Leica CL - the mini Leica M made by Minolta!



Leica Mount Cameras:


Leica-mount Lenses:


Leica CL

by Karen Nakamura


Overview and Personal Comments

I've fallen in love with Leica screw-mount and M mount cameras. I decided to switch from my 1950s screw mount Canon P to a more contemporary Leica M-bayonet system. I have over a dozen LSM and M lenses. Along the way, I picked up two Leica CLs. Using the text, charts, or images on this website without permission on an ebay auction or any other site is a violation of federal law.

The Leica CL was made between 1973-1976 as a result of a cooperative venture between Leitz and Minolta Camera*. Leitz designed the camera and Minolta manufactured it. In the U.S. and Europe, it was sold as the Leica CL. In Japan it was sold as the Leitz Minolta CL and Minolta CL. It was very popular ... rumor has it that the CL was too popular (over 65,000 made) and was beginning to undersell the Leica M4 and M5 cameras which costed twice as much, so Leica pulled the plug on the CL. That's unfortunate because it was a great camera.

* Leitz and Minolta also cooperated in designing and making the Leica R3, Leica's first electronic SLR. Of course, many people say the electronic R3 was the beginning of the end and the Leicaflex SL2 was the best manual SLR that ever came out. Leica never regained their trust until the return of the all-mechanical Leica R6.2 SLR.

Five years later, Minolta came out with an improved CL and named it the CLE. That's a great camera that I'd like to get sometime. The CLE is a bit bigger, has a slightly wider rangefinder baselength (more accurate focusing), more reasonable framelines, and most importantly: auto-exposure. It's also very expensive ($600-$800 on the used market) and very few people can repair a CLE and many are now approaching the end of their lifespans.

Back to our story: the CL is very compact. The strap lugs are both on the left side, which means the camera hangs vertically. It only works with shorter lenses as longer lenses cause it to "flop." All in all, I like the vertical strap format, it makes the CL feel like a little point and shoot, but it takes stellar M lenses and is a fully-coupled rangefinder.

The CL is pictured above is with a Canon 35mm f/2 lens. This is a very nice shooter combination. The 35mm has enough depth of field that the CL's small baselength is not a problem. The CL doesn't have 35mm framelines, you kind of have to extrapolate from the 40mm framelines.

The standard CL lens combination is the 40mm f/2 Summicron-C and 90mm f/4 Elmar. The 40mm is wide-enough for most photos and the 90mm is lightweight and sharp. The 90mm pictured below is actually the 90mm f/4 M-Rokkor, which was made by Leitz for Minolta. Using the text or images on this website without permission on an ebay auction or any other site is a violation of federal law.



Interesting quirks

The CL was designed by Leica and manufactured by Minolta. Instead of Leica's signature horizontal travelling cloth focal plane shutter, the CL uses a vertical travel cloth shutter. This allows for the body to be more compact and for a faster 1/60 sec flash sync (vs the 1/50 sec on the Leica M bodies). The shutter is entirely mechanical, the battery is only needed for the meter.

The shutter speed dial is unique and positioned on the front of the camera. It allows for quick shutter speed changes with the right index finger. The shutter speed also appears in the finder display, which is very handy. Using the text or images on this website without permission on an ebay auction or any other site is a violation of federal law.

The analog match-needle metering is visible in the viewfinder along with the current shutter speed. What is annoying is that the meter is "upside down" compared to other meters, such as the Asahi Pentax Spotmatic. With the CL, above the center line is underexposure and below the line is overexposure, the opposite of everyone else.

The cloth shutter is susceptible to getting pinholes burned in it by an uncapped lens in bright sunlight. Keep your lens capped when not in use. The M series cameras are silent except for the slightest swoosh sound. The CL is louder than an M camera. It's still much quieter than most SLRs but it's still a louder 'clatch' sound. I'd like to compare it against a Cosina Voigtlander Bessa R sometime. The wind lever of the CL has the signature Leica buttery feel. Using the text or images on this website without permission on an ebay auction or any other site is a violation of federal law.

One of the things I enjoy the most about the M series Leicas is that the frameline selector falls right where your left index finger would be when gripping the camera. This allows you to quickly preview other lens choices. Unfortunately, the CL doesn't have a frameline selector and only has framelines for 40mm, 50mm, and 90mm. The 40mm frame is always visible.


Compact 35mm full-frame cameras of the 1970s

How do you make a Leica CL feel absolutely huge? Pair it against other compact 35mm full-frame cameras of the 1970s: the Petri Color 35, the Rollei 35, and the Olympus XA. Granted, only the Olympus XA has a coupled-rangefinder, but you can see how camera manufacturers were engaged in an "arms war" to produce the smallest, most compact camera possible. See my Petri Color 35 page for more about the arms war.





