Leica CL and the new Brooklands Aircraft Factory
My first serious outing with the Leica CL came last Saturday when I decided to grab a few snaps of the new Aircraft Factory hangar at the Brooklands Museum¹. Since the War the old hangar had been sitting athwart the famous finishing straight of the original 1907 race track. Thanks to funding from the National Lottery, a new hangar as been constructed alongside the finishing straight. The new Bellman Hangar recreates the atmosphere of a wartime aircraft factory.
The hangar was opened two weeks ago by Prince Michael of Kent, a keen motoring enthusiast, president of the Royal Automobile Club and an honorary member of the Brooklands Trust.
Centrepiece of the exhibit is the “Loch Ness Wellington”, the bomber which crashed in Loch Ness on New Year’s Eve, 1940². In 1976 she was discovered at the bottom of the Loch by Marty Klein, working with the Academy of Applied Science. In 1985 the the Wellington was raised from a depth of 70m and despatched to Brooklands, where it has been built before the war. Since then it has been under restoration by the volunteers at the museum and is now preserved as the centre of the Aircraft Factory exhibit.
The CL on this occasion was accompanied by two great lenses, the 11-23mm Super-Vario-Elmar — just the job for indoor shots of the hangar — and a not-so-obvious contender from Voigtländer.
Well, you see, I can’t afford £10,250 for Leica’s latest bauble, the 75mm f/1.25 Noctilux-M ASPH. Pity. But, needs must when the devil drives and I fished out the bargain Voigtländer 50mm f/1.1 Nokton which I currently have on test. Onto the new Leica CL it went. And, hey presto, I have a 75mm faux Noctilux that is even faster than Leica’s piece. And it costs only 6.8% of the price of the Noctilux. I could buy 14 of them and have change in my pocket. Or, perhaps, 13 other lenses to add a bit of spice to life.
Cheat! I know what you mean, I am definitely stretching things here. I acknowledge there is a world of difference between the modern state-of-the-art Noctilux and the older design of the VM50 Nokton. But it does make you think, especially if your need for “the ideal portrait lens” isn’t an irresistible daily nag. Of course, the Leica 50mm Noctilux f/0.95 would make a much better direct comparison and it is much nearer in price to the new 75. But both 50mm lenses translate to 75mm on an APS-C sensor, so both offer benefits when it comes to portraiture. Indeed, it will be very interesting to compare results from the new 75mm f/1.1 with those from the 0.95 Noctilux 50mm on a crop-frame sensor. It’s something I’ll try when (or if) I can get my hands on a review copy of the £10k Wetzlar behemoth.
As a camera of record, the CL did a sterling job, aided by these two lenses. I’ve been using the Nokton for several weeks on the M10 and SL but I asked Hardy Haase of the importers, Flaghead Photographic, if I could keep it another week with a view to trying it on the new CL. I’m glad I did because I found it easy to use and just as easy to focus as on the SL. Both the SL, with its 4.4MP viewfinder and the CL offered a better focusing experience than the M10 with the Visoflex. I’ll be covering that in a fuller review.
The CL's excellent high ISO performance — similar to that of the TL2 which I reviewed last month — proved a major asset in the rather gloomy hangar. When it came to processing time I realised that almost all these shots were taken at higher sensitivity, most of them banging the ceiling of ISO 6400. I'd left the factory ISL settings as they were, topping at 6400 and 3x focal distance, and this proved ideal, with 6400 doing a great job and the slowest speed proving adequate to avoid camera shake — bearing in mind that neither the CL nor the lenses have stabilisation.
I am more than ever impressed with the ISO capabilities of this 24MP sensor. ISO 6400 is eminently usable, as evidenced by these shots, and I intend to up the setting to 12,500 for the next outing of a similar nature.
I also continue to be impressed by the 11-23mm TL lens which I’ve enjoyed on the Mk.I T. But it comes into its own on the CL and proved to be the perfect tool for Saturday’s outing. It isn’t fast, of course, with its aperture range of f/3.5-4.5 but, thanks to the excellent ISO performance of the CL’s 24MP sensor, it didn’t let me down.
Brooklands makes a wonderful day out for all the family. Most of the staff are volunteers and radiate enthusiasm for whichever specialism they favour — from aircraft to cars, to motorcycles and even buses. Now that the old finishing straight has been cleared of the hangar which was ugly, despite its heritage appeal, it is now possible to envisage the scene as it must have been up to September, 1939. A new scoreboard, inaugurated three months ago, now sits alongside the finishing straight outside the old clubhouse. And with a section of the 1907 banking at the end of the straight, together with the Members’ Bridge, the old circuit is now coming alive again.
Read more about the new CL system
- Reflections on the CL by Mike Evans
- Full test of the new CL by Jonathan Slack
- Breakfast at Leica’s, the new CL
- Introduction of the 18mm f/2.8 Elmarit-L
- Introduction of the CL (with full specification)
1 The Brooklands Museum is near Weybridge in Surrey, about 25 miles south west of London. Opened in 1907 as the world’s first purpose-built motor racing track, it was the major venue for car and motorcycle racing until the outbreak of the Second World War. During and after the war it became an aircraft factory and was never reopened as a race track. The museum now covers cars, motorcycles, buses and aircraft.
2 The World War II Wellington bomber N2980, squadron letter R for Robert, had completed fourteen missions when she was transferred to training duties at No. 20 O.T.U. at Lossiemouth. On New Year's Eve 1940, pilots Sqdr.L. Marlwood- Elton and P/O Slatter took off in the late afternoon with a crew of 6 trainee navigators. While flying along the Great Glen at a height of 8000ft. they encountered a snowstorm and the starboard engine cut out. Losing height, Marlwood -Elton ordered the trainees to bale out. At this point, the rear gunner, Sgt. Fensome was killed when his parachute failed to open but the others landed safely. In the dusk, the two remaining men fought the aircraft down through the snow clouds to ditch in the northern basin of Loch Ness near the A82 road. They climbed onto the wing, launched their inflatable dinghy and paddled ashore where a lorry driver gave them a lift into Inverness in time to join the New Year celebrations. Marlwood-Elton thought he would never see R for Robert again.