Leica CL Digital Review

Many of the avid photographers out there have been waiting the digital Leica for almost 10 years now, but the waiting is over with the new Leica CL.

The new mirrorless interchangeable lens camera makes a nice first impression as it comes with a classic design. The new camera isn’t just for the show though and it has quite an impressive list of features, from the large APS-C sensor, a fast bursting shoot (up to 10fps) and even 4K video recording. The anodized finish looks nice and makes it durable and the price is somewhere around $3000 (only for the body).

Even though the Leica CL isn’t an M mount camera or a full frame camera, it’s still impresses with the digital performances in many situations.

The numbers

Leica CL digital comes with a 24.2 MP sensor and a Leica’s Maestro 2 processor that gives a sensitivity range of ISO 100-50,000. A contrast detection system that cover the whole image area takes care of the autofocus. The shooting speed is an impressive 10fps with a 33-frame buffer while recording JPG and DNG RAW files.

The shutter speed varies from 30 to 1/8000 sec using the mechanical shutter (that isn’t loud, by the way), but it may go as high as 1/25,000sec with the quiet electronic shutter. You may manually select the electronic shutter in the menu when you want to shoot subtly. You can also go with the mechanical shutter when you don’t want rolling shutter distortion.

You can also get 4K video with Leica CL digital at 3840×2160 resolution and 30fps. You may pull focus from one subject to another using the touchscreen. You can also apply exposure compensation to lighten or darken your footage. This comes with a downside, as it’s possible for the clicking of the camera to be heard on the soundtrack. Now that we’re in the downside zone, we have to mention that Leica CL digital doesn’t come with any direct control over shutter speed, aperture nor ISO. The camera doesn’t come with microphone sockets or headphones, which is why it’s not the best option for video, but it doesn’t disappoint on the casual shooting situations.

A closer look

We’re not going to talk about the numbers, and we do want to talk about the performances and features. The Leica CL meters the same way that many cameras do and you need to underexpose by somewhere from 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop, which is standard for many APS-C digital cameras out there.

A detailed look on the Autofocus features lets us notice that Leica CL digital and 18mm f2. 8 focus quite fast together. The performance isn’t amazing in low light situations though and, in order to focus precisely and right, you do need to select a very high contrast area in the scene. You’re not going to want to rely on Leica CL on when getting fast moving subjects either. Unless you’re going to zone focus and manual focus, it’s going to be quite challenging to try some street photography. Additionally, you’re also going to have to adapt a Leica M lens onto it.

One thing that is quite impressive on the Leica CL is the image quality and the camera really puts the DNG files in place. The Leica CL digital really creates amazing images and it’s the sensor that needs to take all the credit for it. Even though there are many digital cameras great on that, Leica CL digital’s low light output does an impressive job.

There is also something to talk about on Leica CL digital. For instance, you’re able to get more details from highlights by pushing the shadows so that you get to see more of the scene. Editing color channels in the scene allows you to get that kind of results. You may get a cinematic look to your files, a lot more color versatility when editing the files.

You may also play with the color depth. The color channels in Capture One give you details and colors that you only imagined. This is why Leica CL digital’s sensor is quite a reliable sensor.

The high ISO output of the Leica CL digital doesn’t disappoint either and the 3200 ISO means your images aren’t going to be bad at all. No matter what ISO you’re using, you’re still going to get good performance.

As for the JPEGs from Leica CL digital, they’re quite nice as long as you’re using good glass.

Leica CL digital comes with built-in Wi-Fi so you may easily share your images from a smart phone by using the free Leica CL app for both iOS and Android.

The design and use

Don’t expect the Leica CL digital to look a lot like the previous model. The new model is more inspired by the iconic Leica III, which many see it as one of the most beautiful cameras ever made. The camera is designed to be a professional photographic tool, though.

The body of the camera leaves a durability feel since the top and base plates are made from milled and anodized aluminum, whereas the front and read panels are made with magnesium alloy. A big part of the body is covered with a lightly textured leather cover and the famous curved ends let you feel nice and snuggly the camera in your hand. It actually feels smaller in your hands and doesn’t weigh much either.

There aren’t many external controls for the Leica CL digital. The shutter button and the encircling power switch are joined and placed on the top plate and the camera comes also with electronic dials to control the settings: aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation. Each comes with an inset button that changes temporarily its function. Therefore, the left dial uses for setting the exposure mode, whereas the right dial changes the ISO. You may also re-assign the latter to other functions: metering mode or exposure bracketing and you only need to press the button down for just a second.

The back camera is quite simple. We find a column of three buttons to the left of the touchscreen (one for the menus, one for playback and one for customizable FN that controls white balance).

You may set the focus point through the touchscreen, or you may browse images in the playback. Leica CL digital is a traditional option for the traditional photographer, which explains the simplicity of the interface.

Leica CL digital comes with a built-in viewfinder that is bright and clear.  The LCD screen doesn’t disappoint either, but doesn’t add much to the whole shooting experience. It’s great to use the LCD for reviewing your images and is also bright, well-calibrated and nicely detailed.

Let’s try to recap and list the things we like the most on the Leica CL digital:

  • It has a small size and it’s easy to use
  • It feels nice in the hand and has a durability feel
  • It comes with 4K video ability
  • The image quality is impressive

We’re not going to change our mind over some minor flaws, but we still need to mention the inherent downsides:

  • Autofocus could be better in low light
  • This isn’t exactly a low-priced camera

For what it’s worth, Leica CL is an amazing digital option that comes with good sensor, autofocus system and impressive battery life and versatile RAW files. It works amazing and its main drawback may be the price, causing many to think you pay the extra buck only for the brand.