Lab Test Re­sults & Com­ments: Still & Video

Shutterbug - - Contents - Edited by Ge­orge Schaub

FANS OF LEICA RANGEFINDER CAM­ERAS, and you know who you are, will wel­come the CL as a harken­ing back to the orig­i­nal small for­mat cam­eras de­signed by Os­kar Bar­nack in the first part of the 20th cen­tury, in­clud­ing the req­ui­site red dot. The Leica CL mir­ror­less cam­era ($2,795, body only) is rel­a­tively small (5x3x2 inches) and light­weight (14.2 ounces with bat­tery, sans lens), mak­ing it highly por­ta­ble and well suited to candid and street pho­tog­ra­phy, thus a good com­pan­ion on trav­els and for doc­u­men­tary-style pho­tog­ra­phy. The mir­ror­less cam­era takes the L-mount bay­o­net so it can be used with Leica TL and SL lenses as well as with Leica M and R lenses with an adapter. The body it­self is con­structed with top and bot­tom alu­minum and front and back wall mag­ne­sium ma­te­ri­als. It has the clas­sic Leica feel and touch (in­clud­ing that oh-so dis­tinct shut­ter re­lease) that will have Leica fans hum­ming a happy tune with both EVF and LCD mon­i­tors and other dig­i­tal ac­cou­ter­ments.


Sport­ing a 24.2MP Aps-c-size sen­sor with no AA fil­ter, the Leica CL can de­liver a na­tive ISO range of 100 to 50,000. Shut­ter speeds range from 1/25,000 to 30 sec­onds. The cam­era can record both JPEG and 14-bit Raw (DNG for­mat) still im­ages and 4K video, and fea­tures 49-point con­trast-de­tec­tion AF with sin­gle, mul­ti­ple, spot, face de­tec­tion, and touch AF, plus re­lease func­tion­al­ity and man­ual fo­cus ca­pa­bil­ity. The EVF is high res­o­lu­tion with 2.36 mil­lion dots while the LCD sports 1.04 mil­lion dots, but is not tiltable. There is no built-in flash but a hot shoe con­tact is present, and while there is built-in Wi-fi, there is nei­ther Blue­tooth nor NFC con­nec­tiv­ity.

In ad­di­tion to stan­dard Ex­po­sure modes, there are nu­mer­ous Scene modes avail­able, in­clud­ing Sport, Por­trait, Land­scape, Night Por­trait, Snow/

Beach, Fire­works, Can­dle­light, Sun­set, Digis­cop­ing, Minia­ture, Panorama, and HDR. When shoot­ing in Pro­gram, a shift of the equiv­a­lent ex­po­sure is avail­able be­tween aper­ture and shut­ter speed; +/- 3 EV ex­po­sure compensation is avail­able as well.


The top of the Leica CL sports two large di­als that can be used for a va­ri­ety of set­tings, as

well as a small LCD dis­play. Rel­a­tively few but­tons are present: two dial-with-but­ton com­bi­na­tions on the top side; three but­tons on the back on the left of the mon­i­tor; and a but­ton-and-nav­i­ga­tion-ring com­bi­na­tion (“di­rec­tion pad”) on the back.

The Leica CL is fit­ted with a large built-in mon­i­tor and an elec­tronic viewfinder. Un­for­tu­nately, the mon­i­tor does not tilt or swivel. The LCD mon­i­tor by de­fault shows some of the image set­tings, such as the type of white bal­ance and ISO. Re­gret­tably, the set­ting icons and ab­bre­vi­a­tions are set on a black back­ground that covers part of the image. The de­fault view on the mon­i­tor is about 16:9 and not the en­tire 3:2 still image.

Thus, the mon­i­tor pre­view is a crop of the image to be pho­tographed, which can cause prob­lems in image com­po­si­tion as the user may for­get that part of the image is not shown. One can switch off the set­tings and see the en­tire com­po­si­tion, but the com­plete view is not the de­fault.

The set­tings shown on the mon­i­tor can­not be changed by touch, but only through the menu. The menu can­not be nav­i­gated by touch, although one can use touch to move and ac­ti­vate the fo­cus point. (Note: Some­times more than one touch is re­quired in or­der to ac­quire sharp­ness.) Fo­cus and shut­ter re­lease can be ac­ti­vated with touch con­trol, although it is not pos­si­ble to set the Leica CL to fo­cus at first touch and later re­lease the shut­ter with an­other touch. The viewfinder does give a 100% field of view and it has a diopter that can be locked. The eye sen­sor for switch­ing be­tween mon­i­tor live view and viewfinder re­acts a bit slowly: in ad­di­tion, it is easy to take a photo with one’s nose when putting the viewfinder up to the eye, but only if fo­cus and re­lease touch func­tions are en­abled in the menu.

