You might or might not know my third camera was a Leica (circa approx 2014!). Already searching for an alternative to lugging around a cumbersome DSLR and having had an unsatisfying experience with my first fixed lens advanced compact, I struck gold with a half price used but mint condition Leica X1 on eBay – a fixed f2.8 lens on a beautifully neat mirrorless compact body…
Not being able to change lenses was never going to ultimately satisfy me but for six months I gloried in my photo-taking, delighting in how responsive and easy to use the X1 was. I loved the intuitive aperture and ISO dials on top and it felt just right in my hands. Until I broke it. Ah the pain. And the shame – I had been amateurishly balancing it on a ledge in my first forays into self timed outfit posts. It cost more to repair the dented lens than I had paid for the camera. So, I didn’t. And thus my camera journey continued.
Fast forward five years to the release of the Leica CL. Not a throwback to its 70s namesake (a 35mm film Leica x Minolta model) but similar to the X1 & X2, but with interchangeable lenses. Now this is just the kind of thing I like to hear! The versatility of being able to change lenses on a small body makes the kind of photography I do possible; I will never carry around loads of heavy kit, but if I want to change lenses for a certain situation I like to be able to do it – and given that so many of my photo situations are so often off the cuff, informal and unplanned I crave this flexibility in my kit. Especially as I only shoot with with prime lenses. (NB: For Leica users, the CL accepts L-mount lenses, but needs an adaptor for M and R lenses.)
What’s It Like?
To hold the CL is a dream. The design aesthetic is so strong and it sits in your hands like it was meant to be there – the smooth edges quite intoxicating to the touch! I was impressed with the electronic viewfinder, it felt clear, open and bright. But where things got really interesting was with the controls and the settings. A new streamlined design has modified the layout in an extremely minimal way compared to the X1. Two multi-purpose dials on top and a small LCD screen between them and then just a handful of buttons either side of the screen. The idea is that you really can customise everything to suit how you shoot. Apologies, I completely omitted to photograph the back and top of the camera – but check it out here and here.
While I absolutely adored the look of it and appreciated the streamlined controls, I did find changing modes a little trickier than necessary – to do so means reaching further in for the second dial and it was definitely something to get the hang of. I think if I’d had the camera for longer (on loan just for a week to review) I would have looked at changing the setup to better suit me. I do like to flip modes quote often – and quickly! – especially if I want to film (4k video btw!) and I found the process not quite seamless enough as it was. Too dependant on a mode dial me! 😉
Out & About
With the camera for just a week, I was keen to see what it could do. Unfortunately grey weather dogged almost every waking hour all week, so my visit to the Tate Modern for some bright skyline shots was somewhat hampered. So what you have is a selection of rather moody and grey images (the mirror ball is part of the Tate’s The One Two Three Swing! installation in the Turbine Hall) and a few incidentals. But I did get some shots I loved! I don’t think there’s any question as to the image quality and with an APS-C sensor which is bigger than the micro four thirds I usually shoot on, I in no way struggled to get the shots I wanted.
With Wifi (a really easy connection) for transferring pictures onto your phone (although for some reason I couldn’t transfer the video) and also a remote control option for your phone, I felt really comfortable with the CL tech wise and lens wise; I normally shoot with a 17mm (albeit on a smaller sensor; so I did notice the slight extra space in my photos, which always feels luxurious). The only real omission for me in terms of hardware functionality (and I totally get how this would mess with the aesthetics of the build and design!) is a flip-out screen; this is something I have come to rely for quite a few typical shots that I take.
What I love about the settings is how intuitive they are. I didn’t have to make a quick google search to find anything out, it was easy and quick to figure out; like setting the focus point to function the way l like (I like to move it around the screen with buttons despite the touch screen) and a few other adjustments so I could shoot in the way I’m accustomed. The menu is highly navigable and user friendly while not underestimating you at the same time, if that makes sense!
Is It Worth It?
Using such an ergonomically pleasing and high quality gorgeous piece of kit is an experience in itself. But the question that people always come up against with Leica is “Is it worth it?” The CL body alone is a hefty £2,250 and with the 18mm f2.8 lens is £3,150. I’m a big believer that you can take great photos with whatever kit you are given and happily shoot on my iPhone if that’s all I have to hand, so I can’t say you will take better pictures if you spend this amount of money.
I guess buying into Leica is a statement of intent. You love the brand, the product, the history, the commitment to great photography and want to be part of that exciting world. Bar the flipout screen, I could manage most of my photography on this camera – but then I am quite streamlined anyway, I shoot with a 17mm f1.8 95% of the time.
I think there comes a point in most amateur photographers’ lives where they might want to consolidate their kit for something more focussed and simpler. Or a professional who has all the gear might want something super special and dedicated for their non-work camera. I think this is where a Leica might feature for some. I guess I have ‘tool’ cameras with which I shoot certain type of photography and I certainly couldn’t afford to swap in all my gear for the equivalent in the Leica M series (and funnily enough I think the M is too sizeable for me!). Nobody needs the most expensive kit to take great photos, but it sure is a real pleasure and lovely experience to understand the seamlessness and quality offered by a Leica, and if you have the cash or the kit you want to trade in then yes of course!
Being a bit of a bokeh lover, I would hope for a lower aperture C lens for the CL which came in at the same size as the very neat 18mm. At the moment, the C lenses comprise of three primes and three zooms, and I have to admit I was a little disappointed to see how hefty the other two primes were. However, this is a new camera and no doubt such needs will be met in time!
Anyway, The Pictures!
So! I hope this overview was of interest? I thought it would be fun to explore what is on offer in the world of smaller cameras and to see how life with a Leica would be! Here’s a selection of the shots I took – I had high hopes of a better assortment but dismal weather and time constraints butted in a bit this week! However, not to worry – next up I will be taking out the smaller and significantly more affordable Leica D-Lux which quite a few of you have mentioned to me. Stay tuned!
*The Leica CL was loaned to me for a week to review.
FYI: All photos featuring the camera were not taken on the Leica obvs 😉 but the ones without me or camera in them were!
A Note On Editing
Just so you know, I have edited all the CL pictures as I do normally. I make basic adjustments in Lightroom and apply a VSCO filter at 50%. I then resize and make any final adjustments in Photoshop where I apply a RadLab filter (that I created years ago!) and dial down.
How I Shoot
For a normal day out I like to shoot on Aperture Priority – my main focus is always on controlling aperture. The CL makes this easy with the top right dial which you turn to change the f-stop. Full manual is just one step further where you dial control the shutter speed and have the exposure compensation value easily visible to guide you. You have to go into the Menu to set your ISO, and I had this set quite low – on reflection I should have pumped it up as it was such a gloomy day! And yes I always look this serious in my ‘photo mode’…! 😉