Guest Host, Charlie Martini, begins a series of Highly Negative Camera reviews with this one today.

charlie sez: "Look at how lousy those Leica Jpegs are!"

Blog note: Charlie Martini has been an on again, off again adjunct writer and mega-influencer here at VSL. I would go on and on about his credentials but he would blush and go back to hide in his office again. Charlie is the person who often talks Kirk off the ledge when he falls into his "take no prisoners" mode about some aspect of mis/dis-information he's discovered on the internet. 

Interestingly, Charlie, hates most photo equipment and has never found a system, camera or lens that he is particularly fond of. Or even moderately okay with. Please enjoy his short review about Kirk's Leica CL...

Hi. I'm Charlie Martini and I don't think anybody has made a decent camera since the Nikon F2. And even it was flawed. But lately I saw just how bad things have gotten when I walked into Kirk's office and saw him cuddling his newest fascination; the Leica CL. I shook my head and walked back down the hall, closed my office door, and poured myself a strong drink. I'll need all the help I can get to write this counterpoint to his glowing and fawning articles about Leica's baldest marketing ploy. 

Leica should have continued only making M cameras for all eternity. When they tried to compete with film SLRs they kept burning their fingers and their customers. Anybody remember the Leica R4? Probably the most trouble-prone mess of a Minolta/Leica Frankenstein creation ever made. Sneeze near the camera and it failed. Send it for repairs and it failed even worse. At some point one prayed that the camera would be lost in shipping, back or forth, so the owner could at least salvage some of his money from the debacle. 

Funny thing is that Kirk bought that camera, and others like it, with gleeful enthusiasm. You can't keep a deluded camera nerd down, it seems. 

Leica fumbled through the later film years with horrifyingly bad cameras like the R8 and a whole series of M6 cameras which came standard with badly adjusted rangefinders. Rangefinders which seemed as vague and useless as a condom made out of fishing net material. A rangefinder works if it's calibrated but for a number of years at the end of the last century it looked like Leica never made the connection between simple calibration and customer success. And, by extension, profitable business.

Most of us photography veterans assumed Leica was dead in the water in the early part of this century and that they would squeak by making special, Jim Belushi Edition rangefinder cameras for an ever declining market of old farts with long memories and rose colored diopters. But they surprised us by introducing yet another failed on delivery camera introduction; this time with the carnival sparkle of digital tossed in. 

That camera would be the Leica M8 in which the sensor stack was so poorly designed that the company had to send out IR cutting filters to owners to fight a nasty purple fringing that affected not just images taken of high contrast stuff but everyday photos that were already slam dunk easy for even the cheapest point and shoot digital cameras. And that was before the sensors started to delaminate and massively fail. I think most of us were ready to write Leica off completely at that point. 

But there was my colleague, Kirk, with a smile on his face, doggedly trying to figure out how to make an M8 work and wasting his time with three Summarit lenses. You know, the lower priced Leica lenses with the elements taped into place in their barrels. I think even he threw in the towel when he realized that the frame lines in the M8 had no correlation to the lenses available for that camera. It was a bit of a final straw---even for an avowed optimist. 

And that brings me to his latest photo-gear passion, the Leica CL. No, not the original CL semaphore light meter lollypop film camera but the newer digital CL that shares a line of lenses with the even more hideous and confusing Leica TL(+2). 

I think, in a moment of sheer panic, after being bought out by a French scarf company, the people at Leica were grasping at straws. They had just launched their "flagship" Leica SL camera with its heavy, naked body and astronomic pricing. Had just been savaged for doing so by the world's biggest camera review site and desperately needed to find some way, any way, to sell products. They decided to momentarily abandon their whole history of making cameras around  the 24x36mm format and tried to pry some cash out of people who might be intellectually retrogressive and nostalgic enough to spend a small fortune on a camera with a much smaller and noisier APS-C sensor. Truncated features. Miserable handling and hideously tormenting battery life. 

So, that's the camera system I'll be reviewing today. In part to save you from making yet another Kirk-driven camera buying mistake but also out of spite. Spite because Kirk eliminated holiday bonuses this year in order to buy more cheap, Chinese made, kludgy lenses for his latest pet camera. His lack of financial compassion means I won't be able to make a tax deductible contribution to the Help Jeff Bezos Buy Up the rest of the Planet Foundation. And God knows we need to honor our superior capitalist overlords in any fashion that we're able.

Let's get started. First off, the body of the CL. I hate body-shaming as much as the next guy but this is such a ripe target it screams for incoming fire. The marketers like to say that the camera's designers spent ages figuring out just the right shapes and structures to use but this body is a Xerox copy of the early 20th century Leicas. Whichever sports car designer they threw money at (in vain) to design this camera body probably looked at an old, 1930s camera brochure and then spent his lunch break pencilling in a few different dials onto an old IIIf. That's about it. It's the same "too small" and "too cramped" design the company was so eager to move on from in the 1950s. They rushed to abandon their small, screw mount bodies in favor of the larger and easier to handle M3, M2, etc. They were tired of being sued for loss of finger function due to the misguided anti-ergonomics. 

