Leica CL vs Leica M8 (+M Lenses)(Poland Photoshoot)
My 3rd overseas photo shoot using the new digital Leica CL camera (with Leica M lenses). Now with 6 weeks experience of using the camera I list my 5 Likes + 5 Dislikes of the CL, share more sample photos and include a Leica M8 vs Leica CL comparison.
- Part A: 6 weeks with the Leica CL (5 Likes 5 Dislikes) + CL vs M8 compared
- Part B: Film cameras & lenses I took to Poland + trip roundup
Part A: Leica CL vs Leica M8
A1: Leica CL – 6 weeks after purchase – Thoughts
Leica CL Honeymoon
This is now my third overseas model photography trip with the Leica CL and the Leica CL honeymoon (or “minimoon”as people call them now!) is officially over. The passion and excitement from when we first met has faded as fast as it arrived. Am I dreaming what fun I want to have next with my new CL? Before yes, now no. What killed the passion you ask? It was all seemingly going so well for you both you say. Where it went downhill was when I developed the film images from the two previous Leica CL shoots (Poland and Budapest). Seeing the film scans reminded me what real photography is (for my taste). Suddenly many of the Leica CL photos that I had liked from those trips now lacked depth and interest somehow compared to the analogue versions of similar photos.
Digital vs Film
I’ve always much preferred shooting film vs digital and I normally use digital to test ahead of shooting film (and to give clients a set of digital “instant” images). I don’t hate the Leica CL. It is great for a digital camera and does a good job for what it was designed for. The Leica CL has now just become another tool for me similar to my Leica M240. The CL gets the job done and I am happy with the results and user interface (overall – see my likes and dislikes below).
Get Creative – with the Leica CL?
If I want to get excited or creative with my photography I tend to select from the array of film cameras I use rather than think about a digital camera. Don’t get me wrong, when I shoot the Leica CL side by side with film cameras sometimes the Leica CL will catch the better moment /photo. I just find I now pack the Leica CL without any thought as the “necessary digital camera” (for my model photography). All the thought and time goes into deciding which film cameras to take. Those are the cameras that will capture the interesting photos for me. “Interesting” may not mean “best” but I find digital all a bit too easy/ straightforward to be challenging.
The Leica CL should always capture the better photo
The odds are stacked strongly in favour of the Leica CL (or any digital camera) as I shoot perhaps a 100:1 digital to film ratio. Digital photos are often shot quickly in the flow of the model so should normally catch better ‘moments’ that the occasional film photo. The Leica CL photos should nearly always be sharpen and have more dynamic range (can loose detail in shadows when shooting film) Digital files of the Leica CL gives the option of colour or black and white (vs. say B&W only if using B&W film) and generally just more “information” to work with when it comes to processing the files in Lightroom (apply a LR Leica CL preset) / Photoshop. I tend not to shoot film cameras as fast as I do digital so I really need to nail the shot for my occasional film frames. Some film cameras give more “keepers” than others. (My digital photography is still single shot photography, not the DSLR machine-gun wedding approach. I don’t need 4000+ very similar images to sort through thanks!)
A2: Leica CL Review (Follow-Up) Likes+Dislikes
(with my bias rose-tinted glasses now removed!)
5 Dislikes of the Leica CL
1. Viewfinder Blackout
If you’ve never used a Leica M camera (nor a rangefinder camera) you won’t understand this point but it’s a big one! With a Leica M camera you never loose sight of your subject when you press the shutter. This means you can anticipate the next photo and move as needed ready to catch the next moment/ picture. With the Leica CL when you take a photo the EVF goes black and you’re left in a panic as to what you are missing. I find it quite unnerving especially for critical moments such as during a wedding ceremony. I much prefer a Leica M camera in this regard.
2. Speed of focus
Some one asked me how fast in the Leica CL to focus manually verses the Leica M cameras. I said I thought both cameras about the same. I did a photo shoot just before coming to Poland with the Leica M8 and the Leica CL and the Leica M is definitely faster to focus, no question. (This is if I zoom in to critically focus the Leica CL using manual focus lenses).
