Leica CL Unboxed: A surprising but impressive first encounter
Unboxing moments are not something I generally bother myself with. But this morning I took delivery of my Leica CL and 18mm f/2.8 Elmarit pancake and was surprised by the packaging. I was at Red Dot Cameras in London and Ivor Cooper and I opened the first kit box to be delivered to the store. We both commented on the size of the box, with its pretty artwork showing the picture of the camera with lens — as Leica users will know, this is in itself unusual. But the large black “cabinet” inside was something of a revelation. I cannot remember Leica selling a camera/lens kit (other than for special editions) in recent years.
But the packaging of the CL is exceptional, matching if not bettering that of the SL and M. It bears comparison with the treatment accorded to exclusive lenses such as the 50mm Apo-Summicron-M and the Noctilux. I see this attention to detail as evidence of the importance Leica places on this latest addition to the range.
Handling the CL at the press conference last Tuesday, as I did, is no preparation for actually possessing the camera and setting it up. Now I have the CL on my desk I can better appreciate its looks and clean design ethics. It is an exceptionally pretty camera, with the raised viewfinder hump acting as an important design cue to set the CL apart from the competition. It looks just right. I do believe it could look even prettier in silver chrome, although this option is not currently being imported to the UK.
The more I handle this camera, the smaller and more compact it feels. The stunning achievement is that the CL is virtually the same size as the original X1 and creates the same Barnack Leica impression. Leica refers to the CL as a modern incarnation of the Leica III from the 1930s and 1940s. Indeed, it does have the look of the III but, to my eyes, it resembles even more the earlier so-called Barnack models.
The new X1?
I have the CL and the X1 in front of me as I write. The depth of the bodies are identical — a remarkable achievement considering that once is a fixed-lens camera, the other a fully fledged system camera. The CL is about 5mm longer and 5mm higher (at the lower step of the CL’s top plate). However, the viewfinder hump of the CL is 5mm lower than the X1 with a 35mm optical finder mounted.
There isn’t a lot in it and, in fact, the difference is forgotten as soon as you pick up the CL and move the X1 out of sight. There isn’t even much difference in overall depth between the CL with the new pancake and the X1 with its fixed lens. The CL combo is 55mm deep while the X1 is 52mm. But switch on the X1 and the lens powers out to bring the operational depth to all of 70mm. The pancake is static and all the better for it. I never liked prime lenses that extend when called to duty.
So far I have done little more than set up the camera. But I was amused to see that the time zone settings include “Wetzlar, Berlin, Madrid, Paris.” At least they seem to have their priorities right.
A big improvement has been made in the diopter setting wheel. These controls are notoriously wayward on must cameras and are easily knocked out of kilter. On the CL, however, it is first necessary to pull the wheel out from the camera before turning it to adjust the viewfinder to your eyesight. This is a worthwhile innovation, somewhat reminiscent of the ISO control on the new M10 which has to be pulled upwards before adjustments can be made.
I think I will like the twin control dials with their push-button options — once I’ve fully learned what they do. Contrary to my normal practice, this might demand a viewing of the instructions. Indeed, there appear to be a number of aspects I will need to mug up on. Fortunately there is a “Quickstart” PDF to download and this contains instructions for all the buttons and dials plus a complete menu overview with information on which functions can be assigned to the Favourites menu (FV), the function button 1 or the centre button on the right-hand click wheel (RW).
The LCD display between the function buttons is in reality rather disappointing. It is small, very small, and doesn’t give the same confidence and general overview as the display on the SL. There isn’t much space, so I don’t know how Leica could have made this screen bigger. But it is initially rather disappointing and toy-like.
Overall, though, my first impressions of the CL are extremely positive. This is a camera that can fully replace some of the recently deleted models in the range, including the X, and the X Vario — not to mention the still current TL2. And it can comprehensively demolish the old X1 and X2 while offering exactly the same handling pleasure and small size.
As an aside, I notice that Leica has taken to calling its crop-sensor system the “Leica APS-C system”. The brochure covers both the CL and TL2. The lenses are still designated as TL but I am fairly certain the T will be dropped as soon as decently possible, perhaps for the next batch. It will be interesting to see how the TL2, which hasn’t exactly flown off the shelves since it was launched in the summer, will cope with this direct competition from a camera that performs just as well but offers a more well-rounded experience for the keen photographer.
But I do believe Leica is on to a winner here with the CL.