Why I Choose the Minolta CLE Over Any Leica M

Why I Choose the Minolta CLE Over Any Leica M

1474 830 James Tocchio

The best 35mm film cameras in the world are Leicas, and the best of the best is the M series. These are a known facts, right? The argument is decided. If someone with no experience in photography were to dip their toe into the hobby in even the most superficial way, this unassailable opinion is so ubiquitously plastered across forums, websites, and social media, that it would take a true maverick to even entertain thoughts to the contrary.

The reasoning is always the same; the best and legendary photographers who shaped the very foundation of photography, used and still use Leicas.

The timeless Bauhaus aesthetic, the auditory discretion, the compact and perfect form factor, the brass, the hand-built precision; the M is an instrument of Zen, an extension of the eye, an artist’s brush.

The mystique is so dense it’s palpable.

But what if I told you that a lot of what you’ve read about the M series is overwrought hyperbole? What if I said there’s a camera that takes everything that everyone loves about the M and improves on it? What if I told you that Leica doesn’t make the best 35mm rangefinder in the world?

Many readers might have already answered “I’d say you’re an idiot,” and clicked away to a site that repeats the established narrative.

For those who’ve stuck around, let me show you the best M mount camera I’ve ever used.

Meet the Minolta CLE

By now you’ve probably heard about the Minolta CLE. After all, it was first released way back in 1980, and in the ensuing three-point-six decades there’s been much written about the machine. But for those who may not know, enjoy a quick history lesson.

In the 1970s, Leica entered into a technical cooperation agreement with Minolta through which the two brands would share ideas and designs, and help each other manufacture cameras, lenses, and component parts. For the most part this meant that Minolta would develop and manufacture things for Leica to put their name on, though there were instances of the inverse occurring; Minolta used a Leitz-developed, Copal-produced shutter in their exceptional XE-7 SLR (a camera that would go on to be modified and sold as the Leica R3).

Early in the agreement, Leica requested a camera that would be cheaper to produce and just as capable as their well-loved M series. the result was the Leica CL, a Minolta-designed M mount rangefinder with built-in light-metering and a lower-than-M price point. In line with most of Minolta’s body of work, the CL was an excellent camera and it sold very well. But Leica soon tired of their M machines losing market share to Minolta’s less expensive cameras, and ended production of the CL.

It’s often stated that with the discontinuation of the CL so too ended the partnership between Leica and Minolta. This is not true. Minolta went on to produce components, cameras, and lens elements for their German friends right up until the late 1990s when Minolta’s focus shifted to more modern, hi-tech machines. Similarly misleading is the glut of forum posts that state Leica was disappointed with Minolta’s quality, and that German quality control officers rejected more than sixty percent of Minolta lenses. There’s no evidence to support this whatsoever, and Minolta’s long-standing reputation as a powerhouse in optics flies in the face of this rumor, which reeks of Leica elitism run amok.

When the CL was discontinued Minolta sought to enter the M mount market with a camera wholly its own. The result was the CLE, and a technically masterful machine that offered so much more than any of Leica’s cameras. With through-the-lens metering with an informative LED-equipped viewfinder, off-the-film dynamic flash metering, and aperture-priority auto-exposure in addition to full manual mode, the CLE offered a combination of features not found on any Leica M series camera until 2002.

I know what you’re thinking, and I agree; the M series are amazing cameras. They’re gorgeous. They’re impeccably built and legendary. It’s true – but I think the CLE is better, and here’s why.

To this day, thirty-six years after it was built and ten years after Minolta sold its camera-making interests to Sony, the CLE is still the only M mount rangefinder that offers such a complete combination of general features matched with the specific qualities that are so ultimately prized by Leica lovers.

But the M is the most beautiful camera in the world, isn’t it?

People swoon over the aesthetics of the M, typically because of the way it carries itself as a stark, minimalist icon of a bygone era. And I understand this. Whether it’s an M2, M3, or an M6, Leica machines are purposeful, refined, and stoic (we’re ignoring the M5 for real reasons). But the company continued to release the same old, same old for far too long. A fact that’s become painfully glaring in most recent days as Leica seems content to showcase bloated, digital caricatures of their previously iconic designs. The over-saturation effect is certainly not helped by the ubiquitous nature of today’s social media, which ensures that our Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr feeds are never without a daily overabundance of shots of Leicas.

By contrast, the CLE is downright refreshing. It almost seems like the camera Leica would have designed had they not been afraid of offending the sensibilities of their devotees. It’s sharper, more concise, and more refined than the Ms before it. The modern angles are cleaner, the sharper lines are more distinctive, and the black-only paintwork evokes a welcomed air of professionalism. The CLE is a gorgeous camera, and while this opinion is entirely subjective, I think it’s fair to say that it’s at least as beautiful as any M before it.

But the M is the best street photography camera in the world, right?

The M is small, discreet, and quiet, so it’s perfect for street shooting, right? Yeah, that’s absolutely true. But the CLE is even smaller, more discreet, and quieter. Here are the numbers; the tiniest Leica M is the M4, which comes in at 138 x 77 x 33.5mm / 545 grams. All other Ms are larger and weigh more. The CLE measures 124 x 77.5 x 32mm / 380 grams. That’s smaller and lighter than even the smallest M you can buy. In fact, the only M mount rangefinder that’s smaller than the CLE is the Minolta-designed Leitz CL. Interesting.

The CLE will also catch fewer eyes on account of its blacked out livery. It was only ever mass-produced in black (though special editions came in gold, and in limited numbers), while most Ms are sparkly, flashy chrome. Certainly black Ms are available, but expect a financial hit. An original black M will stress the budget of all but the most well-heeled photo geek at a price that can typically pay for three or four CLEs.

This final point really shouldn’t matter to any rational mind, but since I see it cited so often as a superlative quality of the M I feel I have to address it. My decidedly non-scientific testing (placing a decibel meter next to both cameras in my quiet office) reveals that the shutter release of the M3 and M4 is louder than the shutter release of the CLE at every shutter speed. Advancing the machines produces louder noises from the Leicas as well.

Perhaps the popular opinion of the M’s perceived dominance as a street machine is influenced by Henri’s (you know who I mean) use of the Leica. If the progenitor of the craft used one, it must be the best, right? But remember that he fathered street-craft long before the original M3 even existed. In any case, objectively speaking the CLE could and should be regarded as a better street shooter over even the stealthiest M.

But the M is the highest quality camera ever built.

Certainly the M trumps nearly every other 35mm camera in the realm of build quality. Leicas are truly masterful pieces of engineering. But at what cost? As I’ve already mentioned, Ms are heavy cameras. While lots of photo geeks love this, let’s not blindly conflate weight with quality. I’ve shot a toy camera with blocks of lead glued into the bottom to give it a feeling of quality. It was not a good camera. I won’t say that the CLE feels more robust or stronger than the M series- it doesn’t. But it doesn’t feel much worse.