3. Flash photography
The Leica CL is fine for flash photography but I’ve found I much prefer Leica M cameras when using flash due to the Leica M viewfinder vs Leica CL EVF. I prefer the optical viewfinder for this strobist work especially in low light.
4. LCD Display (switching to EVF)
LCD turns off (switches from LCD view to EVF view) when you get too close to the EVF (it triggers the switch to change view). Probably not an issue for most people but I find it frustrating if I’m trying to photograph the back of the camera with my iPhone. Models always want to photo the back of my camera so they have something for Instagram straight away. There might be a setting to turn off this feature but if not it would be a good addition to a future Leica CL firmware update.
5. Crop sensor (vs Full frame)
This is less of a dislike and more of a limitation to be aware of. It is more difficult to get good background separation with many M lenses I’ve tried on the APS-C crop sensor Leica CL vs a full frame Leica M. I will cover the best M lenses on the CL in a round up post once I’ve tested more M lenses.
5 Strengths of the Leica CL
1. EVF exposure preview in available light
The exposure preview via the Leica CL built in EVF is a real joy to use and I find I now miss it when I switch to a Leica M camera. (It makes me lazy! On Leica M cameras I tend to guess the exposure on the first frame, adjust as needed for the second frame and continue shooting).
2. EVF view to compose any lens
After using a Leica CL for a while I found myself getting caught out when using wide lenses on a Leica M camera. I forget with a Leica M I can’t use a 21mm lens and see the full field of view via the built in Leica rangefinder. (On many Leica M cameras this is 28mm wide maximum). I found myself just guestimating the composition when using a 21mm lens on the M camera rather than attaching an external 21mm viewfinder to compose. The same advantage of the EVF when using longer lenses (focal lengths) on the CL. It is easier to see the image to focus than with a Leica M rangefinder patch, especially with a 135mm Elmar lens.
3. No potential rangefinder calibration issues
As the Leica CL is not a rangefinder camera there is no concern that a photo looks sharp in the viewfinder (EVF) yet is out of focus in camera. As mentioned previously, Leica M cameras can need recalibrating from time to time, and especially if they get knocked. A good example of this for me is using my old Leica Elmar 135mm f4 lens. Wide open it misses focus on the Leica M240 yet is super sharp on the Leica CL (sample photos in my Leica CL + M lenses round up post to come).
4. Leica CL dynamic range
The dynamic range of the Leica CL camera is the best i’ve experienced on any digital camera. It is so far ahead of the Leica M240 which looks primitive in comparison. The Leica M240 clips/ blows the highlights very easily (and the Leica M8 even more so!). The Leica CL does a fantastic job of retaining most of the detail in a scene most of the time making it great when it comes to processing the RAW files in Lightroom.
5. Fast buffering speed
I can work much quicker with the Leica CL (take photos without a lag). The Leica M8 is the polar opposite and really struggles to keep up even for moderate pace photos.
+1 . Size
I do enjoy the light weight and compact size of the Leica CL. It is still large enough to hold comfortably and securely for me. Leica M cameras are pretty compact compared to most cameras too but the CL is a little smaller still.
A3: Leica CL vs Leica M8 – Why!?
Why would I compare the Leica CL vs Leica M8 when they are like chalk and cheese? Both are Leica digital cameras but that is where the similarities probably end. This won’t be a scientific test as no one will ever be in a position to decide between the M8 and Leica CL. (M240 vs M10 – yes, M240 vs CL – yes, but not the oldest digital Leica (M8) versus one of the newest Leica camera releases.
So what a pointless blog post heading you say. Possibly, but for me I wanted to see which camera I enjoyed using the most and which camera photos I enjoyed seeing the most. That is what I will cover in the rest of Part A in this article.
