Category Archives: Leica CL

The Leica CL: The Compact Film Camera That Killed the M5

Leica CL with 40mm Minolta M-Rokkor f/2 (Image Red Dot Cameras)

[Editor’s Note: This is an article co-writtenby William Fagan and Mike Evans and first published some months ago at Macfilos, an excellent photography website hosted by Mike Evans (That’s Mike to the right, with a red dot on his forehead).  William is a member of The International Leica Society and an avid Leica collector. Mike is a former journalist and communications professional who started the Macfilos blog in 2008. Mike has written for Leicaphilia before. While Macfilos started as a blog about Apple and the then-new iPhone,  it has since developed into a photography source, with lots of good Leica content among other things. A keen amateur photographer, Mike is “involved in the Leica world” and enjoys close relations with Leica UK. He’s also got a good sense of humor and is a nice guy who generously allowed me to steal his content.]


The recent introduction of a modern Leica CL has focused attention on the original CL from the 1970s. ‘CL’ stood for ‘compact Leica’, a compact rangefinder camera, which was manufactured in Japan by Minolta for Leica between 1973 and 1976. Minolta also sold a version of the camera called the Leitz Minolta CL and later Minolta developed a more advanced version called the Minolta CLE.

Whatever happened to the Leica CL? Many consider it was too good for its boots. It arrived at a time of great flux in Wetzlar, when the company was undergoing yet another identity crisis. The popular and successful M4 had been superseded by the advanced — very underrated but ultimately too ‘unconventional’ for mainstream success — Leica M5. The M5 model was produced in small numbers between 1971 and 1975. Despite its advanced features, including light metering, it wasn’t well received, not least because of its large size. In desperation, Leica brought the M4 back from the dead, shortly before the company’s Canadian phase when the unmetered Leica M4 re-appeared in two new guises, the M4-2 and the M4-P.

But in the background at this time was the Leica CL, a smaller camera which was designed in cooperation with Minolta and intended to be a more compact rangefinder alternative to the M5, but sharing some similar features such as metering. After its launch in 1973 it succeeded in that goal. Too well, unfortunately. Many adopted it because they wanted the light metering ability of the M5 but in a smaller package. The CL outsold the M5 (65,000 v 33900 according to the production numbers) and many believe that this is the reason Leica halted manufacture in 1976. It would be another eight years before light metering came to the M with the introduction of the M6.

Still wrapped and unopened after 40 years: Part of a trove of CLs bought recently by Red Dot Cameras (Image Mike Evans)


Designed jointly by Leica and Minolta and manufactured by Minolta in Japan, the Leica CL is often considered a “mutant” camera, even sometimes being labelled as “not an actual Leica” by Leica purists. But the truth is that this unconventional pairing of manufacturers has been a primary reason for the camera developing a close group of admirers.

The Leica CL is a 35 mm compact rangefinder camera with interchangeable lenses in the Leica M-mount. It first appeared in April 1973 and was released in the Japanese market in November 1973 as the Leitz Minolta CL. Both the Leica CL and Leitz Minolta CL were manufactured in a new Minolta factory in Osaka.

The Leica CL has a vertical-running focal-plane shutter, with cloth curtains, giving ½ to 1/1000 speeds. There is a through-the-lens CdS exposure meter mounted on a pivoting arm just in front of the shutter, similar to that on the Leica M5. The exposure is manual and is set using a needle system. The shutter is mechanical, but the shutter speed set is visible in the viewfinder just like the M5. The camera can still be used without any battery. There were two special C lenses produced for the camera, a 40mm f/2 and a 90mm f/4, both made in Germany. The finder’s framelines are for a 40mm, 50mm or 90mm lens. The 40mm and 50mm framelines appear when a 40mm or 50mm lens is mounted and the 40mm and 90mm framelines appear when the 90mm lens is mounted.