Leica fans will squawk about brass and metal, and claim the CLE is cheap and plastic. Sure, brass is nice, but just because the CLE isn’t brass doesn’t make it less of a camera. The top and bottom plates of the Minolta are made of an extremely durable and impact resistant material that’s finished to an impeccable standard. Polycarbonate covers were coated in copper and electro-plated with a black-chrome finish. Upon disassembly we can also see that these covers are decidedly thicker than nearly any other polycarbonate camera covers I’ve ever disassembled (and I’ve disassembled a lot of cameras).

Time marches on. So too does technology. Today, we want a camera that’s not only well-built but one that will travel well. The CLE uses metal intelligently and adds plastic and electronics where possible to lighten the load. And it works. Its density is surprising given its minuscule dimensions. Advancing the film and cocking the shutter is a beautifully mechanical action that’s smooth as silk. Shutter release is quiet and clean. Dials, knobs, and levers actuate with mechanical fluidity and settle into their detents with precision.

Claims that the CLE can’t rival the Ms in reliability are dubious, though prevalent in places where Leicas are put on a perch. Yes, the Ms are mechanical cameras and the CLE is electronic, and though mechanical cameras fail with the same unpredictability as do electronic cameras, the electronic nature of the CLE seems to be a pretty big blot on the camera’s record for some Leicaphiles. For those concerned with this, I say there’s an easy way to allay your fears; whether buying an M3 or a CLE, buy one that looks good. If a camera looks like it’s been through the mill it’s probably going to be less reliable than a gently-used model. Through my shop I’ve sold a lot of CLEs to a lot of happy customers. I’ve also been shooting mine for a long time with no issues (even after it fell over a footbridge into a snowbank).

It uses common, inexpensive batteries and the original strap provides a compartment for storing spares. It’s the digital age. Don’t be afraid of electricity.

Minolta CLE review (2 of 7)

Okay, the CLE sounds neat, but can’t the M do all the same stuff?

The M series has always promoted the pure photographic experience. Typically this is done through marketing, usually in the form of a black-and-white video with tinkling pianos accompanied by a voice-over from a well-known and respected photographer as he discusses the way that the M provides only what is necessary to make a perfect image. And there have been many perfect images made with Ms over the decades. That much is true.

But it’s just as true for the Minolta CLE, and the CLE does so much more. For that pure experience, we have an aperture ring on every lens and a shutter speed dial on the top of the camera. We can connect with the essence of photography just as easily here as we can with an M. In manual mode, the experience is identical, and even improved through the use of technology. LEDs in the viewfinder showcase the selected shutter speed, a feature lacking in many Ms.

While there is certainly something to be said for adjusting shutter speed and aperture, getting to the heart of the craft, and shooting in manual mode, sometimes that’s just impractical. Yes, I’m a photography enthusiast. I love photographs and I love challenging myself to make decent photographs. But sometimes I want to relax. Sometimes I’m out with my leash-tugging dog, or I’m in an obtusely hostile part of the city at midnight, or I’m on a boat. Sometimes I’m doing things or being places where I’m more interested in what’s happening around me than I am in my camera’s settings. It’s in these moments that I want auto-exposure, and the CLE gives me that. Most importantly, the CLE’s auto-exposure system yields a degree of artistic control through its allowing depth-of-field adjustment and exposure adjustment through an exposure compensation dial. I find this methodology to be functionally perfect.

And this part is important, so I’ll say it again; the CLE’s metering system and auto-exposure system are unfailingly perfect. This wonderful camera uses a light meter to read exposure off the film plane and steplessly and continuously varies the shutter speed to suit. When shooting faster than 1/60th of a second, the camera meters off of a multi-colored segment pattern on the shutter curtains. When exposures are longer than 1/60th of a second, the camera reads light from both the shutter curtain and the film surface itself. This system is among the most advanced of any film camera, and it works impeccably. Shooting in aperture-priority mode you will simply never make a bad exposure.

Furthermore, when using a flash the metering system operates in a dynamic way, measuring light directly from the film plane and exposing exactly as required by ambient light and light produced by the flash.

Equally important to the conversation, this combination of features is unmatched in the range of Leica Ms. There isn’t a Leica M series camera that offers the scope of metering and exposure modes that the CLE offers. The closest we get is the M7, which was made more than twenty years after the CLE, is notably chunkier and heavier, and much more expensive.

The CLE’s viewfinder is uncluttered and gorgeous. It doesn’t offer the massive magnification favored by some Leica enthusiasts, but what’s here is nothing to complain about. Framelines are bright and beautiful, and automatically appear and disappear depending on what lens is mounted. Native framelines exist for 28mm, 40mm, and 90mm lenses, and while these focal lengths are a bit abnormal in the minds of some, for me they’re perfect. The rangefinder patch is contrasty, bright, and adequate, and while the Ms are certainly easier to focus the CLE isn’t a slouch. It’s still easy, it’s just not as easy. Bright LEDs bring the rangefinder into the modern age, and show us everything we need to know.

Any M mount lens can be used with the CLE, barring a few that are so large that they impede the rangefinder window or protrude too far into the camera body. These lenses are so few as to have little impact on photo geeks looking to build a solid lens kit. Minolta’s own M-mount Rokkors comprise a set of some of the best and most underrated optics around, and the just-different-enough focal lengths are appealing to those, like myself, who are tired of 35mm and 50mm standards. The 40mm M-Rokkor, in particular, is regarded by the few who noticed as one of the best 40mm lenses ever produced. And while some examples of the 28mm lens exhibit a strange affliction in the form of little white dots on the front element, unaffected versions of this lens are also commonly rated at the top of their class.

If it’s so great then it must be too expensive.

You can’t discuss Leica without discussing price. They’re expensive cameras, and sometimes I feel that that’s a big part of the reason people hold them in such high regard. I mean, essentially they’re just nicely-crafted but obsolete cameras that cost a lot and are out of reach for most shooters. Even the most primitive Ms are expensive, while the M that comes closest to matching the CLE in features will run into the quadruple-digits.

Logically, the CLE should cost more, being the more advanced machine. But as is often the case in this hobby, logic doesn’t hold much sway. A perfect, pristine CLE will cost between $500 and $700. While that’s still a lot of money for many people, I have no compunction in declaring it the very best camera that anyone could buy in this price point. In fact, I think the CLE is just about the best 35mm film camera I’ve ever owned.

Minolta CLE review (7 of 7)

Is it really that good?

I recognize that this article might be received with equal parts passive interest and vociferous resentment. To be clear, it’s not my intention to hatchet the M series at the knees. One of my favorite cameras of all time is the M2. I’ve loved that machine for years and that’s never going to change. But I’ve run a lot of rolls of film through Ms and I’ve run a lot of rolls through the CLE, and I feel impelled to get the word out that the Minolta CLE is simply a better camera.