A4: Leica M8 vs Leica CL – Specs Compared
Leica M8 Specs – Quick facts recap
- Released in September 2006 (first digital Leica M)
- 10.3MP CCD 1.33x APS-H crop sensor
- Requires an IR cut filter (on the lens) to capture true colours
- Limited dynamic range
- Standard Leica M rangefinder focus system
- Slower buffer speed (when taking a photo)
- Low resolution rear LCD display for playback and menus (no live view)
- Manual focus lenses only
- Limited ISO range – 160 to 800 (usable)(160-2500 max)
- Weight – 591g
Leica CL Specs – Quick facts recap
- Released December 2017
- 24MP CMOS 1.5x APS-C crop sensor
- Impressive dynamic range beating many pro level cameras
- Built in EVF viewfinder (no optical viewfinder)
- Live view LCD that can be used to compose and focus (+focus peaking)
- Auto focus and manual focus lenses (MF lenses via adapter)
- High ISO range (100-6400 usable)(100-50,000 max)
- Weight – 403g
A5: Which camera did I enjoy using most – Leica CL vs Leica M8
UK Pre-shoot (the day before Poland) – The cameras
Prior to flying to Poland I had a shoot in the UK with Aneta using many of the same cameras mentioned in this post (film and digital cameras). This photoshoot was nearly all flash photography and I preferred using the Leica M8 to the Leica CL. The M8 seemed to give a nicer shallow depth of field and the photos on the rear camera LCD just popped much more. Nearly all the photos were B&W so I didn’t use an IR cut filter on the M8.
Poland photo shoots – The cameras
In Poland I expected to like the M8 more too but I didn’t. I found the M8 too slow for the fast pace fashion models posing. Due to the autumn colours in Poland I shot much more colour photography than expected. I planned to use the Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.0 lens a lot on this trip so had no IR cut filter with me. (Why? I don’t have a filter large enough for the 60mm filter thread of the Noctilux). As such, for any colour photos I used the Leica CL and kept the M8 for black and white photos. I also used available light much more for photos in Poland so the Leica CL suited this work (for me). I think I shot roughly 3:1 more photos with the Leica CL vs M8. Mostly due to taking photos in colour or being away from the hotel with only the Leica CL plus film cameras.
A6: Which camera photos did I prefer – Leica M8 vs Leica CL?
UK Pre-shoot (the day before Poland) – The photos
As mentioned above most of the photos shot with Aneta were with flash. The apartment we chose to shoot in was smaller than expected so I used wider lenses most of the time. Wider lenses and flash meant most photos had a greater depth (less blurry backgrounds) than the Poland shoot. The Leica CL coped better when I was mixing sunlight and flash. The Leica M8 photos clipped the highlights more easily whereas the Leica CL dynamic range retained most of the detail. Shooting in a small space was more about the light than the camera choice. That said the majority of the photos I liked from this shoot were shot with the Leica M8.
Poland photo shoots – The photos
The Leica CL captured some nice photos in Poland, as it had done on my last two overseas shoots. I think the choice of lenses I used didn’t help the Leica CL perform to it’s very best, with the exception of the Leica Noctilux lens. The Noctilux 50mm f1 lens on the Leica CL produced some quite pretty photos with the shallow depth of field and bokeh. If the CL was the only digital camera I used I would have been happy. The problem was I also used the same Leica Noctilux lens on the Leica M8.
Leica M8 vs CL
The Leica M8 CCD sensor combined with the Leica Noctilux lens rendering arguably produced the more interesting images for me but the CL was no slouch. This conclusion was based partly on personal taste (subjective) but also from the number of likes and comments on the various social media platforms. The problem is the the digital Leica CL produces digital looking photos (lens dependent), as you may expect. This is the look most peoples eyes are used to seeing in the digital world so such photos look at best “nice/ normal” (I think).
The beauty of the digital Leica M8 is it can produce photos that don’t look digital and on occasion some images are mistaken as analogue. A photo that looks “different” is almost always going to be more interesting than a photo that looks “normal”, regardless of the subject matter. For this reason I feel the Leica M8 produced the most unique looking photos and maybe those that stand out the most from this Poland shoot.
Comparing apples to oranges
The Leica CL did capture some nice colour photos (especially) and B&W too but I think this test was a bit like comparing apples to oranges. In a world full of apples an orange will always look more exciting. That being the Leica M8 photos in the digital era.
