Choosing the right Leica can be tricky. The main difference between the Leica SL2 vs Leica CL is that one is a full frame sensor while the other is an APSC sensor camera. There’s way more to it and in this article we will do a deep dive between the two cameras so that you can make the right decision and find the best camera for you.

Leica CL and Leica SL2 both are mirrorless system cameras. The Leica CL was introduced in November 2017, while the Leica SL2 was launched in November 2019. Both are “real” Leicas because Leica designed them from the ground up, including the lenses.

So you really can’t go wrong either way. But the differences are striking because these are two different form factors and sensor sizes.

Leica SL2 vs Leica CL: at a glance

Before getting into the nitty gritty here is a table comparing the Leica SL2 vs Leica CL so that you have key features at a glance:

Leica SL2

leica sl2

The Leica SL2 is the best choice if you have a higher budget, want maximum image quality, and are willing to put up with the bulk.

Leica CL

Leica CL

The Leica CL is the best choice if you want great quality but do not want to deal with the bulk and don’t want break the bank.

SpecificationsLeica SL2Leica SL
Sensor SizeFull FrameFull Frame
Mount/LensL mount (SL Lenses)L mount (SL Lenses)
StabilizationSensor shiftNone
Max ISO50,00050,000
FPS20 fps (raw)11 fps (raw)
Body TypeSLR styleSLR style
Weight1.84 (w/ battery)1.87 lb (w/ battery)
Leica SL2 vs Leica CL specification comparison

What are the similarities?

Even tough they might not look like it the Leica SL2 vs Leica CL share a few similarities:

Both have the same lens mount

What’s so great with the Leica autofocus cameras is the fact that they share the same lens mount, the L mount. So they are technically interchangeable, but the SL2 takes Leica SL lenses varient while the CL takes Leica TL lenses varient. The TL lenses are made for APSC sensor sizes (Like the Leica CL and Leica TL2) and the SL lenses are made for full frame like the SL2.

The CL can take SL AND TL lenses without any problem (being a smaller sensor) but mounting the smaller TL lenses on an SL2 will have a huge crop because the lenses don’t cover all of the frame and the focal length will effectively different.

They are built with M lenses in mind

Both of these cameras include the Maestro processor (the CL has the Maestro II, SL2 has Maestro III) and even if you need an adapter, Leica knows you will probably want to shoot M mount lenses with it. The SL2 is the best M mount camera besides the M rangefinders. And while the CL can also support them, remember there is a 1.5 crop factor to contend with. If you want your lenses as-is, the SL2 is the way to go.

Both have video

Leica is not really made for videography but the automatic focus Leicas are. Both can do stunning video and record up to 4k. There’s notable differences there but more on this later.

Both can do very high ISO

Both the CL and SL2 can go up to 50,000 ISO. Coupled with a fast SL lens or TL lens, it is more than you will ever need to shoot when there is very little light. Being Full frame, the SL2 keeps higher image quality when the ISO is set to high.

Both modern features

Both have a touchscreen in the back for menu operation. However theses are fixed so the screen cannot flip. There’s a good reason for it: Rotating screens are flimsy and weaken the camera because the more moving parts there is, the easier it is to break. So while it would help for those low angle shots, you gain in durability by having a fixed screen.

Both also include wifi so you can easely transfer your spur of the moment images to the Leica Fotos app to share your photographs on the spot.

Leica SL2 vs Leica CL: Both are simple

If there’s one thing about Leica, it’s the zen-like simplicity. While the CL is evidently modeled after the M mount cameras, the SL2 takes a cue from this and strips the DSLR looking camera into a a minimalist camera with practically no writing on any of the buttons in the front. So if you are looking for a camera that gets out of the way, both fit the bill.

What are the differences?

Well, that’s it. Besides that there wouldn’t be further cameras to compare. The following are the main differences between Leica SL2 vs Leica CL.

