is in real world photos and use. So I just really my experience when shooting in this way. Thank You.

  11. The CL seems to give us a lot of options. You never mention the F/2 23mm as a good walk around lens (and autofocus). Do you have any experience with it? I was thinking it would be a better choice than the new 18mm. It is also a smaller and less expensive that the 35mm F/1.4. Your thoughts.

    • I was never a huge fan of that lens. It’s advertised as an f/2 lens but when you shoot close in, it stops down to f/2.8 so you can not shoot at f/2 up close if I remember correctly. So I felt misled with that one as Leica advertises it as an f/2 lens. It’s not up to the quality of the real Summicron’s but vs the 18 you get a 35 vs a 27mm FOV. So either lens would be a good choice for those who like small. The best quality lens I have tested for the TL system is the 35 Summilux f/1.4. It bests the others in IQ and color IMO. But it is larger. Always a give and take it seems.

      • So if you had a choice between the 18mm and the 23mm, which would you pick? Since you don’t like the 23mm, what about the quality difference between the 18mm and 18-55 zoom. I want my first lens to be autofocus, so what would be your first choice?

        • If I were going to buy an AF TL Lens with the CL I would go for the 35 1.4 but if it were between the 18 and 23 Id probably go for the 23mm if you want some shallow DOF at times, and the zoom if you did not care about that. The Zoom is quite nice.

  12. Hi Steve,

    Great review and great video. Just a couple of questions… (1) Is the CL’s size comparable to Barnack Leica bodies? (2) When using non 6-bit coded legacy lenses with the TL-M adapter, does the CL retain aperture priority metering? (3) Is there a drop-down menu to select Leica legacy glass?

    Many thanks.

    Best,
    Rollie

    • IT is the exact same size as the old X2. Similar to the old bodies you speak of. Using 6 bit lenses with the Leica adapter should allow full coding to be read, just as the M and SL does but I did not try a coded lens so can not say 100%. You can choose what legacy lens you are shooting with in the menu, just like the M or SL. Thanks.

      • So when you used the 35/1.7 Ultron and the 100mm Trioplan, what lens options in the menu did you use? Also, when using the TL-M adapter, does the camera offer aperture-priority exposure metering or manual only?

        Many thanks 🙂

        • I set up the 35 1.7 as a 35 1.4 and did nothing for the trio plan as longer lenses usually have no issues. The 35 1.7 didn’t seem to either even if I did not set it up in menu. With crop sensors using full frame lenses there are usually no issues. The issues come into play sometimes with full frame, and these days it may be in the form of slight vignetting or soft corners. But on the CL the M lenses work fantastic.

          • Hi again Steve,
            With non-coded lenses and the TL-M adapter, does the CL give aperture-priority auto exposure or only manual?
            Many thanks 🙂

  13. Nice enthusiastic review as usual Steve. Nice looking camera but Leica really seems to be throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. This camera will make the TL an afterthought, as that thing is just too funky to catch on. However the CL is going to face legitimate market place competition from the sony and fuji APS offerings. Only a deep pocketed Leica purist would choose the CL in that scenario, and there just aren’t many of those folks. It will be interesting to see how well this sells and if this signals the demise of the TL.

    • People will buy this who want a simple photographic experience. It’s so much different than any Fuji or Sony. I for one, would take this and pay for it over a Fuji Xt1, Xt2, Xpro 2, etc for the simple fact that using Leica M lenses will do better here, and the experience is nice without all of those cheap buttons all over the back, and deep menus. There is something to be said for a good simple camera. Also, the camera feels great in the hand, though if you like grips you would not like this or an M unless you added one. It’s for someone who maybe has Leica glass already, or M lenses and wants to get the most from them without spending $7k on an M. The M, SL and CL are all fantastic cameras, and I would be happy owning any of them. But they are not for everyone, as many look at specs on paper, and many look for all of the features they can cram in for their dollar. Me, I look for simplicity which is why the X1D is my fave camera ever, then an M, then an SL, etc. So it all depends on the person. I feel this will sell better than the TL, as it’s much nicer to use IMO. Think of it as a Interchangeable Lens updated X2.

      • “I for one, would take this and pay for it over a Fuji Xt1, Xt2, Xpro 2, etc for the simple fact that using Leica M lenses will do better here.”