It does more, feels better, travels lighter, and costs less than any M I’ve ever used. While some other cameras do specific, individual things better, the CLE offers a combination of features, size, performance, and style that can’t be beaten by any M series machine. It’s a camera that works with me in a way that the Ms never have. It’s slow when I want to be slow, it’s fast when I want to be fast, and it helps me make better photographs. The CLE is the best 35mm rangefinder I’ve ever used, and if this article inspires a like-minded shooter to discover the camera of his or her dreams, I’ll have done my job.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • Ed Worthington May 23, 2016 at 7:51 am

    Great and interesting article as always James, that’s what I like about this site, not afraid to give a point of view that flies in the face of fanboy reasoning.

    • Thanks bud!

      • Think about it…What function does a film camera body serve in photography? Firstly, closing a shutter curtain accurately and at the proper shutter speed. Secondly, providing a viewfinder to compose accurately. It can have internal mechanisms that would shame the finest Swiss watch, the bodies can be built like tanks, and made form solid gold or brass, but for exposing film, that is all completely irrelevant. Any decent quality camera can serve this function- Proper shutter firing/speed, film advancement, and a decent enough finder for composing shots. Film Leica’s achieved their “look”, not by some magic mojo in the body, but by their excellent lenses. It’s their lenses that contain all the magic. But there are other lenses around that are as good if not better, Schneider, Zeiss, Meyer-Optik will achieve the same Leica effect. And the best Japanese glass, comes pretty damned close itself.

  • Randle P. McMurphy May 23, 2016 at 10:16 am

    Excatly the point why I still read and comment here. In this case the Minolta is just the better Leica CL.
    The reason why Leica still sells cameras is beause people like to buy myths.
    For me the picture counts and it is made 15cm behind the finder !
    As a result of that gear does have less effect in creation of outstanding pictures.
    But when you spend thousands of Dollars or Euros for stuff you always feel caused to justify why…….

    • Ryan O’Connell August 8, 2017 at 4:38 pm

      That’s quite a narrowminded view – people don’t (or at least shouldn’t) buy Leicas because of myths, they buy them because they like Leicas. I love my M4. I don’t own it because of a myth, I own it because it’s my favorite 35mm camera I own. You seem to be guilty of the exact same annoyance and superiority complex many Leica users carry.

  • Very interesting article! You do leave out one thing and this was the dealbreaker for me. The CLE doesn’t have framelines for 35mm lenses. According to my research, you get a 28mm framelline when you mount a 35mm lens. When I consider how much difference there is between a 35mm and 40mm lens, that just seems too big a difference to be able to compose accurately.

    • I know what you mean. A lot of people prefer 35 and 50, for sure. Guessing the framelines can be tricky, so I know why you’d feel that way.

  • Great article, one question: where are you finding CLE’s for those prices? I’m in Europe and struggling to find any anywhere near that price.

    • Thank you for the kind words. With patience, I can find them on eBay at these prices. Japanese sellers especially tend to sell them lower and (at least here in the USA) we aren’t charged any import fees or taxes on film cameras coming from Japan. The prices I cited are representative of body only sales. With lenses the prices climb to around $600-800 depending.

      The eBay link I published will match results to your geographical location, so feel free to browse, expand the search to incorporate Japanese sellers if it isn’t already, and good luck.

      • Amazing, thank you.
        Well written article too, feel free to check out the photography website/magazine I’ve helped establish, we focus on photography and also photographers and their creative process, as well as their gear.
        Looking forward to reading more of your articles in the future.

  • Great review, James!

    Just curious about what you mean with this:
    “The closest we get is the M7, which was made more than twenty years after the CLE, is chunkier and heavier, and still doesn’t manage to offer dynamic shutter speed adjustment in aperture-priority mode.”

    To the best of my knowledge the M7 is an aperture priority, dynamic shutter speed camera… Or do you mean something else (that I then missed :-))?

    • Apologies, and thank you for drawing my attention to this. I misspoke here and have corrected the article. The M7 does indeed steplessly adjust shutter speed in aperture-priority mode, as does the CLE. The points about the M7 being larger, heavier, and pricier do maintain relevance.

  • Thanks James for that interesting article. Stumbled upon this via Ello, by the way.

    Definitely made me think about getting a CLE which was sort-of under my radar until now.

    A question about the finder / framelines though – which are shown in your image above? It looks a bit weird.
    I tried to find photos of the CLE’s finder with the different framelines showing, alas did not find them – do you perhaps have some you could post?
    Thank you (especially interested in seeing what the 28 and 40mm frameline look like in the CLE’s finder).

    Have a nice day!

  • Christos Theofilogiannakos June 2, 2016 at 8:19 am

    The “CLE vs Leica-M” argument is pure crap. There’s a specific “raison d’etre” behind the Leica-M which is completely different from that behind the CLE, so I don’t see how one could even compare the two, esp. at such high prices used CLEs command (very close to a M3 or M2). The simple fact that you can still get a fully mechanical Leica serviced to a state that will potentially make it work like new for another 10-15 years and then simply repeat that to get 10-15 years more, makes the whole comparison laughable. I don’t own a Leica-M (probably I won’t ever be able to afford one) but comparing the CLE to the film M-Leicas is just nonsense.

    • I don’t think the comparison is laughable or nonsense, and I think dismissing the CLE in that way is pretty ignorant.

      • Christos Theofilogiannakos June 2, 2016 at 3:00 pm

        I’m not dismissing the CLE which is in all intents and purposes a very good camera. I think that the comparison with the fully manual M-Leicas (or even the M7) is nonsensical simply because they represent two completely different approaches to rangefinder photography, hence saying that the CLE is “better” than the M3/4/5/6 is a void argument. A person setting out to buy a M-Leica is looking for something that just isn’t there on the CLE.

        • It’s not nonsensical to compare a cle to a m3 or even less nonsensical to an m7. They are all boxes to hold film with features to assist the photographer’s desire to expose film with m and l glass. Comparing a cle or bessa or ikon to a leica prodiced camera body is reasonable. I have a cle and and an M2 as well as a cl and previously a bessa. The cle is a great camera for making photos and a pleasure to use. Having a metering and flash system as it does in many ways makes it superior to the leica cameras without those capabilities. It’s a more capable system than leica in several ways but being built of brass is not one of its features. The self timer is another wonderful feature as is it light weight. I use those features to decide which camera I will use on any given day. My favorite is the cl for its size and the placement of its shutter speed wheel. The only fault I have with the cle is the shutter button because I prefer to use a soft release which will not work with the cle. All cameras have some fragility and that is never a deciding factor for me. If it were, I would rather use a minolta SRT than a leica any day. I never feel as vulnerable to loss as I do when I am toting the leica.

  • Oh dear James,

    I think you have upset Christos. I suspect he is one of those Leica lovers you mentioned.

    Something that always amazes me is actually how often Leica cameras need servicing. I have 40 year old Nikon and Minolta, 50 year old olympus’s and none have ever been serviced to my knowledge and have had serious use and hammer, and all going strong.