Leica CL with the 40mm Rokkor (Image Red Dot Cameras)

The original CL is a superbly compact and relatively cheap camera on which to use M-mount lenses, but it does not have a rangefinder as precise as that of any Leica M body. The rangefinder base of the CL is 31.5mm and the viewfinder magnification is 0.60, leading to a small effective rangefinder base of 18.9mm. This is probably too short for accurate focusing with lenses longer than 90mm and fast lenses used at full aperture. Some users report the camera is rather fragile, especially the rangefinder alignment and meter mechanism.

Sixty-five thousand serial numbers were allotted to the Leica CL, and this number does not include the Leitz Minolta CL. 3,500 examples of the CL received a special “50 Jahre” marking in 1975, for Leica’s 50th anniversary.It is also said that 50 demonstration examples were made. They are completely operational, with the top plate cut away to show the internal mechanism.

Here is an example of the 50th anniversary model from William’s collection with the 40mm and 90mm lenses, a special leather purse to contain the camera plus 40mm lens and a thin haze filter which fits between the rubber lens hood and the front element on both lenses.

Leica CL 50th Anniversary model from William’s collection (Image William Fagan)

Leica M5

The Leica M5 is a 35 mm camera by Leica Camera AG, introduced in 1971. It was the first Leica rangefinder camera to feature through-the-lens (TTL) metering and the last to be made entirely in Wetzlar by hand using the traditional “adjust and fit” method.

Leica M5 sales were very disappointing, and production was halted in 1975 after 33,900 units (from 1287001 to last serial number 1384000; 10750 chrome and 23150 black chrome bodies). Cost was an issue for the M5 body. In today’s currency (Consumer Price Index Integer) the price is around $4200.

Rangefinder camera sales were seriously undermined during this period by the predominance of mass-produced SLRs, primarily from Japan. In addition, Leica continued selling the M4 in 1974 and 1975, and the Leica CL was fully represented in the market by 1973. The UK Leica catalogue for 1975 lists the M4 and M5 and the CL.

Often cited as also contributing to the poor sales are the larger size and weight, the departure from the classical M design, the impossibility of attaching a motor winder, as well as the incompatibility with certain deep-seated wide angle lenses and collapsible lenses (i.e. 28 mm Elmarit below serial number 2 314 920) – see furher details below.The larger body dimensions also prevent the use of many M series accessories, such as external hand grips, quick release plates for tripod heads, or the Leica Lens Carrier M. The M5 is actually wider than the Nikon F, the camera that started the slide in the fortunes of Leica. There is an interesting story beyond the scope of this article about how the Leica company ignored the warnings about the threat from SLRs from its own engineers and then delayed the introduction of the Leicaflex until it was too late to recover. The M5 represents a failed attempt to make up lost ground.

Leica reverted to the M4 and its M4-2 (often called ‘the camera that saved Leica’) and M4-P developments, until the coming of the Leica M6, which offered built-in metering, albeit through the use of more electronic circuitry, while retaining the classic M design.

Here is a size comparison photo of some items from William’s collection, including a CL with 40mm f/2 Summicron and the M5 with a chrome 50mm f/2 Summicron and the M4-2 with a black 50mm f/2 Summicron. For proper comparison the M4-2 is wearing an MR light meter as the other two cameras have built-in metering.

The CL, M5 and M-42 with MR light meter — examples from William’s collection (Image William Fagan)

The M4-2 can be used with the M4-2 winder, which William has, but he decided not to mount it as neither of the other two cameras can be used with winders.

The CL and the M5 were designed to be used with PX 625 1.35 volt mercury oxide batteries, which were subsequently banned. They can be used today with Wein Cells or be modified to take modern PX 625 A 1.5 volt alkaline batteries. Williams article here deals with these issues in the context of an M5.

The M5 is now a relatively uncommon type, and their price on the second-hand market is comparable to that of the M6. M5s were discovered by Japanese collectors in the late 1990s and their price experienced a sharp rise at that time.

