We much preferred the Leica CL to the TL2 we reviewed in November, partly because of its more conventional styling and controls but mostly because it has an excellent built-in EVF. It would have felt better in the hands if Leica had added a grip moulding to the front and a thumb rest to the rear and made the menus easier to navigate.
Image quality is up to Leica’s usual high standards, particularly DNG.RAW files.
Leica’s new CL camera is a modern-day revival of a classic 35 mm rangefinder camera with interchangeable lenses that was designed in Germany but manufactured in the Minolta factory in Osaka from 1973 to about 1975. The 2017 model shares many features with the original CL; it’s small and discreet looking and quiet to use. It also has traditional ergonomics. Electronically, it’s bang up-to-date with the latest 24-megapixel APS-C sensor and Maestro II processor, along with fast continuous shooting and 4K video recording.
Angled view of the Leica CL in black with a black version of the new Elmarit-TL 18mm f/2.8 ASPH. lens fitted. (Source: Leica Camera.)
The sensor and image processor are the same as Leica uses in the Leica TL2, which we reviewed in August 2017. However, it adopts a more traditional styling that is redolent of the original Leica CL, a compact rangefinder camera made in collaboration with Minolta and released in 1973.
Today’s CL brings the compact rangefinder up-to-date and offers fully automated shooting as well as P, A, S and M shooting modes and the usual array of in-camera pre-sets. 4K movie recording is also supported.
Who’s it For?
Like the original CL, the new CL provides an attractive blend of quality construction, superior optics and small size and weight. Both cameras make a ‘Leica’ statement with their traditional rangefinder styling.
Choosing between the CL and TL2 models will be a matter of taste but the CL will appeal more to photographers who prefer the rangefinder styling and traditional controls, while the TL2 is targeted more at smartphone users. The CL’s built-in viewfinder also puts it ahead of the TL2, which requires an optional add-on EVF.
Design-wise, the CL is a bit like a scaled-back Leica M but with up-to-date autofocusing and 4K movie recording. It’s definitely easier to use than the fully-manual camera as well as being less than half its price.
Both the CL and the two TL models can take advantage of six dedicated lenses, in addition to the new Elmarit-TL 18mm f/2.8 ASPH. lens that as supplied for our tests and is reviewed separately. The other lenses in the set cover the following focal lengths (35mm equivalent focal lengths shown in brackets):
– Vario-Elmar-TL 18-56mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH. (27-84mm)
– Super-Vario-Elmar-TL 11-23mm f/3.5-4.5 ASPH. (16.5-34.5mm)
– APO-Vario-Elmar-TL 55-135mm f/3.5-4.5 ASPH. (82.5-202.5mm)
– Summicron-TL 23mm f/2 ASPH. (34.5mm)
– Summilux-TL 35mm f/1.4 ASPH. (52.5mm)
– APO-Macro-Elmarit-TL 60mm f/2.8 ASPH. (90mm)
The CL can also accept all SL-mount lenses as well as lenses from the Leica M and R through Leica-branded adapters. While the CL lacks built-in stabilisation, it can take advantage of the stabilisation function in Leica’s SL lenses with OIS by selecting Optical Image Stabilisation in the Main Menu. This setting is greyed-out when other lenses are fitted.
We think photographers who hanker after a film camera while admitting a need to participate in the digital age could find the CL attractive, although it can require a lot of toggling to search through the menu system and its quirky user interface takes some getting used to. Sadly, the high up-front price will deter many who would otherwise enjoy a pocketable and very capable walkaround camera.
Build and Ergonomics
Whereas the TL2 is machined out of a single block of aluminium, the CL is more traditionally built. Its top and bottom covers are made from milled and anodised aluminium, while the front and rear body shells are magnesium.
Front panel of the Leica CL with no lens fitted. (Source: Leica Camera.)
The front panel of the CL’s body is totally flat, interrupted only by the lens mount and lens release button and, to a lesser extent the red Leica dot just below the shutter release button. There’s no finger grip, which is a pity because, even though the surface of the panel is non-slip, even a slight moulding would have made the camera more comfortable to hold and operate. The panel is rounded off at each end with strap loops on the upper edges at each side.
