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Minolta CLE
Compact LEICA Electronic (1980-1985)
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Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations

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Leitz Minolta CLE

Leitz Minolta CLE (14.3oz/402g with batteries and film, about $500 used) and Leitz 40mm f/2 (1974, 39 x 0.75mm filters, 126g). enlarge. I got mine at this direct link to it at eBay (see How to Win at eBay); Adorama also sells them. It helps me keep adding to this site when you get anything through those or these links, regardless of the country in which you live. Thanks! Ken.

Oak, Carmel Valley, CA

Oak, Carmel Valley, California. enlarge. Minolta CLE with Voigtländer 21mm f/4 M with 39mm B+W 81A filter, LEICA 12 008 21mm finder, Fuji Velvia 50 as processed and scanned at NCPS, probably around f/11 at 1/125 in manual mode, having metered without the sun shining in my lens. details.


May 2009    Leica Camera Reviews   Leica Lens Reviews   All Reviews

CLE Lens Recommendations

Leica Lens Names    How to Afford Anything   Shooting the CLE Digitally

Minolta CLE Example Photos

LEICA M7 Compared to Zeiss Ikon and Minolta CLE


Strengths: Ultra lightweight, manual and auto exposure Leica body. Especially well suited for use with 28mm and ultrawide-angle lenses. Excellent finder and display; significantly better than the LEICA M7. More reliable than LEICA M7. Live off-the-film metering, including TTL flash exposure. Runs on two very common A76 or LR44 batteries. Easy to shoot with one hand and to take everywhere.

Weaknesses: Shorter rangefinder baselength leads to less precision for 90mm lenses than with larger Leica bodies. Finder supports the Perfect Normal 40mm lens, not the 35mm or 50mm lenses. No AE lock; use metered manual instead. The only weirdness is that the instruction manual cautions not to put the camera away, even overnight, with the shutter cocked.


Introduction       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations


B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio

Ritz Camera

I personally buy from Adorama, Amazon, Ritz, B&H, Calumet and J&R. I can't vouch for ads below.


The Leitz Minolta CLE (Compact LEICA Electronic) is a manual and automatic exposure, manual focus rangefinder camera that is an important part of the LEICA system.

The CLE is the world's first LEICA M camera with TTL automatic exposure.

The CLE is super lightweight: only 13.405 oz. (380.1g), or about 2/3 the weight of other Leicas.

Back when the CLE was introduced I ignored it because it lacked, at least on paper, AE lock and manual metering. 29 years later when I finally bought one, I realized that you get AE lock and manual metering by looking at the display in Auto mode, and then transferring that to the shutter dial. Duh; its easy.

it is very easy to shoot and gets great results.

A certain kind of man demands nothing less than the LEICA M7, but for about one-tenth the price and a lot less weight, this CLE does pretty much the same thing.

The CLE body sells for about $400 (used) in 2009, or about $650 with the Minolta 40mm f/2 lens. Of course the whole point of the CLE is to use it with LEICA lenses (CLE lens suggestions).


Compatibility        top

The Minolta CLE is compatible with the LEICA system. In fact, it works better, with less finder cut-off with some lenses, like the superb LEICA 28mm f/2 ASPH than Leica's own cameras! (see Recommended Lenses.)

I use my CLE with my LEICA M lenses from 12mm to 90mm exactly as I use them with my LEICA M3, M4-P and M7. Focus, metering and everything works great.

Use the CLE with your LEICA lenses, and if you have them, Zeiss, Voigtländer, Konica and whatever other LEICA M-mount lenses you please.

The CLE's finder covers 28mm, 40mm and 90mm. As usual, slide ultrawide finders into the shoe.

Instead of the imperfect 35mm and 50mm focal lengths, the CLE covers the Perfect Normal focal length of 40mm. 40mm is always the right lens, never too long like the 50mm and never too short like the 35mm.

Normal lenses must equal to the diagonal of the format. 35mm film has a 43mm diagonal, and after printing, you actually use 40mm. 50mm lenses came about because that's what Oskar Barnack had lying around when he lashed together his first camera; 50mm is not a correct focal length.

