The Friday Film: A look back at a Classic. The Leica CM Zoom.

The Friday Film: A Look Back at a Classic! The Leica CM Zoom.

By Steve Huff

Yea! The Friday film is back for today, March 4th 2011! It’s been a while since  I shot film and I have to say I missed it! A few months ago I had some extreme financial issues and had to sell off my MP, M9, and almost everything I owned. All I was left with photography related was a fridge with about 12 rolls of film in it. Ugg. The good news is that in the past few months I have been concentrating on this website more and more as well as getting things back that I lost. I once again own an X1, soon to own an M9 again, and even a Fuji X100. But what was really unexpected was having the chance to own this little Leica CM red leather zoom camera. A camera that I have eyeballed for YEARS but never jumped on. To be honest, back in 2003 I wanted THIS Leica CM with the 40mm f2.4 lens and even had it in my cart at B&H Photo a few times. I never did pull the trigger though!

So here I am in 2011 and I still think of the CM from time to time. It just so happened a reader of the site was selling off some VERY cool film point and shoot style cameras and gave me first dibs on any or all of them. He offered to send them ALL to me for a week to review but I knew there was no way I could shoot enough film in one week to review all four of them. Instead I asked if he could send me the CM zoom and if I liked it I would just send him payment for it. So two days later it arrived to my mailbox via USPS Express. WOW, that was fast. I heard great things about the Zoom from a dear friend of mine who owns one and his advice was to “BUY IT!”. Like I needed a push…yea right!

As soon as I opened it and pulled it out of its leather case I knew I would want to keep it. Red leather, a red gordy strap, and a brown Leica brand leather case all included for a GREAT price. He even sent along three rolls of film! I immediately loaded it with some C-41 Kodak BW400 and the camera loaded it up perfectly! All I had to do was open the back, place the roll of film in its place and pull the film across and close the door. The camera started loading it all up and it was ready to go in a matter of seconds.

The CM Zoom has a Leica Elmar Zoom lens Lens, more specifically a Leica Vario-Elmar 35-70mm f/3.5-6.5. It is a slow lens indeed so no fast F1.4 or F2 or F2.5 apertures here but my guess was that this was going to be a gorgeous lens anyway as the Elmar lenses usually are.

To turn on the camera all I had to do was twist the zoom lens out and the camera powered on. I laughed as I did a test snap because the camera focused quicker than my Leica X1, lol.

The viewfinder is TINY though but hey, it is what it is… a Leica point and shoot. The cool thing is that it is a made in Germany Leica and it feels and looks the part. The camera is small, stout, solid and feels great in the hand. In reality , there are plenty of cameras that feel great in the hand but for some reason when I hold a Leica I just feel like I am home. The camera that came before this one, the Miniulx, was smaller and did not look as nice IMO. It was also made in Japan. Not that this is a bad thing, but it seems very un-Leica like. The CM and CM Zoom is a true Leica through and  through.

There is even an electronic display on the back so you can change flash settings, set the date on or off, exposure compensation and more. It is not on in the photo (sorry about that)

This is the official Leica CM Leather case which I believe sold for $150 or so. There is also a Gordys Strap attached to the camera 🙂

Looks wise, the camera is simply gorgeous. It’s fatter than the X1 but almost the same size.

Here is as shot of the X1 next to the CM Zoom for those interested in the size of the CM, both pretty sexy looking I must say…


Yea, as usual with most things Leica I fell for it so I think I am buying it for sure. Before posting this review I e-mailed the generous reader who let me try it before buying and told him I will most likely buy it. I really can not afford yet another camera but these do not come around every day with Red leather and case so what the hell, right? You only live once. Besides, I no longer own a film M so for 1/10th the price of a new MP I can still own a beautiful film Leica. It’s nothing like an MP, but it is a fun to use little camera.

The camera is easy to operate and use and I did not need a manual to use it. Loading the film was a breeze and the camera itself is in fantastic condition. What else can I say about this little guy that has not been said over the years?

