Leica CL Digital Camera Review (Buying a Leica CL!)
…The new camera is a digital Leica CL!
Qu. Ever dreamed of an affordable Leica camera? Considered upgrading from a Leica M? Tempted by a Leica CL digital camera, a Leica T or Leica TL/ TL2?
Qu. Can a crop sensor Leica + 18mm lens be used for portraits?
>> In this article I answers all these questions and show example Leica CL portraits from 2 model shoots.
Leica CL (Digital)
If a fellow Leica photographer friend had told me they had bought a Leica CL digital camera I probably would have replied “Oh nice!…???” to be polite. I would then need to Google it to see what it was. Perhaps I am a just Leica M snob (*for digital cameras only) but the Leica CL is not a camera I have read about.
Leica M240 camera upgrade options
If I looked to “upgrade” (more on that later) from my Leica M240 camera I had only considered the Leica M10, Leica M10-P, Leica SL, and more out of interest only the Hasselblad X1D (as I have an older digital Hasselblad camera too). I didn’t ever consider Sony such as the very well-regarded Sony A7R III (I say why later). I didn’t look at other mirrorless camera offerings either from say Fuji (X-Pro2 for example) nor larger digital cameras such as the Nikon D850 DSLR (even though I still have lots of Nikon lenses with my D800 past).
It seemed then that my future path was already well mapped out for me. In my last post I reviewed the “Leica M10 vs Leica M240” (link below). My conclusion was I didn’t think the Leica M10 / M10-P were a big enough improvement to pay out over £3000 for (over the M240). You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned the Leica SL yet. I think I never really considered the SL as an option for me simply because it is not a Leica M rangefinder camera with optical rangefinder. I rely so so heavily on this focusing system. Partly as I am confident and quite quick to focus a Leica rangefinder camera but probably more so because I should where glasses to see distance but I don’t (unless driving). It means using my film Hasselblad cameras or any SLR type camera where you look through the lens I struggle to see to focus. With an optical rangefinder it somehow seems easier. I line up the 2 lines and the photo will be in focus. Easy.
Unexpected need to buy a new camera
Less than one week ago I was not considering buying any new cameras. My last purchases were Mamiya 6 camera 150mm and 50mm lenses so they were keeping me happy and out of trouble for now. So why the sudden need to buy a Leica CL digital camera and why that camera?
Back up camera
Although I don’t mention it a huge amount I teach photography on request. Clients are often Leica photographers or film photographers but occasionally general “want to get into photography” requests. A model wants to switch to being a photographer and used to use a Nikon DSLR. To cut it short she bought my Nikon D800 DSLR camera off me as I never use it. I say never used but I took it with me for wedding photography bookings and left it in the car as a backup to the Leica M240 + Leica M8 camera setup I often use. Another model then approached me as wants to get into photography more for fun and needed a little starter camera where could learn to use manual settings but the camera not cost a fortune. I sold her my little Panasonic Lumix LX100 (aka Leica D-Lux 109). That was my pack light backup camera for model photography trips overseas. It was only last year that I bought the LX100 in Budapest when on a model photography photo shoot. I thought I had forgotten my Leica M240 battery charger so bought the camera to finish the photoshoots only to later find my charger! I tried to use the camera after buying but never really fell in love with it like a Leica M camera. It didn’t see much use.
No backup camera
So within the last few weeks I sold my two back up cameras. This is unusual as I rarely sell anything! I thought oh great, a bit more room on the camera shelf.. to move up one camera out the box below!
It then dawned on me I need a backup camera for Leica wedding photography. I also really need a small camera to back up my model photography trips abroad. I can’t spend weeks of planning a trip with 5-6 models booked in per day to arrive and the Leica M240 not work. Therefore I need backup. The Leica M8 is great but I don’t think it is suitable for every occasion as it is slow to buffer and not great in low light.
Need for a new small digital camera
I wanted a camera to “support” my main camera the Leica M240 rather than an upgrade. That means in my head it should cost less. If not then to me it would be an “upgrade” such as mentioned in the Leica M10 vs M240 post. First I turned to Panasonic Lumix cameras wondering if they had improved enough now to be used for professional work (for me). I have a history with Lumix with the Lumix TZ5 as possibly the camera that got me into photography then the brilliant Lumix G1 that taught me photography (using manual lenses on it via adapters). In more recent years after becoming a Leica photographer I bought a used Lumix G3 to use with Leica glass. I thought it would give me a nice small setup but it was far from a Leica M even with Leica glass. I sold it. Hence I had a brief hope that the latest Lumix cameras were better. As part of my research I watched a few YouTube reviews on the Lumi G8 and Lumix GX85. I liked their form and the reviews seemed positive. I watched a few more videos and there was a comparison between the best small cameras. In that video featured a Leica T!