Boxes of new CLs and CL lenses discovered recently by Red Dot Cameras after lying in storage for over 40 years (Image Mike Evans)

Lenses for the Leica CL

The CL was sold with two lenses specially designed for it: the Leitz Summicron-C 40mm f/2, sold as the normal lens, and the Leitz Elmar-C 90mm f/4 tele lens. Both take the uncommon Series 5.5 filters. A Leitz Elmarit-C 40mm f/2.8 was also briefly produced but it is said that only 400 were made and they are now valuable collectors’ items

The lenses specially designed for the Leica CL can physically mount on a Leica M body, but Leica recommended not doing so because it would not give the best focusing precision, allegedly because the coupling cam of the C and M lenses is not the same. However, some people say that it is unimportant and that they can be used perfectly well on an M. Indeed in Williams experience he finds that the 90mm C lens is one of the most accurate 90mm lenses on an M.

When sold with a Leitz Minolta CL, the lenses were called Minolta M-Rokkor 40mm f/2 (later just Minolta M-Rokkor 40mm f/2) (see picture at top) and Minolta M-Rokkor 90mm f/4. It is said that the 40mm was made in Japan by Minolta while the 90mm was made by Leitz and is rare. With the later Minolta CLE, Minolta would produce lenses of the same name but with a different coupling system, the same as the Leica M lenses. A new Minolta M-Rokkor 28mm f/2.8 lens was introduced as well. All these lenses can be mounted on the CL too. Rokkor-branded lenses for the CL and CLE take the more easily found 40.5mm filter size.

The CL can take nearly all the Leica M lenses. Exceptions are some lenses that protrude deep into the body and could hurt the meter arm, which resembles a swinging lollipop. Such lenses include hese include: 15mm/8 Hologon, 21mm/4 Super Angulon, 28mm/2.8 Elmarits before serial number 2314921. The eyed lenses, including the M3 wide-angle lenses, the 135mm/2.8 Elmarit, and the 50mm/2 Dual Range Summicron, cannot be mounted either because they are incompatible with the body shape. The 90mm/2 Summicron and 135mm/4 Tele-Elmar are incompatible too. The collapsible lenses can be mounted but they must not be fully collapsed to avoid contact with the meter on a ‘swinging lollipop’ and Leitz advised to stick an adhesive strip of adequate width to the barrel, to limit the collapsing movement. Another limitation is that the rangefinder is only coupled until 0.8m. The same issues also apply to the M5, which also has its meter on a similar swinging arm, visible here.

William had to put an adaptor on this M5 in order to persuade it to show its ‘lollipop’.

The M5 with “lollipop” meter arm saying cheese for the camera (Image William Fagan)


The CL was consigned to history and, eventually, Leica got itself back on track with the M6, the M7 and, latterly, with a blossoming range of digital Ms.

Now it’s all ambiance as the new digital CL takes over the hallowed name after 40 years (Image Leica Camera AG)

The CL, as a film camera of course, was potentially just as capable as the M4 and M5. They were all, as we say these days, full frame. In those days full frame meant ‘not half frame’. It is interesting also that, whereas in the 1970s Leica was trying to make up ground on cameras with flapping mirrors, these days Leica seems to have left flapping mirrors behind with its move to EVF’s. A whole new era of Compact Leica (CL) photography has commenced with the launch of the new CL with EVF last autumn.

Thanks to Red Dot Cameras for supplying the shots of the Leica CL. According to Mike, It’s a good place to look if you’re in the market for a Leica

The Leitz Elmarit-C 40mm 2.8. A Leica Lens Not Good Enough For Minolta

imageThe Leitz Elmarit-C 40mm f2.8 is a peculiar lens in the history of Leica optics.  Leitz intended the Elmarit-C to be paired with the Leica CL, itself a joint venture with Minolta that was to produce the compact “Baby M” Leica CL and Leitz Minolta CL, the same camera offered by both companies with differing engravings, between 1973 and 1976. The bodies themselves, be they labelled Leica or Minolta, were to be designed by Leitz and built by Minolta in Japan. Leitz, pulling rank with their reputation as the premium optical manufacturer, were tasked with designing the optics for both the German and Japanese iterations of the camera.