I played with Tuck's new heart throb and figured out two things: The camera is so small and rounded (no right hand grip --- none) that one must add a thumb grip or thumb rest to the body via the hot shoe. Once one does this access to the leftmost dial is so restricted as to be paralyzing. Imagine being in a situation where there is a quickly unfolding scene in front of you that must be documented. You need to change a setting on the camera. Your fingers are blocked by the thumb grip from accessing the button. You must stop and remove the grip and then make the adjustment, afterwards reapplying the grip so you can use the camera without it falling out of your hands. 

Just as with the under $500 cameras the tiny, tiny battery and one SD card are both inserted through the same door on the bottom of the camera. Only one card and no option to add a battery grip. I guess the true believers just carry along a diaper bag filled with after market batteries which they feed into the camera every twenty minutes or so of actual run time. I can't imagine how such a low res EVF consumes so much electricity. It's almost as if the camera is powering a hair dryer or toaster in the near background. If you live in an area where coal powers your home then the carbon footprint created by your CL is probably on par with the carbon footprint of the heater in your 4,000 square foot house...

Funny, the camera uses the same battery as many Panasonic cameras but seems to get less mileage. And it's not that Kirk is using aftermarket batteries; no, he's got three of the Leica branded versions. Or about equal to the cost of the average monthly mortgage payment worth of batteries. Poor sap never complains.

But it gets worse. I wanted to download some files from his camera the other day so I could show you just how bad Leica Jpeg files are and how noisy the raw files are at a low ISO like 6400. Piece of cake for my Sony A7III but a pointillist mess out of the CL. But the real frustration came when I went to plug the camera into my laptop computer. The damn camera doesn't have ANY ports. No mic. No headphones. No USB. No HDMI. Nothing. If you don't have a card reader on your computer then you are largely dead in the water. 

I guess when the new designer was working on the new plans (I mean copying the 1951 era Leica IIIf screw mount camera plans) they didn't see any electronic ports on the old camera so they figured they probably wouldn't be needed on the new digital camera. So.....no ports. Nothing easy here. 

But Kirk would breathlessly tell me just how great the camera is at making image files. He'd say that I might have to put up with bad handling and a raft of inconveniences but that it would all be worth it because of the special Leica look. I poured a few doubles and then looked around his office for those vaunted Leica lenses. But here's the deal. The original lenses for this camera and its ugly sister, the TLx are an orphan system of lenses. They only work completely on these two cameras. It's a foregone conclusion that the TL series is over; cancelled. And it can't be long for the CL either. So buying these lenses would mean you own dedicated lenses for a series of cameras that won't continue onward. 

But the Leica-hypnotized counter argument is that one can use either the L mount lenses made by Leica, Sigma and Panasonic, or use adapted M series Leica lenses on the camera as well. Side-stepping the dead-end prognosis. Ah yes. Let's hang a gigantic Sigma Art lens, designed for full frame, off the front of a camera that's already too small to operate comfortably. Or drop $6,000 on a Leica lens to use on a $3,000 body. One that only uses a small portion of the full frame lens circle. That's a good idea. NOT.

It's like making a skinny man wear a 50 pound hat. 

In closing, I think Kirk is bordering on insane for touting a small sensor camera that costs an outrageous amount of money. The camera has NO image stabilization, which is the holiest of camera features. The EVF is nothing to write home about and the famous "Leica Look" seems to be absent from this model as far as my experiments can determine. It's just a bridge too far. 

Don't let his enthusiasm for the half pint Leica infect you. Quarantine his posts whenever he mentions the CL. We've known him for a long, long time. This Leica CL insanity? This too will pass. 

Finally, you folks get the blog post you deserve. Now, over to MJ's to learn all about record player needles and billiard chalk. 

Kirk is on a short, working sabbatical but will surely be back the minute he reads what Charlie has written. Stay tuned for the inevitable rebuttal. 


MikeR said...

Had to check my calendar. Nope. Not April first.

Rich said...


Frank Grygier said...

Charlie definitely needs his own blog. He's a lot funnier than his office mate.:-}

Cliff said...

I dare say that my Nikon F2A was the best camera I ever owned.

JC said...

I had a Leica M8 and well remember the IR cut filters and the fringe wars. Oddly, I can't remember what happened to that camera. Maybe I left it somewhere.

Steve B said...

Reminds me of the "Remarks" of Putney Tyson Ridge on the writings of Peter Straub...

Fun reading

Nigli said...

I met Charlie having a beer with Henry in Lisbon. Quite the fellow.