Comparing apples to apples
If I had compared apples to apples, say the Leica CL vs Leica M240 the results would be far closer. The M240 would win for shallow depth of field with the full frame sensor but the Leica CL would win for dynamic range. Perhaps I should compare these two cameras for a model shoot in the future!
A7: Leica CL with M Lenses (more lenses tested)
Example photos using the Leica CL with more Leica M mount lenses:
Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.0 (v2)
Leica Summarit-M 50mm f2.5
Voigtlander Color Skopar 35mm f2.5
Leica Macro Elmar-M 90mm f4 (used previously also)
Part B: Poland trip October 2018 – Details
B1: Mamiya RZ67
For Poland I was excited to fit in my Mamiya RZ67 camera to do some nice portraits. I zipped my bag up successfully with everything for the trip inside, done. I then weighed my bag and I was 3kilo over the 10kg weight limit (for my main carry on bag). The culprit was quite obviously the RZ67. I took it out and the carbon monopod for it and I was just within my weight limit. Boo! I will try again next time!
B2: Camera Bag
With the Mamiya RZ67 removed my camera bag looked as follows:
- Nikon F5 SLR film camera
- Nikkor 180mm f2.8 lens
- Fuji GA645 film camera
- Olympus 35 RC film camera
- Leica M6 film camera
- Leica M8 digital camera
- Leica CL digital camera
- Voigtlander Color Skopar 21mm f4 lens
- Voigtlander Color Skopar 35mm f2.5 lens
- Leica Summarit-M 50mm f2.5 lens
- Leica Macro Elmar-M 90mm f4 lens
- Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.0 lens
- New Godox Light (Review to follow!)
- Godox TT350 speedlights x2 (see lighting gear post)
- Zomei Carbon Tripod (as light stand)(see essential gear post)
I included a few different film cameras for a change to freshen things up a bit. Each had a purpose and was in my bag on merit alone.
B3: Why I chose each camera?
Leica M6 Classic
My Leica M6 seems to have the most accurately calibrated rangefinder of all my Leica film cameras. If I am to shoot film with the Noctilux at f1 I need the camera spot on. The Leica M6 also uses the same M lenses I will use on the Leica M8/ CL so it makes sense to pack at least one Leica film camera.
Nikon F5 SLR
I brought the Nikon F5 to use the Nikkor 180mm f2.8 lens specifically. It gives a totally different shooting experience to using a Leica camera with say a 50mm lens. I enjoy the compression and shoot-through ability using a long lens (and a SLR camera). I’ve never taken such a long lens to Poland so it will allow me to create different photos to all my prior Poland visits.
Olympus 35 RC
The little Olympus 35 RC can produce sharp photos with the lens stopped down a little (I’ve found in the past). It also gives a different look / distorted perspective than my Leica film cameras which I quite like. It is a small camera so is easy to pack and carry but the main reason I brought it was the 1/500 flash sync speed. I hoped to use this in daylight with flash.
The GA645 is my smallest and lightest medium format camera. I love the extra resolution 645 film negatives give over 35mm film. I also like the economy factor of shooting 645 vs 6×6 or 6×7 film. 645 film is a good happy middle ground for me. I wanted to shoot some 120 film and the 60mm Fujion lens has given me sharp pleasing results in the past. It also has a flash sync speed of 1/400 which I planned to use.
B4: 2 Days in Poland, 6 Models
I enjoyed 2 almost full days of photo sessions in Poland despite some cancellations. 9am til after 6pm both days, near back to back models, 1 in, 1 out.
I didn’t shoot as much film as I had hoped the first day but I got going more by the afternoon. Day 2 I shot as much film as I could as I knew I would regret it if I didn’t. I shot 6 rolls of 35mm and 2 rolls of 120 including my first roll of Kodak ProImage 100 colour film. I had hoped to shoot more 120 film but the opportunities never seemed to arise.