The first press of the Menu but­ton calls up a cus­tomiz­able “fa­vorites” menu, while a sec­ond press of the Menu but­ton opens the longer main menu. One can only scroll for­ward through the menu—go­ing back a page is not pos­si­ble. The menu, which of­fers the sole route to many set­tings, can be nav­i­gated with the di­rec­tion pad. A sin­gle pro­gram­mable (FN) but­ton is avail­able.

It is also pos­si­ble to save a com­plete set of menu set­tings as a “user pro­file.”

There are 49 con­trast-de­tec­tion AF points. The fo­cus op­tions avail­able via the menu in­clude spot, field, multi-point, track­ing, and face-de­tec­tion types of aut­o­fo­cus. Man­ual fo­cus must be set via the menu, although it is fa­cil­i­tated with the 3x or 6x en­large­ment for fo­cus as­sis­tance, fo­cus peak­ing, and the rapid re­turn to the full image (for pre-shot com­po­si­tion) with a light touch on the shut­ter re­lease. There is no built-in image sta­bi­liza­tion: it’s only avail­able if the lens in use has that fea­ture.

STILL IMAGE QUAL­ITY & PER­FOR­MANCE Res­o­lu­tion: The image qual­ity of the

Leica CL is good for this small sen­sor. At ISO 100, it uses 94% of the the­o­ret­i­cal max­i­mum of its sen­sor, record­ing

1,870 line pairs per pic­ture height. The res­o­lu­tion re­mains high through­out the lower range of ISO set­tings: the CL uses 90% or more of its sen­sor up through ISO 1600 (90%), and in fact through ISO 6400 (91%). The top two ISO set­tings are not as good: at ISO 25,000, 85% of the sen­sor is used, and at the top ISO of 50,000, 82%. These high ISOS will not be very use­ful for pho­tog­ra­phers as they also pro­duce dis­turb­ing amounts of vis­i­ble noise, as noted be­low.

Sharp­en­ing and Noise: Sharp­en­ing is very mild and avoids any ar­ti­fi­cial­ity through­out the ISO range and only shows an ex­pected in­crease at the high­est set­tings. This very good re­sult is main­tained in both high and low con­trast ar­eas of the image. Visual noise is not ob­vi­ous at the low­est ISOS, although it is very no­tice­able at the high­est ISOS. Noise be­comes ob­serv­able at ISO 400 and be­comes ap­par­ent at ISO 1600. At the higher ISOS, visual noise is very ob­vi­ous and re­sults in very grainy im­ages, es­pe­cially in im­ages shot at ISO 6400 and above.

The dy­namic range cap­tured by the Leica CL at the lower ISOS is ex­cel­lent:

13.6 f/stops at ISO 100 and 10.5 f/stops at ISO 400. At the midrange, be­tween ISO 800 and ISO 3200, the dy­namic range is be­tween 8 and 9 f/stops. How­ever, at the high­est ISOS, it is not as good: 6.3 to 6.5 f/ stops at ISO 12,500 and above.

Color: Color re­pro­duc­tion is fairly good, with only seven hues de­vi­at­ing strongly from the orig­i­nal for all ISOS up to and in­clud­ing ISO 12,500. The au­to­matic white bal­ance is very good, ex­cept at ISO 25,000.

Speed: The Leica CL is fairly fast: it starts up in 1.0 sec­onds. In bright light, the CL’S aut­o­fo­cus takes only 0.26 sec­onds, with a to­tal shoot­ing time of 0.34 sec­onds. In low light, the aut­o­fo­cus takes 0.29 sec­onds, for a to­tal shoot­ing time of 0.37 sec­onds. The cam­era can cap­ture 9.6 JPEG frames per sec­ond (fps) un­til the card is full, and 9.6 Raw fps for a to­tal of 34 shots.


Video record­ing is clearly not the main fo­cus of the Leica CL’S setup, which is ev­i­dent by the fact that only two pages are al­lo­cated to this topic of the 99 pages in the man­ual. There are no ex­ter­nal con­nec­tor jacks on the cam­era, which in­cludes a lack of op­tions for con­nect­ing an ex­ter­nal mi­cro­phone or head­phones. The built-in mi­cro­phone is on the top of the cam­era body and picks up sound moderately well.