The top panel of the Leica CL with the Elmarit-TL 18mm f/2.8 ASPH. lens fitted. (Source: Leica Camera.)
On the top panel you’ll find a hump covering the EVF ““ a feature missing from the TL2. Next to it is a hot-shoe, the top of which is raised about 2 mm above the rest of the panel. The hot-shoe has a slide-out cover and accepts Leica flashguns as well as commercially available flash units with a standard flash foot and positive centre contact.
The rest of the top panel contains the main controls, which consist of two thumb wheels, each with a button in the centre and the shutter button, which is encircled by the on/off switch. A very small, monochrome LCD data panel sits between the thumb wheels.
The functions of each wheel change with different camera modes. When shooting, they are used for exposure control, in review mode they control different playback functions and when the menu is used, the right wheel is used for navigation.
The buttons within each wheel can have different functions assigned to them when shooting. In P and A modes, the right wheel adjusts the exposure or aperture settings while the left controls exposure compensation. In S mode, the left wheel adjust the shutter speed and the right the adjusts exposure compensation. Both wheels adjust exposure compensation in the Auto mode.
By default, the left button inside the wheel is used to select the scene mode, while the right button sets the ISO. However, you can assign an alternative function to the right button and choose from items found in the main menu. Up to eight menu items/functions each can be assigned to the two buttons using menu control.
When the menu is used, the right setting wheel button is used to select and confirm settings. The LCD data panel between the thumb wheels only has space to display a few items, typically the shooting mode, aperture and shutter speed settings. It has an automatic backlight to make it readable in dim lighting.
The rear panel of the Leica CL. (Source: Leica Camera.)
The monitor screen dominates the rear panel. It’s non-adjustable and lies flat with the camera body and lacks a moulded thumb rest. Three buttons line up down the left hand side, accessing the Play, Function (Fn) and Menu settings. On the right side is an arrow pad with a central button, which is used in conjunction with the thumb wheels for navigating the menus.
The menu is similar to the one TL2’s, which means you can customise the camera to give you quick access to frequently-used settings. You can also set up a maximum of seven user profiles that store any combination of menu settings.
By default, the CL’s touch controls aren’t enabled but they provide the basic necessities, including touch focus and touch focus+release. Touch gestures can also be used for scrolling through sub-menus and selecting certain functions.
The CL has both mechanical and electronic shutter mechanisms, the latter supporting totally silent shooting as well as high shutter speeds up to 1/25000 second. The maximum shutter speed for the mechanical shutter is 1/8000 second.
Above the buttons to the left of the monitor is the eyepiece for the electronic viewfinder, which has a resolution of 2,360,000 dots. The EVF is big and bright and has a rubber surround and a 20 mm eye relief that makes it easy to use when wearing glasses. It also provides a generous four steps each way of dioptre adjustment and an eye sensor for automatic switching when you raise the camera to your eye.
The base plate of the Leica CL with no lens fitted. (Source: Leica Camera.)
In common with many compact cameras, the CL has a single compartment in its base that is shared by the battery and card slot. The rechargeable battery is rated for 220 shots/charge and the CL is compatible with fast UHS-II SD cards. The tripod socket is aligned with the lens axis.
Like other Leica cameras we’ve reviewed, the CL is Wi-Fi enabled and supports remote control of the camera from a smart device via the downloadable Leica CL app, which is available for both Android and iOS. QR code connection is supported for iOS smartphones.
Image and Movie Sizes
Like the TL2, the CL supports both DNG.RAW and JPEG capture for stills and 4K video at 3840 x 2160 pixels and a frame rate of 30 fps for movies. DNG.RAW files can be uncompressed or losslessly compressed and are always at a resolution of 6016 x 4014 pixels.
For JPEGs, the CL provides three image sizes: 24 megapixels (6000 x 4000), 12 megapixels (4272 x 2856) and six megapixels (3024 x 2016). Only one compression level is available.
