Leitz Minolta CL with Minolta M-Rokkor 40mm F2 SN: 2017057
This beautiful Leitz Minolta CL is in Near Mint condition. It has little to no wear on the camera and everything works as it should. This rare collector's item also comes with the box, carrying pouch, and neck strap.
Produced from 1973 to 1976, the Leitz Minolta CL was the Japanese home-market version of the Leica CL 35mm M-Mount camera, identical in all respects except for the nameplates.
The 1971 M5 and 1973 Leica CL represent a hard departure from Leica’s prior M2/M3/M4 series. As the story goes, by the late 1960s, Leica was in serious trouble. As opposed to the 1950s-style meterless rangefinders, metered SLRs with powerful motor drives had become the standard for professionals who shot 35mm. Leica’s attempted answer to the Nikon F revolution — the 1960s “Leicaflex” system, although still well-regarded today — never really caught on, most likely due to its relatively high price tag and lack of an extensive system of professional accessories.
Falling behind, by the early 1970s, West German camera companies began seeking partners in Japan. in 1972, Leica struck up a partnership with Minolta — a collaboration that would lead initially to the Leica CL (manufactured in Japan) and the 1976 Leica R3 (manufactured in Germany). The next year, Contax signed up with Yashica to produce a brand-new SLR system.
The early 1970s also witnessed an explosion of the automatic compact fixed-lens rangefinder camera. Although the idea of an easy-to-use, lightweight, metered, fixed-lens rangefinder had come of age in the 1960s, this next generation included cameras that were lighter, had better-quality lenses and were generally easier to use. Examples of these included the Canon G-III 17, the Yashica 35 Electro, the Konica Auto S3, and the Olympus RC. These cameras were extremely popular and were relatively affordable.
Although Leica would opt not to produce a fixed-lens camera during the time period, the CL was likewise a small, lightweight camera with a built-in meter and had the advantage of using interchangeable M-mount lenses. Two brand-new Leica M mount lenses were offered with CL system: (1) a Leica 40/2 Summicon-C (in Japan, these lenses were rebadged as “M-Rokkor 40/2”); (2) and a Leica 90/4.
Neither the M5 nor the CL ended up being the success that Leica had hoped. Leica shut down production of the M5 in 1975 and the CL in 1976. The M5 just did not seem to jibe with the dwindling numbers of professional or serious amateur Leica rangefinder users and did not tempt professionals away from their SLRs. Leica’s next new M-mount model would be the return-to-normal meterless 1977 M4-2 (a streamlined M4). The CL may have been a camera in search of an audience. The CL was also a terribly expensive camera at the time — $700 in 1973 money (and still required the user to know something about photography). If shopping for a compact camera in 1973, there were many other far-cheaper options that also had autoexposure for easier use. For instance, the Konica S3 cost only around $185.
The Leica CL and its Minolta CL twin remain forever orphans in the Leica universe. If you are looking for a low-cost entry point into Leica rangefinder photography, is the CL a good choice? Let’s take a look.
The CL’s bright, parallax-corrected viewfinder can display framelines for 40mm, 50mm, and 90mm lenses. The 40 and 50 framelines are always displayed — and the 90 is displayed only when that lens is mounted. In my opinion, the CL’s display of the 40 and 50 framelines at the same time clutters the viewfinder. It would have been preferable to display the 40/90 framelines together and then the 50 by itself — or just eliminate the 50mm frameline altogether.
The viewfinder magnification is .6x and its effective rangefinder base length is a rather short 18.9mm (compared to an effective base length of 49.3mm on a modern 0.72x Leica M body). The CL’s short rangefinder base length decreases focusing accuracy at wide apertures and at close distances. Fortunately, the camera was designed around these limitations — ensuring that the camera will focus correctly at f/2 with the 40mm and f/4 with the 90mm.
The viewfinder of the CL is pretty neat and is perhaps one of its best aspects — displaying the shutter speed that is selected on the external front dial along with the metering needle.
The CL has a respectable top shutter speed of 1/1000 — like all Leica Ms at the time. The shutter speed goes down to 1/2 second and also has a “B” mode. The placement of the shutter speed dial on the front of the camera is rather ingenious — as you can hold the camera as normal and use your finger to adjust the speed. The shutter is manual — so no batteries required. The film speeds from 25 to 1600 ASA are set manually via a dial in the middle of the shutter speed wheel. The flash sync is at 1/60 and below. The minimum focusing capability of the body is 0.8m, rather than 0.7m of the M series.
It would not be a Leica-designed product if film loading were easy. One must remove the bottom of the camera, lift up the pressure plate, and thread the film through the plastic take-up spool. Rewinding is done by pressing a release button on the bottom of the camera and then using the lever.
The CL originally used a sole PX625 1.35V mercury battery to power the meter, which is activated by slightly cocking the advance lever. There is a battery check button below the lens mount to the right (if facing the camera). Modern 625 batteries are all 1.5V, which will slightly throw off the meter. There are nevertheless perfect replacement options.
(1) Wein Cell PX625 Zinc-Air Battery: These are modern 1.35V batteries made specifically for applications calling for PX625 batteries. They are widely available on Amazon and eBay. The downside is that batteries seem to last for only a few months.
(2) MR-9 Adapter: This adapter permits you to use modern and cheap 1.5V 386 silver oxide batteries. It steps down the voltage to 1.35V. I use these, and also the MR adapter that steps down PX675 batteries. Watch out for cheap imitations on eBay and Amazon. Folks seem to like the ones sold by Criscam or the ones sold by Japan sellers.
(3) Recalibration of the CL to work on 1.5V Batteries: You can get a good repair shop to recalibrate your meter to talk 1.5V batteries. Or you can be a hero and splice an appropriate diode into the wiring.