Designed by Leitz, the lenses themselves were to be built by each company to identical spec, either in Germany for the Leica or in Japan for the Leitz Minolta. Leitz designed and proposed the Elmarit-C 40mm 2.8 as the standard lens. Minolta, upon receiving the prototype, came to the awkward conclusion that the lens was a dog, not up to Minolta standards, and requested Leitz to submit a redesign. Leitz reconsidered, recalibrated, and submitted the Summicron-C 40mm f2, a wonderful lens that holds its own to this day.

The barrel design of the Elmarit-C is similar to the Summicron-C 40mm f2 but is shorter in length, making focus and aperture setting even more difficult than it is on the Summicron. To fix this the Elmarit-C 40mm f2.8 featured a tab for both the focusing and aperture ring. The lens also stopped down to f22, unusual for a Leitz designed lens. Aside from that it was pretty much the same lens as the Summicron-C except for its optical quality. The lens is soft close up at any aperture but becomes less noticeable at further distances when stopped down to f5.6 or slower. Contrast is also very low wide open.

The change from the Elmarit to the Summicron happened so late in production that about 400 examples of the slower Elmarit-C f2.8 lens had already been manufactured by Leitz; stuck with them,  Leitz gave them to their employees. Infrequently one will appear on the collectors’ market, a rare and unusual piece of Leica history. That doesn’t mean you should buy one. It is, by all accounts, a terrible lens optically. If you are looking for a compact 40mm M mount lens to use, the standard CL Summicron-C 40mm f2 lens is just fine, as is the faster Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f1.4 for about the same price. The only reason to get the Elmarit-C 40mm f2.8 lens is if you are a collector. It was never offered commercially, making it catnip for Leica collectors as it is obscure, hard to find and no one knows precisely how many exist. Other than wanting it to sit nicely on your display case there is no reason to put it on a camera. Even Minolta agrees.

The Ricoh GXR: The Digital Leica CL


Let’s get this straight at the outset. Digital Leica M’s – the M8, M9, MM and M240 –  are not traditional Leica M cameras. They are computerized simulacrums of traditional film M’s, sharing only a certain corporate continuity, a rangefinder mechanism and aesthetic likeness of form, albeit fatter, heavier and less pleasant in hand. Most importantly,  their useful life is measured in years as opposed to decades.

Many of us who grew up shooting Leica film cameras learned these lessons the hard way, at great frustration and expense, and for many of us, those experiences have caused us to re-evaluate our relationship to Leica in the digital age.

I remain firmly grounded in the film world, both for technical and philosophical reasons, for 90% of my work. But the practical requirements of capturing quotidian experiences- snapshots as it were-  sometime require the quickness and immediacy of a digital process. So, I need at least one digital camera to keep myself (and others) happy. But I’ve bought them reluctantly.

My only criterion when buying a digital camera is never to be an early adopter. I won’t buy a digital camera that isn’t at least 2 to 3 years old. Let the early adopters work through the bugs and take the digital depreciation hit. In return, they can obsess about their newest toy and its revolutionary IQ standards while warily eyeing the new, improved version inevitably around the corner.

What I want: a manual focus camera that uses my extensive collection of M mount rangefinder optics, and I want a decent size sensor that doesn’t turn my Rokkor-M 40 f2 into a telephoto. 12 mp or thereabouts  is the sweet spot – I don’t need 36 mpx files because I print, at most, 19 inches on the long side, and if I want bigger I can always “res up” with the appropriate software. My alternatives: an M8, M9, M240, Sony NEX or A7, Fuji X…. or the Ricoh GXR. The Sonys are designed by computer guys, not photographers, and it shows. Too computerized, with their nested menus and touch screen technologies. And, like the Fuji, their sensors aren’t maximized for the limited flange distance of M lenses.  So this leaves the Leica models…and the Ricoh. The M’s are simply too expensive for what you get. And there’s the issue of dodgy sensors that continue to plague the CCD M’s. Spending $6k on a camera body, only to have to replace the sensor at scheduled intervals, is insane. The fact that digital Leica owners accept this is, if nothing else, a testament to the irrational in many’s purchasing decisions.