Since I have been yapping about how great this little guy is how about stating a few of the negs…

NEGATIVE #1 – The lens is SLOW! Yep, it’s an Elmarit. At its widest end of 35mm it is f 3.5. SLOW when you are shooting Leica. This will not be a low light camera unless you don’t mind using the flash (which I have used and it did great). My 1st roll with the little CM was with some Kodak BW400 which is a C-41 print B&W film. No it’s not a Tri-X or Neopan but it’s easy to have processed for quick evaluation 🙂

NEGATIVE #2 – Max shutter speed is 1/500. I guess this is not really a negative, but just the limitation of the camera. I had some ISO 160 film loaded and even at f/5.6 the LED’s were binking “HI” which meant it would be overexposed if I took the shot due to the shutter speed maxing out at 1/500s. But to be fair, most point and shoot film cameras maxed out at 1/500 so it is what it is 🙂

NEGATIVE #3 – Distortion/Vignetting/Flaring. I found at the wide end of 35mm the lens distorts a bit. You can see this clearly in the following image when looking at the walls and mirror:

There is also vignetting when shot at 35mm and wide open at f3.5. I don’t mind it at all though, I like vignetting in my photos from time to time.

Lens flare anyone?

Other than these few niggles, which are usually expected in a cheaper P&S, I found no issues with the CM Zoom. The Viewfinder is tiny but this is a point & shoot camera, not an MP.

Speed wise, the camera if pretty fast to focus and shoot and seems faster than my X1. Solid construction, beefy feel and cute looks. IQ wise, it seems like the lens is capable of good results but just be aware of the three things above and you will be fine.

I have seen these sell for anywhere between $550 and $800 depending on if it comes with a box, case, manual, etc. If you are looking for a great little stylish film camera that won’t break the bank you have a few options. Cameras like the Nikon 35Ti, the Contax T2, Contax TVS III are also great choices but for some, only a Leica will do. These are not that easy to find but can sometimes be found through Leica dealer Ken Hansen (email: or possibly dealers like Dale Photo may get one in from time to time. The Zoom version seems easier to find than the 40mm version though.

Someone asked me why I would buy one of these when I could buy a Voigtlander Bessa which sells without a lens for about $669. Add a lens and you are well over $1k. The reason I would buy a CM over a bessa is due to NOT having a film P&S in my camera stable. Cameras like the CM can be fun, they are small and quick to operate. Totally different type of camera that I would probably shot with 3-4 X a year. Plus, it’s a Leica and I’m a fan of what  they do and what they stand for. Lastly at 10X less than an MP (without a lens) this little camera is actually a pretty good deal when bought used. These are not meant to be compared to a rangefinder so I didn’t do so. It’s more like an analogue X1 which right there makes it just cool to own. It comes down to price though. At around $500 it was hard to pass up!

The quick snapshot samples

Here are a few samples from the roll of Kodak C41 BW400, processed and scanned by my local Walgreens drug store (this means crappy low resolution scans). Just basic snapshots as I had nothing going on this past week.

The CM Zoom caught this running dog in mid air!

Even the built in flash did a pretty decent job here…

Wide open at 3.5…

Bokeh at 3.5 looks good to me…also remember these are cheap, low res Walgreens drug store scans.

I now have a roll of Kodak Portra 160 NC in the camera and hope to shoot some cool stuff this weekend with it. I’ll post the results in a future “Friday Film”. Yea, I’m digging the film again!

BTW, if anyone out there has a red or cognac Leica CM (not the Zoom) in the box, in great condition and you want to sell it send me an e-mail HERE. Heck, even a black one if it is mint, in box. Thanks!

For those who asked, here is a  shot with the lens exposed 🙂

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  1. It’s a couple of months now that I try to find a CM through internet in a logical price but I can’t. It seems very difficult to find.. I also keep an eye in photographic stires here in Greece but needs patience. Any idea where can I find one? Thanks!

  2. Just found one in good shape at a Goodwill for a dollar!…

    I don’t know if I want to sell it or learn to use it properly.

  3. Hello !
    I just bought a leica cm zoom and I have a little problem… I can’t find the on/off button !!! Could you please help me ?
    Thank you and congratulation for your photographs

  4. That is a bussiness. i has had Leica C1. Probably the best camera ever if not to look to a little bit dumb appearance. The best shots were made on it. (Unfortunatelly, C1 has burn and dealer said me “Sorry…”

  5. Hi Steve
    I always liked the CMs as compact take anywhere film cameras. I have the minilux 40mm only because I couldn’t find a CM that was in decent enough condition. Usually the ones I could find looked battered and bruised so I settled for the minilux.

    Have you thought of trying an Olympus XA1 with the 35mm f2.8? It’s basically a 35mm film camera that is the size of a digital compact with a rangefinder focussing system. There are some differences in lens quality. The XA thought fits in a top pocket and is really fast for those candid moments because you don’t rely on an autofocus system.