Minolta made 28mm f/2.8, 40mm f/2 and 90mm f/4 lenses for LEICA M. You can use them as well. Check the folklore, but I recall that the the 40mm was made in Germany by Leica for Minolta. These Minolta lenses take 40.5mm filters, not the 39mm and 46mm filters common on Leica's lenses.

The TTL flash system is compatible with Minolta X- and PX-series flashes. Heck, it even seemed to work with the AF Maxxum flashes, but since I don't use flash, I haven't investigated further. The dedicated Minolta Auto Electroflash CLE is ideal because the size is just right.



Beware 35mm, 50mm, 75mm and 135mm lenses. There are no framelines for them, and the small rangefinder might not give consistent results with 135mm lenses.

You'll get the 40mm and 28mm framelines instead with 50mm and 35mm lenses, respectively, and the 28mm frame with 135mm lenses. Just skip these.

CLE Frame called
no lens

Just use a 40mm lens, or guess the framing.

Be careful with 90mm lenses, on all rangefinders there often are incompatibilities leading to incorrect focus. Select your 90mm lens with care; I find the f/2.8s give me the best results.

Forget LEICA's older 35mm, 50mm and 135mm lenses with goggles, eyes or supplemental viewfinder optics. Since the CLE has its rangefinder and viewfinder holes in different places than LEICA M cameras, you won't be able to see what you're doing. Don't even think of removing those funny goggles, since not only will you destroy the lenses, the focusing won't work properly since the cams are cut for use with those goggles.

The goggled 35mm for the M3 brings up the 40mm frame lines, and the goggled 135mm f/2.8 brings up the 90mm frame lines on the CLE.

Minolta warns that the 1976-2008 50mm f/1 Noctilux is so fat that you'll cover the rangefinder window and have no focusing. Ditto for the 50mm f/0.95 ASPH (2009-) and possibly 50mm f/1.4.

Minolta cautions not to use collapsible lenses or ultrawide lenses that poke into the camera body, but I've had no problems. My 1958 LEICA Super-Angulon 21mm f/4 works great, although it won't meter on the CLE, but it won't meter on any other LEICA either.

The only real gotcha is with earlier 35/1.4 Summilux-M and 35/2 Summicron-M lenses, each of which may have rear hardware that bangs into the CLE's rangefinder cam unless you do some surgery. No big deal, use the superior new LEICA 35mm f/2 ASPH and 35mm f/1.4 ASPH instead, and each works flawlessly, so long as you don't mind the 28mm frame lines.

Minolta CLE and Voigtlander 15mm II

Minolta CLE, Voigtländer 15mm M II and finder. enlarge.


Nomenclature        top

The CLE of 1980 is the product of joint development between Leica and Minolta.

The CLE was never sold by Leica, and Leica disclaims any association with it. Leica killed the CL of 1973 because it got too popular, and Leica certainly did the wrong thing by trying to ignore the superior CLE.

That's why the CLE never became as popular as it should have been. In the 1980s, people's only source of information was photo magazines and in-person conversation, therefore very few people figured out that the CLE is a superior Leica system body because Leica was trying to scare everyone away from it.

Because the CLE is an important part of any Leica photographer's system, I'll often refer to the LEICA CLE. Leica never sold a CLE, so there really isn't any such thing as a Leica-branded CLE.


Service        top

I've found my two CLEs to be far more reliable than my three Leicas.

Two of my three Leicas have needed service, while both my CLEs work just fine.

The CLE is based on the Minolta XD- and XD-series SLRs, for which there are plenty of parts and donor bodies available.

I've had OC Camera tune my CLE, and they did great work.


Background        top

Leica has been making rangefinder (as opposed to single-lens reflex or SLR) cameras since the 1920s. Rangefinder cameras went obsolete and were largely replaced in the 1960s by the SLR cameras we all use today.