They handle differently

Leica SL2 vs Leica CL: If you want the smaller camera, the CL is it. The SL2 is big, and unapologetically so. While it can do many things from wildlife to portraits, it’s pretty much a workhorse that is made, well…for work! The SL2 has one of the best grips in the business (you hold it and you feel it), but a SL2 accessory like the double battery grip and you can say goodbye to any sort of compactness.

The lenses also are larger due to the full frame sensor. In short, while it doesn’t look nor feels like a DSLR, the experience of shooting a SL2 is DSLR-like. On the other hand the CL has a rangefinder form factor, that is why it is considered a mini M camera.

It’s one of Leica’s smallest interchangeable lens cameras and it’s pretty compact, especially compared to the bulkier SL2. This size comes at a cost however because the smaller camera has a smaller sensor.

The CL is a smaller sensor

You know the saying, ain’t no free lunch! The smaller CL, in order to be so small had to have smaller sensor. Smaller sensor means smaller camera, smaller lens but also lesser image quality and lesser Bokeh (background blurring) capability.

Not to say that APSC sensors can’t beat full frame sensors. Most of the time you can never know having images side by side, but when it comes to full frame there is a physical advantage when it comes to higher ISOs and blurring the background into creamy goodness.

The medium format feel of the SL2

The SL lenses are considered by Leica themselves as their finest lenses ever. Couple that with the full frame of the SL2 and the Maestro III engine, and you have some images that under the right conditions are tack sharp and feel like medium format.

The CL, no matter how great cannot achieve this without full frame

SL2 is rugged, the CL isn’t

In one of the promotional images for the SL2, it’s pretty clear what Leica is going for. You see a girl with a poncho with her SL2 dripping water in the rain. Something that would make any photographer squeal but the point is made: The SL2 is one rugged camera.

The weather sealing is one of the best due to some design decisions like the lack of flip screen and the top dial being magnetic. It even has a large IP54 rating, so it’s made from the group up to withstand water, dust and more.

The Leica CL on the other hand is not weather sealed, nor rugged. If you need to go in some rough conditions, don’t even look at the CL.

The SL2’s stunning viewfinder

Local CL and Leica SL2 both have the electronic viewfinder, but they differ in resolution. Leica SL2 has a resolution of 5760k dots while the Leica CL has 2360k dots. The SL2’s viewfinder is a thing of beauty. Instead of feeling like you are getting a thumbnail of what your picture will look like, it looks like you are shooting the picture itself. This is something that is impossible to convey in writing other than to say it’s almost life-like.

The SL2 is much better for video

The Leica CL can record videos at 4K/30p while Leica SL2 could record 4K up to 60 fps and have 5K mode that works up to 30p. This will come as a firmware upgrade. Unlike CL, the Leica SL2 offers a built-in microphone and headphone connection (35mm type). So if you are looking for the best video wise, it is the SL2.

The CL is not stabilized

Adding more to the SL2, is the fact that it is stabilized while the CL isn’t. Stabilization makes walking and shooting video feel like you are floating in the air, while non stabilized video makes it look like your shot video under earthquake conditions. But even if you are a photographer, stabilization helps you to shoot at even slower shutter speeds, so you could potentially shoot the SL2 at 1/15th of a second with some training. 

The CL’s price is unbeatable

So is everything gearing towards the SL2 being the winner? Not so fast, buster! The Leica CL is one of the most affordable Leicas. You can get it with a kit lens (an amazing 27mm f/2.8 equivalent) for much less than the price of the SL Body only.

You cannot find a better deal in the Leica world. So if you are looking for the best bang for your buck, the Leica CL is it.

Leica SL2 vs Leica CL: Which camera should you get?

If money is no object and you do not mind a camera as large as a DSLR, then without a doubt the best choice is the SL2. Medium format like images, amazing viewfinder, ergonomics and weather sealing, the benefits are too many to count.

But if you do NOT want to put up with the weight and do not mind the smaller sensor, there is no better camera than the Leica CL. But because both cameras have the same L mount, if you have the budget, get both and share the lenses between them!

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