  6. Hi Steve and others,
    I bought my wife a Minilux which was great and which she loved. It failed a month out of warranty with with the dreaded “E02 error”, apparantly the shutter mechanism. I was told that nothing can be done so the camera goes on to my shelf of cameras that used to work. Such a pity. We replaced it with a Canon G12.

    • Ugh, I hate hearing that story. I hope you kept the camera and didn’t throw it out. There is decent resale on them since you can get the Summarit converted to M Mount. That will be the path to resurrection for mine if the E02 error ever appears.

  7. The leica cm brochure says solid titanium, and it has the same feel as my solid titanium Omas pens and TVSiii and hexar rf.

  8. great post steve, really enjoyed i needs to find me a cm with a faster lens …!!! would do the trick for me with tx 400 film in my bag of goodies.

  9. Congrats Chad! The T2 is wonderful. Been using mine for years, back in the day backpacked all around Asia with it, Philippines boat hopping, climbing Mt. Kinabalu in Borneo. You name it. Still works beautifully to this day. You got a better deal than Steve for sure. ha!ha!
    Only compact Leica worth the name is the CL.( of course in MY opinion). and the 40mm it comes with is a fantastic little lens. Sorry D-Luxers but panasonic really messed up the D-Lux 4 and 5 with the really dumb filter accessory hood which makes the camera huge. What is that all about.?..oh yeah, so you have to buy Panasonic filters and accessories and give up practical picture taking while you mess with the plastic adaptor. This is where you KNOW Leica didn’t design it! Ah…sometimes the old stuff is just better…even if it’s a Red CM zoom. have fun with that Steve!

    • Thanks Steve. I have a T3 but have always wanted the form factor of the T2. It just feels so solid in hand, more like the Minilux but with a much better finder.

      I agree on the CL but I have the Nokton 40mm 1.4. I tried the Leica and Rokkor 40s (and loved them both) but in the end, the Nokton images looked identical at f/2 and I gained the extra stop. I do miss the size of the Rokkor though.

      Indeed, sometimes (often) old stuff is just better!


  10. All Shot with a CM Zoom . . .
    [img] at 15-00-48-1.jpg[/img]
    [img] at 15-00-07-1.jpg[/img]
    [img] at 14-57-12.jpg[/img]
    [img] at 14-15-58.jpg[/img]

    • Hey Jerome,

      Thanks for posting those. The full size versions really show what a capable little camera and lens this is, and, predictably, I love the watch the gap shot, with all its parallel but not quite horizontal lines and fragment of modern big city life. Nice.

      Even after scanning, the film has it’s own look, eh? May have to dust off my dad’s old SRT-101 & Rokkor 50/1.4.

      Good luck with that shelf space issue…


  11. Steve, so happy you enjoy the camera – All the Best P&S Cameras have their quirks and unique signatures – I have and had a good collection of P&S or “compact” including many Contax, Minox, Nikon, Leica, and even Rollei’s – there are a few I will have forever, for all different reasons – some nostalgic, some emotional and some just because they are amazing. I find though that sometimes, my shelves becomes a personal museum and my wife sees the drool forming as I see new “toys” coming like the X100. So she very pleasantly reminds me that I would need to make space, or in other words I had better get rid of some stuff before the box arrives from B&H or Adorama, thank goodness Tamarkin uses discreet packaging 🙂 I had this camera – it is a special gem, and takes marvelous pictures in bright light, the mechanics of the zoom and easy aperture controls make it treat unlike so many of the plastic bits from canon and friends or the era – it blows away the C1 i have, but that is just a piece of nostalgia for me – here is a snap with the CM Zoom in NYC last may – not the best scan but still a nice contrasty shot -=
    [img] at 14-56-31.jpg[/img]

  12. Steve, that’s a pretty sweet and charmngly quirky little camera, and RED no less! I confess I completely missed its production run and knew nothing about it until your post.

    There’s still pleasure in shooting with the high-quality film compacts, as you’ll continue to experience with this. I still have the Contax cousins, the T3 and TVSIII, and am unlikely to part with either because of that occasional experience. BTW, if you ever stumble across a clean T3, just BUY it. Super little camera.


  13. Sold my 40mm CM a few months ago ’cause I felt I didn’t use it often enough, miss it even more now that I’ve just read your write up – so thanks a bunch for that Steve!
    I do like it in red. A nice little camera to use when the mood takes you.

