Rangefinders (Changeable Lens)

The Leica CL

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The Leica CL, along with its contemporary cousin the Leica M5, comes from a time in Leica’s history that seems to have been a little rocky to say the least. Yet whilst Leica suffered in the day, the M5 and CL both now have their respective cult followings. I really enjoyed shooting the Leica M5, but ultimately it wasn’t the right camera for me. On the other hand, the Leica CL – or at least my CL – has me suckered. It’s not a camera I use a lot, but it’s also not a camera I feel I could easily part with… And that’s despite it having what I see as a fair few pretty significant flaws and fairly sound reasons not to like it!

Leica CL and 50mm Zeiss sonnar

A brief history

The Leica CL is an unusual camera for a Leica, mainly because it isn’t a pure bread Leica – in fact it wasn’t even actually made by Leica. The CL is a cross breed, it’s a product of collaboration between German camera manufacturer Leica, and Japanese manufacturer Minolta. The Germans helped design it, but the Japanese made it. As such, there are a few versions of the CL: the Leica CL, the Leitz-Minolta CL and the Minolta CL. There’s more about these variants on CameraQuest, but the gist is – but for the badge – they are all the same camera.

What’s also talked about in the CameraQuest article is the Leica CL’s success. Something like 85,000 of these cameras were made in their various incarnations through the mid 70’s, yet after only a few years Leica – who sold some 65,000 with their name on it – withdrew it from the market. What’s unclear is why. It’s seems to be often said that it was damaging sales of the bigger and more expensive Leica M5 and that whilst it was a success as a camera, because of the relationship with Minolta, it didn’t make Leica enough cash. I’ve no idea how true any of this is, but one way or another by the end of the 70’s Leica had sacked both it and the M5 off, moved their manufacturing to Canada and with the M4-2 reverted to building cameras themselves in the image of what had come before.

As such – along side the M5 – the Leica CL juts out of the side of the historical line of Leica M mount cameras. Unlike the M5 though – which just feels like a different design of the same concept – the Leica CL feels like a different type of camera altogether.

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A different class

Not only is the Leica CL not really a Leica by breed, to my mind it’s not really within the same classification of camera to the M rangefinders either. To my mind Leica M rangefinders compete with SLR cameras, whereas the CL is more of a competitor to the smaller cameras of its era. As I talk about in my 40mm Summicron review, I don’t think that it’s any coincidence that the the standard lens for the CL is 40mm when that same focal length was the standard choice for compact cameras in the 70’s.

In the 70’s there were stacks of cameras with 40mm lenses; the Olympus trip and all its rangefinder cousins such as the Olympus RC, RD and SP come immediately to mind. Then there was the Canonet range, the Yashicas such as the GTX, not to mention the Minolta Hi-Matic range, and countless others. I suspect Leica wanted into this marketplace, but simultaneously didn’t want to turn their backs on the interchangeable M mount camera owners. For me, this is what the Leica CL is. It’s a 40mm compact rangefinder like so many others of the era, it just also happens to have a interchangeable M-mount.

The M-Mount

Of course, the story of this M-mount isn’t as simple as I could be. Whilst it allows you to mount most M lenses on the camera, there are a series of considerations and shortcomings that add up to a few of the flaws I mentioned at the beginning of the post.

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Flaw no.1 – Design bias and the 40mm focal length

When you put the CL to your eye there is no doubting that it was designed primarily to be used with a 40mm lens. Leica didn’t make a 40mm lens prior to the CL, and haven’t since. There are a few other 40mm lenses made by other manufacturers, but it’s not exactly a regular focal length in M-mount.

There are frame lines for the 90mm, and even frame lines for 50mm lenses but there’s no other lines for 28 or 35mm lenses. This is not to say you can’t use a 35mm lens. With the 40mm lines fitting the viewfinder there is just enough space around them for you to guess 35mm framing quite easily, but it’s not entirely ideal. Since the 35mm focal length is the most popular with rangefinder users, this all gives the CL system a sense of being a little more separate from wider Leica M system.

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Flaw no.2 – Incompatible lenses

This isn’t the only limitation imposed by this specific implementation of the m-mount either. Unfortunately there is also bit of a two way issue with lens incompatibility. Leica obviously wanted their current lens owners to be able to use at least some of their lenses on the Leica CL. What they seemingly didn’t want was the cheaper CL lenses to damage the sales of the more expensive Leica lens range. To remedy this, they designed the 40mm and 90mm ‘c’ lenses to have a slightly different rangefinder cam. They then claimed that these lenses weren’t compatible with other M cameras.

When I had a 40mm I used it on my M3 with no problems, but since then I’ve had an email conversation with a chap who found his 40mm didn’t focus properly on his M3. Perhaps this was down to something else, but it seems plausible that it was down to the built-in incompatibility that Leica claimed.

Then there’s the problem of not all Leica lenses being compatible with the CL. Just like in the Leica M5, the Leica CL has a light meter that sits on a mechanical arm behind the lens and in front of the shutter. This means that collapsible lenses and lenses with protruding rear elements can’t be used without potentially damaging the camera. Unfortunately, even the lenses that can be used aren’t immune to difficulty either.

Flaw no.3 – A short effective RF base length

This brings me neatly to what I think of as one of the CL’s biggest flaws, or at least biggest hurdles to it not being more ideal for me. If you aren’t aware of what rangefinder base length is, have a read of this post. In short, it’s the physical size of the rangefinder within the camera. The longer the base length the greater potential for accuracy. In the Leica CL the effective base length is the shortest of any M-mount camera. You can see this just looking at the front of the camera – the gap between the viewfinder and rangefinder is tiny compared to that on a full size M camera.