Leica T camera
I watched this small camera review and the Leica T won for the best colours. I went straight to Flickr and searched the Leica T photos. The T photos looked like “proper” Leica photos to my delight! My lack of love towards Lumix in recent years is not the camera but the final image. Leica cameras render pictures like no other brand to me and I just struggled with the Lumix “look”. But this Leica T produces photos with a look not to dissimilar to the Leica M240 I use. I Googled Leica T and saw the price used. £350-£450! What!? My eyes nearly popped out on stalks! Why did nobody tell me you can buy a digital Leica with interchangeable lenses for under £500!? I went straight to the website of one of the London-based Leica stockists I use to buy. It was well after midnight (as usual) typing with one eye open and editing a photo in another window (I don’t get much sleep). I think I probably posted my photo to share on Flickr then forgot and fell asleep.
Things get more expensive
I spoke to my contact at the Leica Mayfair London store first thing the next morning and said words to the effect of “Hi Jimmy, I see you can buy a Leica T for under £500! That’s amazing”. He replied in more detail that the Leica T is not perfect (which I had read about but tried to ignore because of the low-for-Leica cost!) which is why it is so cheap. He said there are two better alternatives, the new Leica TL2 or the Leica CL. The Leica TL2 lists at around £1,750 new and the Leica CL digital lists at £3,150 with a 18mm pancake lens. Bye bye dream of spending £500 for a digital Leica! I knew it was too good to be true!
Leica TL2 vs Leica CL digital
I knew of the Leica T/TL as I remember the annoucement. “The new Leica machined from one piece of aluminium”. When I researched the Leica T I liked the small size and smart phone like controls / display. My biggest worry/ dislike was no viewfinder but I tried to ignore that as it was “cheap”. With the Leica TL2 many of the Leica T “teething issues” were said to be resolved but it still had no viewfinder. A Leica TL2 is apparently aimed more at non photographers where it “drives” like a smart phone but still takes great Leica quality phones. The Leica CL digital is said to be more for keen photographers and has a built-in EVF (electronic viewfinder). (Leica T/TL/TL2 accept the hotshoe EVF module but it is extra). Time for me to review the Leica CL!
Leica CL digital camera – what is it?
So after some reading I found that the Leica CL digital is the “rebirth” of the old Leica CL film camera, a mini Leica M. The main difference is the Leica CL film camera was full frame and the Leica CL digital is a crop sensor. The Leica CL is a 24MP APS-C mirrorless camera with 1.5x CMOS sensor. It has the same “engine” as the Leica TL using the Maestro II processor. This means the photos will look very similar to photos taken with a Leica TL2 it just “drives” differently as has the EVF and different “cockpit” (dials, buttons, screen arrangement). The Leica CL digital uses the same lens mount as the Leica SL and Leica TL2 so doesn’t have a dedicated CL lens lineup. The Leica TL lenses are the go to lenses for the CL as they match the small form of the Leica CL but SL lenses will also fit. Like the original Leica CL the Leica CL digital accepts Leica M lenses too but via an adapter. The digital Leica CL was released in November 2017 so is one of the newest Leica digital cameras.
Leica CL digital spec
I wont go into the Leica CL digital camera specifics as there are already better more in-depth reviews online. I just cover the basics and write from the thought process angle as to why I considered the Leica CL.
Leica CL key features (for me)
- Built in EVF
- Accepts Leica M lenses (via Leica M-Adapter-L)
- Smaller size than a Leica M camera
- Cheaper than a modern digital Leica M (M240/ M10)
- High ISO ability (better than Leica M240)
- Leica look images
- Closer focusing than 0.7M of a Leica M
- Offers “something extra” to a Leica M (next blog)
- WiFi (not a deal breaker but great to have)
Leica CL digital – ticks all the boxes (for me)
I went through my list of requirements above as to what I am looking for in a new backup camera for my Leica setup. The Leica CL ticked all the boxes and then some extra too. On paper at least I think I found my camera!
Leica CL used price
The same morning as I spoke to Leica Mayfair I found a camera shop listing a used Leica CL with 18mm pancake lens. It was cheaper than buying new so I jumped at the find and the Leica CL was shipped to me next day delivery. I thought at worst if I didn’t like it CL I can return in within a few days.
“Mini M!” Leica CL expectations
I had high hopes for my new Leica “mini M” camera but equally I thought it would be used as a backup. I expected it to be a lesser camera to my Leica M 240. Afterall it didn’t even have an optical viewfinder so how can I take it that seriously! Be realistic!
Buying a Leica CL – She arrives!
The Leica CL digital / Mini M arrived and looked good! The little Leica Elmarit-TL 18mm f2.8 ASPH lens was tiny! Dream travel camera I thought straight away. Due to the CL 1.5x APS-C crop sensor the 18mm Leica TL lens equates to approximately 27-28mm on the Leica M 240 / a full frame camera. This means the Leica CL I bought is comparable to my Leica M240 + 28mm Leica Elmarit-M attached (but a lot smaller and lighter).
I tried the Leica CL EVF and it looked good! I wasn’t expecting an EVF to look good from other mirrorless cameras I had seen others using in the past. Autofocus was fast and snappy. The controls were very intuitive to use and the touch screen LCD was a nice addition. I’m impressed with the CL so far. After a mad few days and buying a Leica CL it is now time to test!