  14. Steve, how secure is the AF dial on your CM zoom? I had the fixed 40mm CM and the dial was too loose. I’d take it out of the bag, grab a quick shot and then realize that it had gotten nudged over into manual focus. Very frustrating… also didn’t care for the plastic LCD controls on the back. In the end I sold it and went back to the Minilux with its smaller viewfinder and mildly annoying flash control (which at least doesn’t result in OOF photos). I was also less concerned about the Minilux getting banged up, so feel like it is a better all around daily shooter.

    The CM certainly has more flexibility in regards to exposure compensation and is lovely to look at and hold. Still, throw a nice half case on the Minilux and you are there…


    • The dial seems OK. NOT rock solid but not loose either. I had no issues so far with it but I only shot two rolls so far. I could get a used Minilux for $150 less but yea, the VF is even smaller and I really much prefer the feel of the CM. I almost bought a minilux in Chicago last year at Central Camera but couldn’t get into it. I know it is a fine camera and has a little bit of a cult following though! Looks great with the case 🙂

      • Yeah, I never would have imagined that I would go back to the Minilux after having a CM (sounds crazy), but in the end, the lens is the magic and I can’t tell a difference between images taken with either camera. To me the Minilux feels less jewel like and more ready to go anywhere. Different strokes though. Enjoy your CM Zoom!

      • I also found the Minilux to be noisy and big. I agree that it is still a fine camera only due to it’s lens but the CM has the same lens improved. I still have a couple of Minilux’s and they are great cameras but like Steve, I cannot get into them for any length of time when the CM is sitting right beside it in the camera closet.


        • Big like a brick!

          I know, I know! It is completely unreasonable for me to prefer the Minilux over the CM. But that’s the way it went for me.

          In truth, I seem to grab the Ricoh GR1 the most these days. I don’t think the optics are as sharp as the Minilux/CM or the Contax Ts but they are very good and the size of the camera makes it more portable than all the others, even the T3 which is small but much deeper than the GR1. Ricoh really designed a camera for photographers with the GR1…

          • Hi Chad,
            know what you mean about the Ricoh. I love their cameras including the GR1 but as you say, the lens isn’t it’s strong point particularly being a 28 which of course shows the distortion more than lets say the 40 of the CM’s

            Just a thought, have you ever tried or heard of the Minolta TC-1? It has a Rocker f/3.5 (or f/3.4…I can’t remember) and is an AMAZING little camera that is extremely well designed and built. There weren’t that many made because they came at a time where we were all making the transition to the dreaded digital. They kind of flew by most people’s radar. It’s known for it’s design, IQ and incredible small size in fact, it was toted as the smallest 35mm p ‘n s camera. It was also the most expensive, more than any of the others. Back then I think it was around $900~1000.


          • Hey Seal,

            Yes, I have looked at the TC-1 but didn’t pull the trigger because of the speed. That was before I shot a 40mm M-Rokkor on my CL that was amazing. So now, I’m a fan of that lens line and will be keeping my eyes open for one. I read somewhere that they were completely hand made – not sure if that is true.

            I read your comments about the GXR and based on my time with the GR1 and GRD line, I just know that is a great camera but it is one of those kits that just hasn’t fit into my purchase roadmap 🙂 Glad to hear you out there evangelizing for Ricoh – they deserve it…

  15. STEVE!!!!! I agree with doubleg, above….
    Now calm down…and reread your own review….the lens is SLOW…SLOW…SLOW…no shallow depth of field…FLARE….AND significant distortion….and you do not get the immediate gratification of digital.
    ! (although I know that you like your film).
    You will be annoyed with that camera in not time flat!!!!! LOL
    We all know you too well!!!

    Um…I do have a Contax T-2 I can sell you, cheap…no box though… 🙂
    I bet the Zeiss lens beats that clunker. ….

    • I will use this camera 3-4 X per year. I am not overly excited about the camera but it is what it is, a point and shoot film camera that looks and feels great. At the price of $500 I think it is a good price. I had a T-2 which was great (ex wife took it) but I actually like the CM Zoom better just for its feel, look and operation. I do think the T2 lens is better though.

      I’m building up my camera collection again and want a P&S film cam in the stable. After shooting this one and seeing its strengths and weaknesses I decided that I like it enough to purchase it. I dont mind the vignetting or flare as many M lenses have the same effect. As for being slow, I will be using this in bright sunlight on rare occasions anyway so doesn’t matter. In other words, this will not become my main camera 🙂

      Thanks for the concern though, if this were going to be a daily shooter you would be 100% correct!