        That’s a pretty bold claim, given that the full frame M lenses are being adapted to an APS-C sensor, whereas the Fujinons (which are already excellent in their own right) are optically designed for APS-C. That’s not even getting into all the technological differences—for example the Fuji X-E3 has both contrast and phase detect AF (vs just contrast for the CL) and will unquestionably nail focus under a wider array of conditions.

        I liken Leica to Rolex. Lots of history; lots of brand, luxury, and fashion appeal. And they make a lovely, quality product, typically with attractive industrial design. But much as a fine Rolex doesn’t tell time any better than a high quality Japanese watch — and in many cases not as well — neither does the Leica take better pictures. Not anymore. It’s about the experience and the pride of ownership…not the final product it produces.

        So if you’re buying one for those reasons, then great. But that’s it in a nutshell.

        • It’s about the experience as you say, the name, the design, the feel, the heritage and the IQ which is different from Sony, Olympus, Fuji, etc. EVERY camera has different IQ character. Sony will never render like a Leica or Fuji or Olympus, same with Olympus, Fuji, and Leica. They all have their own color signature, look, and the Leica cameras today..the M, Q and this CL and TL2 all have a unique IQ that you can only get from these cameras. It’s the color and snap. Just like you can not get a Fuji look from a Leica you can not get a Leica look with a Fuji ; )

          • I agree completely. I love my X100F ( a lot), but it has a different character than any of my Leicas. To take the point a little further, I also own an X-Pro2 and have tried putting my M lenses on it, with disappointing results. The Fuji glass works better on that camera in my opinion. So, with the launch of the CL, I’m actually excited by a little Leica that was designed to be able to take various Leica glass and M lenses. I look forward to playing with one soon.

      • Exactly Steve. This camera gives a chance to use the M mount lenses on a smaller body with the fantastic built in EVF.
        My plan is to get this and use M mount lenses between my new A7Riii and CL.

        I am even thinking of buying the new 40/1.2 voigtlander in M mount so I can use on A7Riii and then CL when I get it.

        I tried CL last night and all the TL lenses yesterday, except the zoom. Only the 35 summilux TL impressed me, but then not considering the size. I wouldn’t really bother investing in them, unless you are desperate for auto-focus.

        The EVF is fantastic, what I wanted the Fuji XE3 to have. Why have an EVF if you end up squinting all the time. That Fuji despite good otherwise is going back!

    • While Leica wants to represent “the real photographic experience” other cameras have beter or worst buttons but also possibilities Leica cannot even dream with.

  14. Wow! That’s a BEAUTIFUL camera. I guess it would give a great ~40 mm equivalent with my Zeiss Biogon 28mm.. (which one can buy second hand for quite ‘cheap’). Thank you Steve for the review. I bought a second hand M8 a while ago. It is such a different handling experience compared to other camera’s mainly because it is designed as a CAMERA and not as a computer. Well, it has been said before.

  15. Steve, I’m curious about how you would compare this camera to shooting with the Pen-F? Similar size and layout, and the Oly has a few more bells Andy whistles, obviously.

    • The CL is slightly smaller, but I hear ya. It’s basically the difference between M 4/3 and APS-C, so in lower light the CL will edge ahead. Color and signature of the cameras are different and for usability, I will say I think the Only body is gorgeous. It’s my fave Olympus, even today. I own it. BUT if one wanted the signature of what the Leica brings, it would be the way to go. The Only does have more features of course, more extensive menus, etc. BUT I would go CL if buying today, for me because I can use M lenses on the CL and they work so good on the camera. The Only would turn a 35mm into a 70mm FOV, where on the CL would bring me a 50mm FOV. Both cameras are lovely but the CL will edge out in IQ and be a tad more versatile with other lenses. Is it worth the extra cost? Maybe not but all depends on if you want a Leica ; )

    • Having shot the Q extensively and now the CL, I would go for a CL and 35mm M prime of some variety. Zeiss, Voigtlander or Leica over a Q as you are getting a more versatile camera. But if 28mm is your thing the Q would be king.