As with shooting film I had hoped to use flash a lot in Poland. The problem was there were blue skies so much of the time it was too bright to shoot flash practically. By the end of day 1 I used flash more as the light levels dropped and I was pleased with the result. For day 2 again by later in the day I used flash when we worked in the shadows. I was able to create a different look to my usual work and was happy with the results. For the blue hour I gelled the light to mimic sunlight and used it through til dark. It was a rare occasion that I preferred the colour images to the black and white photos. I shot some night photos with the film cameras using the flash so am interested to see the photos as I would normally avoid this.
B5: Film cameras – which did I use most?
As mentioned I shot less film that hoped. (The usual it seems these days for me). I shot 2 rolls with the Fuji GA645 and only 1 roll with the Olympus 35 RC. The Nikon F5 went through 2 rolls and the Leica M6 3 rolls of film.
Film cameras – camera limitations
The GA645 often didn’t suit the busy background being an f4 lens so I used it less. (With an f4 35mm equivalent lens there is less background separation). The Olympus 35 RC is better stopped down so again I needed more light or a simple backdrop (for my taste). The Nikon F5 with 180mm lens was too long for many photos so was perhaps used less than it could have been. It is also big to carry around but that didn’t matter. I used the Leica M6 the most as it has the best viewfinder of the manual focus film cameras, is very portable and arguably had access to the best lens. I used the M6 with the Leica Noctilux lens as much as I could but used it from f1-f2 rather than all shot wide open.
B6: Leica Lenses – which lenses didn’t I use
I hardly used the Voigtlander Color Skopar lenses (21mm f4 and 35mm f3.5) nor the Leica Elmarit 28mm f2.8. I just did a few wide shots indoors a few times and I think that was all. Why not? I had a big hotel room and access to outdoors with good weather so was never in a confined space.
B7: Leica Lenses – what lenses were most used
I used the Leica Noctilux wherever possible but I had 3 Leica camera bodies asking for it! The Leica M6 got first choice as I prefer film to digital. This meant the Nocti was my most used lens in Poland. My second most used was the Leica 90mm Macro Elmar, even on the CL. I kept wanting background separation and that was my second best lens for the task that I had with me. Lastly was the Leica Summarit 50mm f2.5 lens. It was used third most as it was better than the other 3 wider lenses I had.
B8: Leica M lenses – regrets
For most of the my time in Poland I wish I had taken the Leica Summilux 50mm f1.4 ASPH. It works great on every Leica, no question. A second lens that could have been well used was the Voigtlander 35mm f1.2 ASPH lens. Next time! It was my first model shoot overseas without taking a full frame Leica M camera so not having these lenses was an oversight on my part. Always learning!
B9: The Poland trip
We were so lucky with the weather in Poland. The middle of October with sunshine and blue sky both days and temperatures reaching into the 20s! (degrees Celsius). I had left a cold wet windy UK so felt very fortunate.
Huge hotel room
To my delight the hotel kindly gave me the biggest room in the building. The apartment family suite with sea view, roof top terrace and glass windows on 2 sides letting in lots of daylight. It was my first stay in this room despite visiting many times over the years.
6 models in total. 2 new models, with one girl only 14 years old and had never had a photo shoot before. 2 familiar faces from my visit in September and 2 girls you might recognise if you’ve followed me for 1-2 years or more. Despite 3 model cancellations the 6 models that did visit filled most of my free time so I was happy. Unlike my Budapest trip there was no time wasted, thankfully, and day 2 particularly was nonstop photos all day. A big thanks to models Marta, Amelia, Pola, Irmina, Claudia and Teresa and to Monika for the huge hotel room (and kind hospitality)!
As with the last two Leica CL photo shoot trips I will share the film images a a later date once the film is developed and processed.
Film Teaser – Fuji GA645:
- The best Leica M lenses for the Leica CL
Once I’ve used more of my Leica M lenses on the Leica CL I will share the results from all lenses tested plus some thoughts in a round up post.
Related Leica CL Posts
- See full details of my portrait photography lighting kit (2018) – HERE
- See full details of my portrait photography equipment kit (2018) – HERE