Camera Review: Leica CL

February 6, 2018

When Leica introduced the TL2, the company sought to make a mirrorless camera with a bold, minimalist design statement. The CL shares many of the TL2’s imaging specs, but a completely different design and a higher price tag. Are those extra knobs worth it?


The CL boasts a 24-megapixel APS-C sensor with a native ISO range of 100-50,000. It can burst at 10 fps for 33 RAW+JPEG images or up to 140 JPEGs.

It uses a contrast detection AF system with 49 points and face detection. You’ll enjoy a top mechanical shutter speed of 1/8000 sec. and an electronic shutter for speeds up to 1/25,000 sec. There’s also Wi-Fi for remote control and image transfers.

On the video front, the TL2 records 4K video (3840 x 2160) at 30p. Full HD recording is also available up to 60p.

We tested the CL with the new Elmarit-TL 18 mm f/2.8 ASPH, the smallest wide-angle APS-C pancake lens currently on the market.


We’ll admit that the austere design of the TL2 didn’t really do it for us. The CL, by contrast, is much more our speed. There are a pair of dials on the top of the camera with buttons nestled inside them for changing settings. There’s also a top (and rather tiny) LCD display that reads out camera mode. It’s the kind of design that’s very accessible, giving you ample control of the camera without having to navigate menus. Very helpful.

Unlike the TL2, which had almost no buttons outside of the touch screen and shutter, the CL has a programmable function button. It’s missing the TL2’s touch screen, which we would have liked as well, if only for touch focusing. That said, you do get a built-in, and very sharp, viewfinder with the CL.

As you’d expect, the CL is slim, robust and beautifully sturdy. At 14 ounces, it’s on par with other models in its class. With the new 18mm lens attached, it’s easily pocketable. The CL accepts TL and SL mount lenses directly and Leica R and M lenses with an adapter.

We were very impressed with both the camera and the new 18mm pancake lens.

Image Quality

Like the TL2, the CL delivers beautiful images. JPEGs were sharp and color accurate out of the camera, though a little on the low-contrast end of the spectrum. Skin tones were beautiful and low-light performance was also solid.

Noise is very well controlled through ISO 6400 and RAW files have plenty of latitude to claw back detail or smooth away noise.

While TIPA’s image testers hadn’t gotten their white-gloved hands on the CL at the time of our writing, its core specs closely mirror the TL2—a camera TIPA praised for excellent dynamic range (11.8 f-stops) and excellent image sharpness. TIPA did caution that video from this sensor/processor combination does appear very over-sharpened.


With 49 contrast-detect AF points, the CL isn’t as brisk with AF and AF tracking of moving subjects as competitors in this class. That’s not to say it can’t handle moving subjects—its 10 fps burst mode is near the top of the class. There’s a pretty generous buffer for JPEGs at 144, though you’ll only fit about 30 or so RAW files before the camera slows down.

At 220 shots per charge, the battery life
(per CIPA) is rather meager, significantly lower than cameras costing a fraction of the CL’s price.

Bottom Line

The CL is more expensive than both Panasonic’s GH5 and Olympus’s OM-D E-M1 Mark II—cameras that offer far more features, if not more resolution. Indeed, the CL is more expensive than any crop sensor mirrorless camera in the market by a fair margin—and more expensive than some older full-frame cameras that have come down in price. If you’ve got to stretch your camera dollar, the CL is a tougher sell, especially if video is as important as stills.

That said, there’s no doubt the CL delivers in the image quality and design department. If you have the means and the inclination to spend up, you won’t be disappointed.

Leica CL

PROS: Excellent image quality; superb design; compact build; sharp viewfinder; first-rate dynamic range.
CONS: Pricey; meager battery life.
PRICE: $2,795 (body)

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