Sony A7: The modern Leica CL?

Sony A7 with Minolta M-Rokkor 40/2 - November 2013 

Many a photographer from the old timey days of chemical processing, has a soft spot in their heart for the "mini" M; otherwise known as the Leica CL, or its cousin, the Minolta CLE. The CL was famous for shrinking the M in both physical proportion and price, making it a very popular entry into the M world. So popular that you will hear whispers claiming Leica killed the CL project to protect its M sales. To my knowledge, to this day, the CL and CLE remain the smallest and lightest interchangeable M-mount film rangefinders.

Leica CL with Voigtlander 40mm f/1.4 S.C.

Enter the Sony A7.

To the dismay of some, the A7 was not created in the likeness of a modern rangefinder, a la the NEX 7, RX1 or the even more retro Fuji X cameras. Instead, Sony decided to take a page out to the Olympus playbook and their popular OMD series that features a faux SLR pentaprism hump. Overlooking the A7 design which pays more homage to the Minolta X7 SLR than the Leica CL, the A7 does a trick the old Minolta never could - mount a Leica M mount lens.

Jumping back to the CL and CLE cameras, they were usually mated with three lenses designed specifically for the system - a 28mm f/2.8 (Rokkor), 40mm f/2 (Rokkor or Summicron) and 90mm f/4 (Rokkor or Elmar-C). These lenses were diminutive but high performing and are often forgotten in the shadow of Leica's more traditional uber expensive classics. The 40mm FOV was something of an tweener compared to the usual 35mm and 50mm suspects but it is a satisfying FOV that suits the majority of shooting situations. The fit and finish of both the Leica and Minolta lenses is as expected, light years better than a modern, plastic shelled optic. Free of AF constraints, rangefinder lenses are minuscule in comparison to their SLR bretheren.

Sony A7 with Minolta M-Rokkor 40/2 - Top Notch Burger, Austin TX

As a former owner of the CL, I have longed for a digital solution that (a) would retain the same compact form, (b) enable me to shoot the same small lenses on a 36x24mm sensor, and (c) not cost $7,000. The Sony A7 ticks all of those boxes and more.

I've had the opportunity to shoot both the Leica and Minolta 40mm lenses and they are equally impressive but decided to keep the Minolta, only because the copy I had access to was cleaner - the Summicron is just as good. I don't have a 28mm or the 90/4 but reports are that those lenses are perfect matches for the A7 sensor.

Sony A7 with Minolta M-Rokkor 40/2 - Peter Pan Mini Golf, Austin TX

Bokeh Torture Test: Sony A7 with Minolta M-Rokkor 40/2 - Austin TX
Knowing at first glance of the LCD screen that the M-Rokkor 40mm on the A7 was producing images almost exactly as I recalled it on the CL, I scoured my film archive for a photo taken with the Rokkor that I could recreate on the A7. While the time of day and light are different, the rendering is clearly identical. What a dream.

Leica CL with M-Rokkor 40/2 on Portra 160 VC - December 2010

Sony A7 with Minolta M-Rokkor 40/2 - November 2013

Manual focusing is easy and the articulating LCD lets you shoot the A7 like a classic TLR if you chose - not something the CL could do but no complaints here. As many have commented, the Sony implementation of focus peaking is nice but not a critical focusing tool when shooting wide open. If your vision is up to it, simply look for a moire shimmer as you focus onto your subject for a more accurate confirmation. This is perhaps where the A7 differs most from the rangefinder method of focus, but with practice it can be just as accurate.

I almost forgot to mention price. The M-Rokkor 40mm can be had for around $400, the 90mm Elmar-C even less. Compare that to Leica's 35mm Cron and Lux lenses and your wallet will be thanking you. This weekend I stopped into Precision Camera here in Austin, and the owner of the store kindly let me take a $3,500 Summilux out of the case and shoot a modeling booth that Sony had setup for an A7(r) demo day. No doubt, the Lux was stunning but after I reluctantly returned it to the used case, the little Rokkor took a shot and I'll be damned if there was much between them in that specific environment. Here are some shots, I'm not going to label which lens took which photo.

So the little Sony is the camera that could, and did replace my CL. The Rokkor has a near constant place in front of the sensor, only to be removed when I need to shoot an A-mount autofocus lens, but that is a different post...


  1. Hey Chad,

    I've enjoyed reading your thoughts on the A7. I just picked up one myself and I'm looking to get a small rangefinder lens to compliment the kit lens. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the M-ROKKOR 40mm f/2 vs the Voigtlander 40mm f/1.4 (I see you have one on your CL).


  2. Hey Mike,

    Sorry for the slow reply. I haven't used the Voigtlander on the A7 so can't vouch for its performance but I recall from earlier comparisons on film and crop cameras that @ f/2 the lenses were very similar. So with the Voigtlander you do get the benefit of the faster stop. I think you would do well with either.


  3. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)

  4. Hi Chad. Awesome review! I absolutely love the film-like look from the first photo of Top Notch Burger and wanted to ask how much processing went into the photos. I am considering purchasing this lens for my a7s and really want to be able to capture that classic look as well. Thank you!

  5. I'd say first model picture is Summilux and second model picture is the 40/2

  6. Hi Chad,
    I'd love to know what adapter you use with your little lens for the a7. Thanks!


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