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This isn’t the only camera I’ve used with a short base length. All of the Voigtlander R series have short rangefinders too. As I said in the post I wrote about the r2a and r3a, it’s not just how long it is that counts; how solid edged the rangefinder patch is and how clear and bright it is also makes a difference. In the Voigltanders I find it just the right side of useable even with faster lenses, in the Leica CL I don’t quite have the full level of confidence in it. The patch is bight and well defined, but it’s definitely harder to critical focus at large apertures, close range.

Flaw no.4 – 0.8m close focus

There’s one other flaw imposed by the rangefinder mechanism too. The minimum focusing distance of the ‘c’ lenses is 0.8m, and as such so is that the minimum focusing distance of the CL. Not a deal breaker, but it can be frustrating.

Strength no.1 – The usefulness of the m-mount

This I’m sure all sounds like doom and gloom? Well all is definitely not lost for the CL as an m-mount camera. The fact remains that whilst I really liked the 40mm Summicron, I decided I didn’t need it. I made the choice to stick to the preexisting lenses in my kit. This is obviously something that I couldn’t have done had it been a fixed lens camera, but as it stands it just integrated itself into my camera lineup almost seamlessly. Of course, with the 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar the CL isn’t quite ideal, but the 35mm Voigtlander works fine, and my 28mm Voigtlander 3.5 Color-Skopar works a treat with an add on viewfinder. As would any wider angle lens, not least the 17mm Tamron SP I once mounted on it (just because I could).

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What’s really nice is that my really little little MS-Optical converted Nikon L35AF lens also fits to it nicely which makes for a rangefinder that rivals even some of the smallest out there in terms of size.

Strength no.2 – The joy of its small size

Small size is a big attraction to me – as it is to a lot of CL advocates. As any regular reader of this website will know, I’m a fan of small cameras (they are the topic of this website after all). I put up with the size of a Leica M, but it’s borderline as a system to me. It has enough benefits to tip the balance, but sometimes the size and weight is just get on my nerves. For those times the CL is there to take up the slack.

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MS-Optical converter Nikon L35 lens

MS-Optical converter Nikon L35 lens

Strength no.3 – Simple function

What’s really nice about the CL is that with this small size also comes basic manual function. With a lot of small cameras it often feels like there’s a part of the design that’s pushing you to use the camera a certain way. This couldn’t be more true of compact rangefinders that are reasonably contemporary to the Leica CL. Take the Canonet QL17 Giii for example, or the Olympus 35RC. Both great cameras – the Canon has a wonderful fast lens and the Olympus is tiny, so both have distinct advantages of their own. The problem with them is, neither feels fully functional when used as a manual camera. Both can be used manually, but really they’re designed to be used as shutter priority cameras.

The Leica CL in use

The Leica CL on the other hand is a purely manual camera. As I will come to in a moment, it’s not perfectly intuitive to use as a metered camera, and it still feels best used in a specific way. But, what I enjoy about its function is that it’s a manual camera, and as such it doesn’t impose any level of automation on me in the way the likes of the aforementioned fixed lens rangefinders do.

Strength no.4 – The basic manual controls

This basic manual function is derived from basic manual controls. The Leica CL has a shutter dial which in turn has a dial for setting the film speed for the light meter built into the centre of it. With the dial being located on the front, with the camera to your eye, it sits neatly under a right hand finger. As you rotate it there’s a shutter speed readout in the viewfinder that tells you the set speed. Conveniently, the dial rotates in the same direction as the as the needle moves on the shutter speed readout in the camera.

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Once a lens is attached a you also have your manual aperture control – you can’t see the set aperture in the viewfinder, but this will come as no surprise to anyone who shoots any other Leica rangefinder.

Flaw no.5 – opposite rotations

This is all great, but as mentioned once you get beyond the basics and start looking at the function of the light meter, the CL starts to feel not quite as perfectly intuitive to use as it possibly could do.

With a lens attached to the front and you’ll find that the rotation of the aperture dial is the opposite to the rotation of the shutter in terms of adjusting the exposure up or down – turning the shutter dial anti-clockwise increases exposure, yet turning the aperture anti-clockwise decreases exposure.

I don’t think I’d have even noticed this if it wasn’t a metered camera. But as a metered camera this inconsistency seems to feel very apparent. Unfortunately the slight usability issue of opposite rotating dials is further compounded by another feature of the Leica CL that I found – at least to start with – completely jared with me every time I used the camera.

Flaw no.6 – The upside down light meter

The light meter readout in the Leica CL is upside down! Overexposure causes the needle to point lower than the correct exposure marking and underexposure points the needle above the correct exposure marker.

Intended function

On face value it seemed illogical for it to work this way, but after using it for a little while I realised that the meter-readout-needle moves relative to the direction of rotation of the shutter dial. This is what gave me the most significant cue in terms of how I think the metering system of the Leica CL was intended to be used.

Strength no.5 – The spot meter

The meter in the CL is a spot meter. If the meter was any other type of meter – or intended to be used as any other type of meter – I think I would feel a lot more negative about the above mentioned odd function than I do. Since it is a spot I’ve found the way I use it to be much more akin to the way I use an external meter than the way I use most built in meters

Strength no.6 – A switched meter

For a start, the meter is switched, and therefore isn’t always on. To switch it on you have to pull the shutter advance slightly out from its closed position. With the shutter advance flush to the camera, it feels much more like a meter-less body.

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Taking a reading

When you switch the meter on, you have spot meter for taking a few moments to asses the light. As mentioned, the aperture doesn’t display in the viewfinder, but since the shutter speed does you just set your chosen aperture with the lens then with the camera to the eye you can point it around the scene clicking the shutter speed dial back and forth to take one, or indeed a range of readings depending on your spot metering methodology. It’s not the fastest process, but then spot metering isn’t.

The trick is, when your clicking the shutter dial you just click it in the direction you want the meter needle to move until it gets to the centre position. If only then you look at the shutter reading, it’s sort of irrelevant which way the needle has moved.