      • Sorry to hear that you had to sell everything. I chose to live in a basement with low rent.. but the house is right on the beach. Also decided to stop dating. Life got a whole lot less stressful..The good part is…I have Canon 5D Mark II with ALL the hot glass, trick micro 4/3’s set up, motorcycle and lots of surf boards. (Just sold all my Contax G2 stuff …because I honestly wasn’t using it…sold G2 body, 4 lenses and a LOT of extras to buy the Canon 85mm f/1.2…with a little change left over. I was soo impressed with the 5D Mk II files…I knew I was never going in a darkroom again! LOL.)
        Now I work on my own terms as a carpenter…(money REALLY isn’t important) and enjoy life, my friends and my art. I love your outlook on photography in general!!! Keep it up…you are doing something right!
        Base on the sign you photographed up above…are you friends of Bill? (wouldn’t ask…but I am). If my question makes no sense to you…we can just let it go. 🙂

      • $125 plus shipping? I may actually have the box..I have to check..I do not have the instructions book either…but I might…(the camera is such a no brainer…it really isn’t important…could get it online I am sure..)…but it has a leather case that it was stored in..there is one little time mark on the front surface…not a dent or anything. It was well cared for. Glass is spotless etc.
        If you are REALLY serious…. I could take some pics for you.

    • Shallow depth of field is overrated and is usually a substitute for laziness or indeed… lack of ability to compose effectively. I used to make a big deal about it, only using focal lengths and speeds that masked my inability to achieve the aforementioned. I’ve had the CM and the CM zoom for many years now, both of which are excellent cameras that I use often and with great effect. I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to buy one, to do just that. It brings you back to basics and forces you to work with what’s there.

      There was a great article on this site by a woman that photographed Taylor Swift. The point of her post was that she used whatever she had, limitations and all because they forced her to just make photos. The CM zoom is a perfect example of a camera that has just enough to not get in your way. I doubt very much whether Steve (from what I know of him) will grow tired of a REAL camera that isn’t going to be relegated to eBay by next years b**sh*t with more mega-pixels

      `6 🙂

  16. Ah, Dale Carnegie where are you when I need you???

    First the good: the vines(?) against the screen (?) is very very cool; looks impressionistic, almost pointillistic. Fantastic composition. Really well done. Love it. More good: the CM is drop dead gorgeous. More (but not camera) good: the lady’s smile.

    And the bad (sorry): I worry that that lens is too slow for you, after the novelty wears off, will it drive you crazy? A nice used CL and a new Nokton 40mm/1.4 SC would probably cost under a grand. I could see that being a very satisfying film system for a wide-open kind of guy (like you) while waiting for that new MP/Summilux…

    On the other hand… enjoy the new camera. 🙂

    • Thanks doubleneg, you guys know me too well! Lol.

      Had a CL, loved it. But this camera is just so I can have a film P&S, and one that I have always admired, in my new growing collection. Will see minimal use and only on those days I want to shoot some B&W film. Thanks!

  17. It looks like a cute point&shoot, but I ‘m not sure why you got it. If you don’t have a film M, because the MP is too pricey for you, would you really rather have this over a Bessa? I’d love to have Leica gear to, but if money is tight, wouldn’t it make more sense to save the Leica budget for lenses, and go Voigtlander for the body? I do understand impulse buys, of course…

    Just hoping you’ll take advantage of your lower-cash situation to make lemonade out of the lemons. For the same price as that p&s, you could have had a Bessa 3M/A … and I’d me much more interested in reading your thoughts on that!

  18. The CM looks really charming!!
    And Steve, you’re always stimulating us to sell our house and buy some Leica stuff… “I really can not afford yet another camera but these do not come around every day with Red leather and case so what the hell, right? You only live once.” haha
    And i don’t own my Leica m9 yet… =(
    Great post, Steve!
    My only complaining is to post more! =P

  19. It must be a pain to miss something that you adore but its great to know that they are all slowing comming back. I’ve seen this camera floating around the Bay but didn’t really know what it is capable of, but thanks for this review. I will be hunting this soon (if my budget allows). Thanks Steve for this, again, wonderful review.


  20. Thanks for the great article Steve.

    I bought a CM with the fixed 40mm lens from eBay a month ago and have been very pleased with it.

    It feels like a Leica, the autofocus is fast and it’s compact enough to carry around all the time. It’s a great companion to the X1. If only the X1 could focus as quickly….

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