The Leica CL is a new mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera from the legendary German camera and optics company.
On the inside, the CL is essentially a TL2 – launched this August – with its 24.2-megapixel image sensor and Maestro II image processor. The CL’s exterior has a more traditional design found in Leica’s flagship M rangefinder cameras.
The CL works with any of Leica’s existing L-mount lenses. And with its launch, a new Leica Elmarit-TL 18mm f/2.8 prime lens was also released. For this review, the CL with a silver version of the new 18mm f/2.8 prime lens was used.
Leica launched a 35mm compact rangefinder camera named CL, assembled in Japan, in 1973. But apart from the name, which was probably short for “Compact Leica”, there are few similarities in terms of design.
The new CL looks more like the X2 compact camera released in 2012, or a miniature version of the M10. It looks gorgeous with its curved ends and streamlined design.
The camera is compact and light. Its front and rear panels are made of magnesium alloy, while its top and base plates are anodised aluminium. A textured leatherette covers much of the body’s middle and sides, giving you a nice grasp.
The CL might not have incorporated the range-finding focus mechanism into an optical viewfinder like the M series, but it has a built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF) at the top left. This is better than having to buy an external EVF like with the TL2.
On the right of the CL’s top plate is a shutter button with a power switch around it. Behind the shutter button is a tiny LCD with automatic backlight in low light that displays the exposure settings – a nice touch.
Flanking this LCD are two control dials, each with a button at its centre. Pressing the button of the left dial and turning the dial lets you change the shooting mode.
Doing the same with the right control dial lets you, by default, change the ISO setting. But you can customise this button to change the settings of other functions like white balance – a smart way to boost functionality without taking up space.
The fixed rear display is a touchscreen, but it can be used only to set focusing point and browse through images in playback. Still, the overall handling of the camera is superb.
Operation wise, the camera starts up in a swift 1.1sec and takes only 1.3sec to shut down. That is nearly twice as fast as most mirrorless cameras, which typically take 2sec for both starting up and shutting down.
Using an SD card with a writing speed rated at 95MB per sec, the CL was able to take 33 RAW images in 3.5sec before the buffer ran out – close to the advertised speed.
Autofocusing (AF) is swift. It managed to get a focus lock almost at once in bright sunlight. In dim conditions, it took only around 1sec to secure a focus with the AF assist light.
The CL’s image quality is superb with sharp rendition of pixels, vivid colours and clear details even in darker areas. The amount of details it can pick up is breathtaking.
Noise performance is stellar too. Images are devoid of noise until ISO 800. In fact, images are still good enough for Web use or at ISO 3,200. But at ISO 6,400 and up, there are significant noise artefacts.
Battery life is a tad below average at only 220 still frames on a full charge. You might want to buy an extra battery for a day’s shoot.
• Verdict: If you can’t afford the Leica M10 and think the TL2 is too futuristic, the Leica CL is the perfect Leica by fusing the latest camera technology with traditional looks.