The beauty of it is, once you’ve got your reading because the Leica CL is fully manual, it’s very quick to shoot. What’s really nice is if the reading taken was to set the camera for a series of shots, you can either fold away the shutter advance after each shot to switch the meter off, or you can just ignore the meter altogether.

Once you get used to this to as a process, the CL starts to feel a fair amount more intuitive than trying to use it as a metered camera in the traditional sense of the concept. It somehow feels more like an external meter that automatically applies your readings to the camera settings. For someone who has become very comfortable with non-metered cameras over the last year or so, oddly enough, this slightly counterintuitive functionality somehow manages to feel like a very nice balance between a non-metered and a metered camera!

Family snaps

Family snaps

Family snaps

Longevity

If all that sounds appealing so far, you might be thinking about clicking though to eBay to see what’s about. Well, before you jump, there is one somewhat less easy to set aside issue with these cameras, and that’s their potential for failure and their nature as ageing cameras.

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve written this post around the Leica CL’s strengths and flaws. You might have also noticed that the flaws I’ve mentioned have been roughly balanced out with positive strengths that I feel at least mostly level the playing field. The issue for you as a reader is, up until this point I have been talking specifically about my Leica CL… And my Leica CL is a little bit more special than most.

To my mind, there is one serious hurdle in the way of the success of the Leica CL as a classic user camera – they just aren’t all that ideal in terms of a second hand purchase. The first and biggest problem you’ll have when buying one of these cameras is finding a good one. In fact, more than finding a good one, you might struggle to find a working one. Unfortunately over the years, many of them seem to have failed, with the main issue being around the light meter.

The temptation for me to buy one of these cameras cropped up a few times over the years, but I’d never quite bitten the bullet due to the nagging feeling in the back of my mind that even if I did buy a working one it’s light meter might not be long for this world. When I eventually bought my Leica CL it was completely on a whim – I was actually looking at sold listing on eBay to help advise the value of one for a mate. I saw one that hadn’t sold on eBay that intrigued me. I got in touch with the guy to find out his intentions for it and ended up buying it for the money it hadn’t sold for. Looking at the pictures of this camera, you might think that I’ve gone completely mad. Why on earth would I be so intrigued by such a tatty looking camera?

Well, the detail is in the little bit of paper that the seller referenced in the listing and in fact which came with the camera (although frustratingly I now can’t find it). The piece of paper was a receipt relating to a service that was carried out by Leica in 2000 to replace three key parts within my CL

Flaw no. 8 – The meter diode

Look inside my camera and you’ll see a meter diode with wires that are close together. This is apparently – at least according to the seller – a sign that it is a later meter. The original meter diode’s wires are further apart. The older ones failed, the newer ones are apparently longer lasting… Or at least by the nature of it being newer, it will last me longer.

Flaw no. 9 – The take up spool

The take up spool in my CL has also been replaced. Search google for “Leica CL take up spool” and you’ll find countless threads on forums with people trying to find a solution to cracked and snapped take up mechanisms. The plastic part seemingly degrades over time leaving it fragile and now prone to failure. A bit of double sided sticky tape is apparently the simple answer (when isn’t it?!), but it’s not exactly a perfect solution.

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Flaw no. 10 – The battery circuit

Finally, my CL was altered by Leica to work with the modern same-shaped 1.5v batteries. The CL was originally designed to work with 1.35v batteries – these types of batteries have long since been discontinued. Though I should add this isn’t too much on an issue if you have one of these adapters.

Strength no. 7 – Easy easy to work around flaws

Whilst it’s harder to dismiss these issues, or talk around them as mere idiosyncrasies in the way I’ve described the previous flaws they do at least remain workable in as much as they don’t write off the camera completely.

If you can manage without a meter then it failing shouldn’t be any hinderance to you. It’s a fully mechanical camera with no automated or meter reliant functions, as such Leica CL functions perfectly without its meter. Additionally to this, as I’ve already described, the meter feels better used almost like a separate meter anyway, so using a separate meter isn’t going to feel significantly more restrictive. The take up spool issue has a workaround too. It might not be ideal, but again at least isn’t of game over for the camera if it fails. And the battery issue whilst costly for an adapter is far from the end of the world, and irrelevant if the meter has also failed…

(Unfounded?) nagging untrustworthiness

My problem is, I just find it a little hard forgive these latter potential failures, especially the meter and spool. They just give a sense of nagging untrustworthiness and age to the CL that bothers me. This feel of an aged camera is just not something I associate with Leica rangefinders. My M3 and M-A feel just as new as one another, at least in terms of how long I expect them to last. I just don’t have that same expectation from even my fettled CL.

That all said, I wonder how much of this thought process is a reflection of the expectation given by the badge? Am I trying to compare the CL to something I’ve already stated that it’s not comparable to? If it wasn’t designed to be a Leica M rangefinder, then by its nature it’s also not designed to compete with or really be compared to one. It’s easy to fall into the comparison trap because it says Leica on it and takes the same lenses, but really, it’s simply not the same class of camera.

Conclusions

The reason I’m labouring this point about the Leica CL as a type of camera, is that to my mind very nearly fails entirely through this identity crisis. If I think of the CL as a M mount Leica rangefinder I find the lack of 35mm frame lines annoying, the rangefinder base length limiting and the lens incompatibility and 0.8m close focus a little frustrating. And that’s before I even think about the comparably basic build quality.

Yet, if instead I shift my perspective and think of it as a Minolta compact camera, all of a sudden it starts to make a good deal more sense. It might not take all Leica lenses perfectly, but it takes most of them, and that’s definitely more than any other compact rangefinder. It might not have 35mm frame lines, but I can still mount a 35mm lens and guess framing or use an accessory finder. The RF base length might be a little limiting, but actually even with my 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar I’ve not suffered too badly.