Richard Parkin said...

Don’t bother to come back on my account, I’m off to Charlie’s blog — he doesn’t pull his punches like you do!

Unknown said...

"to save you from making yet another Kirk-driven camera buying mistake "
This needs to be qualified. Not every camera Kirk buys is a mistake as Kirk eventually buys every camera on the market and so will occasionally get it right, even if only briefly.

Anonymous said...

Now that's how a review should be written. Blunt and to the point. I shudder to think what Charlie would have to say about the little Hasselblad medium format camera.

Gordon Lewis said...

Yo, Charlie, I can understand why you so rarely contribute to Kirk's blog. Despite your best efforts, you know as well as we do that the delusional old cuss will continue to follow the beat of whatever spastic drummer he's listening to these days. I blame the chlorine. On the other hand, his Don Quixote act is what makes VSL so entertaining. So get over it, buddy. Your friend Kirk is a lost cause.

David Mantripp said...

At least it isn't as expensive as back in the day when everybody had to have the latest cameras (and accessories, and cars, ...) that Michael Reichmann was touting any given week.

I mean, I really, really, had no use whatsoever for that Hasselblad ArcBody.

Henry Lesesne said...

I can sympathize. I also am stuck in that twilight zone of Leica madness. I have both th CL and a SL2s and my need for them is ZERO ! I take them on my solitary romantic walkabouts photographing flowers, bricks, park benches, retail display windows and on rare occasion a pretty girl old enough to be my grand daughter. This is no joke ! This is my life now !

I fell madly in love with Leica cameras in the 1970s. Not because they were good performers but because of their pretty faces and nice legs. Now that they are older and mostly retired I wish to relive those magic days of my youth. I spend big money on their modern namesakes. They are so cute and resemble their 1970s sisters mostly only in name, "LEICA."

But now that I am OLD, I attempt recapturing my youth with leica cameras that only share a brand name with those M style sweethearts form my youth. How sad is this ?

Henry L

dinksdad said...

I followed Kirk down the bunny trail to buying an old Nikon D700, then gave up. Oops, what am I doing owning a Sigma FP? At least Leica is much too rich for my blood. I just ignore those raves.

Jeff said...

I hope Charlie gets invited back to do some more reviews.

JohnW said...

So Charlie ... what's your opinion on BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Porsche, Ferrari ... et al. Go for it guy!😎

Richard Leacock said...

I think Charlie deserves a well earned raise and a windowed office away from the lobby of the Visual Science Lab (International)...

Or at least a tip or gratuity jar outside his office to offset the cost of his myriad doubles he's forced to endure ;)


Roger Jones said...

Just got back from my couple mile run, a little slow, but I got it done(3 weeks post surgery).

I like this guy. He's fun and to the point. As for the F2 no no no, M1 (OM1) or the Minolta SRT102 were better, but still had flaws.

The FP is a quirky, little camera, but an excellent camera. You have to love the new Sigma lenses though, small and tight.

Thank you Mr. Tuck for letting me rant. I looked a San Angelo, it reminds me of the town I grow up in. Love the bike path/jogging path along the river. It's very clean. Do I see a road trip in my future........most definitely.

So you found Kirk cuddling his CL? Now there's an image that will stick with you for a few days. I can see where a good shot of 20 year old Pendleton, and maybe even the water pipe may help you forget. :)

Did he mention a Sony? I hope not, a Sony, you could use it for a door stop, maybe, I'm not sure it would even work for that.

Have to run
Be safe

crsantin said...

Does Charlie have any connection at all to Ren Kockwell, the famous photographer and camera guru who only shoots extremely high contrast black and white? That would be quite the duo. Maybe you can broker that collab?

Anonymous said...

CRSANTIN, I hear they are working on putting together a rant fest on YouTube. Ken touting all cameras and Charlie denouncing them. Should be popular. As a side program they'll be discussing aperture equivalence and snooker.

A Photog said...

Funny! Love it!

Anonymous said...

Wait til Kirk hears about the newly reconstituted digital 4x5 Speed Graphic. Hand strap and big bright parabolic dish for flashbulb use. Should be good for at least 47 blog posts.

Anonymous said...

I'm waiting for Kirk to discover the charms of the Zeiss ZX1.

Jeff in Colorado

leicapixie said...

Finally what we ALL know but cannot say, write, distribute, make copies..
No! The big finger is warning! I was faced with retraction of membership of FB.
All i wrote that a f5.6 lens is useless.. I used a M8 with and without those filters..
I still have and use my Nikon-F, M3 and when i want surprises the M6TTL. I never use flash.
Bravo.The best!

Anton Wilhelm Stolzing said...

Great post - congratulations. I cannot handle my Olympus OM D 5 Mk 3 properly though I like it ... Still better than the Canon and Sony stuff I used before.