    I recently bought a mint CLE and can’t agree more with your article. I lovely, lovely little camera. I am not crazy about the 40mm frame lines but the 28mm are simply excellent.

    Anyway, you have written an accurate and excellent article that my leica using friends won’t like, but if they would or could only be honest with themselves they would have to agree. I’m afraid it’s a it like telling them that their wife (or husband) is not actually as good looking as they thought! No one wants to hear that.



    • Thanks for the kind words bud! I think Leica users are a little CLA happy, but maybe I’m a little CLE happy. ??

  • Sandro Carboncini June 19, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    I’ve got my father’s CLE camera and I would like to take some pictures with it but the Led exposimeter works properly only in A mode. It is right? It’s very strange to me.

    P.s. My compliments for the very high design quality of your internet pages

    • Hi Sandro
      That is by design, unfortunately. For some reason Minolta decided to turn off the light meter when you use the manual setting.

  • You run the risk of owning a brick in a decade or two when the electronics inevitably go; the CL was fully mechanical w. a battery for its meter–Much preferred, IMO.

    • I have been hearing that argument as long as I have owned my CLE. Dozens of years and dozens of rolls later, it still works as well as ever.

      • Yes. This argument is total nonsense. If the CLE breaks (which is rare) it can easily be repaired.

        • I agree. In over 35 years of use, nothing mechanical has “broken” on my CLE. I’ve had the inside of the camera cleaned (I think 3 times), including the viewfinder and electrical contacts. That service didn’t require any parts at all. If there are electrical problems with the CLE, it is usually resolved by cleaning electrical contacts. If parts are needed, some of the parts of the CLE are interchangeable with other Minolta cameras, such as the XGM and the X700. Minolta made many more of those than the CLE, so those parts are not rare or expensive.

        • Can anyone please tell me who in the US is servicing CLE’s? I own one, it works great, but in the event of a problem I’d love to know where I can turn.


  • Interesting and provoking article. Amongst the cameras I use are two absolutely perfect condition CLEs. And I love them for what they are. But.. to claim they are better than a Leica M, any Leica M let alone an M7 is quite the stretch. In rangefinder photography the rangefinder base length with viewfinder magnification determines focus accuracy. In the CLE this is far shorter than any M, which means that it is possible to focus an M to a much better degree. As the CLEs age, the electrics start to go, and one sign is the notorious jumping LEDs. When you activate the meter, the LEDs will bounce around before settling on the correct reading. This does not improve with age..
    The film advance lever is incredibly smooth – smoother than my Ms – but it feels fragile in comparison. Nothing like a Minolta XK film camera which feels incredibly solid. The meter in the CLE turns off if you put it in manual mode! The M7 meters in auto and manual. I have no idea why Minolta designed it like this. It may not seem like a big deal but the CLE does not have an AE lock, so to lock the exposure you would switch it to manual. And find out that your meter no longer works. The M7 has an AE lock.
    In use, the CLE taken by itself is delightful but because it is so small, my medium sized hands keep resting on the lens release button while in use. Not very good. You hold an M, and it feels perfect.
    Where the CLE rules is when using 28mm lenses. The VF with a 28mm lens is just perfect. Better than anything else I have used.
    Ultimately they are not competitors so none of this matters. The price difference is so great that they play in different leagues.

    Peace out

    • Lukasz Kalinowski August 8, 2016 at 9:21 am

      I think the reason why manual is not metered is possibly the fact of center weighted metering. Manual metering can be useful for zone metering technique, but you wouldn’t be able to use it without the spot metering anyways. I admit that I never used it, so it is still just my speculation. Also in regard of Exp.Lock I have found it more comfortable to use Exp. Compensation right before the shot, which corresponds well with the idea of pre-visualising the frame etc.

      I have read that the LED jumping is not a sign of electronic deterioration, but dust inside: https://www.cameraquest.com/cle.htm
      “Like any other electronic camera, the CLE is sensitive to dust and dirt inside the cover. Dirt can give you erratic meter readouts or other problems, a common and easily curable CLE repair.”

      On the other hand I am surprised that people decide to keep the CLE always ON. Even if it’s going to enter sleep mode, that could also make a difference to the longevity of the camera electronics.

  • p.s forgot to mention just discovered this site and bookmarked it. I love it, including your shop!

  • I doubt highly the intent of leica or any manufacturer of a camera was to develop a new philosophy of photography. If you would really like to feel the camera disappear from the process, try street photography with a minolta XD and a 58mm lens. The viewfinder dissolves the barrier between photographer and the subject. The closest to that experience I have had with a rangefinder was a Nikon s and the bessa r3a. 1:1 viewfinders are great. I do enjoy the feel of my m2 but I really don’t feel connected to the scene with a 35mm lens and a magnified viewfinder.

    • Another option is a Canon P with any LTM lens – that 1:1 finder is incredible! So bright. The only bummer is that the 35mm framelines are pretty hard to see, even without glasses.

  • I don’t know how i missed this, but the intro photo showing the CLE through the lens mount of an M is very clever and well done!

  • This article made me sell all my Voigtlander RF gear and buy CLE with 21mm and 40mm m-rokkor. Thanks.

  • A very well written review, James. I guess you clearly explain objectively why you like the CLE so much.
    As a happy owner of the M3, I *do* miss several things like:
    – built-in light meter. Sometimes I’m not in the mood of carrying real light meters (or using phone apps)
    – being able to use lenses wider than 50mm directly without any addons/workaround.

    So the CLE natively supports 28mm and 40mm, I rarely use 28mm, except for landscape stuffs. I’m mostly a 35mm guy, though. Never tried the CLE before, but I have some experiences with Minolta SLRs, and yes they are awesome. I expect the CLE to be awesome too.

    Boy time to put the CLE on my todo list 😀

  • It’s a great little machine. The only niggle is how they (I guess Leica) ‘crippled’ it by only having frame lines for 40 instead of 35/50. Good thing I like 28mm/40mm because they are perfect with this camera. Shooting with the Voigtländer 40mm is a dream combo.


  • Great article! I’ve had a CLE and CL for almost two years now and they’ve changed the way I see—I come from a lifetime of Nikon SLRs, which I still use. But these two have become my favorite day-to-day shooters. And I agree, they do everything that a traditional M would, at less cost, with less weight, and greater convenience.

    I still want an M6, though. 🙂

  • Dang it! Now I want a CLE.

    I love my Leicas btw. Everything you said about them is true. No one should buy one. If you own one sell that overrated German propaganda tool!

    If I’m lucky people will read the article and the price of a leica will plunge.

    All kidding aside I have been curious about the CLE. I’ve heard stories about the meters failing so I stayed away. But the attraction of a light tight box with AE that I can mount my Leica glass to is hard to resist.

    Your article implies the CLE is different than the CL?