Leica CL Photos -Test shoot #1 – Portraits
I had already planned a photoshoot with Latvian born Sarmite last Friday. It was our third shoot together but only second in recent years so we had high hopes to up our game vs the last shoot. Sarmite is not a model so it is just a matter of building confidence to get the resulting photos we wished for. My Leica CL speedy buying process was partly so the camera would arrive in time for this photoshoot so I could try it out.
Before Sarmite arrived I thought I would try the Leica CL camera out with her but then switch to a proper camera (M240). Afterall the Leica CL was currently fitted with a 28mm equivalent “landscape lens”. No good for close up portrait photos in the studio, or so I thought. I think I took 5 photos on the Leica M24o and nearly 500 photos with the Leica CL digital (..and 1 one film photo with a Nikon F5!).
Here are some of the Leica CL portraits I took (DNG files batch processed in Lightroom and some finished in Photoshop). Sarmite received all photos taken within a few hours of leaving. That is how many “keepers” we had. (Generally I don’t click the shutter on any camera until I like what I see).
I will add more as I get chance..
Leica CL Sample Images #2 – Location Shoot
This shoot had been planned for the spring then kept getting pushed back for whatever reason. In the months I had to think about I had so many ideas in my head as to what cameras/ what photos we would do. The plan was mostly film with an emphasis on the 4×5 Intrepid camera (which I still need to blog about but want to get more photos together first). I was up til after 1am Friday night packing all the film cameras, Intrepid 4×5, Mamiya 6 + new lenses, Nikon F5, then the Leica M240 with some legacy glass (lenses) to play with and in the little space left in my camera back I packed the new Leica CL digital to try.
As always, everything I envisioned ahead of the photoshoot never plays out. I have the same for every wedding photography shoot too! I didn’t take a single film camera photo despite all the kit I’d carried. 90% of the photos were taken with the Leica CL and I only took our the Leica M240 so I could take some side by side photos with the 2 cameras. I can now do a Leica M240 vs Leica CL comparison blog with real images to compare. Thanks to Rebecca for being patient while I took 2’s of some photos! Here are some more Leica CL sample images from the shoot last Saturday.
Again I will add more as I get chance..
Leica CL digital – Images – First thoughts
As mentioned above, I expected the digital Leica CL to be a lesser camera than my digital Leica M240. I therefore automatically expected the photos to be sub-par vs the M240. I was wrong. Yes there are differences but I am really impressed with the Leica CL. My backup camera may well become my join main camera! I will certainly put the little Leica CL though it’s paces in the next few months and try it for more Leica CL portraits a Leica CL wedding and the Leica CL as a travel camera.
Leica CL review (so far)! Is it the best camera on the market?
With my glowing Leica CL review so far, you may ask is the Leica CL camera the best on the market today? Or is the Leica SL or the new Leica M10-P better? Well on paper and in practice too it is commonly regarded by most photographers (consensus from many online reviews it seems) that the “best” cameras are the Sony Alpha A7R III or the new Nikon D850. Technically yes both these cameras “blow the little Leica CL out the water”. But for me I need the “Leica look” and neither Sony nor Nikon offer that, not even as a preset! Perfect images are not always best. Leica rendering to me is far more pleasing to my eye that a pixel perfect image. That’s why I left Nikon to move to Leica originally. Even if a photographer currently owns a Sony A7R III or a Nikon D850 I would argue you would take more photos with a little Leica CL as it is small enough to carry everywhere (with the 18mm pancake lens)(for general photography). The Leica CL camera also has the image quality to compete with some of the best cameras on the market. I like it!
Why did I drag out this Leica CL review?
I wanted viewers to think I was using a much more expensive or well-known camera that the little Leica CL. Flickr viewers were guessing Leica M10, Leica M10-P, Sony, Fuji.. but no one guessed a camera lower down the Leica camera tree. That is as I hoped/ expected. I would do the same if I view another Leica photographers pictures and knew they had bought a new camera. You only expect people to buy a ‘better’ camera than their current model I think. I would never have considered a Leica below the Leica M range but I was pleasantly surprised. Thanks to Leica Mayfair London for helping open my eyes.
Many more Leica CL photos and thoughts to come plus a more in depth Leica CL review once I have time to use the camera more. Below I listed some of the posts I plan to cover as soon as I get time!
Thanks for your patience! I hope it didn’t prove too annoying!
*All photos from photoshoot #1 & #2 taken with Leica CL + Leica Elmarit-TL 18mm f2.8
Tempted by the Leica CL? Treat yourself!
Leica CL posts / related posts to this article
- Leica M10 vs Leica M240 review
- New Leica CL review – 13 Reasons why I prefer it!
- Images test: Leica CL vs Leica M240 – to follow
- Digital Leica CL + Leica M lenses – to follow
- Digital Leica CL + Leica TL lenses – to follow
- Leica CL wedding photography – to follow
- Does a new camera improve your photography? – Absolutely yes – to follow
- Leica Mayfair Store – Leica CL
- Lumix G3 + Leica Lenses
*Subscribe on the homepage (right hand menu option) if you want automatic email notification of future posts