Leica CL and 50mm Zeiss sonnar

Possibly more importantly than any of that, when compared to other fixed lens compact rangefinders, it’s build quality and indeed size is about what I’d expect. This would all be great if I felt I it meant that I could unreservedly recommend it as a camera through these merits. The problem is, the group of people I feel I can even half recommend it to is actually pretty niche.

For example if someone asked me if they should buy a Leica CL to give them a less expensive feel for what a Leica rangefinder could do for their photography, I’d warn them off. The CL doesn’t feel like a Leica M rangefinder in the hand and their are too many functional discrepancies to demonstrate what someone might get out of shooting a full sized M.

It’s also the case that if someone else asked me if they should buy a Leica CL as a compact rangefinder – maybe instead of a Canon QL17 – I’d struggle to make that recommendation too. Yes it has the advantage of simple functioning metered full manual control, but once you add a good lens to it you could be looking at a £400 investment. You could have 4 Canon QL17s for that money – and with both cameras being roughly equally prone to failure – the Canon is probably a more sensible purchase.

To my mind, this leaves the Leica CL as a sensible choice of camera really only one group of people. The M-mount photographer looking for a second or smaller body to go with a preexisting collection of lenses might just find the CL works nicely for them, but even they aren’t exactly immune to all the flaws.

Yet despite all this, despite the flaws not outweighing the strengths, despite me not feeling like I recommend the CL in good faith, and despite the fact that you’d be damned lucky to find one that works, or at least works for a long time in to the future; the fact is sometimes numbers, logic and common sense don’t add up to the full picture.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I really like my Leica CL! It’s size, simple function and compatibility with a few lenses that I already love give it a unique set of strengths that no other camera can offer. This sounds like I’m saying I only like it because of the absence of an alternative, and I guess there might be an element of truth in that. But somehow, the CL has a charm that seems to supersede the facts. Yes it’s far from perfect, but it would be amiss not to say I didn’t think it a great little camera! This is why despite me not being able to specifically recommend the Leica CL based on the facts, I didn’t feel it possible to end this review on a bad note… Should you buy a Leica CL? Probably not… but if you do, I’m almost certain you’ll like it!

Cheers for reading,

Hamish


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Hamish

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49 Comments

  • Reply
    Steve
    September 17, 2016 at 11:49 am

    Thanks for the review. I have never shot with the Leica CL, but own a Minolta CLE. That one has frames for 28mm, 40mm and 90mm. I have used Leica Elmarit 28mm, Summicron C 40mm and Elmarit 90mm with no problem at all with focus. Even shooting the 90mm wide open, the focus on my subject is sharp. The only challenge is seeing the patch well enough. It’s a wonderful kit, and very light. I have used the Summicron C 40mm on an M3 and an M240 with no problems. It is a great little lens.

  • Reply
    George Appletree
    September 17, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    Interesting knowing about that rarity.
    As you mention it’s difficult to understand about Leica strategy.
    While competing with slr’s and handy rangefinders sounds reasonable, facts like reversing aperture dial, metering needle plus back rotating film cover… combined with moving the red dot on to the shutter release button and placing the speed dial on the front all together make a cocktail perhaps only for initiates.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 18, 2016 at 9:56 am

      The red dot on the shutter release is my addition 🙂

      • Reply
        George Appletree
        September 19, 2016 at 2:56 pm

        That was my guess. They added Leitz WELTZAR on the top plate

  • Reply
    Francois
    September 17, 2016 at 8:26 pm

    The CL is an interesting camera, the interesting part is the size and the fact that you use Leica glass with it. According to a repairperson who did a couple of CLA’s on my cameras (including a CL) told me to look for the Leitz Minolta CL instead of the CL, they were later and it seems better produced. Another repairperson on the idea of doing a CLA on another CL told me that I should consider buying an M instead if I was to pay for a CLA. Point well taken. This being said, it’s a small neat camera but once you start investing in Leica lenses, it only makes sense to get hold of an M and have it revised. As for the lightmeter, the late Martine Franck who was Henri Cartier Bresson wife responded when asked on why she didn’t use a lightmeter: At my age I know my light. It is said that Cartier Bresson took one reading in the morning and adjusted speed/aperture during the day. Then again you could use your phone, but that wouldn’t be any fun.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 18, 2016 at 9:54 am

      I know Sherry Krauter overhauls them for something like $300 – I lot of cash that does indeed get you closer to an M of some sort once the price of the camera is also taken into account. But then, I’m certain there are those out there that would like the CL enough to invest in it!
      As you say, if it’s just the meter, there are cheaper options to keep you going – not least, just not using a meter

      • Reply
        Dustin
        September 22, 2016 at 5:02 pm

        Outstanding review, Hamish. Great shots. I own two of these (both recently CLA’d – not by Sherry; however, she was the reason I purchased the camera(s) in the first place), and I’ve come to embrace a love/hate relationship with them. Your strengths and flaws are spot on.

        One thing to note for others looking to buy into the CL… Sherry mentioned that there were over 20 modifications made to this camera over its lifetime. She claims that the Leitz Minolta CL incarnation with a serial number above 103xxxx is the one you want to look for. This version apparently has the upgrades and strengthened parts intended to go the long haul.

        Cheers!

        • Reply
          Hamish Gill
          September 23, 2016 at 7:57 pm

          Hi Dustin – thats good to read! sometimes when I write these things I feel like I am getting far to obsessive about the details and do wonder if anyone else actually sees what I see.
          My CL S/N is 1426239 – so thats got to be good, right?

