I’m never without a camera on my shoulder. No camera, no pictures. Everyday moments are there to be captured, and I’m always ready. Some mornings, that familiar analog itch hits. I grab my trusty, battle-worn M6, and I’m off. But lately, the black paint M-P 240 has been my go-to more than I care to admit.
Leica M cameras are my jam. The sound of the shutter. The way the aperture ring clicks on M lenses. The comfort in my subjects’ eyes at not having a massive lens pointed in their faces. And, I haven’t been able to get enough of that feeling since the moment I shot off my first frame with an M camera all those years ago.
Looking for something smaller
Lately though, convenience has been tempting me and I’ve been wanting something smaller, lighter, and more compact. I even flirted with a couple of notable APS-C mirrorless cameras over the last couple of years and adapted my M glass to said cameras. But the results often disappointed. See, I’ve been spoiled by the quality, color, contrast, and sharpness you get when you pair M glass with a Leica sensor. Other mirrorless cameras’ sensors aren’t optimized for the high angle of incidence of Leica M lenses, so you’ll often get color shifts and smeary, dark corners.
Enter the Leica CL.
Rocking a classic and ergonomic body design, along with a solid line-up of top-quality autofocus TL lenses, the Leica CL caught my attention from the get-go. But not because of the lenses. For me, it was all about the way the camera felt in my hands. I knew from the moment that the CL came out that I wanted to pair it with a 35 ‘Cron M lens. And with the Leica M-Adapter-L, doing so is a piece of cake. Just pop the adapter on the camera, throw on an M lens and with a 6-bit reader, the camera knows what lens you have mounted. Lens profiles are automatically applied and the focal length shows up in the metadata.
New City, New Camera
Recently, my wife and I moved from Miami, FL to Atlanta, GA. I decided to document my first few weeks here with the CL, and I really wanted to see how it performed with M glass. So, I started thinking about what lenses to try out. The 35mm Summicron was a given, of course. Adding two other of my favorite M lenses, the 21mm Super-Elmar-M ASPH and the 75mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH, completed the setup. These are the three lenses I would typically carry with me when shooting a wedding or other event with the M.
I took the CL with me almost everywhere. Pool days, date nights, city trips. Nothing was out of the question. Surprisingly, I found myself shooting the 21mm more than the other two lenses. With the 1.5x conversion factor, the 21mm offered me a focal length I didn’t know I needed in my life. An equivalent of 31.5mm, it served as a wide 35 and a tight 28.
But, the biggest limitation of the lens became apparent very quickly. At a modest f/3.4 max aperture, the lens isn’t particularly fast. To its credit, though, the CL performed beautifully at higher ISO values and compensated somewhat for the slow aperture of the what became my go-to focal length.
Whenever the Super-Elmar wasn’t mounted on the camera, I reached for the 35mm Summicron, a lens that I can shoot with my eyes closed. All I had to do was take a couple of steps back to compensate for the 1.5x magnification of the APS-C sensor and I was right back in the groove. Even as a 35 shooter, I didn’t find the 50mm equivalent too much to get used to.
Unfortunately, the 75mm didn’t get too much use. I would only pull it out for portraits or quieter still life moments. I don’t really like longer lenses for shooting everyday life and the 75 on the CL turned into a 100 equivalent. But when I did use it, I absolutely loved the way the 75 APO rendered on the CL sensor. Colors popped, and the images were just tack-sharp. Gorgeous.
The Hybrid Experience
Using M lenses on the CL gave me the hybrid experience I love about Leica digital photography. Marrying classic and modern has always been one of my favorite approaches to shooting. Dialing in focus using the tab and feeling the lens barrel turn with silky precision. Adjusting my f-stop with the clicks of the detents on the aperture ring dropping like subtle lock tumblers.
The experience of the M lenses was familiar, welcoming. But what made it even better was being able to easily zoom to 100% within the viewfinder to guarantee my subject was in perfect focus. I still consider myself young at 31, but my eyes aren’t what they used to be. Besides helping me judge focus, the real-time exposure preview in the CL’s large electronic viewfinder gave me the freedom to experiment with light in different settings. The whole process became effortless with a little practice.
I honestly don’t see myself ever giving up on, or letting go of, a Leica M camera. There’s nothing in the world that compares to it. But there was something about using Leica M lenses on the CL that was comfortable, familiar. The camera felt like a Leica, and for me, that’s crucial.
Will the CL ever replace the Leica M as my primary camera? Probably not. But I would happily use it as a second body in any M kit. It gives the lenses I already use a different life at 1.5x magnification, and I can easily see myself taking the CL on weekend trips. If you’re like me, and just love the character you can only get out of M glass but want something a little lighter and smaller to carry around every day, the CL absolutely fits the bill.