  16. Hi Steve Great Review-Leica On a Budget-MY Dream Mini M version…
    Next Gen Lumix 6 K Full Frame
    Turrent lens mount would use M TL R Unbolt
    3rd Party SLR lens w 6K Video YES?
    Leica AG Shareholders! Vs M $ales.
    Budget M9 Lumix w SLR MF Primes use various PanaLeica lens.
    Exploring RF film now with Prewar finders Zen way to experience Digital -Happy shooting everyone.
    Click. Advance.

  17. A bit confused… some of the few full size samples you can find on other sites are pretty bad… Have you had a look at those Steve, are they doing something wrong? Others?

    • Well, that’s usually the case. I will not name names but most review sites imply people who they give a camera to and say “go test this today”. The employee goes out, without real interest in the camera and take some snaps and then comes back to write up a short article about what they think. The employee gets paid. They really do not have any of themselves invested in the review or taking images as they are just working a job. So many review sites have horrible photo samples from many cameras due to that. Not all, but some. Me, this site is ME. I take pride in what I do, and I enjoy what I do. I truly get excited when a camera comes out that I really enjoy so I put work into using it for 1-3 weeks before I write a review. I have not looked at other reviews though, as I never have time anymore. The funny thing is I did nothing special here, just used the camera and took some, what I feel, are average snapshots to show the colors, and output of the camera. Thank you.

  18. > Leica CL Prime Kit 18 mm : $3,795.00
    > Leica CL Vario Kit 18-56 mm : $3,995.00

    Steve, those prices look confusing as they look like prices of lenses rather than lens and the body. Considering high prices of Leica lenses, people might think so. Please, add “&” between “Lecia CL” and “Prime/Vario Kit,” then they would not confuse people any more.
    Leica CL looks like a miniature Leica M.

    • It says “Leica CL Prime KIT” which means the CL KIT – body and lens. This wording of the price and kits was copied and pasted direct from Leica. But to me it is clear. The 18 f/2.8 does not in any way feel, look, or perform like Leica glass that we have come to love. It’s a few ounces in weight, feels hollow and looks like a Panasonic 20 1.7 I shape and size. So no way that lens could ever be $3795. But it’s a good lens when one wants to be small, compact, etc and it is nice, just not “28 Summicron” nice.

  19. Closest competitor is probably the Fujifilm X-E3, though the latter is more feature-rich (phase AND contrast-detect AF, AF joystick, 4K capable, etc, etc.).

  20. I initially was skeptical but then thought about it a bit. I have lots of M glass which I could use on this camera. So it really would be a mini M for me, with the bonus of having a top shutter speed of 1/8000 sec. Great for daylight wide open images.
    And it has been shown in tests to work waaaaay better than any other ASP-C camera with M lenses. So for me a Sony or Fuji at 1/2 the price wouldn’t matter because they don’t work well with the lenses I have.
    I just wish it had a better EVF, the one in the Q is much better. Leica already has that tech on its shelves.

    Nice review Steve. Happy Thanksgiving.
    Huss

    • Thanks Huss. Yea, if you have Leica M glass and want to get good use from them, this will deliver results with them better than Sony, Fuji, etc. I feel this CL could have been much more but if so, it would have bene much more cost as well. As it is, an APS-C basic photo still camera made by Leica, it is very very good.

    • “And it has been shown in tests to work waaaaay better than any other ASP-C camera with M lenses.”

      Truly? Where was that reported? And what reasons did they cite? My understanding is that this is a pretty straightforward 24mp APS-C sensor designed to work with the T series AF lenses…not especially designed with specific micro-lenses for FF M glass.

      • You can go into the menu and choose what lens you are using, and it will correct for any issues that lens brings, just as the M does, the SL does, etc. Sony’s, Fuji’s. etc will not do this, and therefore will not produce as nice of quality out of camera with M lenses.

        • Actually, Fuji introduced a very specifically designed M-adaptor that does the same thing and has specific correction parameters for many M-Mount lenses, including Voigtlander and Zeiss.

  21. A nice new camera, that really offers nothing over the TL-2.
    Using M lenses comes at a price! The “Adapter” is mega expensive.
    A friend shoots the TL with flash like Bruce Gilden. The screen/monitor ” awesome: but actual images images way more subdued.
    The Sony 6500 whatever way too much menu. Yes Steve is RIGHT, simpler is better. Again like many thanks for your hard work.

