Thoughts on the Leica CL after a thousand frames

Now that it has been a little over a month and with about 1000 frames since I posted my first post on the CL Street Kit, I have a few thoughts on the Leica CL and its lenses. I have been using Leica CL with the Summicron-TL 23mm f2 ASPH., the Summilux-TL 35mm f1.4 ASPH. and my latest addition, the Elmarit-TL 18mm F/2.8 Asph.. Granted, most of the photos I took with the lens were photos of my family, it did give me a sufficient understanding of the camera and the characteristics of the lenses.

Stills first. Stills second.

Forget using it to shoot video. While it does 4k30 video, it is clear the CL was designed as a stills camera for photographers, and not for hybrid shooters. It is kind of ridiculous that Leica does not even offer 4k 24fps on the CL when even an entry level smartphone does. But then, I am not sure who is crazier…for Leica to give us more advanced video features when the CL’s C-AF in Video mode is barely usable, or for users to expect this to be a hybrid camera.

Build

Lightweight yet solid without being flimsy. But it’s not a M. People who claims that this feels like a M10 has clearly not use a M camera. M has heft. CL does not.

The L lenses are well built. Even the 18mm which weighs a mere 80g does not feel cheap. The Summilux-TL 35mm f1.4 ASPH. feels particularly solid, but it is a large lens (in the Leica ecosystem). I am particularly fond of the large metal focusing ring on the Summilux-TL 35mm f1.4 ASPH.. While it has the premium build, like other lenses with a similar large metallic focus ring from other brands, I find that it is easy to damage the metallic grooves in the long run. But then, I cannot imagine Leica putting rubber on their lens barrel either…

Image Quality

The IQ seems to be fairly standard as far as an APS-C 24MP sensor is capable of, but somehow, when pair with the L lenses, especially the Summilux-TL 35mm f1.4 ASPH. there is indeed some Leica magic in the images. The Summilux-TL 35mm f1.4 ASPH. is clearly the standout lens among the 3 native lenses I currently have. The Summicron-TL 23mm f2 ASPH. is also a very compact lens and deliver excellent ‘modern’ looking images. I find ISO6400 images usable even if it may be a little grainy. For the record, I do not mind grain. The only issue with High ISO images is when the color begin to fall apart… sometimes, you could still make a usable image out of those ‘poor colors’ by converting into B&W, but more often then not, even turning those poor color images into B&W will only turn it into a greyish mess.

Size & Handling

It’s small. It’s light. If you use the Summicron-TL 23mm f2 ASPH. or the Elmarit-TL 18mm F/2.8 Asph. the CL can be a VERY compact system, rivaling the compactness of a Micro Four Third (m43) system. The portability of the setup really impresses me. One of the main selling points of a m43 system is portability. What Leica has managed to done, is not only make a body with an APS-C sized sensor the same size as a m43 body, but also the lenses. Yes, you can buy an even smaller m43 body such as the Panasonic GF series, but the ergonomics become horrible and is basically unsable for any serious photography. So for all practical purposes, the CL is as small as a camera body can be without sacrificing usability. The Summicron-TL 23mm f2 ASPH. is as tiny as the Panasonic Leica Summilux 15mm f1.7. Don’t forget, while the PL15 gives you a 30mm field of view, the depth of field is one of f3.4, vs f2.8 of the Summicron-TL 23mm f2 ASPH. (after applying the respective crop factors). Leica has done quite an amazing job.

CL vs GX9.jpg
Lumix GX9 with PL15mm f1.7 (left), Leica CL with Summicron-TL 23mm f2 ASPH. (right)
14vs18.jpg
Lumix GX9 with 14mm f2.5 (left), Leica CL with Elmarit-TL 18mm F/2.8 Asph. (right)

Another comparision using the 28mm equivalent lenses. Again, the Leica CL with the Elmarit-TL 18mm F/2.8 Asph. is just as compact, and the Leica setup gives you 27mm (eq) f4.2 (eq) while the m43 setup gives you 28mm (eq) f5 (eq).

Value

Lets move on. =)

Experience

The uncluttered layout of the camera is a joy to use. The camera is fast and responsive. Auto Focus is fast and reliable, not to the point of the latest Sony of course, but for every day use, I have no complaints. The camera itself is minimalistic in its design. Most Japanese cameras have so many buttons and dials that could often take the joy out of photography. Leica on the other hand, is adopting the ‘less is more’ philosophy. Despite its minimalistic design, the CL is actually surprisingly flexible and customizable. Using two dials on top and a Fn button, it provides just enough controls for one to control the ‘exposure triangle’ and focus. It gives you easy access to the essence of photography. No fluff.

Wise Buy?

Here lies the problem. The camera is really just a well-built, no-nonsense camera with very good lenses. The whole system is quite sensible, except for the price. It’s a good camera with good lenses. It is also a joy to use, which I can’t say the same for many other cameras. But is it a wise buy? Lets put it this way. You can buy a Fujifilm or Sony APS-C camera for much less with much better and more advanced features, and I doubt the Leica can really outshine them in terms of overall image quality. But if you want a Leica, then the CL is a more affordable and sensible system in the Leica lineup.

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