          • Dustin
            September 25, 2016 at 3:08 pm

            Your obsession on the details is what keeps us coming back to the site 🙂

            As I understand it, once Minolta ceased production on the Leica CL, they continued producing the Leitz Minolta CL for a short time thereafter. It is these Leitz Minolta CLs ( serials above 103xxxx ) that had the best modifications, and were the last to be made before Minolta switched focus to the CLE. Regardless, it looks like yours may have been used as a weapon at one point in time – A testament to how durable these little cameras are irrespective of their serials.

            Cheers! 🙂

          • Hamish Gill
            September 26, 2016 at 9:58 am

            I’m confused about the timeline – Would the minolta bodies have different sequenced S/ns to the Leitz bodies, mine is 1426239
            “Obsession with details” – I like that 🙂

          • Dustin
            September 26, 2016 at 4:20 pm

            As far as I understand it, they did. There were three separate serial runs across the 3 versions (Leica CL, LM CL, and 50th anniversary CL). Apparently, even though your “Leica CL” has a higher serial than mine, my LM CLs (103xxxx) were made later. As it often is with camera manufacturers, none of this makes any sense to me 😛

            Cheers!
            @dvl

  • Reply
    Eddy
    September 17, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    Thank you for another interesting review Hamish. The photograph of the elderly man, cat and baby is glorious!

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 18, 2016 at 9:48 am

      Cheers Eddy 🙂

  • Reply
    Andrew Kaiser
    September 18, 2016 at 1:14 am

    While the CL is an interesting camera I very much prefer the Minolta CLE. Much more practical, same M-Mount, same size, but easier to use with an aperture priority mode, better metering, better viewfinder, and a film loading mechanism that doesn’t require taking the camera apart.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 18, 2016 at 9:50 am

      I have plans to try one at some stage. Is it the same size, I thought it was a little larger?

      • Reply
        Tony Karnezis
        September 22, 2016 at 1:31 am

        Same with the photo of the child on the bridge. I really like the expression you captured and how the lines converge to frame his face. Wonderful.

  • Reply
    KHALED IM
    September 18, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    Hamish, I’d add a couple of points to those you’ve already mentioned:

    1- The camera is not particularly small or light – its ‘compactness’ owes more to the small size of the lens than to that of the body. A Rollei 35 is genuinely compact, a CL at twice the size is not.

    2- The 40mm lens brings up both the 40 and 50 framelines leaving the viewfinder somewhat busy.

    3- While the collapsible hood & cap are superbly compact by design, the rubber eventually wears out. Metal replacements are not a substitute since they add bulk to a camera that is meant to be small.

    4- No possibility of adding a diopter correction lens as far as I know.

    Shortcomings aside, the CL is beautifully engineered, refined in operation, sufficiently quiet and quite discreet in street settings. Somehow, it manages to pass itself off as a compact, too. It really only makes sense for those intent on using the 40mm as their only lens in the smallest possible package that offers 40mm framelines and full manual controls. The M, otherwise, is a better choice as a system camera.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 19, 2016 at 7:40 pm

      1- I’d agree with that sentiment, though I would add that I’m trying to compare apples and apples if you follow? It’s why I mentioned the Canonet a fair amount of times – I think it is a comparable camera, whereas the Rollei is less so.
      2- yes, I forgot to mention that, good shout!
      3- I reviewed the less separately, have you seen that review?
      4- also a good point!
      The comment about it really only making sense with the 40mm I kind of agree with, though with just the 40mm, I’d be tempted by the canon more. A big part of the enjoyment of the CL for me is as a second (3rd) to the M-A and M3. With the 35mm Voigtlander lens, it feels like a really strong combination. I’ve been thinking more recently about getting a 40mm Voigltander too… …

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 19, 2016 at 7:40 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts, by the way!

  • Reply
    Yufoto
    September 19, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    Thanks for the review. It is great to read your personal thoughts on this little beauty. I got mine this Sunday, Leica CL, with a working meter. I guess I am lucky. However, the shutter release is very stiff and need a heavy press to make the shot. The Bulb mode is not working. Do yours have the same issue?

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 19, 2016 at 7:16 pm

      Hey, no I don’t have any issues with mine at all. It might be worth having a CLA – what country are you in?

      • Reply
        Yufoto
        September 19, 2016 at 11:02 pm

        Thanks a lot. I might try, but really don’t want to have my CL open. I am from Hong Kong. It is very hard a find a CL in great condition here.

  • Reply
    Drewhoo
    September 20, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    Loved the review. I have a question for you: I have the opportunity to buy a working CL + 40mm Summi for $600/£462, and wanted to see if you think that’s a decent value. In reading your article you seem ambivalent about the camera’s cost, but I was unsure if you were referring to the camera or camera + lens. If it matters, I want a small film camera for family pictures.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 20, 2016 at 9:58 pm

      I think one of the biggest issue with the CL as a camera with just the 40mm is its cost. If you have intentions of expanding your system to a Leica m proper, of if it is an expansion of a system I really feel like it has value, even at its cost. As just a rangefinder camera with a 40mm lens – all be it a good one – I can’t help think that something like a canon ql17 Giii offers better value.
      That all said, money isn’t everything – if the rest of my review wit regard to the function encouraged the idea of the CL, then it might well be the right camera – and that’s a pretty good price for lens and camera by all accounts

      • Reply
        Drewhoo
        September 21, 2016 at 3:11 pm

        Thanks Hamish. I called the store and talked them down to $525/£400, and ordered it today. I’ve shot a few rolls with a Canonet QL17, and while it is certainly a good performer, I wasn’t thrilled with the way it handled or its rangefinder. The funny thing is, last week I ordered a Canonet (I gave the old one away) to defer my entry into the Leica system until I had more money, and KEH told me they’d already sold it to someone else! I took it as a sign.