Leica's sales all but evaporated, and by 1971 their best attempt at a new, innovative rangefinder camera was the big, ugly LEICA M5. The LEICA M5 was as big and bulky as an SLR, but with none of the benefits. The M5 used a CdS light meter that flopped back and forth behind the lens for each exposure, flipping down to meter and then out of the way as you took each picture!

Looking for a better way, Leitz commissioned Minolta to make a better, smaller, more practical camera. This was the Leitz Minolta CL (Compact LEICA).

The CL was made in Japan by Minolta, and sold under the Minolta, Leitz and LEICA names. Yes: Minolta made it, and Leica sold it as their own.

The new CL was a better, newer, smaller, lighter camera than the bulky M5, so of course the CL became more popular than the bulky M5. The fact that the CL cost only a fraction of the price of the M5 didn't hurt, either.

Blaming the failure of the M5 on the CL (instead of the fact that the M5 lost the Leica Vision of small cameras, big pictures), Leica did the wrong thing and cancelled the CL, seeing it as competition. Companies don't last long when they work in their own interests instead of the customer's interests.

Leica killed the popular CL after only three years. The dumping of the CL marks Leica's turning away from being driven by making innovative photographic products for photographers, to a company that instead focuses on making fashion baubles for the man who has everything.

Never stopping at good enough, Minolta continued the development of the CL and introduced this superior and completely new CLE (Compact LEICA Electronic) in 1980.

The CLE is worlds away from the old CL and M5. In fact, the CLE is pretty much a smaller, lighter version of today's LEICA M7.

The CLE a modern camera with an electronic meter that reads off the film as it exposes. The old CL used the same goofy electric-eye-on-a-stick as the M5.

The CLE has a much larger effective rangefinder baselength: 29mm for the CLE versus 19mm for the CL.

This CLE was 22 years ahead of the LEICA M7, and as we'll see, is still superior to today's LEICA M7 in many ways.

The CLE is truer to the Leica Vision than any other Leica body.

Leica M7 and 28mm f/2.8 ASPH

Top, Minolta CLE . enlarge.


Specifications with commentary        top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations


Type       top

35mm rangefinder, LEICA M bayonet mount lenses, electronic cloth focal-plane shutter camera.


Color       top

Black chrome metal, which is much nicer and tougher than black enamel as used on most Oriental cameras.


Lenses       top

LEICA M bayonet, unchanged since 1954.

Doesn't care about 6-bit coding.


Finder       top


Frame lines for 28mm, 40mm and 90mm.

85% coverage at 10 feet (3 meters) with 40mm lens.

Apparent distance: 6.3 feet (1.9m or -0.52D).

It's much cleaner than most Leica finders because you never get distracting sets of extra frame lines for longer lenses in the middle of your active image. You'll have wider frames displayed, but never frame lines inside your active picture area as with most Leicas.

Of course you can shoot with 50mm and 35mm lenses with the wrong frame lines (28mm displayed for 35mm lenses and 40mm displayed for 50mm lenses), but why bother? Use the 40mm f/2 Summicron and enjoy the pleasure of a Perfect Normal lens which replaces both 35mm and 50mm lenses.


Finder Displays       top

A row of LED dots runs up the left side next to corresponding shutter speeds.

Speeds are marked with LED dots from 1/2 to 1/1,000.

There is an extra up and down arrow, each with an LED dot, which corresponds to one stop over (1/2,000) or one stop under (1 second). Neither dot blinks if you go beyond the camera's shutter speed range; you have to guess if you're going to get 1 second, 3 seconds, or get underexposure if the shot needs 15 seconds and you only can get 4 seconds.

Half stops are displayed by lighting two dots. Simple, but it's something that the Zeiss Ikon can't do.

This analog row of dots is much better for practical photography than the LEICA M7's 1970s-style 3-1/2 digit LED digital display for auto shutter speed.

With the CLE, it's trivial to sight from highlight to shadow and see where the average exposure value ought to go. With a digital numeric display like in the LEICA M7, you have to do logarithmic math in your head to figure out the middle value between 1/30 and 1/350.

There is no flash bolt. Flash ready is shown by the blinking the dot next to 60.


