Minolta CLE Rangefinder
Our first impressions
The CLE is the ultimate production of a collaboration between Leica and Minolta, which started with the Leitz CL. The CLE followed in the early 1980s after Leica pulled out of the arrangement. The CLE has a quality feel straight away, before I have shot 1 frame. The minimalist dial controls are a precision fit and the camera body a good weight – not heavy, not light. A slight niggle which may disappear with experience is there is no ‘grip’. It is simply a rectangular box. The Voigtlander Bessa is similar but has a slight raised grip on the back, enabling a thumb hold. The CLE is about 20mm shorter and a bit thicker. The CLE is 20 years senior to the Bessa R3. The CLE is a very clean camera to look at with nothing shouting ‘expensive camera’. Ideal for the street wanderer. Of course it’s big secret is the M mount. Outstanding lens choices now open up – Rokkor, Voigtlander, Zeiss and the perennial Leica. There are other possibilities too. The CLE is fully manual or aperture priority with manual rangefinder focus. The meter activation is a technical triumph, being the shutter button. Touch sensitive for the meter and press for shutter release. For the photographer, a master touch and an innovation I haven't come across since. The metering technicalities are also very advanced and I am sure will result in perfect exposures. We shall see once I have developed my first roll.
Yesterday I was out for the first time with the Minolta. I armed it with my 40mm F1.4 Nokton. A nice set of frame lines appears in the bright and large viewfinder. Shutter speed ring to ‘A’ (auto) and with aperture set on the lens - today f11 – f16. The CLE selected shutter speed appears on the left of the viewfinder. Mildly invisible in certain bright conditions. A red LED indicates the selected speed. Easy to see most of the time. If the shutter speed is not coming up then the aperture setting needs a rethink. The Voigtlander jumps ahead of the CLE here with it’s 1/2000th max shutter speed against the CLE 1/1000th. Not so much of a problem, but gives the Voigtlander more scope. I had both cameras with me so was able to be very comparative. After being with the CLE for over 3 hours I can say the plain oblong shape is great to hold and shoot. The weight is just right and it fits nicely into my hand. In fact it’s ‘plainess’ is a benefit, almost giving the appearance of a Kodak instant camera to the casual observer. The professional imaging tool is hidden.
Out again with the CLE, this time armed with the Voigtlander 28mm F2 wide angle lens. The Minolta viewfinder throws up 28mm frame lines making this lens a perfect match. 28, 40 and 90mm frame lines appear clearly in the viewfinder, matching the focal length of the lens mounted.
1 roll of Ilford Delta 100 through now. I have yet to develop which will be the final test of whether the CLE is a match for the R3A. Of course the main event with any photography is the lens and one thing we do know is the Voigtlander glass is near the best there is.