Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2002/03/05

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Subject: [Leica] Was Leica CL a Rollei 35 clone?
From: Holger Merlitz <>
Date: Tue, 05 Mar 2002 18:47:50 +0100

I was recently playing around with a Leica CL and, being
an old Rollei 35 freak, was surprised by the amount of
similarity between both cameras. Among others, the
following features are in common, quite in contrast to
the Leica M series:

* The removable back
* The pressure plate that folds over the film
* The Rollei-like shutter dial which is placed in front
* The vertical strap mountings
* The film rewind lever on the bottom plate
* The 40mm standard lens

Alltogether, the handling of the Leica CL seems to be
closer to the R35 than to the Leica M. It appears that
some of these features were due to engineering constraints,
inforced by the goal to build a mechanical camera of small
dimensions. But one gets the impression that Leica has
- - unusually - followed the contemporary trend to take
profit from the tremendous success of the Rollei 35 series.
The Leica CL is often refered to as the 'low cost Leica M',
and in fact it contains such features like the M-mount, but
let me suggest a different point of view and describe the CL
as a 'high end Rollei 35' instead. There is this interesting
historical twist which connects the R35 to Leica (I took
the following information from Prochnow's book "Rollei 35:
Eine Kamera Geschichte"):

Heinz Waaske designed the first R35 prototype in 1964
when he was working for the Wirgin company. But his boss,
Heinrich Wirgin, was not interested to build it and
instead was planning to quit camera business completely.
Waaske then approached Leica in order to find a new job
and presented his prototype to Ludwig Leitz, where it was
again rejected. Finally, he found a position at Rollei and
this was the break through. The camera was introduced in
late 1966 and by 1973 more than 1.5 million devices were

With 400+ Mark this was not a cheap camera, but meant to
be a precision instrument, certainly within the potential
scope of Leica's business strategy and the Leica marketing
division must have observed the success of Rollei's little
camera with great interest and, maybe, some jealousy, too.
Somewhere in the early seventies, when Rollei already built
hundreds of thousands R35 per year, they must have decided
to try a move and introduce (with Minolta) a device which
looked close enough but with additional features like
rangefinder and TTL to make it a better choice for the
customer than the ascetic Rollei. As we know, it was a
limited success, but with 65000 cameras in 3 years the CL
was still considerably better selling than the M. Probably,
they were a little too late, since customers either turned
towards the SLR market or cheaper electronic point and shoot
cameras to satisfy their high tech needs. If Leica had
introduced the same camera in the 60's things had certainly
developed better for the CL.

Finally, one may ask why Rollei could not follow up the
line and build their own improved R35 versions. From 1967
until recent days the R35 has hardly changed. In fact
they were trapped by the tiny dimension of their camera:
There was no space left for much improvement. There exists
a prototype with rangefinder, designed in Braunschweig,
but the engineers in Singapore, where the R35 was produced
since 1971, found it technically too difficult for a mass
production. Therefore one may come to the somewhat ironic
conclusion that Leica had the potential to build the
perfect mini-rangefinder, but were unable to get it on
the market, whereas Rollei had a camera which was made
in huge numbers but were unable to turn it into a real
rangefinder ....

Holger Merlitz,

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