Close Focus Range       top

The CLE rangefinder couples as close as 2.5 feet (0.75 meters), lens permitting.


Metering       top

The CLE meters light reflected from random dots painted on both shutter curtains. Because both curtains are painted, you can read the meter with the shutter cocked or uncocked. By comparison, Leicas only paint one curtain so they only meter with the film wound.

At fast speeds (1/125 ~ 1/1,000) the meter reads off the curtain, but at speeds at and below 1/60, much of the reading is read directly off the film during the exposure. If the light changes, or you knock the aperture ring after you press the shutter, you still get the correct exposure.


Metering Percentages        top

The CLE reads exposure directly off the film as it exposes at slow speeds, and off the shutter curtains at high speeds.

Here is are the precise breakdowns:

Shutter Speed
% Read from Curtain
% Read from Film
1/1,000 ~ 1/125
TTL Flash at 1/60


AE Lock       top


Read the metered exposure in Auto mode, and set that speed on the shutter dial. Now your exposure is locked more firmly than a regular AE lock.


Auto Meter Range       top

The CLE meters from 5 seconds to 1/1,000 at most ASA settings.

Minolta only rates it to 1/2 second, but it goes to about 5 seconds unless you've set the meter to ASA 1,600. At ASA 1,600 you only get 1/2 second, but at ASA 400, you get 4 seconds.

Here are the actual values I measured on one of my CLEs. Different samples will vary; this is analog circuitry.

Longest Exposure


ASA Range       top

ASA 25 ~ 1,600.

You can cheat with the exposure compensation control to give an effective range from ASA 6 through ASA 6,400.


Film-Type Reminder        top

There is a box-end holder on the back.


Cable Release       top

Standard $6 screw-in.

You also can use a Minolta electronic release screwed into the same standard hole.


Self Timer       top

Yes, fixed at 10 seconds.


Shutter       top

Electronic, horizontal focal-plane.

Rubber-covered cloth.

5s - 1/1,000 steplessly in Auto mode.

Minolta only promises 1/2s, but in reality, it runs up to 5s in Auto at most ASA settings.

You can't cheat in auto for speeds above 1/1,000; 1/1,000 is the real top speed.


Flash Sync       top



Flash Hot Shoe       top


Uses the same pin locations as Nikon, so Nikon passive extension cords work.

I have not tried Nikon flashes, but the passive Nikon SC-17 cord should let me use the Minolta flashes off-camera with TTL control.


Power       top

Two very common S76, A76 or LR44 button cells.

You can find these everywhere, and if you can't find them alone, you will find them in many kid's noisy electronic toys, books and keychain laser pointers.

I buy these A76/LR44 cells wholesale for 21¢ each. It's trivial to keep spares in your wallet.


Size       top

4-7/8 x 3-1/32 x 1-5/16 inches, WHD.

124.5 x 77.5 x 32 millimeters, WHD.


Weight       top

I measure 13.405 oz./380.1g with batteries, but no lens, strap, film or case.

With film, I measure 14.290 oz. (402.3 g), which is 7.975 oz. (228.9g) less than the LEICA M7.

With a LEICA Leitz 40mm f/2 Summicron, series 5.5 filter and hood, it weighs 18.420 oz. (522.1g) (excluding film, strap or caps).

Leica M7 and 50mm f/2 (1970)

LEICA Minolta CLE and Leitz 40mm f/2. enlarge.


Performance       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations

The Leitz Minolta CLE just goes. It has none of the weirdnesses that haunt my LEICA M7.

The CLE is a joy to carry, and a joy to shoot.


Ergonomics       top

Ergonomics are just about perfect. I can shoot one-handed, easily.

The exposure compensation control runs backwards: up or clockwise is less exposure. Oddly, the LEICA M7 does this in a totally different way, and it also gets it backwards.

I can rewind a roll of film in 8 seconds by hand, but the crank turns backwards. It's weird, but works fine.

It can be hard to find the shutter button by feel. Hand the camera to a stranger and they probably won't figure it out.

The shutter speed dial and lock release button are easy to move while holding and shooting the CLE in one hand.

