Leica M4-P vs. Leica CL – and a Tale of Loss and New Experiences

By Aman

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.

Leica CL with the signature black tape to hide the logo, offset completely by the lens cover

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.

Leica CL with summarit 2.5/35 (the one that’s missing.. )
Leica M4-P at the map camera boutique with the Light lens elcan replica and a doomo light meter

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.

View from the viewfinder of the M4-P

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.

Terry with his beloved Leica

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.

With a new year’s special airtag

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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About The Author

By Aman
In love with rangefinders, still in search of a long lost lens Available at: https://www.instagram.com/amaninfilm
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Comments

Jeff T. on Leica M4-P vs. Leica CL – and a Tale of Loss and New Experiences

Comment posted: 12/02/2024

I used a CL in the 1970s for documentary work when I needed to carry both a camera and a portable tape recorder around (a UHER CR-134 was the recorder). A small camera with its 40mm f/2 normal lens and the 90mm Tele-Elmar f/2.8 completed the outfit that fit into a small case I could keep on my belt, while I carried the recorder over my shoulder and the external mic and cable in a pocket. Looking back nearly 50 years later on the negatives, now scanned, I'm of the opinion that the images from the Leitz lenses were noticeably better in terms of resolution and tonal range than the images I got during the same decade from Canon FL and FD lenses. Later I kept the lenses but traded the CL body for the CLE which while slightly larger was more convenient to use and had a more accurate rangefinder and a more robust meter. Any of the M-series cameras, plus an external meter, would have been more difficult to carry on those shoots. The CL was ideal on account of its size and weight.
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Aman replied:

Comment posted: 12/02/2024

It's interesting that you mentioned the FD lenses because I transition to the CL after having a Canon A1 for a year or so. I do agree on the bit about the tonal difference. I'm glad the CL/CLE were there to ease the load on your shoulders!

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John Tarrant on Leica M4-P vs. Leica CL – and a Tale of Loss and New Experiences

Comment posted: 12/02/2024

The Leica CL is a much under appreciated camera. Years ago I owned one and regretted selling it. I now have an M4p as my primary gamer and recently acquired a CL and 40mm Summicron at an attractive price. It has since become my regular companion: the viewfinder is excellent and the meter seems to work very well. I am not over fond of built in meters but this little camera saves me the bother of carrying my Weston meter along with it! The 40mm Summicron is an excellent performer and the wider view compared to a 50mm lens is very useful in many shooting situations. I also managed to get hold of the Leica case which will hold the camera with 50mm and 90mm adjust, a spare roll of film. This case is surprisingly useful as it will accommodate the M4p when fitted with a 35mm `voightlander lens.
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Aman replied:

Comment posted: 12/02/2024

That's great to hear. It's always nice to be able to make up on regrets and yes the in built light meter is pretty handy. Are you using it with the mr9 adapter by any chance? If not I'd recommend to switch over cause the batteries become cheaper over the long run. I have a love hate relationship with the 40mm focal length but recently it's quite popular, isn't it? I didn't get a chance to try the summicron-c but the Minolta 40mm was pretty good! Thanks for the tip about the case, I'll look out for it for the m4p !

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Sasha Tsyrlin on Leica M4-P vs. Leica CL – and a Tale of Loss and New Experiences

Comment posted: 12/02/2024

Great article! I have a CLE which has 28mm frame lines as well. Pretty much updated CL. I mostly use with a 40mm Rokkor ( another Leica half child) My beloved M3 is now mostly sports that LLL 50mm Elcan you have in your picture. Amazing lens. I must say for me M3 is much more enjoyable camera to use then my CLE. I also recently got a iiif with Summicron collapsible. In a funny way it’s a better camera to compare to my CLE because of the similar size. Again iiif wins over CLE in tactile experience. It’s funny that CLE being the easiest one to use out of the 3 is the least pleasurable. May be I just like to make things more difficult for myself:)
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Aman replied:

Comment posted: 12/02/2024

Thanks for your comment ! I'm glad you enjoyed it. The CLE is a great camera and it's quite famous in the YouTube scene thanks to Samuel Lintaro. For me I was anxious about the camera dying if the electronics failed, but the 28mm framelines would've definitely been worth it. The m3 with that lens is such a classy combination. I've also been interested in the screw mount system but I'm currently at 6 cameras so I have to find a new excuse to buy a iii or iiif.

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