        • Reply
          Hamish Gill
          September 21, 2016 at 8:40 pm

          I am sure you will love it!
          I’m trying not to buy the 40mm Voigtlander f/1.4 now… I despair of myself… 🙂

  • Reply
    Dan Castelli
    September 21, 2016 at 11:44 pm

    Hiya Hammish,
    I’ve been anticipating your review on the CL. After reading it, I hesitated to reply for a bit of time.
    To the uninitiated, it may seem you did a hatchet job on the camera. However, I’ve found your reviews to be fair, and based upon actual usage of the equipment. There are times when I can sense the internal dilemma you go through when you make a critical observation. You hesitate to say something less than flattering, but it’s an honest observation, and it’s framed in such a way that the reader can come to their own conclusion.

    I have a CL. At the moment, it’s in Sherry Krauter’s shop to adjust the rangefinder after I dropped it. Twice. I am one of those photographers who did pay her to upgrade my CL. Right after I bought it, I pushed the viewfinder window into the body. When she received the camera, she called me and told me that my CL (early production model) needed some parts replaced to reflect the modifications and upgrades that the camera went through during its production life. I agreed to have her do the work; knowing now I could never recoup my investment. But, I tend to keep my equipment for a long time, so the work made sense for me. The cost was about $150.00 USD.
    I’ve used it w/the 40mm Nokton, the 35 & 50mm Summicron and the tiny 35mm f/2.5 Voigtlander. I never had a problem with focusing accuracy. The shutter sound is a bit sharper than my M2 & M7, but still discreet.

    I was once told by a Leica rep that the decision to design the camera around the 40mm lens was to give the photographer a bit more depth-of-field to help compensate for the shorter R/F baseline. In the same conversation, he said that some consideration was paid to the classic, pocketable screw-mount Leica’s w/the Elmar lens. Some designers wanted a smaller body; they felt the M5 violated the original concept of the original pre-war cameras. This just may be another ‘Leica Lore’ story he passed onto me. I have never seen any reference to either point he made.

    Overall, I like my CL. It has it quirks, but so do I. I use a small, hand-held meter because it’s faster than the built-in meter. I just remove the battery to avoid distraction within the viewfinder. I use it with 36 exposure rolls to minimize re-loading (breaking open the back). It’s almost impossible to mis-load the camera. I don’t like the vertical carrying position – I use a fitted half-case to provide some protection, sound reduction and to orientate the camera horizontally.
    I carried it around Florence in my fleece pocket. It was fitted with the color-skopar and loaded w/Delta 3200. I had the meter in around my neck. I shot some nice nighttime pics while my wife & I enjoyed gelato or a glass of wine in a sidewalk café. I felt very Capa-ish.

    So, my advice? Buy the CL (or one of its variants) with the lens of your choice. Use it for what it is, but don’t wish it was something else. Buy something else if you want something else. As much as I would like it, my VW Rabbit will never be a GTI, but I don’t care. What I do have is a M2 & a M7, good lenses, and an understanding “photo” wife. It’s all good.

    BTW, good pics w/the article. I love the photo of your child on the bike. Any parent can relate to the pose & expression. You have a good sense of light.

    Sorry this is so long-winded. Edit as you see fit.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 23, 2016 at 8:27 pm

      Hi Dan,

      No edit required – I appreciate the time and effort! I also appreciate the thought with regard to the way I look at these cameras. I do take time and think, not least because I enjoy the process, but moreover because I feel a little like criticising a camera of this standard shows a lack of empathy with the designer/s of its function. Someone must have thought this design to be ideal, or at least the best compromise – getting to that point of understanding a camera is like a whole other hobby for me.

      So tell me, of all the lenses you’ve used – which do you favour as a partner to the cl? I’m talking in terms of form, rather than quality. How do you think the 35mm focal length suits?

      As for the 40mm as a standard lens – it makes me wonder if that was the case, why not just opt for 35mm as a standard?

      And your advice, a good addition!

      Thanks again for taking the time!

  • Reply
    George Appletre
    September 22, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    40 mm lenses have been always missunderstood, kinda not enough wide, not enough d.o.f. They were usually in the second class cameras.
    I had a Zeiss biogon 35 mm. for my M8 and finally the Nokton 1.4 is better, lighter cheaper, faster and even closer to the 50 mm. equivanlent (x 1.33)… excellent.

  • Reply
    Daniel Castelli
    September 26, 2016 at 2:42 am

    Dear Hammish,
    let’s hope the 3rd time’s the charm…I’ve tried posting this on 3 separate occasions…
    For sheer compactness, I like the 35mm f/2.5 color-skopar fitted to the CL. The camera easily slips into your pocket. For those who aren’t comfortable with the 2.5 max. aperture, just up the rating of the film a half stop.
    Now, that being said, in the long run, I’d use the 40mm focal length. I’ve used the 50mm Summicron, but the camera is out of balance; it’s nose heavy. I’m on the prowl for one of the Leitz/Minolta 40mm lenses, but I’m also intrigued by the 40mm f/1.4 with the s/c coating…
    Since January 1, however, I’ve been on a year-long 50mm lens sabbatical. I did this because I’ve gotten sloppy with my camera fitted w/the 35mm lens. Working with only one focal length is helping me re-set my eye, and is giving me time to consider my next lens purchase. I’m liking the 40mm length. I think I could work with this length for a long time. A match for the CL, and a tad wider for the M2 & 7 with the 50mm framelines visible. I can live w/that.
    It would seem that a CL w/a 35mm lens would have made sense. But, the trend back then was to design around a 40mm lens. Maybe Leitz didn’t want to introduce a compact 35mm lens that would compete with their signature 35mm Summicron or Summilux? That’s all I could come up with.

    BTW, since following your blog, you’ve helped free me from the “leica Lens Tyranny.’ You know, you can only shoot with Leica glass on your Leica, or the camera may turn to dust. There are examples of great, non-Leica lenses that give exceptional results. Leica glass is good, but there are viable alternatives to fit both budget and vision.