It's top-heavy because the strap lugs are too far down. Even with a tiny 15mm lens and finder it keeps trying to flip.

The meter switch is wonderful. The meter turns on the instant you touch the shutter button. Unless you're wearing gloves, you don't have to press the shutter; just touch it and the meter pops on.


Film Economy       top

I get 39 good exposures on every roll.

How? Simple: I shoot frame zero, and keep going until the end.

The CLE is so small that you don't waste any film loading or winding.

Actually I get 39.8 frames, if you have any use for 80% of a frame. Loaded in a darkroom, I could probably get 40 frames.

Finder       top

The 28mm finder is spectacular. It's perfect for 28mm lenses, and since the finder window is further away from the lens than on larger Leicas (strange but true), there is less cutoff with most 28mm lenses, like the older f/2.8s and today's state-of-the-art 28mm f/2 ASPH.

The 28mm finder is better sized than Leica's, and it does not have any 90mm frame lines cluttering it as do other Leicas.

The 40mm finder is swell. Likewise, it is not cluttered with any 75mm, 50mm or 135mm frame lines like larger Leica cameras.

The 90mm frame is four small corners, rather than a frame.

The view through the finder is slightly polarized. Pay attention if you're looking to see the effects of polarizing filters.

If you attach a LEICA 35mm lens, you'll only get the 28mm frame lines.

If you attach a LEICA 50mm lens, you'll get the 40mm frame lines.

Wider frame lines don't go away with longer lenses, but thank goodness the longer-lens frame lines do go away with shorter lenses, unlike the cluttered finders of larger Leicas.

The CLE's finder stays much freer from smudges and fingerprints than larger Leicas. The CLE has a recessed eye lens, while the larger Leicas have unprotected eye lenses which always pick up finger and nose prints.

The Minolta CLE finder is always clean, bright and sharp, while half the time I put a larger Leica to my eye, all I see is a blur through finger or nose grease.

Even better than being recessed, the finder eyepiece is in a slightly different location relative to the hot shoe compared to other Leicas, so my nose isn't directly lined-up with the main finder when I view through a separate 21mm finder in the hot shoe with my right eye. With larger Leicas, my nose hits the main finder window directly when using a 21mm accessory finder.


Focus       top

The rangefinder spot is always bright, clear and contrasty. It has none of the flare common in many recent Leicas.

Because the rangefinder base length is shorter than larger Leicas, it's less likely that you'll make the mistake of focusing on the wrong pair of repeating lines on a fence, building or striped shirt than with larger Leicas.

It is in no way is as precise as the focus on larger Leicas. If you like to shoot ultrafast and tele lenses, you will want to be very careful before you get too excited about the CLE.

The shorter base length also means less precision for focusing tele lenses. My CLE works fine with my LEICA 90mm f/2.8 Tele-Elmarit-M, 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M and 90mm f/4 Elmar-C, but poorly with the 90mm f/2 APO ASPH.

The shorter base means less consistency and precision, not less accuracy. If well adjusted the focus will be correct on average, but might vary more from shot-to-shot since you can't see it as precisely as you focus.

Shorter base length is only an issue with longer lenses. My CLE focuses swell with a 35mm f/1.4 ASPH and 28mm f/2 ASPH.

All rangefinders drift with time and use. You always need to have your serviceman keep up on keeping your rangefinder well adjusted, just like you needed to get tune-ups every 3,000 miles on cars in the 1950s or they'd stop running.


Frame Counter       top

The frame counter is small.

The odd frames are numbered.

Frames S, 12, 20, 24 and 36 are in orange.

The frame counter stops advancing at 37, and the film shoots until about frame 38 depending on the actual length of the roll.


Mechanics        top

The CLE feels like a manual-focus Minolta SLR from the 1980s. It's not a brick of precision like a Leica.

The lens mount is solid stainless steel. Lenses often don't feel as smooth sliding in as they do on a larger Leica.

Compared to a German Leica, the CLE feels like it's made of air. That's great for travel!

Leicas have metal covers.