    Good read, I like your reviews. Thanks!

    • James – Founder/Editor November 27, 2016 at 7:11 pm

      Thanks for the kind words. And yes, the CLE is a completely different camera than the CL. Separated by time, design, ability, and form. I can’t say it enough, because many people have argued this point – the CL is a different model completely.

  • Great piece!I have an M6 and prefer my CLE with Leica lenses. I have three CLE and one needs some focus adjustment. Does anyone know who fixes these?

  • hmm this or the pentax lx…I mainly do street photography and these 2 just look about right for me

  • Greetings,

    First off, I want to say that this has quickly become my favorite and go to website for anything photography. I always been interested in the art, as a hobby, but didn’t really knew where to start. You guys fixed that!. I went with a Minolta SRT 202 as a choice based on the write up you made. Can’t wait to get started. Keep up the great work!. Also, just out of curiosity, I know that there’s a plethora of possibilities when it comes to a shoulder strap but I really like the one I see on the pictures above. Could you please share the make/model or where I could acquire one or similar?. Thank you!.

    • Thanks so much for the kind words. These straps are made by a company called Artisan Origin and you can find them on Etsy! Hope this helps.

      • James,

        Thank you for your reply. I will look that up. Again, keep up the magnificent work!. I find myself constantly coming back here for more, especially the “Tips and Techniques” section.

        PS: Keep those Minolta reviews coming!


        M. Mercado

  • Just a heads up for anyone looking at the Minolta CLE, its become near impossible to find someone who will service this camera. I’ve tracked down all the people from various threads on the internet for repairers in the US and nearly all of them have stopped due to lack of parts. Sherry Krauter, DAG Cameras, Nippon Photo Clinic in NYC… I live in SoCal and was able to e-mail Steves Camera in Culver City,, he mentioned he would take a look at it. I also contacted Fullerton Camera in Fullerton, CA but I’m not sure how familiar they are with the camera. Steve sounds like he’s worked with a few of these.

    At any rate, I wanted to post some updated information for CLAs/repairs in case anyone else might be doing some searching.

    If anyone else has leads on repair techs, please let me know! My CLE seems to function OK in A mode, but when I switch over to manual shutter speeds, the speeds sound too fast. Anything below 1/60 doesn’t sound right. They’re maybe about 2x faster than what the shutter speed indicates (e.g. 1/60 sounds like 1/120, 1/30 sounds like 1/60, 1/15 sounds like 1/30, and so on).

    Hope this helps! Otherwise, the camera feels absolutely amazing and I feel like it’s going to be so much fun to shoot with. I’m going to pop a roll of film in and shoot in A mode for now, hopefully that works out OK.

    • I know a guy who repairs these and only these but I’m not sure he wants a big influx of work. I’ll reach out to him and if he’s amenable I’ll update the thread and article. In any case, he tells me the common talking point that they’re hard to fix and parts are scarce is a product of the internet rumor mill.

      If it’s true that repair techs for these are scarce, maybe we’ll just have to become the CLE repair shop.

    • I have the similar issue with my CLE. Really want to find someone to take a look of it.
      In A mode, when the shutter speed slower than 1/30 sec, I can feel the actual shutter speed which is much slower than it shows in viewfinder. However, when the shutter speed is faster than 1/60, it works fine. The shutter works normal in every speed when I switch to manual mode.

      • Is there film in your camera when you are testing it? Because with the CLE beneath 1/60 it reads the actual exposure off the film plane. If you don’t have film in it, it will be reading off the black pressure plate which will give a completely different reading than the expected film surface.
        Mine do the same thing, but when I put film in it the exposures are correct.

        • Thank you for the prompt reply. The test was conducted without film. I will take some photo and share with my observation.

        • I load my first roll of film and did some test shot with the similar result. However, I found some discussing stating the actual shutter speed can be quite a discrepancy between the initial reading and the real reading. If the light meter is not accurate, I would like to bring the external light meter.

          The same thread also provides some available shop that could provide CLA service.

    • From your description of the shutter speeds, you may not actually have a problem. You said on manual, shutter speeds below 1/60 second seemed fast. If you are comparing them to the shutter speeds in aperture preferred automation and you are testing the shutter speeds with no film in the camera, it is actually operating properly and there is no problem. The manual shutter speeds below 1/60 second are not fast–they are accurate. It is your automatic shutter speeds under 1/60 that are running slow if you are testing with no film. Here’s why: At faster automatic shutter speeds, the light meter reads off the shutter curtains, so if you compare 1/1000 or 1/500 between auto and manual, they will sound the same. But as you get to slower shutter speeds, like 1/60 and slower, the meter reads mostly (or totally, depending upon shutter speed) off of the film–not the shutter curtain. If there is no film in the camera, the meter is reading the black pressure plate and the meter is fooled into thinking you need more light, so it gives a slower exposure. When you’re looking through your viewfinder and it says it will give you an exposure of 1/15 second, it is assuming you are going to have film in the camera. If you don’t have film, the meter will see the black pressure plate and give you a much slower shutter speed. So if you did the test without film, don’t worry. Your CLE is probably functioning properly. I’ve seen many other CLE owners post about the exact same situation you are seeing. Metering off the film during slow exposures is actually a good thing because if the light changes in the middle of the exposure the CLE will change the shutter speed to match the light. To my knowledge, no other rangefinder camera will do that.

    • Jerome (EarthSunFilm) August 7, 2023 at 11:12 am

      Here is a list of shops that repair CLE cameras. Look for “Rangefinder” or “CLE” in red letters. This list is updated monthly. https://earthsunfilm.com/repair-services/

  • James, I hear you. I can just imagine the amount of work he’d get and with parts already scarce it may take even longer to repair cameras he’s already working on. Maybe you can sneak my CLE into his queue 😛

  • 🙁 you are making it so hard for me.. CLE… M6… Logical thought vs Emotional thought… ggggaaahhhh 🙁

  • If I’m using a remjet backed emulsion, do you see this causing a problem with the TTL metering, reading off the film negative itself? Can’t find a solution to this.

    • It shouldn’t impact it, and for what it’s worth, this camera only meters directly off the film when shooting under 1/60th of a second. Faster than that and it uses the pattern imprinted on the shutter curtain just prior to firing.

  • I’ve always and only shot with digital (a sony a7R). and recently i’ve become more and more interested in schooting with film. i came across this website (bookmarked instantly) and read a couple of articles.

    And my question for you is, is this a wise choice to start shooting film with? it fits my budget, and i already have a couple minolta rokkor lenses i use on my sony (i couldn’t find, or probably misread what kind of mount the camera has?)