    So, continued good shooting!

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 26, 2016 at 10:06 am

      Hi Daniel, I’m sorry to say, I got all of the replies. I didn’t check new comments over the weekend, so your all just sat in the waiting to be approved pile. I had to change the settings to approve all comments after I had some spam sneak through. Sorry about the confusion!!

      More and more I am finding myself tempted by the idea of a 35mm 2.5 – I might look to get the old ltm version so it can also go in the Barnacks

      This – “Maybe Leitz didn’t want to introduce a compact 35mm lens that would compete with their signature 35mm Summicron or Summilux?”
      Is definitely my feeling too! With the 40mm, it also gave them something to compete with the canonets etc…

      I’m glad I have given perspective on the Leica lens thing – lenses is lenses, leica lenses is good lenses, but not the only good lenses… Simple as that really I think!

  • Reply
    Wayne
    September 28, 2016 at 10:13 pm

    Well, I knew it would happen eventually: after reading your great post on the CL I pulled the trigger on a well priced example with working meter. I now have the camera in my hands and have no regrets. While your writing was interesting, and very unbiased, the final reason for buying did not have anything to do with your various points.

    Every time I grab a Barnack model, there is something inside that regrets the fact that the M mount lenses have to stay home. I love the size and function of the old cameras, but have always wished I could have that and the M lenses ,too. I looked at the size and weight specs on the CL and it dawned on me that the CL may be the answer. It is a bit taller, but yet, weighs less…..a fair trade. I am well pleased it. Thanks for your effort.

    I just bought, but have not yet received, the Voigtlander 50mm f2 Heliar, classic chrome (250 jahre) and it looks like it may be a perfect mate for the CL.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      October 2, 2016 at 8:06 pm

      What made you choose that lens – I’ve looked at a few of the less common CV 50’s a few times, but havent ever taken the leap for one reason or another

      • Reply
        Wayne
        October 3, 2016 at 8:50 pm

        Well, for starters, it is collapsible and it appeared to be smaller than, or no larger than my 35 NA Summilux. I was wrong on that count: it is both larger, and heavier. Next I was intrigued by the relative rarity of the lens. I was unable to find any past sales of this lens, and felt that might be a testimony to owner’s satisfaction.

        Despite the fact that it’s physical attributes did not meet my expectations, I am going to keep the lens. It is in very good shape, was reasonable in price, seems to focus perfectly on my M cameras, and renders, what I believe to be, a very nice image in monochrome. Forgive me for not having the capacity to express, in technical detail, the attributes of the lens rendering….I can only say that I am well pleased with the photos. Even wide open.

        In comparison with my first new M Lens, a VC, SC 40mm 1.4, it is at a disadvantage in size and weight, but is far superior in rangefinder focus accuracy. If my VC 40mm had performed like this 50mm Heliar Classic, I would still have the 40. Images are sharp, without being startlingly so. I have yet to complete my first roll of film in the CL, but have used the new VC 50 on M9. It seems to get along well with the sensor and the processing engine in the camera.

        It is a hard lens to recommend as an only 50mm F2. In comparison to my 50 Summicron LTM, it is about the same size and weight…maybe a bit larger; and was priced at about what you would pay for the Summicron in very good to excellent shape. I am going to keep it for now. But I will probably not use it much on the CL. I think the 35 Summilux will go back on the CL. Maybe there is nothing better and smaller in M mount than the Summilux.

        • Reply
          Hamish Gill
          October 5, 2016 at 8:51 pm

          That would depend on your definition of better – I am a huge fan of a certain sonnar

  • Reply
    George Appletre
    October 2, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    Hey,
    Casually reading your post about Summicron 40…
    It was mounted there on your M8.
    I do that with the Voigtlander Nokton as previously commented.
    Just to remark the framing issue you mentioned.
    The Nokton doesn’t either frame properly, but the jamming solution is just perfect:
    Instead of the tissue, cut a triangle rubber piece about 3 or 4 mm. thick and place it there permanently; you even can remove the lens because it stucks with the mounting ring.

  • Reply
    Sorin Lazarescu.
    October 5, 2016 at 10:15 am

    Hi,
    I find your post very candid and heart warming. I also find it unbiased, which is really something. Your photos are great too. I feel the same way about this little camera, although I only shot a single roll with it, as I just acquired the camera on the eBay (as a second hand/used camera and surprisingly it turned out to be brand new, not a single sign of use on it).
    Incidentally would you care to inform what lens you mounted on the camera in your photo no. 9 – from top to bottom – as I find it extremely compact.
    Sincerely yours,
    Sorin Lazarescu

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      October 5, 2016 at 8:46 pm

      Thanks Sorin, glad you enjoyed the post!
      This is the lens 🙂

  • Reply
    Todd Walderman
    October 12, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    I am finding the Bessa T with the 90/4 Elmar that came with my CL kit and an external Viewfinder is the perfect compact mate for the CL w/40/2 kit. I add the 15mm in the bag and I am good to go anywhere. Really can’t stress how fun the Bessa-T with a long lens or a superwide is.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      October 14, 2016 at 2:11 pm

      I have the same fondness for my Barnack Leica’s for – I’d imagine – similar reasons

  • Reply
    Yeer31
    November 2, 2016 at 2:54 am

    Hi Hamish, great article as usual and it’s also pulled in a wealth of additional information. I’ve owned quite a few of these little gems in both Leica/Leitz Minolta incarnations and here are a few contributions I can make towards the thread:

    1) I’ve never seen a CL which is just badged Minolta CL, if they exist they’re really rare.
    2) Of the 8 or so CLs I’ve owned, only one has had a totally dead meter, from an expired CDS. The light meter ring mechanism in the CLs are, however, very susceptible to breaking down or inaccuracies. Corrosion is a major reason for this, dirt/dust is another but surprisingly bad wiring is a factor.
    3) All the above failures can be easily fixed IF the repair person is competent. According to the camera repairer friend of mine, the main reason for meter failure is from badly repaired meters. The meter can’t be adjusted just by tweaking the needle. In earlier versions this meant literally bending the needle! Later versions had a proper adjustment mechanism which allowed you to adjust the needle using a screwdriver at the pivot point. I have a picture of both CL versions and it’s quite startling. If the meter ‘repair’ is done as just a needle re-calibration without addressing the underlying problem then the meter can still be healthy even though it is unresponsive.