What look and feel like metal covers on the CLE are actually black metal chrome plating over plastic. This makes the CLE much lighter than you'd expect for a Leica, and the covers still feel like metal to the touch.

Leicas are solid and smooth. The CLE is Japanese. The CLE works wonderfully well, but it clatters more and lacks the precision feel of the Leica.


Metering and Exposure       top

The center-weighted TTL meter works great.

It compensates for any errors in filters or diaphragm calibration.

Power       top

Silver (EPX-76 or S76) or alkaline (A76) cells are fine.

They sit next to each other, not on top of each other, so a DL1/3N lithium cell won't fit.

Minolta says that silver (S76) cells will work better below 14ºF ( -10ºC).


Measured power drain and computed battery life:

OFF: 0.05uA (300 years).

Idle (power switch ON, but no finger on shutter): 0.2uA, maximum (75 years, minimum).

Meter LEDs on: 5.6 - 6.3mA (20-24 hours).

Shutter open: 25mA (4 hours, which agrees with Minolta's specifications for long bulb exposures).


Considering the low power draw and that the CLE only draws power while your finger is on the shutter, I have a feeling that plenty of them will run for until the batteries start leaking before they run down the batteries.

Minolta doesn't specify battery life. If I compute that for each frame you'll look at the meter for 5 seconds (probably less) and make a two 4-second time exposures on each roll, that calculates to (5s x 39 frames x 6mA metering) + (10s x 25mA exposure) = 1,170mAs + 250 mAs = 1,420 mAs per roll.

Since A76 cells are good for 130mAh, or 468,000 mAs, 480,000/1,420 = about 300 rolls of film per 42¢ pair of A76 cells. Don't come complaining to me if you can't afford batteries; get a mechanical Kodak Retina IIIc or Olympus Trip 35 with selenium meters if you want to shoot without batteries.


Sound and Noise       top

The CLE isn't as quiet as the LEICA M7, even though both use cloth shutters.

The CLE makes more of a mechanical click, while the larger Leicas are a soft clunk.


Trigger Pull (Shutter Release)        top

The trigger pull is smooth and constant, as it should be.

The CLE uses a magic electronic sensor in the shutter button to turn on the meter, not a mechanical detented switch like the clunkier LEICA M7.


Usage       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations

The CLE is easy to load and shoot. Have fun!

Bottom, Leitz Minolta CLE and 40mm f/2 Summicron

Bottom, Leitz Minolta CLE and Leitz 40mm f/2 SUMMICRON-C. enlarge.


Load Batteries        top

Slide the bottom battery door to the right.

Pop in two ordinary A76 cells.

Press the "BC" button and look for the bright red light on the front. Be careful, the BC button is marked, but if you don't look, it's easy to hit the rewind button by mistake.


Load Film        top

Pull out the rewind lever to pull out the rewind knob.

Rotate the rewind knob counterclockwise as shown by the arrow to open the door.

Wind the shutter the rest of the way, since you wouldn't have taken out the film if the shutter was ready to shoot.

Pop in film, pop in the rewind knob, take up the slack with the crank arm, and pop the crank arm back down.

Poke the tip of the film in the spool.

Be sure everything is tight and close the back.

If needed, turn on the CLE by sliding the gray power switch towards the lens and pulling it down to ON.

Set a fast manual speed and release the shutter.

Wind one frame (look at the rewind crank on the bottom to be sure that the film is advancing), and release the shutter again.

Minolta cautions not to advance the film unless you're ready to shoot. Minolta cautions not to leave the camera with the shutter cocked, even overnight.


Shoot        top

If needed, turn on the CLE by sliding the gray power switch towards the lens and pulling it down to ON.

Set A (Auto), wind your film, focus, compose and shoot. EASY!!!

Since the bottom rewind crank is usually invisible, sometimes I feel it with my pinky as I wind the film to be sure it's advancing.


Exposure Compensation        top

It's easy to set exposure compensation by feel.

Press the unlock button with your trigger finger and keep pushing the dial while counting clicks.