    Kind regards,


    • Hi Konstantinos. Thanks for visiting and for the kind words regarding the site. The Minolta CLE uses M mount lenses, of which Minolta made a handful of Rokkors (which is the name of one of Minolta’s lens series). The Minolta lenses you have adapted to your Sony are probably the ones made for their SLR cameras. These use the SR mount (which many people erroneously call MC/MD mount). If indeed you have SR mount Minolta lenses, you should try to find a Minolta SLR, such as the SRT series, the X700, or any of the other film SLRs that Minolta made from 1959 to the 1980s (when they switched their mount to the autofocus A mount). We have reviewed many of these Minolta SLRs. Take a look through the site and see if anything helps.

      • hi james, thanks for the quick reply. i have both SR mouth lenses and M mount lenses, i only have the M aunt lenses because they came in a group deal with other lenses. i had a look at your x700 review and it was either that one or the minolta CLE. i must say the price difference is huge though, the CLE look more like a camera i would cary on a day to day basis than the x700, but i read in darien’s reply that the CLE is less reliable than the x700.. so I’m still in doubt.

    • Hey Konstantinos, welcome to the site! I’ve been an avid reader of the site myself as they produce excellent content.

      Looks like James already replied to you (jeez, he’s fast!) but the cameras he’s recommended are fantastic. I myself have a Minolta SLR as well, the X-700 but I started my entire photography journey with a Minolta X-370. They make amazing SLRs and to this day I hope to put a few more into my collection.

      As far as starting out shooting film with this camera… I’d have to advise against it. While it may fit in your budget, this camera is a little older and less forgiving. Eventually something may break with this camera and the cost of repair is not cheap. I’ve had to send it in twice now and this most recent repair was significant enough for me to consider selling it.. briefly…. and then I realized how much I love the camera and that thought quickly left my mind.

      James and this site are definitely NOT helping my bank account.

      • Hi Adrien! thank for the quick reply! i have thought about the x700 as well, but the CLE looks more like a camera i would carry on me on a day to day basis. but since you brought up the reliability issue I’m in doubt. the x700 is significantly cheaper so i guess ill start out with that one, and maybe move on to a CLE later.

        • I hear you! The camera is fantastic and feels great in the hand. Its a very stealthy shooter and coupled with the Minolta lenses you say you have, I bet it would be even more amazing. I have yet to buy an actual M-Rokkor lens myself (shooting with Voigtlander stuff) but for me, the image quality and the handling/mechanics all play into why I love the CLE.

          If you’ve got the lenses, and you can find a local repair shop that will take care of the CLE should it break on you and you’re comfortable spending for the CLE, it’s a fantastic camera I think you’ll enjoy as much as I do.

          • I have 2 near new (not a mark on them) CLEs that I will be selling. Why? I prefer using my Leicas.
            If this is uncool to post here, please delete.
            If anyone wants to check them out, you can do so at my gallery in LA/San Pedro, or drop me a line.

          • Totally cool. I may just want one, since all my personal CLEs seem to be bought out from under me. Message me at contact@fstopcameras.com

  • I desperately wanted a CLE as soon as it entered the market. It just looked great – a body and a decent 40 mm lens weighing a tad less than 500 grams! And lo and behold, in November 1983 the local camera shop halved its price and I bought it without any hesitation. Later came a Leitz 2.8/90 Tele-Elmarit-M and a Minolta 5.6/250 RF-Rokkor with a custom-made adapter (a standard screw-to-M adapter and an extension ring – no rangefinder coupling but I won’t take close-ups with a 250 mm lens anyway) and the whole caboodle still weighs only about three pounds. Looks like I picked up just the right camera as I still use it and like it.

  • Excellent article and interesting feedback. I’ve owned a Minolta CLE and all three lenses since 1981. I’ve had the camera serviced several times and it works perfectly. As far as repairs, nothing has ever “broken” on the camera. When the meter reads erratically or the self-timer doesn’t fire, it’s a matter of cleaning the contacts inside the camera, which most camera repair people can do. Some of the electronic CLE parts are common to other Minoltas such as the X-700, XGM, etc., so if the repair shop has those parts, they can sometimes be used for the CLE. Unlike mechanical cameras, the shutter speeds don’t have to regularly adjusted. Since they are timed electronically, they are more accurate. Also important to me is that the CLE has a self-timer and a 15-foot long flexible electronic cable release. These two features allow me to be in the photos with family, friends, or when traveling. The TTL flash metering works with not only the little CLE flash, but also the bigger ones like the Minolta 360 PX and Minolta 280 PX. The three Minolta lenses are all great. The only caution there is make sure that if you buy the 28mm lens that it does not have spots on it as some of the lenses did.

  • Did anyone mentioned the different way to insert film in a Leica (I have a M3 and a M2) or in an CLE (I have 3). The Leica way is a pain if you have to hurry up.

    • The way I load my CLE is I take the tip of the film and put it into the take-up spool so that one of the teeth is holding the film. Then I advance the film with the lever and release the shutter. I pull the film across the camera and place the film canister in its place and then shut the camera back. Loading film this way is fast and easy and avoids the problem of the film slipping off the take-up spool.

  • Great article! Thanks a bunch, I was already looking for an CLE and then I found your writing. I am sure now, I want one.
    However.. ‘A perfect, pristine CLE will cost between $390 and $490.’ Where can I find a perfect, almost new CLE for that price?
    I can only find CCLE’s double that price..

    • That’s true. Prices have risen since the time of this article’s publishing back in 2016. Good luck finding one!

    • You could try the rangefinder forums. At this point its going to take some patience. Prices have really gone up for nearly all film cameras.

  • Great article. Nice to see some objectivity brought to bear on these cameras. Notable but not mentioned: the purpose of a rangefinder body is one of exposure [commented on already] and accurate focusing. But the longer rangefinder baselength of the M gives it an advantage in focus precision. Probably more critical for telephoto work, but then, who buys an M for telephoto?….

  • In regard to the lenses, I sometimes use a Summicron 50mm version 4 on my CLE, and the quality of the negative, scans, and prints with the Minolta Rokkor 40mm are indistinguishable from those with the Summicron 50. It is just as good a lens. It’s very easy to shoot with the 50mm lens if I want to, I just think of the frame as a tiny bit larger than the 40mm framelines. The meter is virtually infallible. People often think the electronics are finished when the shutter starts behaving erratically. In my case, it needed a shutter overhaul, not too expensive a repair. The size is great. The only thing I miss is the large viewfinder of my M3.

  • It’s such a shame that these have all skyrocketed in price over the last couple years. These and the M5. The social media photography community is a harsh world.

  • Speaking as what would likely be considered a Leica fanboy, I really enjoyed your article, James. I don’t disagree with any of your points and thus why I found your article to begin with; I’m open to putting some M glass on a well crafted Minolta. One thing that bothers me, however, and I don’t seem to see much discussion about regarding the CLE is that the EBL is minuscule compared to most M’s. The CLE clocks in at a mere 28.76mm, not much better than a typical Bessa RF. Most Leica M’s stand at 49.32mm. For a 28mm lens, I’m sure the CLE is totally adequate but I wonder about a 40mm 1.4 at full aperture and particularly a 90mm f2 at anywhere near full aperture. My first interchangeable lens RF was the Bessa R2 and I quickly found it was woefully unable to reliably focus a 50/1.5 at full aperture without sitting it on a tripod and taking several minutes. So I got a Leica M6 TTL 0.85, which focuses accurately in a snap, even my 135/3.5. I am interested in a smaller, faster to operate body. But the EBL is a sticking point for me. Any thoughts on this? Thanks!