    What’s the point of the last two comments? Well, your camera may still have a good meter that can be salvaged is the main point. The secondary point is that if you a functioning meter in the long run, be prepared to have to have it re-calibrated at some stage as they are inherently weak in design. It would be interesting to know if the LM CLs above 103xxxx are better in this respect.

    4) Other weak areas, mainly cosmetic
    a) The top plate is really thin and prone to dents, I like Hamish’s battle scarred version of the top plate, undoubtedly it hides a few dents
    b) The plastic at the end of the winding mechanism is prone to cracking/breaking
    c) The white plastic ears on the take up spool is prone to breaking off. Replacements are quite easy to obtain but failing that, you can still use the spool but it’ll be a bit of a faff
    d) The viewfinder glass in the front of the camera is prone to breaking, again it’s an easy fix if you know where to find the replacement glass. It’s also a easy DIY fix if you have access to glass of the same thickness. The glass is really thin and can be cut with hobbyists glass cutter, sanded to shape. The opaque bits can be done with sanding/sandblasting/acid etching
    5) Preferred lenses – Voigtlander 35mm f2.5 LTM (no annoying aperture ears like on the M mount Voigtlanders), and 15mm f4.5 LTM. Just acquired a 40mm Summicron C, might become a preferred lens, impressed so far. Sold my 21mm f4 Voigtlander before my first CL, reckon that it would have been a good pairing.
    6) Non preferred lenses – 50mm f2 Summicron collapsible (doesn’t collapse completely) 90mm Elmar f4 collapsible (again not fully collapsible) Voigtlander 40mm f1.4 Nokton ( at 1.4, it’s not easy to get correct focus. Could blame it on small rangefinder base but more likely user error. I also don’t like the rendering on my MC version of the lens)
    7) Of all the CLs I’ve owned, I’ve shutter tested them all and all of them have been within 10% variance in accuracy, which is the accepted variance in shutter speed before it’s deemed necessary to adjust. Pretty impressive for 40ish year old cameras with mechanical shutters! According to my repairman friend, when they do fail, it’s an easy repair. Usually it’s the control magnets that need re-energizing or adjusting.

    Final word, shooting CLs and CLEs are like chalk and cheese. I still prefer to use the CL but the CLE has a much faster shooting workflow, better features (such as TTL flash metering and self timer) and and is lighter but the CL is a mechanical with an area over the 40mm frame lines which roughly correspond to 35mm. The CLE stays home unless I’m traveling.

  • Reply
    Ray Rapkerg
    November 29, 2016 at 10:47 pm

    Thanks for your in-depth review. I love the Leica CL! I have an M3, but often I grab the CL when I go out and shoot because it’s such a delightful little camera. Plus, it’s worth only one third as much as my M3, so I feel more relaxed about it. I liked my CL so much I bought a second CL. My CLs are both mint and work perfectly, which perhaps makes me feel more positive about the CL than someone else who has experienced a worn one with problems. At the moment the lens I’m using most is the Voigtlander 15mm, it’s so much fun! I highly recommend the Leica CL to all Leica owners as a wonderful second camera.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      November 30, 2016 at 10:34 pm

      Thanks Ray, that’s a great addition!

  • Reply
    Tyler
    December 7, 2016 at 8:17 pm

    Anybody do double exposures with the CL? or CLE? I’m wondering if it’s as simple as pressing the film release, advancing the frame and firing… Can anybody confirm that?

  • Reply
    Raimo Lang
    January 22, 2017 at 9:49 am

    Hello Hamish,
    Thotough and interesting review, leads me to acquire a CL to have a smaller street camera than M3. I’d use this with my canon ltm 35/2 so it makes a small combo.
    But what is the collapsible lens you have in one of your pics?
    It does not look like 50/3.5 heliar or elmar.
    It’s indeed a small one, looks like a dream lens with this camera..
    Some say that you can use all 50mm collapsible lenses on CL when the shutter is not cocked so that the light measuring arm is not in place. Do you agree with that?

  • Reply
    Dan Castelli
    January 23, 2017 at 3:43 am

    Hi Hamish,
    It took a bit of searching, but I found this narrative. It was published in the 15th edition of the Leica Manual (1973). It references the use of retractable lenses in the M5, but I think the same advice would apply to the CL. It’s quite the statement.

    “Leica authority Bob Schwalberg’s technical report to the Leitz works about the M5 includes the following statement: ‘If a collapsible Leica lens is retracted into the camera body with normal force, the meter (and in fact the whole camera!) geht Kaput! Achtung, Atchtung, Achtung!….I will recommend (that you) never use a collapsible Leica lens on the Leica M5; trade it in on a modern Leica optic that is more worthy of this fine camera…’ The chapter goes on to state that if you want to use a collapsible Leica lens on the M5, you should wrap a piece of Dymo 3/4” (9.5mm) wide tape directly behind the aperture ring on the chromed barrel. If you were to retract the lens, the tape would prevent the lens from fully going into the camera body. If anyone has this edition on their book shelves, the quote, along with a lens chart & illustration can be found on page 43. The author only discusses Leica lenses.

    Regards,
    Dan

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      January 23, 2017 at 10:45 pm

      Thanks Dan!!

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