Movie recording much be engaged by selecting the video mode with the left thumb wheel and button. As in previous models, only part of the sensor area is used in movie mode, leading to a reduction in the field of view. With the review camera, this appeared to apply only when recording with 4K resolution. There’s nothing in the camera manual about this cropping but, as with the TL2, we estimate the effective focal length of the lens is increased by about 30%.
Three resolution sizes are provided in addition to the 4K setting: Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) at 60 fps, Full HD at 30 fps and HD at 30 fps. There was no allowance for PAL-compatible recording (50/25 fps) in the review camera.
As with the TL2, the maximum clip length is 29 minutes, after which a new clip will be created if a recording exceeds this limit. Aperture, shutter speed and ISO adjustments are determined automatically by default, although manual over-ride is possible for all three functions and the automatic exposure control will adjust for fluctuations in brightness as clips are recorded.
Interestingly, the CL has no SLOMO setting, although it does include video stabilisation, which is accomplished by trimming the frame. Soundtracks are recorded in stereo with the built-in microphones and users can adjust the recording gain to suit ambient conditions. There are no connections for fitting an external microphone or a headphone to monitor sound levels. A wind filter is available.
Connectivity, Playback and Software
Very little has changed in all three areas since the Leica TL2. Since the Wi-Fi function draws power from the camera battery and will quickly deplete it if it’s left on, it will be automatically disabled if an active USB connection between the camera and a computer is detected.
The Playback mode is similar to the TL2’s and somewhat limited compared with most compact cameras. It supports the normal touch gestures for scrolling between shots, magnifying and reducing image views and swapping between single and index views. Users can ‘mark’ images to make them easy to relocate or protect them from deletion. Slideshow playback is supported with user-adjustable duration settings, and movie clips can be trimmed and re-saved.
No software was supplied with the review camera and, interestingly, there’s no offer of a free download of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom when owners register their camera on the Leica Camera AG website as there was for the original Leica T. Fortunately, the DNG.RAW files from the camera can be converted into editable TIFF format with any image editor that includes raw file support, including older versions of Photoshop and Photoshop Elements.
Since we only received one lens with the review camera, all testing was carried out with the Elmarit-TL 18mm f/2.8 ASPH. lens, which is reviewed separately. Test shots taken with the Standard, Vivid and Natural Film Modes were similar to those we took with the TL2. Examples are shown in the Samples section below.
Saturation is slightly increased in the Vivid mode and slightly reduced with the Natural mode. We settled on the Standard mode for all of our testing.
The review camera and Elmarit-TL 18mm f/2.8 ASPH. lens performed well in our Imatest tests, which showed them to be capable of reaching the expected resolution in the centre of the frame with JPEG files, although not around the periphery. A graph of the test results can be found with our review of the Elmarit-TL 18mm f/2.8 ASPH. lens.
The decline in resolution that occurred as sensitivity was increased was similar to what we found with the TL2. Raw files retained a relatively high resolution right up to ISO 6400, after which there was a gradual decline, as shown in the graph of our test results, below.
Long exposures at night showed little noise at most ISO settings, although some was visible at ISO 12500. Softening and granularity increased progressively in images at the highest ISO settings.
Autofocusing was slightly better than the TL2’s, both in speed and accuracy, although the AF mode could play a role in how long it took for focus to lock on in low-contrast situations. Low light AF was generally quick and accurate, particularly with the touch focus setting.
Auto white balance performance was similar to the TL2’s and, like that camera, there are no presets for either fluorescent or LED lighting. Although shots taken under daylight fluorescent lighting showed no evidence of colour casts, the camera failed to remove the warm casts of either the incandescent or LED lighting.
The tungsten preset produced a purplish cast but manual measurement delivered a neutral balance with all three types of lighting. In camera adjustments are available for tweaking colour balances in shots on-the-fly.
Video quality was similar to the TL2’s and clips showed a similar elevated contrast, to the extent that highlights were often clipped in contrasty situations. Bit rates ranged from about 90Mbps for 4K through about 27Mbps for 1080p at 60p or 20Mbps at 30p to 10Mbps for 720p. The quality of the soundtracks from the internal microphones was good enough for amateur use but below professional standards, even with 4K footage.
