The Leica CL is a 35mm compact rangefinder camera made by Leitz with interchangeable lenses in the Leica M mount. It was developed in collaboration with Minolta and appeared in April 1973. It was released in the Japanese market in November 1973 as the Leitz Minolta CL.[2] Both the Leica CL and Leitz Minolta CL were manufactured in Japan.


The Leica CL has a vertical-running focal plane shutter, with cloth curtains, giving 1/2 to 1/1000 speeds. There is a through-the-lens CdS exposure meter mounted on a pivoting arm just in front of the shutter, like the Leica M5. The exposure is manual and the shutter is mechanical. The shutter speeds are visible in the finder. The finder's framelines are for a 40mm, 50mm or 90mm lens. The 40mm frameline is always present and the 50mm or 90mm frame line is automatically selected upon mounting of the appropriate lens.

Today the CL is a superbly compact and quite cheap camera on which to mount M lenses, but it does not have a rangefinder as precise as that of any Leica M body. The rangefinder base of the CL is 31.5 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. Some users report the camera is rather fragile, especially the rangefinder alignment and meter mechanism.


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.[3]

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 on an M. This is similar to the focusing issues regarding Nikon and Contax rangefinders on wide angle lenses.

When sold with a Leitz Minolta CL, the lenses were called Minolta M-Rokkor 40mm f:2 and 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.[4] 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. 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. Exception are some lenses that protrude deep into the body and could damage the meter arm, these 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, and Leitz advised sticking 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.[5]


Sixty-five thousand serial numbers were allotted to the Leica CL, and this number does not include the Leitz Minolta CL.[6] 3,500 examples of the CL received a special 50 Jahre marking in 1975, for Leica's 50th anniversary.[7] 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.[8]


The CL was discontinued only 3 years after its introduction despite being a retail success. According to Dennis Laney, 35,000 were sold in its first year alone. Roughly half that would be sold in following years. However, Leica marketing suspected that it was hurting the sales for its higher-pedigree M system bodies and lenses. It was discontinued as a result, but remains a semi-collectible pleasant compact rangefinder with a comparatively low price.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Dimensions and weight: Leitz brochure number 112-93.
  2. April 1973 and November 1973 dates: Lewis, p. 141.
    This page at Cameraquest mentions a third version called "Minolta CL", sold in Japan and in the US after the Leica CL ceased to be sold. However no picture has yet been observed, and its existence seems dubious. It is also mentioned in this page at Pascal's Leica Pages, but the source is probably Cameraquest.
  3. 400 made: see this page at Hektor's Chokkura Pinbokeh site.
  4. See this page about Minolta rangefinder lenses at the Manual Minolta website, and this page at Hektor's Chokkura Pinbokeh site.
  5. This paragraph: Leitz brochure ref. 120-50.
  6. 65,000 serial numbers: see this page at Cameraquest. The same page mentions 20,000 examples of the Leitz Minolta CL, but it is apparently only a guess.
  7. 3,500 examples: see this page in Pacific Rim's Photographica pages.
  8. Demonstration examples: Classic Camera, issue no. 1.

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