Leica CL: A Beautiful Device
Clear pictures in neutral colors, at least under the winter light, excellent viewfinder, good performance and simplified ergonomics
Those who were waiting for a hybrid APS-C that looks like a classic Leica and consider that its some flaws are part of the concept can be dropped. Still, these quirks and omissions would be more tolerable at a lower price.
The CL, hybrid APS-C look “classic”, is undoubtedly a pure product Leica. It has almost too clean design, an excellent shape that takes precedence over the function and of course a price bamboo shot.
It is a beautiful camera, with real advantages in its design and very sharp photos.
Fast and Accurate
A set of factors make CL’s photos particularly sharp. For starters, the 24.3 megapixel sensor does not use an anti-aliasing filter that often produces a slight moire effect. That is not the case here. In addition, the CL is very parsimonious with the reduction of noise, which implies a general grain more marked and noise in dark areas. But the image retains its details. On the other hand, the reduction of the noise intervenes judiciously on the clear zones. It also means that there are a lot of hot pixels.
The 18mm lens offers excellent edge-to-edge sharpness, but its wide angle combined with the short focal length causes distortion and curvature at the edges. Leica says it’s not necessary to use a lens hood, but we still had a few internal reflections on some of the photos.
However, this grain can also accentuate the contrast. In the past, Leica jpeg files were almost identical to DNG raw files. On the CL, jpegs offer a more pronounced contrast. The color rendering is good with a natural tendency. With the winter light, the automatic white balance is a bit too faithful and softens everything. But it is beneficial for dimly lit scenes, which places the Leica among my favorites for street photography at night.
The video in Ultra HD is typical of this format: very clear. The only exposure setting available is exposure compensation. You can also create a profile for saturation, contrast and sharpness, but that’s it.
The camera is fast enough, with typical autofocus speeds and a processing that makes it very responsive. The burst mode can output 10 frames / second with continuous autofocus to go up to 33 photos in raw and an unlimited number in jpeg. We have not really been able to test this mode in depth because the accuracy of continuous autofocus is difficult to judge with a wide-angle lens. Manual focus also works very well. One can choose to work in 100% automatic, with scene modes or let the camera choose autofocus areas. The latter option works almost as well as on other devices, that is to say, it is fast but silly enough, each time choosing different areas when doing a prefocus on the same scene.
Autonomy should offer more than 220 photos, especially knowing that it takes 2 hours to charge the device. Sign that does not deceive, Leica sent us two batteries for our test .
Ergonomics Well Thought
In terms of ergonomics, we appreciated how Leica simplified access to settings while limiting the number of physical controls. The manufacturer has adapted the generic wheel of the TL to give access to more functions. The insert button on the left wheel switches it to select the modes that can be seen in the viewfinder, on the rear LCD screen, or on the display above the case.
The left button is also used to select one of the 8 programmable functions. It’s one of the easiest and most fluid ways we’ve come across to access a wide range of settings. We would have just liked that the wheels are a little closer to each other.
The viewfinder is big, bright and comfortable. Icons indicate the quick setting active on the right dial. In contrast, the exposure display at the bottom of the screen is small.
But unfortunately, there are also a lot of things that have frustrated us. For starters, there is no handle for easy one-handed grip. At a minimum, a rubber coating would have helped. Other manufacturers have chosen not to integrate a handle but we have all seen them back on this choice, at least on mid-range and high-end models. We are still waiting for Leica to realize it …
Another source of frustration is the lack of an external connector while most current cameras have a USB port for charging. Instead, Leica requires you to use a separate charger. It also implies that the SD memory card reader is housed in the battery compartment where it is less easily accessible, especially if the camera is on a tripod.
Something else. If we liked the principle of the knobs to access the menus, it is quite easy to change a setting by mistake There is a locking system, but it is in the menu and it must be programmed to access it from the right button . In short, a physical check would have been easier. We would also have liked to see a lock button for automatic exposure.
About The Price
Take the Fujifilm X-T2, a hybrid APS-C also without filter anti aliasing that offers much more than the CL for much cheaper. There is also the Sony A7R II which is even better in the same price range. We can understand that a Leica is more expensive, but it is necessary that the ergonomics and the photos he releases are concomitantly exceptional. The Leica Q is one of our favorite cameras. The CL, on the other hand, caused us a lot of frustration. And even if his photos are clear, Leica is not the only one to know how to do it. It seems like the brand is still looking for the right formula to create a more mainstream model to attract new customers. But for that, it will be necessary to make more compromises on the price and the practicality