For our timing tests we used a Lexar Professional 64GB SDXC UHS-II memory card, which claims a transfer speed of 300 MB/second and is fast enough for recording 4K movies and fast bursts of high-resolution stills. The review camera took just under a second to power-up and we measured an average capture lag of 0.15 seconds, which was eliminated by pre-focusing.
Shot-to-shot times in the single-shot mode averaged 0.6 seconds and JPEGs took 1.2 seconds, on average, to process. DNG.RAW took 1.6 seconds to process, while RAW+JPEG pairs were processed in 2.2 seconds, on average.
Using the mechanical shutter in the high-speed continuous shooting mode, the camera recorded 91 JPEG frames with maximum quality in 10.4 seconds without pausing, which equates to a frame rate of 8.75 fps. Shots were processed on-the-fly, with processing completed within two seconds of the last frame in the burst.
DNG.RAW files filled the buffer memory at 35 frames, which were recorded in 4.0 seconds, which is the same frame rate as we measured for the JPEGs. It took 6.7 seconds to refresh the screen display after this burst.
Swapping to RAW+JPEG capture, we recorded 32 frames in 3.6 seconds, which is a marginally faster frame rate. It took approximately 30 seconds to process the DNG and RAW+JPEG bursts.
With the electronic shutter, the camera recorded 142 frames in 13.3 seconds without showing any signs of slowing down. This equates to approximately 11 frames/second. There was no indicator to show how long it took to process this burst. The camera became quite warm to the touch while recording continuous bursts, regardless of the frame rate or quality setting.
We much preferred the Leica CL to the TL2 we reviewed in November, partly because of its more conventional styling and controls but mostly because it has an excellent built-in EVF. It would have felt better in the hands if Leica had added a grip moulding to the front and a thumb rest to the rear and made the menus easier to navigate. Style seems to have triumphed over function once again.
Like the TL2, the CL is pricey for what you get. However, if high build quality and the Leica red dot are important to you and you want a compact and capable camera that will fit in a jacket pocket, the price might to be irrelevant.
As far as image quality is concerned, the CL should meet the expectations of potential purchasers, particularly those who shoot DNG.RAW files. We’re more ambivalent about video quality, although the 4K movies looked pretty good and had acceptable soundtracks.
Don’t expect discounted prices, either locally or from overseas re-sellers. Even without the addition of shipping costs and tax, the off-shore prices of the camera and lens are roughly the same as the local RRPs, so you might as well buy locally.
Image sensor: 23.6 x 15.7 mm CMOS sensor 24.96 million photosites (24.24 megapixels effective), 3:2 aspect ratio; no anti-aliasing filter
Image processor: Leica developed Maestro II
Lens mount: Leica L bayonet; compatible with TL- and SL- lenses plus M/R lenses via adapter
Focal length crop factor: 1.5x
Image formats: Stills ““ DNG.RAW, JPEG, RAW+JPEG; Movies ““ MP4
Image Sizes: Stills ““ 6016 x 4014 (DNG.RAW only), 6000 x 4000, 4272 x 2856, 3024 x 2016; Movies: 3840 x 2160 p (4K) 30 fps, 1920 x 1080 p (FHD) 50 fps or 1280 x 720 p (HD) fps or 1280 x 720 p (HD)
Image Stabilisation: Lens based (no dedicated stabilised lenses available yet)
Dust removal: No
Shutter (speed range): 30 to 1/8000 seconds with mechanical shutter plus Bulb, electronic shutter to 1/25000 second; flash synch at 1/180 second
Exposure Compensation: +/-3 EV in 1/3EV steps
Exposure bracketing: Three or five pictures in graduations up to +/- 3 EV, adjustable in 1/3 EV increments
Self-timer: Selectable delay time 2 or 12 seconds
Intervalometer: Yes, up to 9999 frames with intervals from 1 second to 1 hour, start time can be defined
Focus system: 49-point contrast-detection
Focus modes: Single point, multi-zone, spot, face detection, touch AF, touch AF + release
Exposure metering: Multi-zone, Centre-weighted and Spot metering patterns
Shooting modes: Fully automatic, sport, portrait, landscape, night portrait, snow/beach, fireworks, candlelight, sunset, digiscoping, miniature, panorama, HDR
Film Style modes: Standard, Vivid, Natural, B&W Natural, B&W High Contrast
Colour space options: Adobe RGB, sRGB
ISO range: Automatic, ISO 100 to ISO 50000
White balance: Automatic, presets for daylight, cloudy, halogen lighting, shadow, electronic flash, 2 memory slots for manually metered settings, manual color temperature setting
Flash: Optional system compatible flash
Flash modes: Automatic, automatic/red eye reduction, always on, always on/red eye reduction, slow sync, slow sync/red eye reduction
Flash exposure adjustment: +/-3 EV in 1/3EV increments
Sequence shooting: Max. 10 frames/sec.