    • It offers a different experience over the TL 100%, and an integrated EVF which makes ALL the difference over the wart on the TL system. Also gone are the touch menus and instead we get the traditional menus of the Q, M, etc. It offers Leica styling vs Modern “Apple” styling. It offers, to me, a much nicer experience than the TL when in use. So I have to disagree with you saying there is nothing offered over the TL2, and while they are similar in output, output for me comes 3rd or 4th after design, handling, usability and “does it motivate me to use it”. ; ) Because all cameras today at this level provide fantastic IQ.

    • There are Chinese adapters on ebay for M to L/SL for $15. They will not have the coded lens reading ability of the Leica version, but they also do not cost $400.

      • I have bought maybe 7-8 adapters over the last few years. You 100% get what you pay for. The only two adapters that have lasted for me are the ones I spent decent money on. The Voigtlander M to Sony E Adapter (close focus) and the Leica M to TL. The cheap adapters have horrible tolerances..loose, or get loose and shoddy performance. I do not recommend the cheap adapters anymore. Buy once and be done is what I say.

      • I stand corrected. Thank you for showing the differences.
        Handling is a prime for me, too.
        Again Thanks for the lengthy review.

  22. Hi Steve, I of course agree with what you say – “Does it offer the richness of a full frame file? No, but it offers a different look and feel to images that to me, have more dynamics and crispness, and again, that unique color signature ..”. However, would you mind showing a real life image like someone’s portrait that illustrates these pros and cons between images from say Sony A9 and CL? I would really like to see that, thank you.

    • The CL has been sent back to Leica. Had it for a set time, and all they sent with it was the 18mm f/2.8. I would have to use an equivalent lens to do a side by side. Full frame will always bring with it more dynamic range and other improvements but APS-C also has pros as does M 4/3 and medium format. I find the Leica CL and TL to offer images that are more “crisp” and with bolder color than other brands. Sony has a richer look to the files to my eyes (see my recent 40 1.2 update to see what I mean). Fuji does things with blues that I love and Olympus just renders a pleasing image all the way around. Panasonic is more contrast and edgy and Nikon and Canon also have their own looks. It’s part sensor size, part processing within the camera and part brand color signature.

  23. Great review Steve. I really appreciate your hard work going into to these reviews.

    It would be great to see a side by side comparison of a photograph shot with a M10 and a CL. I’m really curious how much better the M file is, especially for larger prints.

    Keep up the great work!

  24. Hey Steve, You compared this new Leica to the brand new A7Riii, but as I was looking at the specs it seems that it the A6500 is a more apt comparison in most every way and it’s nearly half the price. Thoughts?

    • A6500 is nice, fast and a decent APS-C but I never loved it. It is capable but goes back to what I said in the video about Sony vs Leica. The Leica has soul. The Sony does not. The 6500 is sort of a “sterile” camera. It exists, it does what it does but there is nothing special about it. It feels cheap, light, and just “exists”. It can take good photos but if I were to choose between that and the CL, I would go CL every time, even if I had to wait 6 months to save extra. The only Sony bodies I LOVE have been the A7 series and now A9. The rest to me are decent but nothing special. The 6500 could never ever motivate me to use it. Also, each camera canopy offers different IQ, color, looks. I suggest watching the video as I go over all of this. Thank you!

  25. I wish Leica would just give us what (many of us) want…a full frame M type body with a built in EVF. No…I’m not talking about an SL either….I own that camera but it is too big. People say it would cannibalize M (rangefinder) sales…who cares? Leica is the King of producing niche market, obscure cameras, look at the Monochrom and the M-D; why should their rangefinder be any different?

    Leica should have made this CL a FF and it would have been a huge hit. Any loss in M sales would have been compensated by huge CL sales. A full frame CL could easily be priced at $7k and they would sell a boatload. I don’t know what their deal is, it’s like they’re scared to do anything that in any way detracts from their M rangefinder and the cult like following. I owned an M8 and the M240, so yeah I get the allure of the OVF but they should stop being afraid to move forward with the M and offer it with an EVF.

    • They would never ever release an M with an EVF while producing an M with an RF. Just will never ever happen. Now one day they may take the M into EVF territory but that would anger those who love the RF experience. If they made this a full frame camera it would have come in at $5k, and thats not far from a real M, with a much nicer feeling body and size. This does not feel like an M, which is understandable at the cost vs an M. So I am happy they did not make this full frame. Would have cost much more, would have not been able to use TL lenses or even R lenses or other lenses that this mount opens up to and it would have felt like a generic M next to a real M. It’s all about cost with this one, and using M glass on this delivers a beautiful experience.

