Leica CL: 55-135mm-TL versus 90mm Summicron-M and 50mm Summilux-M
I recently swapped my Leica M10 for the Leica CL you see above. A rash decision? After finally obtaining my “dream kit” of an M10, 24 Lux, 50 Lux and 90 Cron, how could I let the M10 go?
The Leica CL is really rather lovely. Does it have any “magic”? Not really, but neither did the M10 that I sold to get the CL. What the CL does have is beautiful build quality, a very simple and intuitive user interface, and simple, clean controls. I am very happy with it so far, especially when using M lenses which work very nicely indeed, albeit with a 1.5x focal length.
I bought a 55-135mm zoom (80-200ish) and I could never have got a 200mm lens for the M10 and focused it correctly without using the EVF stuck on the top. I will also be getting the 18mm f/2.8 pancake lens as soon as one appears in stock anywhere.
So why swap from the amazingly gorgeous M10 to the seemingly less competent, smaller sensor CL?
It actually happened as soon as I handled a CL for the first time. It oozes quality, and is effectively a “mini M” in a number of ways. The UI is very similar, three buttons on the back, offset viewfinder, all very lovely. The two top dials are very clever. It is a small, dense little package that I immediately felt at home with. The EVF is great – I will miss a rangefinder sometimes, but I gain the flexibility of autofocus if I want it, and the ability to actually get accurate, reliable focus on longer lenses.
I loved my M10, and the thing is that I can always buy another one if I want to. But my photography has changed a lot over the past year. I used to shoot professionally, but have knocked that on the head now and shoot just for pleasure. With the CL and the 18mm I get something that is a bit like my much-loved old Fuji X100T ie a compact, go-anywhere, excellent IQ autofocus serious-but-casual camera. And then I can put one of my three lovely M lenses on and get manual focus with beautiful contrasty Leica glass. Plus the CL will properly recognise my M lenses and apply the same sort of corrections the M10 will (and Lightroom will be able to do the same for me). The CL is made to work well with M lenses from both an image perspective and a usability perspective which can’t be said of other alternatives. And then I can plonk on a long autofocus zoom for things that are far away. I know I could do all that with a Sony A6300 or whatever, but then I’d have that awful Sony menu, loads of buttons and a generally dissatisfying experience, and no Leica M lens recognition.
I happen to prefer the CL to something like a Sony or a Fuji largely because of the way it feels and how it is to use. There are a few technical differences but overall, I prefer a camera that I enjoy using rather than one that frustrates me. But that’s just me. Your mileage may vary.
I’ve also got a couple of grand in the bank following the swap over which I’ll use to go to nice places and take pictures of stuff. Always a good thing to do.
Incidentally I sold the M10 for £450 less than I bought it for in January, so I effectively rented my M10 for just under £40/month, which is a pretty good deal in my book.
Enough of the naval gazing. Having bought the incredibly named Leica APO-Vario-Elmar-TL 55-135 lens (effectively 80-200mm) I was keen to find out how it would perform on the CL in comparison to the 50 Summilux-M ASPH and 90 APO-Summicron-M ASPH lenses that I’m keeping hold of. The 50 becomes an effective 75mm on the crop-sensor TL, and the 90 is effectively 135mm. Clear? Good.
I am particularly interested in the relative image quality of all these lenses to work out whether I take the M lenses with me on landscaping trips, where I typically won’t need their wide-open aperture performance. Or do I leave the 50 and 90 at home and just take the 55-135 instead.
The site of choice was Bowers Lock just near Guildford, with early morning light skimming through the trees. White balance set to “daylight”, and the settings on the camera as consistent as possible. The camera was on a tripod with the 2-second shutter delay activated. All images are imported into Lightroom and then exported out again as full-size jpegs. Incidentally, using the image zoom function to get perfect focus on the 90mm M lens was simplicity itself.
Firstly, the 90mm shootout at f/11
And a 100% zoom of the images side by side
As you can see, there’s very little in it. The colours on the 55-135 zoom are a bit warmer. Sharpness is pretty much identical.
I also thought I should try things at f/4.5 as well just in case:
Again, very little in it. The M lens is slightly wider open than the TL hence the minor exposure difference. Now on to the 50mm comparison at f/11.
And again at f/4
And there you have it. Very very minimal differences at these apertures. I have to say I am suitably impressed by the 55-135 in comparison to the “gold standard” M lenses. I was expecting to see less sharpness and contrast in the variable aperture zoom due to the inevitable compromises making the thing work.
One of the benefits of an APS-C sensor is being able to make smaller lenses with very high quality. The M lenses are the top of the tree when it comes to light gathering in a small package so it’s good to see that the 55-135 is as sharp and clear and contrasty while also being relatively diminutive. I know the M lenses will give me a much faster shutter speed when used wide open, but generally for landscape shooting I’m around f/11 unless I’m getting particularly creative.
One issue with the 55-135 though is that it is relatively slow, from f/3.5 to f/4.5 max aperture. With no image stabilisation at all, this means that you do need to be careful when the light drops. I had the CL set to auto-ISO with a shutter speed of 1 x focal length, but soon changed it to 2 x focal length which is rather better for avoiding camera shake. I’ll normally use a tripod when landscaping so this is a relatively minor issue.
I’ve got an 18mm prime lens on order. It looks like an ideal tiny companion for the CL for all sorts of landscape and general shooting. Having seen the performance of this 55-135 I’m also now considering the 11-23 short zoom as well, but not instead of. Having a tiny autofocus lens on the CL will be fantastic, and a couple of zooms should make a very effective landscaping kit.
The M lenses stay with me though!
Tags: 50mm Summilux-M ASPH, 55-135 APO-Vario-Elmar-TL, 90mm APO Summicron-M ASPH, APS-C, comparison, crop, landscape, Leica, Leica CL, test, testing, zoo
© Andrew Tobin 2018
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