This camera is a gem, honestly, I’m in love…
The Leica CL was the bastard child of a relationship between Leica and Minolta, and frankly it was too good for it’s time. It hurt the sales of Leica’s M models, and they abandoned it after a few years of production. Minolta went on to produce the Minolta CLE.
Besides looking like a badass camera, the Leica CL is low key with a black body, a tiny 40mm Summar F2 with collapsable hood, and the absence of the infamous red Leica logo. This makes it a fantastic street camera. The finder also has 50mm frame lines that stay inside the VF alongside the 40mm frame when using the 40mm lens. Some find this annoying and feel that it cramps the frame a bit, but I don’t mind it. (am I biased because I fell in love? Definitely.)
The CL has one major quirk. I choose to call it a quirk as opposed to a flaw, as it functions perfectly fine. What I’m referring to is the light meter indicator found on the right side of the VF. It’s upside down. Seriously, the over and under indicators are switched (compared to nearly all other classic rangefinders or SLRs). This was somewhat frustrating to get used to, as I had to mentally re-access my hand/brain/camera co-ordination area to get used to it. That said, the fact that a rangefinder of this size has a ttl lightmeter, and an accurate one at that, is mind blowing.
The light reading is taken when the film advance lever is half cocked, or when film is advanced for a frame. The next quirky thing about this camera is that the little CdS cell that takes the light measurement swings out on a little arm in front of the curtain shutter, allowing the ttl measurement to be taken (meaning you don’t have to compensate for filters, as it is a true through the lens metering). I’ve read that the little swing arm can become faulty with age, I haven’t had any problems so far, but like all cameras that are this old, a good CLS never hurts.
My favourite aspect of this camera is it’s size. I take it everywhere, it fits nicely in my man bag, and it’s quick response time is perfect for grabbing a fleeting street shot, but robust enough for a landscape trek.
Beware of some haters out there (mostly owners of Leica M3s), who will tell you that they’re not fans of this camera due to it’s small rangefinder base length. I understand the science behind it, and it makes sense that you’ll get sharper images when shooting wide open with a longer base length, but honestly, I shoot the 40MM Summar wide open (F2) all the time, and it’s pleasantly crisp. Though, I’m also not overly concerned with corner sharpness, so take my advice with a grain.
If you’re looking for a small rangefinder that’s fast, reliable and has built in metering, than this little Leica- which is a fraction of the cost of M models- is hard to beat.