      • I realize Leica won’t make an M with an EVF as long as they make one with the RF…but it is to their own demise. What are they scared of?? Why not create a M11 body that is capable of housing either an EVF or a rangefinder? Give the consumer choice!

        I think we know that answer already…the EVF would likely outsell the rangefinder and Leica is holding on to this unicorn like ‘rangefinder experience’ for better or worse. The reality though, is I personally feel that the Leica M lenses and Leica build quality is a much more important differentiator then just the rangefinder. Anyway, just my opinion…

        • CL looks smart, but attracts me ? No. I like to see mini-SL, eg. Q with interchangeble lenses… Using new L-sumicron lineup will be lovely… Love my Q, you know 28mm limits me 🙂

        • I’m with Clint on this. In a NYC day gathering of Leica photographers a couple of years ago, just about everyone with an M240 had the dreaded EVF attached. The contraption was nearly universally hated, but everyone seemed to be taking a “better than nothing” approach to it. So, I am not sure who Leica is listening to, or why when the M has way less than 1% market share, it chooses not to put a modern EVF on the M series. Has anyone noticed where all the R&D money, as well as most of the Leica marketing money is going these days? Not to the M, but rather to their autofocus systems. Basically, and even with all its attributes for what it is not, the M series (which I own the M240 and the M9 before that) has kind of become a “legacy” series for Leica. Sadly, the past is being dramatically left behind by the future, and it is that future where Leica is putting their money and energy.

      • Hi Steve, I feel the same as Clint. As I wait for tomorrow to hand over my cash for an A7Riii, I wouldn’t have minded paying even much more for an M10 with built in EVF. As with my failing eyesight (apparently happens after 40), I cannot spend money on something that might mean missing shots. However, asking Leica to produce M10 sized full-frame with EVF is like Nikon producing D850. That is the last camera with no tricks left.
        Maybe one day, there will be a camera with EVF that has options to give either electronically simulated RF experience (i.e. overlap line A to B) or magnify and focus / focus peaking.

        • I’d LOVE to see an M with an EVF but I do not feel Leica will ever do it as it would anger too many of. the purists who shoot an M just for the RF. I feel they should have went EVF during the M 240 era, and I had hopes for the M10, even if it was some sort of hybrid VF. Maybe one day but I doubt it. With that said, the A7rIII is one heck of a camera! Enjoy!

          • That’s what I was saying earlier in the thread, it doesn’t need to be an all or nothing affair. Leica could offer the M11 in two variants, one with EVF, one with RF. Nobody does niche markets better then Leica. They are largely ignoring a market that is leaving for Sony. My eyes can’t use a rangefinder and fast glass anymore with any kind of consistency, so I went with the SL….other I know are saying heck with Leica and buying Sony’s.

            Alternatively they could make a Leica CL with FF and EVF with slightly worse build quality and perhaps fewer features then the M. In all likelihood THAT is what Leica would do…finally make a FF CL and then cripple it with fewer features haha. I guess we will never be happy:)

      • Steve, I nearly fell off my chair when I saw your review. What? Leica has actually made a digital CL? The camera I’ve been craving for, begging Leica to make all these years. Wow! The excitement.
        Then of course the disappointment. Because of course Leica just HAVE to cripple it in some way to keep people frustrated. A long Leica tradition, A CL like camera but no interchangeable lenses. Yes we have all been frustrated with that one. A digital camera that takes M lenses but too big. Yes that one too. Now we are expected to shell out a lot of money for a CL like camera that doesn’t have full frame. This argument of hurting the M sales is getting beyond tedious now. If the M is so good it will survive. If it isn’t it won’t.
        Leica continues to avoid making the camera that we really want when they know darned well that they can do it. So we keep getting all these variations on a theme.That old CL used M lenses, full frame years ago. And they could do it now if they wanted, They are not trying hard enough.
        I’m sure it’s a good camera as it should be for the price. But in all honesty I’m not worried about paying more for the camera I want, because as you say, we know Leicas are expensive. I am worried about paying so much for a camera that falls short for that kind of money. I think Leica should do better. I own two M’s and the original CL plus a Minolta CLE. Hello Leica, I’m still waiting for a REAL digital CL. That means full frame, takes M lenses, built in finder, digital, compact. .The M10/ M is not that camera because it’s not as compact and is somewhat heavy. This definitely looks like the best we’re going to get but it’s not the best Leica could do and it’s a design / marketing/ sales/ who knows what, strategy that has stopped me buying Leicas recently.
        Good try Leica. But no cigar. Clint is correct.
        Nice review though Steve and the images are certainly great.