Technical Details

Camera Name
Bessa R2 Hexar RF Leica CL
Leica Minolta CL
Minolta CL
Minolta CLE
Voigtlander Cosina Hexar
Place of Manufacture
Japan Japan
Date of Manufacture
2002~ 1999~ 1973-1976 1981.2-1984.12
Focusing System
Coupled rangefinder
.68x magnification factor
36mm base length
24.28 effective baselength
Parallax compensation 35/50/75/90 selectable framelines
Coupled rangefinder
.60x magnification factor
68.5mm base length
41.10 effective baselength
Parallax compensation 28/35/50/75/90/135mm. selectable framelines

Coupled rangefinder
.6x magnification factor
31.5mm base length
18.9 effective baselength
Parallax compensation
40/50/90 mm. framelines (50/90 selected by M-lens)

Coupled rangefinder
.58x magnification factor
49.6mm base length
28.76 effective baselength
Parallax compensation
28/40/90 mm. framelines

Lens Mount
Leica M bayonet mount compatible
Vertical metal focal plane
1 sec - 1/2000 sec + B & X (1/125sec)

Vertical metal focal plane
4 sec - 1/4000 sec (manual)
16 sec - 1/4000 sec (auto)
+ B & X (1/125sec)

Vertical cloth focal plane
1/2 sec - 1/1000 sec + B & X (1/60sec)

Vertical metal focal plane
1/2sec - 1/1000 sec
AE - stepless
Manual 1 stop

Metering System
TTL manual
EV 1~19
TTL manual and AE
EV 1~18
TTL manual
EV 3~18

TTL manual and AE
EV 3~18

External hot shoe
PC cable connector on left side
1/125 sec X flash sync
External hot shoe
PC cable connector on left side
1/125 sec X flash sync
External hot shoe
1/50 sec X flash sync
Film type

Type 135 film (35mm standard)
ISO 25-3200

Type 135 film (35mm standard)
ISO 25-5000
Type 135 film (35mm standard)
ISO 25-1600
Type 135 film (35mm standard)
ISO xx-xx
Battery type
2 x 1.5V SR44 2 x 3V CR2

1 x 1.35V PX625

2 x LR44/SR44
Dimensions and weight
135.5 x 81 x 33.5mm
139.5 x 80.0 x 35.0mm
121x76x32 mm, 365g
w/ Summicron-C 40 mm 510g

124.5 x 77.5 x 32mm

Retail price
~$500 new ~$1000 new w/ Hexanon 50 f/2 Leica Minolta CL ¥65,000


Note: Using the text or images on this site in an ebay auction without permission is a violation of your ebay Terms of Service. I will report you to ebay if I discover such a violation taking place. This may result in your account being cancelled. I also reserve the right to file claim for civil penalties.





About Leitz/Leica

Leitz was originally a microscope and scientific optics company. The first series of screwmount Leicas were designed by Oskar Barnack and have been named Barnack cameras by some. The prototype Ur-Leica was designed in 1918, but mass production did not start until 1925 when the Leica I came out. I have a write-up of the Leica III (1933).

The Leica M3 rangefinder was released in 1954 and represented the end of the Barnack-series of screwmount Leicas. The M-series had an integrated viewfinder/rangefinder with automatically switching projected framelines, coincident and split-image rangefinder, lever wind, hinged rear door, integrated shutterspeed dial, and M-bayonet mount. I have write-ups of the M3 (1954), M2 (1957), MD (1963), and M7 (2002). The Leica CL (1973) is technically not an M-Leica but it uses the M-bayonet mount.

The design of the Leica M has not changed considerably since the M3 of 1954. In 1967, the M4 came out with a crank-rewind instead of a knob rewind. Since then, the M series remained essentially unchanged from the Leica M4 (1968) up to the current M7. The only difference is that the M7 has an electronically controlled shutter and automatic exposure metering. (This leaves out the fiasco of the M5 which was considerably different and considerably unpopular at the time).

Leica's single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras have not been as popular as their rangefinders. I have write-ups of the original Leicaflex SL camera as well as the newer R3 and R6 SLRs and the R-mount lenses.

Leitz... blah blah.... and in 2000, fashion conglomerate Hermes bought 31% of Leica's stock. The only tangible result of this has been the emergence of the Hermes Special Edition Leica MP, dressed in the best coach leather and costing a mere US$8000.


On the Net

Japanese Pages:

Leica LSM to M Mount Adaptors

  • Stephen Gandy sells all 3 adaptors (28-90; 35-135; 50-75) for $100 as well as rear M caps for 3 for $40


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