  • Since 1981, I’ve been using my Minolta CLE with the Minolta 28mm f2.8, the 40mm f2, and the 90mm f4. Not only do you get sharp images with all three lenses, they are also small enough that they don’t intrude into the viewfinder, which could be a problem with some other lenses. I’ve also used the Leica 90mm f2.8 with no focusing problems, but its physical size is identical to the Minolta 90mm f4. I would not try the larger Leica 90mm f2 on the CLE, nor with lenses the CLE doesn’t have framelines for, such as 35mm, 50mm, or 75mm. If you have the CLE 28, 40, and 90mm lenses, those other sizes are really unnecessary anyway. I’ve never tried the Voigtlander 40mm f1.4 on my camera, but before you purchase one, you might want to try it on your CLE, put the lens hood on the 40mm lens and see if it intrudes on the viewfinder and blocks any of your view. You won’t have that problem with the Minolta 40mm lens.

    • Thanks for weighing in with some real-world experience, Richard. I don’t own a CLE but am somewhat interested in one. I already have the 40/1.4, 50/1.5 (which I see you don’t recommend using if only for the framelines) and 90/2 as my fastest lenses. I have no doubt that my slower/wider lenses would work fine on the CLE but these are a few of my go-to lenses so I’m in search of another platform for those. I wonder if the Bessa T would be a better option.

  • I haven’t personally tried the Voigtlander 40mm f1.4 lens on my Minolta CLE, so I can’t say from experience whether it blocks any part of the viewfinder, but all things being equal, an f1.4 lens will probably be larger than an f2 lens. If it doesn’t block the CLE viewfinder, then you have a good match. But the 50mm lens won’t have the frame lines in the CLE and with the 90mm f2, you may have some focusing problems as well as the lens blocking part of the viewfinder. Those 50 and 90mm lenses would probably work better on a Leica M6 or M7. The 40mm f1.4 would be great on the Voigtlander R3, but you won’t have framelines for a 28mm if you want to use that focal length.

  • Hey there, I bought a CLE and 40mm M-Rokkor combo about a month back because of this review…so thank you! After I received I did notice that both the 28mm and 40mm frame lines were always visible. In your review you said they appear and disappear when mounting a new lens. Why wouldn’t mine?

    • The 28mm framelines are always visible. If you mount the 28mm lens, you will only see the 28mm framelines. If you mount the 40mm lens, you will see framelines for 28mm and 40mm. If you mount the 90mm lens you will see framelines for the 28mm and 90mm. Because the 28mm framelines are at the very edge of the viewfinder, the lines don’t interfere with your viewing at all.

  • I bought a like-new CLE with a 35 mm Summicron F2 about 30 years ago, figuring it was as close to a Leica as I was ever going to get. (The ensuing decades proved that true.) I had no illusions it was as well-made as a Leica, but I loved the fact that the bottom plate didn’t have to come off to load/unload film, and the meter and auto exposure were nice. TTL flash capabilities, too! As someone else noted here, it didn’t have the robustness of a Minolta XK (my first camera) but it was good enough. I was earning a living with my Nikons at the time, and the CLE didn’t get used for any photojournalism work. But somehow the film advance got gritty, and the electronics stopped working just after Minolta stopped any sort of service. I sold it to someone who just wanted the lens.

    And as for that lens: I couldn’t really see much difference between it and my Nikkors, but that was irrelevant, as they were all pretty darned good. What I found was that after 25 years later, I still never got as comfortable with a rangefinder; I just preferred an SLR.

  • how can it be that no one has pointed out yet that the CLE does even come with a nice big red dot!

  • Update:
    The CLE now sells around quadruple digits itself..

    “film is dead! Long live film photography!”

  • Hi, as someone who used to restore and repair Minolta XK, XM, X-1 and very occasionally their Motor versions I only ever had luck with the mechanics, if cleaning contacts did not do it then I was stuffed. So having sold one of the largest Minolta collections in the UK, to a retired French Chemist in the French Alps, I swore not to get involved again in Vintage Minolta. So not quite sure why I now have a Dynax 9 and a CLE winging it’s way to me with the 40 and 90 M Rokkors. Well under those four digits ! But I hope I do not regret it…. minolta4me-kevin or kevin_sony_mirrorless.

    • I’ve now had my Minolta CLE and 28, 40, and 90mm lenses, flash, and other accessories for exactly 40 years. No mechanical failures, though I did have the interior cleaned twice in the 40 years. It’s still going strong and cost a fraction of a Leica M7 with equivalent lenses. The CLE has better flash capabilities, a self-timer, and I have an electronic cable release that is 15 feet long. If you like to put yourself in the photo for travel or party photos, you have options with the CLE that you can’t do with the Leica.

  • The Minolta CLE is a fantastic camera to shoot with, I have to say that I love how compact and lightweight the CLE is in comparison to a Leica (I owned both m10 and m10-p, and have handled the M6), the auto mode works brilliantly, off the film metering is great. I liked it better than the Leica’s I’ve owned, in terms of shooting experience of course. HOWEVER, when mine broke down, it is nearly impossible to find a repair person to fix it. If you happen to find one, let’s hope you don’t need to replace any broken parts, because there’s less and less replacement parts out there as we speak. On top of that, your repair bill will likely start from $300 – 400, which is around a half of what a CLE would cost nowadays. Oh and also, unlike film leicas(except m7), the minolta is battery dependent, shutter won’t actuate without battery. All in all, I loved the camera, but my next film camera will be a Leica MP, it is mostly mechanical except for the light meter, and it is highly unlikely to fail like the CLE did.

  • It’s definitely true that Minolta CLE parts are very hard to find. But there are supposed to be some internal parts it shares with other Minolta cameras from the 1980s, It’s rare that CLE parts will actually break. What is more common is that over the years dust can get inside and effect the electrical parts. This happened with mine where the self-timer would no longer work. I got it serviced about 15 years ago where they cleaned the internal parts and the self-timer has worked ever since then. At that time, I spent $185. It also included replacing the light seals and the electrical contacts underneath the shutter button.

  • I had a CLE, and a M3. Yesss the CLE is wonderful camera, but not reliable, and now it will be more and more difficult to fix it. There are mint CLE on the market, but the price is not far a M3 or M2.