        • I hear ya, and I know that we have all asked for a real Mini M over the years. BUT, again, if Leica did make a full frame mini CL, they would have had to charge $5000-$5500. Making it very close to a full blown M. It would have also been crippled with ONLY M glass. Some of us, maybe a minority, not sure, prefer being able to use TL, M, R lenses with this camera. It offers a solution for all Leica glass. Provides a beautiful sensor, and is fast when AF lenses are used. It’s small, well made, looks like a Leica and finally gives us a built in EVF with an IC camera. If this was all done as a real Mini M, the price would have been too close to the M, and the M sales would have halted. That would have been a disaster for Leica. So the CL, made how it is made, was the thing to do. THIS is the camera the TL should have been from the start though. Just my opinion. I doubt Leica will EVER make a smaller M full frame camera though. Doesn’t make sense for them business wise.

          • “If this was all done as a real Mini M, the price would have been too close to the M, and the M sales would have halted. That would have been a disaster for Leica.”

            So, stop and think about that for a moment. If folks opted to buy a more modernized M (with EVF etc.) over the traditional rangefinder M — and did so in significant numbers — then what’s the takeaway from that? The takeaway is that people want a more modernized M, because that’s what they’re choosing to buy. The traditional M rangefinder sales are already tiny; those who really want that type of camera will doubtless still buy them.

            But why not open up a new market for those who want a more modern product? And if EVERYONE opts for the more modern product, well then…welcome to the 21st century—that’s where Leica focuses their efforts from now on.

    • During the larger part of the M’s analogue career the rangefinder bodies were technically outdated, but mature. As a result, if purchased second hand, the bodies did not depreciate any more. This made the M affordable. This changed with digital.

      The digital M’s frustrating feature is not the price, but the inseperable combination of disposable with expensive and everlasting, but non-recyclable components (brass body, dials rangefinder). On the other hand there is no practical way to replace or to upgrade the electronic innards. Today the M depreciates almost as fast as the Asian competition.

      A full-frame M body only with EVF would get rid of the largest cost driver and avoids the need to externally procure or to recruit AF competence.

      • But more than half of the user base would be mad, and never buy it. They sell few M’s as it is (in the grand scheme of things) so to lose sales would be bad for them, and they would anger their base of fans. Maybe they could make TWO M’s. One with RF and one with EVF. But they would be same price if not more for the EVF version. Would be a cool experiment. Sell two, see which one sells more. EVF vs RF. I’d go EVF today for me.

      • Thanks again Steve, both for putting up the review and your honest thoughts.
        Well i’ve desided to go check it out at the Leica store here in Tokyo because I was considering an SL but doubt if I would travel with it due to the weight. iI do wanr a digital solution for my M lenses and thats how I would use it. manual focus all the way.so if the quality is there and the handling is good enough I might stop complaining and give it a try. key for me will be viewfinder quality,battery life and I understand this doesn’t have built in sensor cleaning which could be an issue. The image quality from your test shots I can’t fault.

    • “It’s not even close” seems a bit over the top for the present state of digital imaging. IMO pretty much all digital cameras over two grand are actually very close, especially at internet sampling. When I say image quality, I don’t just mean resolution or dynamic range or ISO capability, what I mean is how the photograph looks to my eye. The photos in this post are crisp with a lovely rendering. No doubt that the Leica and Voigt lenses have made the difference here whereas the Hasselblad lenses while excellent simply do not have the character and rendering quality that I’ve grown to appreciate from my Leica, Zeiss and Voigtlander lenses.

