Leica CL Test Report

19 Sep 2017, by Ingonick in Leica

Leica CL

Introduction

Two and a half years ago Leica presented the Q (Typ 116), which was reminiscent of the M series with its 28mm fixed lens with traditional aperture ring and depth-of-field scale. The concept of a compact camera with a full-frame sensor has proved to be a huge success for Leica and the camera has a lot of fans – even outside the usual Leica community.

Leica followed this shortly afterwards in winter 2015 with the Leica SL (Typ 601), the first mirrorless system camera for professional photographers that features the amazing EyeRes© electronic viewfinder that still sets it apart from other cameras. After trying out models from other manufacturers, the SL was the first mirrorless camera that met my requirements and I’ve now been using it for the past 2 years for my wedding and event reportages.

A year earlier, in 2014, Leica launched a camera inspired by a smartphone – the T (Typ 701) – that was upgraded, renamed to Leica TL and since July 2017 lives on as the TL2.

Each of these models has something special; loved by some and criticized by others. There are those that would like a bayonet for the very popular Q to be able to adapt lenses. The SL is often criticised as being too big, too heavy combined with the SL zooms (which is nonsense if you look at comparable DSLR cameras from other manufacturers), and when it comes to the TL2 there is divided opinion on the lack of viewfinder and on the touch display’s operating concept.

There seems to be general consensus on the image quality typical for Leica and on the overall perceived quality of the different models.

Now there’s a new player on the team with the Leica CL and the question is now of course where this camera will be positioned in the range, what makes it so special and what qualities it has in common with the other models. How much Q is there in the CL? Is it maybe a mini SL, the successor of the Leica X or just a sister to the TL2?

Leica CL with Leica SL, Leica Q and Leica TL2

Leica TL2 (left), Leica SL (back), Leica Q (right) and Leica CL (front)

The Leica CL with TL2 (left) und Q (right)

Leica CL with Apo-Macro-Elmarit-TL 1:2.8/60mm ASPH

Leica CL with Apo-Macro-Elmarit-TL 1:2.8/60mm ASPH.

 
Rumours about a new APS-C camera with a TL bayonet and code name ‘Clooney’ have been circulating on the internet since spring of this year.

In autumn, I had the opportunity to try out the Leica CL(-ooney) extensively during the beta test und give Leica feedback. This article is highly subjective and describes my personal impressions and experiences during the test period. I have placed an emphasis on aspects that are important to me in a camera based on my kind of photography and have touched on or skipped details that are not relevant to me.

I haven’t done any lab tests but used the camera in practice as a wedding and event photographer. To get a more all-round picture and to try out some features in peace I also took the Leica CL along on some of my private projects and used it in some everyday life scenarios. The question that I wanted to answer was: Do I get the pictures that I envisaged and how well does the camera help me achieve them?

In the following description, I often compare the CL with the SL, Q or TL2 because I assume that some readers already own or are familiar with one of these models and the information can give you a reference point to the CL. I don’t (yet) have a Leica M in my portfolio so I can’t draw comparisons to it here.

Let me start by saying that the Leica CL offers ‘a lot of camera’ in spite of its compact dimensions and that it mastered all of the tasks I gave it during my test with ease. I was actually quite reluctant to send the test camera back to Wetzlar and will no doubt be buying myself one once it is officially launched.

It’s a huge advantage, in my opinion, to be able to use all available Leica lenses on the SL, TL2 and CL and not have to equip yourself with lenses from other manufacturers (that would otherwise be redundant). I can also use my Sigma BP-51 spare battery for the Q with the CL, which is really practical.

Leica CL

 

Data

The Leica CL is an APS-C system camera with 24 MP and as far as I know, has the same 23.6 x 15.7 mm sensor as the TL2 and offers 6016 x 4014-pixel resolution in DNG (6000 x 4000 in JPG).

According to the data sheet the dimensions are 131 x 78 x 45mm. Leaving out the electronic viewfinder and the bayonet, I measured a depth of 31 mm, which makes the body of the CL slightly thinner than the Q, although the CL is roughly the same height as the TL2 (without the viewfinder).

Leica CL with TL2 (left), Q (centre) and as a trio (right)

The CL weighs 403 grams with the battery, making it more or less the same weight as the TL2 (399g with battery but without Visoflex).

What’s not a surprise is that the CL takes DNGs or JPGs (or both together). The camera has an SD card slot and supports SD /SDHC /SDXC cards and the UHSII standard.

The Leica CL has integrated Wi-Fi, but does away with all types of connections like USB, HDMI or microphone connection.

The L bayonet gives you the option of seven TL lenses, the SL lens range and – with an adapter – all the M lenses. The Novoflex SL/EOS adapter for the Canon bayonet is not compatible. I can’t say anything about the Nikon adapter but I assume that it would also trigger an error message on the CL. To use other manufacturers’ lenses, you need a simple adapter that doesn’t transfer lens information. This means that you can’t use the autofocus or set the aperture via the camera.
 