It's tougher to set minus compensation by feel since you have to press the unlock button and then pull on the shutter speed dial.


AE Lock        top

If you need to lock exposure in harsh light, note the speed you need as displayed in the finder in Auto mode, and set it on the top dial. Easy.


Flash        top

Leitz Minolta CLE and Minolta Auto Electroflash CLE

Minolta CLE, LEICA 40mm f/2 and Minolta Auto Electroflash CLE. enlarge.

Ideally use the Minolta Auto Electroflash CLE, since it's sculpted to fit the CLE perfectly. It looks good, feels good and the power switch is right by your thumb.

If you don't have one, any Minolta PX-series flash for the X-series manual focus SLRs works perfectly for TTL exposure.

Maxxum flashes work, but they are probably too big for comfort. The CLE works OK for TTL flash with the Maxxum 1800 AF, but it covers the shutter button!!

The CLE seems OK with the Maxxum 2800 AF, but the whole assembly becomes very top heavy.

The CLE is weird with flash. If you set a manual speed faster than 1/60 or if the Auto exposure wants to shoot at faster than 1/60, the flash won't go off! It's designed like this on purpose.

You know if the flash will fire if the LED next to 60 is blinking. If the ambient light is close to 1/60, the flash may or may not fire.

When the flash is charged, the meter will light solidly above and down to 1/60, during which the flash will not fire, and blinks at 1/60 if the light gets darker (the CLE defaults to 1/60 and fires the flash).

It's good that the CLE is smart enough to expose for a longer time if the flash is recycling. You can tell if the flash is recycling because you'll see a longer time like 1/8 show in the finder until the flash recharges after each shot.

You get TTL flash exposure in Auto mode. If you set exposure compensation, it applies to the flash exposure.

You get full-power manual (only) if you set a manual shutter speed.

I measure GN 30 (feet) and 10 (meters) at full power at ASA 100 for the CLE flash in normal mode.

The CLE flash is very smart: it has an interlock on the shoe so that it only turns on if it's in a hot shoe. This way it will never run down its batteries sitting in your pocket.

The CLE flash takes two AAA cells and is UL Listed 946D. Minolta rates it for 80 flashes per set of alkalines with 7 second recycling time.

The CLE flash is smart for doing TTL, but it's still a wasteful non-thyristor unit that dumps the entire charge every time it fires, regardless of the required power output. Unlike more modern flashes, shooting at close distance won't reduce the recycle time; it's always at least several seconds.

Leitz Minolta CLE and Minolta Auto Electroflash CLE

Leitz Minolta CLE and Minolta Auto Electroflash CLE. enlarge.


Self Timer       top

Slide the gray power switch towards the lens to unlock it, then slide it to SELF TIMER.

Remember to put it back when done.

The gray button locks in ON and OFF, but not at SELF TIMER, so it's easy to cancel.


Red (R60 or 25A) Filters        top

Minolta suggests setting exposure compensation to +1/2 when using a red filter, as you would for B&W film.


Long Night Exposures       top

The finder only reads to 1/2 second (I read the down arrow as 1 second), but the CLE usually times out to 5 seconds at most ASA settings.

Since speeds below a half second are a gift, I won't complain that the down arrow LED doesn't blink to let you know if you're going to get underexposure or not if the subject requires more than 5 seconds exposure. The LED stays solid regardless of how dark it is.

Minolta says a new set of silver batteries are good for four hours, less if cold or with alkaline batteries.


Cable Release        top

There's a standard cable release socket on the left side, near the finder.

Be careful: if you touch any part of a metal cable release to the metal of the camera, you'll end your bulb exposure!


Rewinding and Unloading        top

Press the rewind button on the bottom.

Pull out the crank lever and rewind.

Open the back by pulling out the rewind knob and turning it counter-clockwise in the direction of the arrow.


Compared to LEICA and Zeiss        top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations

Zeiss Ikon
Leica M7
Minolta CLE

It's funny that I'm comparing the CLE to today's newest LEICA M7.

The CLE came out decades before the LEICA M7. When the CLE came out, LEICA's best was the M4-P, which used a clip-on external light meter!