This leaves me with the GXR. Ricoh has a tradition of funky, quirky cameras that appeal to serious photographers. The GXR follows in that tradition. Unlike conventional digital cameras which either have a fixed lens and sensor or interchangeable lenses and a fixed sensor, the GXR takes interchangeable units, each housing a lens, sensor and imaging processing unit. This allows each unit to have features optimized to one another and a specific task, whereas with conventional interchangeable lens cameras, each different lens must use the same sensor and engine. The sealed units also prevent dust from reaching the sensor, which can be a problem with interchangable lens bodies used in the elements. Having previously owned an M8, I know it to be a definite issue with digital M’s.


In addition to a 24-85 zoom and superb 28 and 50 mm auto focus units, Ricoh offers a 12 mpx unit to mount and use Leica optics, the A12 M Module. The Ricoh’s M mount is strictly designed with the technical specifications of the M bayonet in mind. It contains shifted micro-lenses on its periphery to deal with the angled light produced on the sensor plane by M lenses with short sensor plane distances. You get a Leica M sensor with all the advantages for wide angle lenses, without a AA filter to boot. And the Ricoh is as modular as a Phase One or Hassy. You can change out the sensor in a second to use the excellent Ricoh lens modules if you need auto-focus or are lazy and want to use a zoom.

The Ricoh with A12 M Mount is a much less expensive alternative to digital M’s that does an incredible job with M-mount lenses. I recently picked up two GXR bodies, an A12 M module and the 28 and 50 modules, all for just a tad over $1000, which is pretty remarkable for what you get. I’m not an IQ guy, but I can’t help but be amazed at the sharpness and depth of the files the GXR M mount produces with Leica lenses, a function of a sensor without an AA filter tailored to M mount lenses and the native quality of the lenses themselves. And both the 28 and 50 2.5 AF units are exceptional as well, the equal optically of any Summarit or Summicron I’ve used with the M Module.

xxxx--93Ricoh GXR, A12 M Module, 21 VC f4

The  relationship between the GXR and current digital M’s is similar to the 1970s Leica CL and its relation to the M5. While both shared the same format, meter, etc, the CL was lighter, smaller, and much less expensive, although it felt built to a price point, while the M5 retained the traditional robust Leitz build. The CL used the same Leitz lenses, which, of course, was more determinative of the final output than all the other considerations, and, in practice, produced negatives indistinguishable from the M. Ironically, in a transposition of the relationship between the CL and M5, the Ricoh feels better made, more solid and durable than the often fragile digital M’s. It’s an exceptionally well made camera with the heft associated with durability. It feels great in the hand, and it’s compact and unobtrusive in a way the fattened digital M’s no longer are.

Ricoh discontinued them in 2014, probably because the interchangible lens/sensor unit design never caught with most folks, which is a shame. The upside to this is that new units are still available and you can find them cheap.

My B&W workflow with the GXR: set the display for B&W RAW. set EV at -.07 to avoid blown highlights, ISO at 1600 or, when needed, at 2500. Process in SEP2 using either the HP5 or the Tri-X simulations, or if you want something really gritty, the Neopan 1600 emulation, very minor sharpening on output. Voila! Only a trained eye will notice any difference between this and a roll of Tri-X shot with your CL.

The Leica (Leitz Minolta) CL


In 1971 Leica decided to produce a compact Leica (CL) camera that would be a less expensive alternative to their pro model M5. In the late 60s and early 70s, production costs in Germany had risen high enough that it was beginning to price Leitz products out of an increasingly competitive sales environment. Leica looked for ways to cut costs while expanding their market share.  To keep production costs to a minimum, they needed the camera to be manufactured by an outside company with hi-tech capabilities and lower labor costs than those in Germany. Leitz approached Minolta, and the Leica CL was born.

