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Gear Reviews: Minolta CLE

I was looking for a small and light RF that I could use with wide lenses (28mm) to complement my M3, which I used primarily with 50mm lenses. In addition, a meter in the camera would be a bonus too. My search based on the mentioned requirements soon narrowed down the choices to the Hexar RF, Leica CL and the Minolta CLE. However, I had owned both the Hexar and the Leica before and so the natural decision was to start the hunt for the rather rare copy of the Minolta CLE, and I finally found one, right here in Singapore, in the Club Snap buy sell section. It came with the 40mm F2 Rokkor lens, a flash unit and even a rather nice camera bag that was meant to hold the CLE with the set of 3 Rokkor lenses, the 28, 40 and 90.


Minolta CLE facts and specifications:
The Minolta CLE film rangefinder was introduced in 1980. Until Leica produced the Leica M7 in 2001, the CLE held the distinction of being the most technologically advanced Leica M mount camera that existed (a 21-year track record).
Officially, Minolta referred to the CLE as “the world’s first rangefinder camera with interchangeable lenses and TTL automatic and manual exposure systems.” The patented Minolta TTL off-the-film metering system forms the heart of the CLE’s aperture-priority automation and provides exceptional exposure accuracy.
Features such as the exclusive Touch Switch/shutter release that activates the meter and the finder’s LED shutter-speed display makes taking photographs with the CLE fast and easy, and frees you for greater enjoyment and creativity.

Although similar in size and configuration to the Leica CL, the CLE is superior in many ways. In addition to offering automatic aperture-priority exposure and TTL off-film-plane metering, it features improved focusing accuracy thanks to a slightly longer rangefinder base. 

An assortment of dedicated accessories was introduced simultaneously with the CLE, and all are highly prized by collectors. At the core was a trio of Rokkor lenses: a 28mm f/2.8, a 40mm f/2, and a 90mm f/4. An accessory flash unit, the Auto Electroflash CLE, has a cleverly engineered, built-in wide-angle diffuser that’s spring-loaded to snap firmly out of the way when not needed. Flash sync is 1⁄60 sec, and it’s possible to use any Minolta AE flash on a CLE.

The patented TTL off-film-plane metering utilized a unique reflective pattern that was printed on the shutter curtain. The ASA range is from 25-1600. The Minolta CLE operates effectively from 3 EV through 18 EV (f/2 at 2 seconds down to f/16 at 1⁄1000 sec). Shutter speed ranges from 1 full second to 1⁄1000 sec, 
plus Bulb.


First Impressions
Having owned a Leica CL before, the CLE felt very similar in build quality, however, one can’t compare the build with any of the Leica Ms. What it lacked in the solid feel of a Leica M is more than compensated if one is looking for a really compact RF that can take most M lenses. For those with large hands, the CLE may not feel as comfortable due to the very small size!
I was also pleasantly surprised by the electronic shutter which I found to be “sweet” ! Film advance is also smooth, no issues in that department at all. What impressed me most is the accuracy of the meter which makes the CLE a real pleasure to use in AE mode. A cool feature of the CLE is the touch sensor shutter to activate the meter. The meter is activated the moment your finger touches the shutter!

The viewfinder (.52 magnification) is bright, big and clear, with LED indications of the shutter speed along the left side of the window. The 28mm frameline is always visible and the 40mm and 90mm lines appear when the appropriate lens is mounted. The rangefinder patch is contrasty and easy to use, however, being a M3 user, it took me some time to get used to the focusing with a much smaller patch.
The 40mm F2 Rokkor lens is sharp, wide open. Very compact and comes with a screw-in rubberized hood. Filter size is 40.5mm. I have also mounted the Voigtlander color skopar 28mm 3.5 on the CLE, giving me a very compact 28mm RF shooter.
The main disadvantage of the CLE is that the camera becomes a paper weight once the batteries are dead. So just remember to carry spare batteries in your camera bag and leave it at home if you intend to shoot in sub-zero temperatures.

Review Contributed by Alex Lee

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