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Leica CL as main camera

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Follow on: I'm using the CL as my only camera (modulo a few snappies made with the iPhone) for the duration of my six week journey. I brought my R28 and R50 lenses with me. I could easily have this as my only camera, even with just these two lenses, but of course I do have a larger set of lenses to work with at home. It's quite complete and competent a camera, and I don't find myself wanting or needing the additional automation of the AF lenses, etc. I like having simple, manual focusing scales and simple controls that work well.

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Even though this thread has been dormant for some time, I thought I'd add my own (slightly verbose) experience in the hope it might help others thinking about adopting the CL as a main camera.

I’ve been a magazine writer/photographer for 30 years. For most of that time, my photographic equipment comprised full-sized film and then DSLR cameras, culminating in the Canon EOS 5D series and asociated lenses. I always carried my entire kit (less tripod) in a Pelican 1510 so I could bring it as carry-on luggage, even though the combination wound up tipping the scales at 30-plus pounds.

In the last few years, with airlines becoming more and more restrictive about carry-on luggage, I began to suspect this could become a problem. And indeed it did when a check-in clerk at a New Zealand Air desk demanded to weigh my case, which effortlessly blew through their 7 kg (15 lb) limit and got me a stern lecture. Watching $10,000-plus worth of camera equipment disappear down the checked-bag conveyor belt made me look for a different way. (Question: Does it really matter where in the airplane that 30 pounds is? And if so, why do first-class passengers get an extra allowance?)

In the meantime I’d been thinking that the new breed of cropped-sensor cameras could easily produce the image quality I needed for magazine reproduction and web publishing. After some research I made a wholesale swap to a Lumix kit centered around the GX8 micro-four-thirds body. Much of the impetus for the decision resulted from the introduction of the astonishing Leica 100mm-400mm APO lens, equivalent at its long end to an 800mm full-frame lens on the MFT sensor. Since much of my work is wildlife photography, this was an inconceivable perk as my longest focal length with the Canons had been 450mm.

The Lumix system produced fine images, more than adequate for double-page magazine spreads and viewing on a large computer screen. The Leica lens with its internal image stabilization combined with the GX8’s own IBIS was incredible. Handheld shots at 800mm equivalent at 1/125th second were easy.

However. No matter how much I tried, I just couldn’t warm up to the GX8 and its constellation of buttons and settings. Time and time again I’d raise the camera to my eye and discover that I’d accidentally pushed a button or activated some weird mode. The screen would be blank, the eyepiece unresponsive. Or the camera would have mysteriously set itself to some odd exposure/focus mode. My wife, herself a pro photographer, finally summed it up one day when she’d hit something or other by mistake: “This damn thing has too many f!#@$ing buttons!”

Thus the Leica CL. I read about it, I read about it some more. Three times the cost of a GX8, near enough. But, an APS-C sensor in a body virtually the same size as the GX8 and its MFT sensor. And those controls! So simple, so elegant. We’re not wealthy, so I sold off some equipment collected from various magazine reviews, and ordered a mint CL body and the 18-56 lens.

And it was everything—everything—we’d hoped. I barely opened the manual, the controls were so intuitive. I loved the configurable favorites menu. Operations that used to take me minutes of furious scolling through multiple levels of the Lumix now took seconds. Yes, I wish it had an automatic sensor cleaner and IBIS, and I’m not convinced those would have added measurably to the camera’s bulk (although certainly to its cost). But otherwise it is a wonder, and it gives both of us pleasure to use every time we pick it up.

So, the CL as a main camera? Absolutely, for my needs—with the exception of those long telephoto wildlife shots. For that reason—just as Jaap has—I’ve kept a GX8 body and that superb Leica 100-400mm lens. I can’t afford the full-frame Leica 90-280mm zoom for the CL, it would still only equate to a 420 at the long end, and I see no reason to burden a delightfully compact APS-C camera with a full-frame lens. I hope the day comes when Leica—or Sigma—makes something equivalent to that 100-400 for the CL. I would then abandon the last holdouts of my previous systems and fully embrace the CL.

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