  • As I mentioned in my last post, the last time I serviced my Minolta CLE was over 15 years ago and cost me $185. Nothing has gone bad since then. I bought the camera new back in 1981, so it’s been good for 40 years. If a Leica M camera needs any kind of service, it will be much more expensive. The M3 has no light meter and no 28mm framelines. To get a Leica with similar features to the CLE, you’d have to buy an M7, which is way more money, does not have a self-timer or a long electronic cable release, and lacks the flash capabilities of the CLE. I have three different Minolta flashes that match up with the CLE, and each has its own advantages. Of course, different cameras have different features and there are things that Leicas can do that the CLE can’t such as other available lenses that the CLE has no framelines for. But if you can live with 28, 40, and 90mm, I think the CLE is a good choice.

    • @Richard M7 has ttl flash like the CLE, meters in manual (CLE meter turns off in manual), has AE lock (CLE does not), has longer RF base length for greater focus accuracy, is made of brass (CLE is plastic with a thin psuedo metal skin over it), can time exposures to several minutes (CLE cannot).
      CLE is excellent for 28mm lenses (M7 is ok with the .72 finder, great for 28mm with the .58 finder), has the self timer (M7 does not).

      But.. the M7 is much more expensive.

      Now the bad news. No-one will service a CLE anymore. YYECamera charges $230 for a Leica M3 CLA and he does excellent work.

  • Most of what you write is correct about the Minolta CLE and the Leica M7. However, I’m not sure about how many flashes will work TTL with the Leica M7. With the CLE, you have three choices: the standard tiny Minolta CLE flash, the more medium size Minolta 280 PX, and for bigger jobs, the Minolta 360 PX, which is powerful and it tilts and swivels. All three provide TTL flash metering and I have all three and each are good for different purposes. True, the rangefinder base is not as wide as the Leica, but it is sufficient for all three Minolta CLE lenses, which I have. The top cover is plastic on the CLE as you mentioned, but it has thicker plastic than other camera top covers and is tougher. My camera is 40 years old and there are no dents and the black chrome finish is still very good. For me, since I often take photos of friends and family and put myself in the photo (also with travel photos) having both a self-timer and a long electronic cable release (15 feet?) is a very convenient feature I would hate to give up. The AE lock and manual exposures aren’t important to me because aperture preferred auto with exposure compensation works fine. The CLE is also much lighter and easier to carry around all day, and I carry the camera, the three lenses, and the flash in a Billingham bag every day, so I wouldn’t want the outfit to be any heavier. It’s definitely true that getting service for the CLE could be very difficult, but most “repairs” just involve cleaning the electrical contacts, which does not require extra parts. If it ever got to the point where a replacement part was impossible to find anywhere in the world, I would just buy another CLE body since I already have the lenses, filters, flashes, camera cases, etc.

  • I have had a CLE, I have a M7, and I went for the M3, simply because all these technicals aspects bore me. If I want a great technical camera I can use the F6, or the Contax Aria, or a R8/R9, but I have given up with these cameras.
    When we speak about a CLE or to fix a old camera, there is a price! Kento camera is capable to make new parts of Leica M or Barnack, but for a CLE i don’t think so. I am happy that your camera can still work and hope that it will continue, but for me the M7 and CLE have made me in position to lost a shooting because there was a contact problem … … This is electronic, cold, hot, dust, and … nothing happen, my M3 does not do that … 😉
    Viewfinder with the 0.54 you can use a 28mm, but, … but I really prefer an external viewfinder. The Zeiss for 28mm is wonderful.
    When you know our famous Dan Castelli and his famous bag, I think he has the best choice with the CL.
    But, if both of you like your CLE and M7, like me love my M3, this is the most important.

  • FYI: In early 2023, a fellow Minolta CLE owner over on the Rangefinder Forum reported that Scott Nielsen, who is located in Oakdale, CA still works on the CLE. He was happy enough with Scott’s work that he posted a review and recommended Scott to other CLE owners in need of repair help. Scott’s website containing his contact information can be found here: http://scottnielsenphoto.com

    • Thanks for this, Bill. I checked in to this post this morning to inquire about some more recent info on resources for repairing CLE’s before beginning the search for a good example.
      I’ve become interested in the CLE recently, thanks to James’ great article and have found varied information on the serviceability of these bodies dated within the past couple of years.

  • I am lucky I bought myself a nicely kept and maintained Minolta CLE and a M-Rokkor 40mm F2 (with Minolta Skylight Filter). Plus the original Minolta CLE’s handle. This setup is invincible for doing street photography and causal photo shooting.

    It becomes my first pick camera when I go to do street photography. Light weight, good light meter and easy to read shutter speed indicator.

    Since it’s an old camera, it has some issue, but minor and can be fixed. Sometimes, the light meter wasn’t worked well and the shutter speed indicator will run and not stopping. I google it and all I need to turn the shutter speed dial for one or two cycle to “Clear” the capacitor and it will back to normal.

    I always use the AE mode. Just set the aperture and let CLE to decide the shutter speed itself. The light meter does a great job. Since I bought the CLE, I seldom take my Nikon F3 out. I am now thinking to sell the F3 cause it’s too heavy.

  • Some of you may know me. I repair Leica cameras (but not the CL/CLE) anymore. Take the top off a Leica CL and you’ll find something typically not very Leica. The main thing is the fact that the rangefinder looks like the kind of design out of any 1960/s or 1970s rangefinder camera, or perhaps screw mount Leica. It uses a large semi-reflective mirror/beamsplitter in between the eyepiece and the large window. By the time the M3 was released, a much more elaborate prism based system was adopted. In addition, the meter uses a mechanical flag that has to flick out of the way before each shot. The sensor is based on a photo-resistor (cds cell), the circuit board is similar to what is found in the MR meter – very rudimentary – a wheatstone bridge. Much of the computation for exposure is carried out by a complicated arrangement of spring-loaded levers, some with little red flags glued onto them plus an old-school analogue galvo meter. Also a PX-625 battery! Don’t get me wrong. If everything works, it can be quite reliable. Take a look inside the Minolta CLE and you’ll be surprised. The rangefinder looks like it came straight out of an M6, albeit a bit more compact. It has exactly the same M prism/beamsplitter layout based on prisms. The metering is far more sophisticated too. This time using a silicon blue photodiode that is aimed at the shutter. No mechanical flag. The metering electronics are state of the art, no moving meter needle, no complicated levers and springs but a row of LED’s. I can’t help thinking that Leica got stitched up here by the canny Japanese. The CL was so difficult for Minolta I believe, that they had to spend several months making engineering changes so the camera could be properly assembled on a Japanese assembly line. Oh, the CLE uses LR44 batteries on account of the low power metering system! Yep, I’m not knocking Leica – just that Minolta ended up with the far superior camera!

  • So much of this article (brass worship, internet mythology, social media marketing) rings truer today than ever – great read!

  • This was a really great article! I came across this camera when the 50th anniversary addition popped up. I can’t seem to find anything about the original CLE vs the 50th anniversary addition. Do you have any knowledge about the two models?

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

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