        • Okay okay, you win, I was going to buy it but you’ve managed to convince me otherwise. That said, it certainly looks like the A7R III is the camera to have in your bag anyway: DPR “Sony’s best camera yet, and one of the best cameras we’ve ever tested.” I mean wow!, what an freak’n endorsement and a ballsy move when you consider how many cameras they peddle on a daily basis 😉 Good thing they left the tracking to the A9 or why would you buy it over the R III.

          • My A9 is going nowhere, I love it and would not sell it for an RIII as it does do a few things the RIII can not, and I use it for those capabilities every day. The RIII is the camera I would recommend for most over any other Sony body though. It’s a winner without question.

      • Two flaws in that logic:

        1. You’ll rarely see a difference on your computer between an APS-C, FF, or medium format image scaled down for web resolution—it’s thus a very poor test of ultimate IQ. You need to look at them in full res or, better yet, print them. Then the differences between 24mp APS-C and 50mp medium format become readily apparent.

        2. The Leica lenses for the CL are T mount. They are not manufactured by Leica in Germany, but by a contracted Japanese manufacturer. I don’t think it’s been determined who that is, but the first logical port of call might be Panasonic, since the two companies team up on photographic projects all the time. And I would not expect any Voigtlander lens — all of which are made by Cosina in Japan (as are all Zeiss ZM lenses) — to necessarily outperform the Hasselblad lenses.

          • Ah, I stand corrected. Did not realize those two were made in Germany. And they’re probably the best two lenses in the T lineup, I’ll wager…precisely because they ARE made in Germany.

            Not a knock against Japanese optics, more a knock against whichever third-party manufacturer Leica happened to partner with for these lenses. Because honestly, I’ll wager any Fujinon X-Series lens you care to name at the $1300 price point would outperform the Elmarit-TL 18mm f/2.8 ASPH lens.

    • Must add to my critical comments though that I haven’t actually used the camera yet and it looks promising even with the compromises.

  26. With that camera kit price, it will come close to leica q price territory. Does the IQ differ much from Leica Q, if let say paired with summicron 23?

    I already owned leica Q but to be honest this camera weighs a bit too much and the size is a bit to big to my liking and that CL size is perfect in my opinion.

    Thanks beforehand!

    • Well, this will beat a Q as A: You can change lenses. and B: you can use TL or M or R lenses. and C: Buy a body and 35 1.7 ULtron and it comes in at around $3500. $700 less than a Q and more versatile and with this lens and combo, I would say better IQ as well. So for less you can get more.

      • When an APS derivative “beats” a FF Q with a made to match Summicron built inside, a D 850 with excellent FL and F 1.4 lenses beats a XiD with those two or three slow lenses for a fraction of the price.

        • The IQ differences between APS-C and full frame sensors of the same megapixel count and generation have become vanishingly small, and often come down more to A/D conversion and SNR firmware (aka your processing engine) than they do to wafer acreage. Typically full frame will give you almost one more stop of DR and high ISO performance than APS-C, but color accuracy, acuity, resolution, and “image depth” are virtually indistinguishable, especially at lower ISOs (800 and below).

    • It’s a different camera. The X Vario was AWFUL in low light and ergonomically IMO. The lens was slow, and the camera excelled only in good light. This is smaller than the X Vario, but a much more well rounded camera that is more versatile and offers a newer sensor with better capabilities. With that said, the IQ from the Vario in good light was beautiful. The lens, slow as it was, was a stellar performer.

  27. With the Q, it is easy to get from AF to MF, and the MF experience supports auto-magnification that is undone with a half-press. The MF also has no silly “acceleration” which ends up making it harder to focus.

    I wonder, how does the CL experience compare for switching from AF to MF and the MF experience, when using “native” lenses? Any thoughts appreciated!

    I also with the M adapter senses turning focus to send auto-mag signal to the camera, similar to M10 functionality. This would really help the CL and SL?

      • Thanks Steve. The 35/1.4 doesn’t have any silly acceleration in the by-wire focus, does it? (Bugs me with computer mice too.) If focusing the 35 manually is not too far off from the Q experience, then this may be close enough to the Q50 I’ve been waiting for… Also, is it fast to switch between MF/AF or is it a complex menu exercise?

        • Now that I am holding the 35/1.4 and CL in my hand, if anyone wonders, it does indeed have the silly focus acceleration such that you never know how much ring motion will result in a given amount of focus change. Very very disappointing!

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