Locking the Leica CL focus point: No progress
Last month I wrote about the Leica CL’s lack of the ability to fix the focus point in the centre of the screen, free from the influence of the four-way pad which is all too easily knocked by the ball of the thumb when handling the camera. Since then I’ve had a lot of positive support and this article takes up the story, with a repeat of the reasons Leica users still like the simple life, even on a complex mirrorless camera.
Many photographers weaned on the rangefinder still cleave to the old focus and recompose method of photography. They expect to have the option to lock focus point in the centre of the screen, fixed, immovable, immutable, just as with the rangefinder patch in the M.
With modern cameras this is often wishful thinking. And Leica, for all its tradition and pretensions of simplicity, is among the worst offenders. The CL is yet another Leica where it is impossible to lock the spot focus point in the centre of the screen. It just wanders around in response to inadvertent presses of the four-way pad, all too easy to do. The SL is almost as bad, although the joystick, which is used to control the focus point, is less easily nudged than the CL’s direction pad. But it is not perfect.
The SL, unlike the CL however, does have one redeeming feature in this respect. It is possible to lock the field focus to the centre. Jiggling the joystick doesn’t then cause it to move. Yet, for some unfathomable reason, the spot focus point cannot be locked in the same way. I’ve been using the SL with the field fixed in the centre of the screen and, while it isn’t as precise — particularly when homing in on an eye, for instance — it is better than nothing. At least it is always where you expect to find it.
With the CL, whether choosing field or spot, there is no way to lock the focus point to the centre. It is really annoying and, more often than not, the focus point has strayed to the outer reaches of the frame when the EVF is brought to the eye. I find it impossible to keep my hand away from the sensitive four-way pad. I've used the thumb support, the handgrip, the finger loop — an all three together for that matter — and I continue to nudge that pad and move the focus point around.
Since my article I’ve discussed this on the Leica CL Facebook page and no solution was forthcoming. If it is possible to lock either the spot focus or field focus then I can’t work it out, nor can other users and nothing has been forthcoming from Leica.
To some extent there is a difference of opinion on the need for a fixed point. Some experts believe that it would be an unnecessary complication and that a floating focus point is acceptable. Some experienced users seem unfazed by the lack of centre-frame focus lock. I had a discussion with Patrick Leong of the New York-based Findingrange.com website. Patrick is a new convert to the CL and doesn’t find the lack of centre-point focus lock a disadvantage.
He likes the ability to move the focus point around and he has got used to the habit of moving it quite a lot: “Examples of it being useful for me are when my camera is on a tripod, and my subject isn't in the center or taking portraits with fast lenses. I find it even useful for street photos. Therefore, I actually really like the joysticks in both the Fuji and SL because they make my life a lot easier. I’ve also never had any issues with moving them accidentally. With that said, an option would be nice for users who want the ability to lock the focus point in the center.”
I don't disagree with the points he makes, and a floating focus point is always an option. It's just that locking it when required would be a step forward for many users.
From what I’ve gathered, Leica seems to believe that introducing a focus-point lock capability (as on Fuji and others) would introduce too much complexity, too many options. I am told I should just keep my fingers away from the four-way pad and then there would be no problem.
This striving for simplicity is generally laudable and I am the first to compliment Leica on the basic layout of menus on the latest cameras, including the SL, M10 and, now, the CL. We don’t want too many options, too much complication. But Leica, with its long history of focus and recompose with all cameras since the early 1930s, should be the first to introduce the ability to lock the focus point. In reality, though, it is likely to be the last to take the step the way things are shaping up.
A central focus lock is so fundamental that I am astounded it doesn’t come as a clear option in the menu of any camera. Fuji and some other manufacturers recognise this and make it a straightforward top-level option to lock that point. They even provide the ability to disable the four-way pad or any other buttons that might inadvertently move the focus point.
Leica, the chief priest of simplicity and the basic approach to photography, does not consider it necessary. And even where the ability to lock the field is included, as on the SL, discovering how to do it is by no means intuitive.
To some extent I can forgive the omission on the SL because the joystick, which causes the focus point to move, is relatively protected and not so easily nudged by mistake. With the CL, however, there is absolutely no excuse. That four-way pad is trigger happy and I am afraid that it completely spoils my enjoyment of the camera when I am using autofocus. I find myself selecting manual focus more often than would be necessary. If I thought for one moment that Leica would never update the firmware to incorporate a focus-point lock then I would be strongly tempted to sell the entire system and buy back into Fuji. It is that frustrating and annoying.
I have heard all the arguments about complication and listened to suggestions that a randomly floatable focus point is what we want (or, more to the point, what we are getting). But I am not impressed. Solving this problem should be easy — I suspect it needs nothing more than a firmware tweak — so please, Herr Leica, can you please listen and do something about it?
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