Buffer capacity: 140 JPEGs or 33 DNG+JPEG pairs
Storage Media: SD, SDHC, SDXC cards (UHS-II standard is supported)
Viewfinder: EVF with 1024 x 768 pixels (2,360,000 dots), 4:3 aspect ratio, 0.74x magnification, 20 mm eye relief, eye sensor, +/- 4 dioptre adjustment
LCD monitor: Fixed 3-inch TFT LCD with 1,040,000 dots and touchscreen overlay; supports touch and gesture control
Top Display: Monochrome LCD with 128 x 58 pixels
Interface terminals: Micro HDMI (type D), USB type C (3.0 Super Speed), Leica flash interface with integrated connection for optional accessories; battery charging via USB connection possible with max. 1 A.
Wi-Fi function: IEEE 802.11b/g/n standard, Wi-Fi-compatible WPA/WPA2 encryption
Power supply: BP-DC12 rechargeable battery pack; CIPA rated for approx. 220 shots/charge
Dimensions (wxhxd): 131 x 78 x 45 mm (body only)
Weight: 353 grams (body only), 403 grams (with battery)
Distributor: Leica Camera Australia, (03) 9248 4444, http://en.leica-camera.com/
Based on JPEG files.
Based on DNG.RAW files converted into 16-bit TIFF format with Adobe Camera Raw.
Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.
Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.
Auto white balance with warm-toned LED lighting.
30-second exposure at ISO 100, f/4.5.
15-second exposure at ISO 400, f/8.
10-second exposure at ISO 1600, f/7.1.
5-second exposure at ISO 6400, f/9.
2.5-second exposure at ISO 12500, f/9.
2-second exposure at ISO 25000, f/16.
1-second exposure at ISO 50000, f/16.
Standard film mode, ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/5.6.
Vivid film mode: ISO 100, 1/100 second at f/5.6.
Natural film mode: ISO 100, 1/160 second at f/5.6.
B&W Natural film mode: ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/5.6.
B&W High Contrast film mode: ISO 100, 1/100 second at f/5.6.
Close-up; ISO 320, 1/30 second at f/5.
Contre-jour lighting; ISO 100, 1/2000 second at f/8.
ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/8
Strong backlighting; ISO 100, 1/20 second at f/6.3
ISO 6400, 1/20 second at f/8.
ISO 200, 1/100 second at f/2.8.
ISO 100, 1/100 second at f/5.
ISO 4000, 1/25 second at f/8.
ISO 2500, 1/50 second at f/10.
Still frame from 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels) video clip at 30 fps.
Still frame from Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) video clip at 60 fps.
Still frame from Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) video clip at 30 fps.
Still frame from HD (1280 x 720 pixels) video clip at 30 fps.
Additional image samples can be found in our review of the Elmarit-TL 18mm f/2.8 ASPH. lens.
RRP: AU$3700; US$2795 (body only); AU$5200 / US$3795 with 18mm f/2.8 lens
- Build: 9.0
- Ease of use: 8.5
- Autofocusing: 8.7
- Still image quality JPEG: 8.9
- Still image quality RAW: 9.0
- Video quality: 8.5