My first encounter with 35mmc during the search for my first rangefinder camera in 2020. As a student back then, with a limited budget, the choices were rather narrow being split between the classic m-bodies and the Leica CL. Considering that I’d just snagged a summarit 50 lens on ebay for a decent price, the budget dwindled down to being able to buy only the CL. It didn’t however stop me from umm-ing and aah-ing over the other main choices which at the time I thought would be the next upgrades as more money came about. The money came about but the body upgrade didn’t. Things only changed in 2022 when I lost my Leica CL with a Summarit 35 lens. From then, I went on another loop of searching reviews for my ideal Leica body to satisfy the rangefinder-shaped void in my life.
The Leica CL and the Leica M4-P are both known to be the “budget” options in the M mount family but both provide the essential rangefinder experience. In this article I wanted to provide a comparative review of the classic cheap body and nice lens and slightly less cheaper body with a color skopar, a contrast between the licensed miniature body and the offshored body, all the while commiserating the loss of the said nice lens.
One of the advantages that the compact Leica had during the selection phase is the built in light meter, whereas the M4-P is perfectly mechanical without a meter. The CL that I had in particular was one of the lucky ones with a functioning TTL light meter. However, the peculiar thing about the CL light meter is that it’s on the right hand side of the viewfinder, which after using a clear finder from the m4-p could feel a bit distracting. The battery for the light meter was also a strange 1.35 mercury cell, the replacements for which are hard to find in the 20s, but thankfully conversion kits are available like the MR9 battery adapter . Until the light meter stops working that is, which is what happened to my model in the end. With the M4-P there is nothing to worry about as it’s all mechanical-4-perfection. For it I just stuck a doomo light meter on the top of it, which has USB-C!
On the topic of the viewfinder, aside from the light meter on the CL there are also some distinct differences between ones present in the two models. The patch on the M4-P is noticeably bigger with a normal M mount base length, which makes the rangefinding a bit easier. The CL is supposed to have a shorter base length but in honesty, when using a focal length between 28 and 50 mm, there isn’t a significant difference between them in terms of accuracy. The key difference however is the field of view of the two finders and the available focal lengths, as the CL has a 40, 50 and 90mm while the M4-P has the now common pairs of 28/90, 35/135 and 50/75. Unexpectedly both have a similar amount of obstruction in the viewfinder as more than one field of view is present on both. Due to the bigger patch and the absence of a distracting light meter on the side, the M4-P feels better while in use. Although, it should be noted that the m4-p and earlier brass bodies suffer from the viewfinder flare issue that the CL seemingly avoids so again, pick your poison.
Since we mentioned batteries for the CL before, the construction and the build of the cameras are quite different with the CL feeling more practical but fragile compared to the M4-P which is quite sturdy. The practicality I mentioned is regarding the fact that the entire base of the CL comes off rather than just the baseplate which is common for the Leica film cameras. This makes loading a roll pretty easy with less mistakes possible, more than the easy load system in the M4-P. The sturdiness of the M4-P is on another level though, especially if you’re lucky enough to have the brass top models. Finally, the quick spool systems on either camera are fantastic. Both are easy to use and have a distinctive feel when the roll is spooled up.
As a system when paired up with the fantastic Summarit 50 and 35 lenses, the CL was very easy to access and use as I could stash it away into my pocket. Such a thing is difficult with the bigger body of the M4-P. The lens pairing also balanced well with the aesthetics and weight of the CL and Summarit matching well whereas with the M4-P and the Voigtlander, the lens is notably lighter than the body. The smooth feel of the Summarit lenses’ aperture ring and the focus tab also worked well with the tactile rewind knob, which activated the light meter and was in constant use, and the shutter of the CL. The feeling of the Color Skopar aperture ring at least is an inferior experience as the M4-P body itself feels more tactile. Adding a soft release to the M4-P balanced out the haptic feelings a bit more to the lens.
Among the Leica crowd, at times there is a certain feeling about the authenticity of the CL especially when compared to the mainline M cameras. Its robustness especially, is often brought into question perhaps rightly so when the light meter and the build is considered. Despite this, it has been a workhorse in its time for a certain Terry O’Neill and if it was good enough for him, it will certainly be good enough for anybody else.
Had I recovered the Summarit lens then perhaps I could talk about the pairing with the M4-P. Alas one day I hope it finds its way home. In any case, the M4-P provides a better “Leica” experience, with it providing the same essence as the other mainline Leica rangefinders, but the CL also stands on its own as a compact sized rangefinder experience, which in the end is what all rangefinder aficionados are here for. I’ve included pictures made from both of the cameras and as with most film photos it’s difficult to say which is which but please have a go anyways.
And as a final note, loss is always a difficult thing when it comes to treasured possessions, which is why the M4-P has an Airtag case stuck on it now.
p.s. if you see a Summarit 35 f2.5 lens with the serial number(4234110) in the pictures, it’s likely nicked from me in Japan.
Thanks for reading and you can reach me on insta here.
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