The Leica CL and the Leitz Minolta CL are 35 mm compact mechanical rangefinder cameras with interchangeable lenses in the Leica M-mount. They were developed by Leitz/Leica in collaboration with Minolta, and manufactured by Minolta between 1973 and 1976.  Leica put their name on the CLs they sold, and they were put through “German quality control,” but that’s really the only difference between the Leica or (Leitz) Minolta CL. In reality, all of the cameras were made on the same assembly line in Minolta’s factory in Japan.  In the U.S. and Europe, the CL was sold as the “Leica CL”. In Japan it was sold as the” Leitz Minolta CL” and “Minolta CL”. Sixty-five thousand serial numbers were allotted to the Leica CL, and additionally approximately 20,000 Leitz Minolta CL’s were produced. 3,500 examples of the Leica CL received a special 50 Jahre marking in 1975, for Leica’s 50th anniversary.


The CL came standard with either a 40mm f/2 Summicron-C or 40mm f/2 Rokkor M.  When sold with a Leitz Minolta CL, the lenses were called Minolta M-Rokkor 40mm f:2 and 90mm f:4.

Leitz designed and produced the Summicron-C  40mm in Germany. Minolta produced the M-Rokkor 40mm f/2, which was an optical design identical the Leica Summicron-C 40mm and manufactured it in Tokyo with Minolta glass. The Summicron and Rokkor are identical in performance, and many people prefer the M-Rokkor as it uses a standard 40.5mm filter and hoodMinolta also produced a later version of the M-Rokkor for the Minolta CLE, the M-Rokkor 40mm f/2 mark II, which is multicoated and reputed to be slightly better optically than the Summicron and first version M-Rokker, although I suspect that’s down to internet speculation. Suffice it to say that the Summicron-C and the M-Rokkor in whatever version are very compact and incredibly sharp, still as good relatively today as they were 40 years ago.

CL 1

Leitz designed the Elmar-C 90mm f/4 for the CL and manufactured both it and first production runs of the M-Rokkor 90mm f/4 for the Minolta CL in Wetzlar, changing only the bezel and markings for the Minolta lens. Later, after Leica had discontinued the CL and Minolta continued with the CLE, the same lens design was manufactured by Minolta in Japan. You can tell which was which by the “Made in Germany” and “Made in Japan” markings on the lens barrel.   Minolta also subsequently produced an M-Rokkor 28mm f:2.8 lens for the CLE. All these lenses can be mounted on the CL too. M-Rokkor-branded lenses for the CL and CLE take the more easily found 40.5mm filter size.

The CLs are identical. The Minolta is a Leica, and vice versa. There are some differences between the CL and the M series Leicas. The shutter speed dial is positioned on the front of the CL. The shutter speed also appears in the finder display (the M5 shows the shutter speeds in the finder as well while the other M’s do not). Instead of the horizontal cloth focal plane shutter found in the M series, the CL uses a vertical  cloth shutter. This allowed the CL body to be very compact, still the smallest M mount camera made by Leica.  Much like the Nikon F, the entire bottom plate and back detaches from the CL for film changes. As with the M series, the shutter is entirely mechanical, a battery only needed for the meter.


The CL does not have a rangefinder as precise as that of a the Leica M. The rangefinder base of the CL is 31.5 mm and the viewfinder magnification is 0.60, leading to a small effective rangefinder base of 18.9 mm. This is too short for accurate focusing with lenses longer than 90mm and fast lenses used at full aperture.  It has frame lines for 40mm, 50mm, and 90mm lenses, and the viewfinder easily accomdates a 35mm lens (just use the entire viewfinder frame). The 40mm frame is always visible.

If you’re looking to buy a CL, the Leitz Minolta version with 40mm M-Rokkor sells for about 60% of the Leica CL with Summicron. The only differences between to two cameras are the external engravings. I have one and love it. Its diminutive size makes it a perfect camera to take everywhere, and the optical quality of the 40mm M-Rokkor is outstanding. I find myself reaching for it when I’m heading somewhere with no particular photographic ideas in mind.