The man­ual does note that only part of the sen­sor is used for video, con­nect­ing this to the change in the ef­fec­tive focal length of the lens in use. The CL can record video in 4K at 30 fps, or Full HD at 60 or 30 fps, or HD at 30 fps. How­ever, most other set­tings are au­to­matic, even ISO. Although the man­ual im­plies that ISO is set­table, the op­tion is grayed out when the cam­era is in video mode. The lim­i­ta­tions one can as­sign to the auto ISO range through the menu are sim­ply not ref­er­enced. Among op­tions in video are set­tings to record videos in black and white or very sat­u­rated color. Man­ual fo­cus is avail­able, and fo­cus peak­ing does work in video, although scene en­large­ment does not.

This lim­i­ta­tion placed on our tests by hav­ing only auto ISO avail­able caused us to ex­trap­o­late our Iso/qual­ity re­sults: the test scene was made darker for the high ISO test mea­sure­ments, pre­sum­ably en­cour­ag­ing the Leica CL to in­crease

ISO. Over­all, how­ever, the res­o­lu­tion of video frames is good and fairly con­sis­tent in both brighter (pre­sum­ably low ISO) and darker (pre­sum­ably high ISO) con­di­tions. The cam­era uses 86% of the the­o­ret­i­cal max­i­mum of its sen­sor, 931 line pairs per pic­ture height at “low ISO” and 926 at “high ISO.” The au­to­matic white bal­ance func­tions well in both in­stances. As with the still image re­sults, sharp­en­ing is mild.


The Leica CL is a good-look­ing mir­ror­less cam­era pro­duced by a com­pany with an ex­cel­lent rep­u­ta­tion in the pho­to­graphic field. The small size, es­pe­cially with a small lens, makes it very por­ta­ble, and of­fer­ing the uni­ver­sal Raw DNG for­mat is a real plus. While the rather poor per­for­mance at high ISO set­tings might be a draw­back, and video ca­pa­bil­ity is clearly not one of its at­trac­tions, it could prove to be a good choice for those who want a very ca­pa­ble still cam­era for travel and street pho­tog­ra­phy, es­pe­cially those who ap­pre­ci­ate Leica qual­ity along with the bud­get to af­ford it.

The Leica CL (body only) has a list price of $2,795. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit us.leica-cam­era.com.

« The sim­plic­ity and look of the CL is pure Leica. Image shows test lens, an Apo­macro-el­marit-tl 60mm f/2.8. While the smooth body is at­trac­tive, testers felt it lacked a help­ful “grip” tex­ture.

« The top view of the Leica CL gives an in­di­ca­tion of the nar­row body. The built-in mi­cro­phone is be­hind the small holes for­ward of the flash hot shoe. There are two con­trol di­als and a quite small LCD that dis­plays ba­sic in­for­ma­tion.

The color test chart com­pares a ref­er­ence color (right-hand half of each color patch) di­rectly with the color re­pro­duced by the cam­era (left-hand half of the color patch). The ta­ble be­low charts the de­vi­a­tion of the recorded col­ors ver­sus the ref­er­ence col­ors.

Light green in­di­cates a vis­i­ble de­vi­a­tion; dark green a mod­er­ate de­vi­a­tion; and a red color in the ta­ble in­di­cates a very strong de­vi­a­tion.

« The clean de­sign and large EVF eye­piece show off the Leica de­sign and ap­proach to image mak­ing with this cam­era. The Leica CL has a long menu that opens with a cus­tomiz­able “fa­vorites” sec­tion. Only three but­tons sit on the left: Play, Func­tion, and Menu. The right side holds only the tog­gle con­trol with a cen­tered “set” or choice but­ton.

Our stan­dard test box shot was lit at 6500K: ex­po­sure at ISO 100 was f/8 with au­to­matic white bal­ance. At this set­ting, res­o­lu­tion is very good, noise is very low, and there is no hint of image sharp­en­ing.

This chart shows the noise be­hav­ior at var­i­ous ISO set­tings. The larger the area in­side a curve, the stronger the noise. Note that the de­gree to which noise dis­turbs the ap­pre­ci­a­tion of an image de­pends on the image size and the view­ing con­di­tion. The right-hand side of the chart shows the vis­i­bil­ity of the noise in an image that is dis­played at 100% on a mon­i­tor (VN1).

The left-hand half shows the vis­i­bil­ity of noise in a 16-inch-tall print (VN3). As seen on the test chart, noise re­mains in con­trol up to ISO 1600 but jumps con­sid­er­ably at ISO 6400 and above.

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