Body and Design

Overview

When you first look at the camera, a few design elements borrowed from the current Leica portfolio are noticeable. The back of the camera, with only three buttons to the left of the display and the 4-way controller on the right, is very reminiscent of the M10, and the shape of the body is pretty much the same as the Q.

The display is a little further to the right compared to the Q to make space for the electronic viewfinder. That’s why, unlike the Q, there is no space left for an indent for the thumb on the right-hand side.

New features include a small top display and the two control dials on top of the camera that also have settings buttons in the middle. I’ll describe the configuration later on.

The surface of the CL is more finely structured than the Q. The camera has a haptic quality and sits well in the hand with a good grip. However, the implied grip of the TL is more ergonomic in my opinion. I was able to use the optional hand grip of the Q on the CL even though it didn’t fit 100% and you can’t attach a strap. I’m sure that Leica will be offering these accessories for the CL too.

Overall, even without the red dot, you can see and feel that you are holding a Leica and one that remains true to the minimalistic principles of the German company.
 

Back

Leica CL back

The electronic viewfinder is rounder than on the Q and protrudes from the body a little.

To the left of the 3’’ touch display you’ll find a button for image display, one programmable function button and the menu button. On the right-hand side, there is the four-way button with a set button in the middle.

At the bottom left there is the loudspeaker and at the bottom right a status LED.

A feature that I found clever was that to set the dioptres, you pull the dial out and after pushing it back in again the value can’t be adjusted by mistake.

Retractable dioptre control dial

 

Top

Leica CL Top

Leica CL Top

The top of the camera has a small display between the control dials which shows you the shooting mode and, depending on the shooting mode, the aperture set, the time and/or the exposure compensation. This allows you to set the important parameters without having to look at the display at the back of the camera.

Depending on the shooting mode, the two control dials are used to set the aperture, time or exposure compensation and cannot be configured.

M mode: exposure time (dial on the left), aperture (dial on the right)
A mode: exposure compensation (dial on the left), aperture (dial on the right)
S mode: exposure time (dial on the left), exposure compensation (dial on the right)
P mode: exposure compensation (dial on the left), programme shift (dial on the right)
Video and scene mode: exposure compensation (both dials)

The control dial on the left is used to activate shooting mode selection (P-S-A-M-Video-Scene) and to then select one using the dial.

Pressing the control dial button on the right activates a function that you’ve previously configured (in my case, in A mode it’s the ISO) and you can then use the dial to make your setting. If you press and hold the button for longer you can select from a list of configurable functions. In M mode with activated auto-ISO, I use the dial for exposure compensation, for example. In this way, the control dial on the right serves as a second FN button.

The power switch is not labelled and like the TL2 has the position ’On’ and ’Off’. In Off mode, a small red dot is visible. With the Q you use the power switch to select single pictures or continuous picture series. I sometimes manage to switch my Q to ‘C’ by mistake when I switch it on if I’m using it with one hand. This can’t happen with the CL as you have to set ‘S‘ or ‘C‘ in the menu. The silver shutter release has a pleasant pressure point.

Two microphones are installed in front of the hot shoe.
 

Underside

Leica CL underside

The underside of the camera body has a ¼ inch tripod socket and a combined battery and SD card compartment that has been adopted from the Q.
 

Front

Leica CL Front

Next to the Leica logo there’s a self-timer LED and an autofocus auxiliary light that can be deactivated in the menu.

Leica CL and Leica SL comparison

Leica SL, Q, CL and TL2

Leica SL and CL size comparison

 

Leica CL and Berlin TV Tower

Berlin TV Tower

Electronic viewfinder

Unfortunately, I currently don’t have the technical specs for the viewfinder, but I really like the electronic viewfinder a lot. It seems more vivid than on the Q and runs very smoothly. However, my favourite is still the EyeRes viewfinder of the SL.

Touchscreen

The touchscreen responds really well and supports standard gestures. However, the menu is controlled solely using the 4-way button. A clever feature here: a horizontal swipe changes between photo and video mode – just as with the TL2; a vertical swipe switches between shooting mode and display mode.

Menus

As with the M10, pressing the menu button first activates the configurable favourites menu that offers a maximum of 15 menu options spread over 2 screens. From here you can navigate to the full camera menu. Unfortunately, the sequence of the favourites cannot be changed. I would have liked to see a selection option, ideally using drag and drop on the touchscreen.

Display

You can display your images either by pressing the ’Play’ button or by swiping up or down on the touchscreen display. You can then scroll through the pictures and enlarge them with gesture controls, much like on a smartphone. Alternatively, you can use the control dial on the right and the 4-way button.

Leica CL in Schwetzingen Palace Garden

Leica CL in Schwetzingen Palace Garden

Leica CL in Schwetzingen Palace Garden