See LEICA M7 Compared to Zeiss Ikon and Minolta CLE.


Recommendations       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Usage   Compared   Recommendations

The Minolta CLE does pretty much the same thing as the LEICA M7, for one-tenth the price and 1/3 less weight.

The LEICA Minolta CLE could be photography's messiah: the smallest, lightest possible solution for a complete advanced camera system.


Deployment, Lenses and Deliverance        top

The CLE is all about small and good; the perfect realization of the LEICA Dream.

Use any lenses you want, but in Oskar's spirit (IOS), we shall use the smallest lenses.

Choose three of these lenses below, and the entire trio weighs only 500g (a pound). With the CLE, your entire shooting outfit with three lenses will weigh only 900g (two pounds) and offers better performance than any full-frame DSLR because the lenses and formats are better!

Leitz 40mm f/2 Summicron-C

Leitz 40mm f/2 SUMMICRON-C (actual size at 106DPI).
(39x0.75mm filters, 4.450 oz/126.15g). enlarge.

For a normal lens, use the LEICA Leitz 40mm f/2 Summicron-C. It originally was sold in the 1970s for the LEICA CL. Watch the filter thread; it's the wrong pitch (0.75 instead of 0.5mm), but with some vise-grips you can fit regular 39mm filters.

Leica 28mm f/2.8 ASPH

LEICA 28mm f/2.8 ASPH (actual size at 106 DPI).
(39mm filters, 6.107 oz./173.18g). enlarge.

For wide, the LEICA 28mm f/2.8 ASPH beckons. If you're hell-bent, the LEICA 28mm f/2 ASPH (46mm filters, 9.025 oz/255.9g) is the world's sharpest wide-angle lens by a small margin, but bigger.

Leica 90/2.8 Tele

LEICA 90mm f/2.8 Tele (actual size at 106 DPI).
(39mm filters, 7.957 oz./225.6g). enlarge.

For tele, the clear choice is LEICA's clearest tele: the LEICA 90mm f/2.8 Tele-Elmarit-M. Innocent people think the Leitz 90mm f/4 Elmar-C is the key, but even though it's very slightly shorter than this f/2.8 Tele, the f/4 is actually heavier than this f/2.8! The 90mm f/4 also takes the wrong pitch (0.75mm) 39mm filters, so screw it; get this 90/2.8 Tele and you're done.

Voigtlander 21mm f/4

Voigtländer 21mm f/4 (actual size at 106 DPI).
(39mm filters, 4.667 oz/132.15g). enlarge.

For ultrawide, instead of the 28mm, you want the Voigtländer 21mm M and your choice of 21mm finder. LEICA makes no small ultrawide lenses anymore. If you bring this 21mm, don't bother taking the 28mm. It is un-LEICA-like to carry more than three lenses, even though it's OK to own all you want.

The only weird thing about slumming it with the non-LEICA Voigtländer 21mm is that its focus tab feels and works very differently than the LEICA 40mm SUMMICRON, so it's a little weird as you swap lenses while shooting.

These all offer extraordinary performance and take the same 39mm filters.

I'd use 39mm 81A B+W brand filters for slide film.

I'd use any 39mm B+W brand yellow filters for B&W film outdoors, or 39mm LEICA brand UV filters 13131 indoors.

I'd use 39mm LEICA brand UV filters 13131 for color print film, but why would anyone shoot color print film in a LEICA?



More Information: The CLE was reviewed in Modern Photography, June 1981.


Acknowledgement: Many thanks to Gus at OC Camera, who overhauled my CLE after I wrote this review.

I brought it to Gus "just to tweak the rangefinder a little," and he got into it and gave it a complete overhaul. Now the rangefinder is perfect, so the focus is perfect — not just "close enough" — and my results are far sharper than they were before, especially with my 90mm lenses. My 90mm f/2.8 Tele-Elmarit works perfectly at f/2.8, which was better than intended when the CLE was new. Gus also adjusted the shutter, which I had not realized was giving uneven exposures from side-to-side.


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Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.


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