I’m not normally a camera geek. I buy a camera and it’s a business decision, it works hard for it’s keep. I only ever replace it when it’s either worn out or something significantly better comes along that justifies the expense. And I hardly ever write about my cameras, so whilst this isn’t a Leica CL review, it’s something significant for me.
In March, I’m digging deep into the reviews for the Leica CL. I’m reading the forums – that’s something I never do, forums full of people with names like Shutterhound make me run for the horizon – and yet here I was, gathering info.
For the first time in my career as a photographer / writer I was seriously considering buying a camera as an emotional choice.
I was thinking of buying a Leica.
It was my Dad’s fault.
My family history is one of parents who got divorced and, like many kids, having a birth father who was around, but not very often. I also had an amazing step father, so in many ways, I am very lucky. I got to have two Dads, many people never have even one. And the ‘original’ one is still alive as I write this in 2020. He’s the one you can blame for the photography part. Because for a few years before I came along, that’s what he was. A photographer.
And he shot on a Leica.
In his youth, my dad was an avid photographer. Right up until my sister and I came along, and a little while after, he loved photography and was pretty damn good from what little remains of his photo archive. And he still talks with great affection of his Leica. The trigger for me was when we were chatting about using an iPad and the internet. At 83 years old, he’s coming late to Google, however he said to me, “Search for Leica M3.” The results that displayed had him declare in amazement “Thats it! That was my camera!”
He described how on the day he bought it, he sat at home with it in his lap and simply looked at it. He also described his sadness and desolation when he had to sell it. The man he sold it to took it all over the world for many years. He knows that because that man actually took the trouble to track him down and thanked him years later for selling him the Leica M3.
I wanted to see what all the fuss was about over this mythical, expensive Red Dot.
After all, there are plenty of perfectly capable cameras available at far lower price points. For any given Leica model and any given list of technical capabilities, there are other cameras around for significantly less money.
That was just one of the questions I had when I clicked ‘Purchase’ on my Leica CL in March 2020 and entered my card details. There are other questions too, many of them not particularly factual to be honest. They were more subtle questions. So here’s my thoughts on the Leica CL three months in and what I have discovered so far.
Initial Impressions of the Leica CL
I’ll spare you the unboxing video.
Let’s simply say that the camera packaging is commensurate with the price and that Leica are fully aware of their branding and history. It’s lovingly boxed and presented and there’s a rather cool setup intro that plays the very first time you start it up.
As soon as you lift it from the box, the build quality is obvious. The closest to it in terms of absoluty solidity is my original Canon 1DS. That was staggeringly heavy though. This isn’t.
I went with the Super Vario Elmar 11-23 mm wide angle zoom for starters. It was the closest to my favorite wide zoom of all, the Canon EOS 17-40 f4 and of course very similar to the Sony 10-18 mm I’ve been using on the A6300. Generally speaking, I shoot a lot of wide angle shots, so that made sense.
EDIT – Very soon after, I bought the Sigma 70mm f2.8 ART Marco, you can read my thoughts on that lens here.
Things I like about the Leica CL.
There’s one thing that stands out the most. It doesn’t get in the way of the shot. This may sound crazy, but the camera doesn’t get in the way. By that I mean that everything you need immediately under your fingers to set an exposure or focus point for shot is right there, without moving the camera from your eye. The two large controls on the top plate, coupled with the push buttons built into them, offer everything you need to be shooting pictures.
The Sony A6300 used to drive me nuts. I don’t know why, but the menu system on it was baffling. Nothing ever seemed to be right at hand and I often found that part of it frustrating.
Secondly, it’s built like an air cooled Porsche. You can read my many, many views on the Porsche 911 right here. The Leica CL has that type of quality.
Thirdly, it strikes the right presence. This probably sounds odd. Here’s two scenarios.
- I arrive with the Canon 1DS, big white lens in place. I must be a pro photographer, I have a big camera and an even bigger lens, right?
- I arrive with the Sony A6300. People are looking over my shoulder saying, “Sorry, where’s the photographer?”
Not that either of those things really matter these days at all. In fact, much of my shooting is self assigned and I want to be low profile. The Leica CL suits me perfectly for this task.
Thirdly, it’s just the right amount of compact. Small and light enough to carry and fit in most small spaces, yet big enough to be able to use it like a camera. I’ve tried smaller cameras in the past, I find that I tended to use my iPhone. After all, the iPhone 11 Pro Max is a damn fine camera.
I bought a Leica CL in March 2020, just before the whole lockdown thing began in the UK. My timing could have been better I guess, but that’s how it goes. That means that I haven’t exactly had much opportunity to stretch it’s capabilities so far.
I don’t normally have much to say about cameras. For me, historically, the do a job. They were / are tools of my trade to be used as such.
And yet the Leica is different. I’ll admit it. After all, I didn’t write blog posts about my Canon or Sony cameras. Yet this one is actually getting me thinking about what fun photography used to be for me and is giving me that satisfaction that’s been missing of late.
Let’s see if that feeling grows more.
For now, I quite enjoy having the little Red Dot around. Let’s see what we can make together.