Leica X-U

Leica’s waterproof camera has a larger sensor than other waterproof cameras. Find out how it performs in our Leica X-U review.

30 second Leica X-U (Typ 113) review…

Dunking any camera into water seems wrong, but it seems doubly wrong when it’s a Leica and costs around £2500/$3,295. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what the Leica X-U is designed to survive.
Leica has opted for a simple interface, which makes the camera easy to use and experienced photographers will appreciate the speedy, direct control over exposure. It’s not as quick to change autofocus point as I’d like and the AF system is quite slow by modern standards, which makes focusing on moving subjects hard.
That said, the 16Mp APS-C sized sensor and high quality lens combine to produce high quality images that have good dynamic range and natural colours in many situations.

Key features

Camera Name Leica X-U (Typ 113)
Camera type Compact
Date announced 20th January 2016
Price at launch £2,510/$3,295
Sensor size APS-C (23.6 x 15.7mm)
Effective pixel count 16.2 million
Processor
Lens/Mount Leica Summilux 23mm f/1.7 ASPH (35mm equiv)
Viewfinder N/A
Sensitivity range ISO 100-12,500
Reflex AF system N/A
Live View AF system Contrast detection
Monitor 3-inch with 920,000 dots
Max shooting rate 5fps
Max video resolution Full HD (1920×1080) at 30fps
Storage SD/SDHC/SDXC
Dimensions 140 x 79 x 88mm
Weight 600g without battery

We’ve been seeing sensor sizes in compact cameras grow over the last couple of years but the Leica X-U is very unusual as it’s waterproof and has an APS-C sized unit. That means that the 16.2 million effective pixels are larger than those on the sensors in most other rugged compact cameras and this should enable it to produce higher quality images.

There’s further good news for image quality around the front of the camera as the lens is a Leica Summilux 23mm f/1.7 ASPH optic. This produces a filed of view equivalent to 35mm in 35mm photography terms. That’s a bright lens and a good focal length for general photography – provided you’re happy to forego a zoom.

While those specifications are enticing, it’s the ruggedisation that sets the X-U apart from the Leica X and other APS-C format cameras like the Fuji X70. The X-U is waterproof down to 15m for up to 60 minutes, so it can be used for diving without a housing. It’s also sealed against dust, so there’s no need to worry if you drop it on the beach and it can survive a fall of up to 1.22m.

Rather unusually, there’s a small flash integrated into the lens barrel. This might seem like a recipe for redeye, but it’s useful for divers who need a little extra light on their underwater subjects.

SEE MORE: Hands-on Fuji GFX 50S review

Leica X-U (Typ 113)

Leica X-U (Typ 113) Build and Handling

The X-U has a rubber-like TPU covering which gives it extra grip and a tough feel. The buttons on the back of the camera have the same covering and it gives them a slightly squidgy feel, but you get used to it pretty quickly and soon learn to apply the right level of pressure get a response.

Despite it’s ruggedisation, the X-U has elegant touches with a metal top-plate that has two high quality knurled dials. One of these controls aperture with settings running from F/1.7 to f/16, while the other is used for setting shutter speed (there are settings for 1/2000sec to 1 second and greater – the maximum is 30 seconds).

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Leica X-U (Typ 113) top
Both dials have an A for automatic setting. Setting a specific value on aperture dial while the shutter speed dial is on A, puts the camera into aperture priority mode.

Conversely, the camera is in shutter priority mode when there’s a specific value set on the shutter speed dial and the aperture dial is on A.

Naturally, full manual control is also possible and it’s just a case of setting specific values on both dials.

SEE MORE: Hands-on Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II review

Leica X-U (Typ 113) shutter speed dial
The power switch around the shutter release on the top-plate is also used to set the camera to Single or Continuous shooting mode. Just to the right of these is the video record button.

This seems rather small and fiddly in comparison with the buttons on the back of the camera and it could be awkward to use with gloves – especially wetsuit gloves.

Leica doesn’t like to over-complicate cameras and the X-U is easy to use. The four-way navigation control on the back of the camera provides shortcuts to key controls such as the self-timer, exposure bracketing and flash modes.

Pressing the down button activates and deactivates the Underwater mode – changing the white balance to suite underwater conditions.

In automatic, shutter priority and aperture priority mode, two buttons on the back of the camera can be used to adjust exposure compensation after pressing the up navigation button marked EV+/-.

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Leica X-U (Typ 113) back
As there’s no viewfinder, images must be composed on the 3-inch 920,000-dot LCD screen. This provides a clear view inside, but I found it hard to see images on a bright but overcast beach.

And with no tilting function it can become awkward to see the scene when you’re shooting at low or high angles, especially if there are water droplets on the screen. There were a few occasions when I found it hard to assess whether the subject was sharp.

On the subject of focusing, changing the active focus point or area on the X-U is quite slow because you have to press the Delete/Focus button for a second or more before you can use the navigation buttons to select the area that you want.

Leica X-U (Typ 113) Sample photos

Leica X-U (Typ 113) Sample Images

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Leica X-U (Typ 113) Performance

The images produced by the X-U are fairly typical for a Leica compact camera, in the default settings the colours are natural, but seem muted in comparison with those from some other cameras. In some instances I switched to Vivid mode to boost the colours, but this can make some areas a bit too vibrant – the orange feet of some ducks I photographed look a bit too strongly coloured for instance.

The APS-C sized sensor and high quality lens also enable plenty of detail to be recorded. Leica tends to allow a little more noise to be seen in jpegs than some other manufacturers, but this can reveal a bit more detail. The raw files are DNG format and, as usual, they give you control over noise so you can conceal a little more if you want to.

I found the Multi-field metering reliable in many situations and I didn’t have to use the exposure compensation facility unless the subject was unusually bright or dark. The images generally have good dynamic range, especially the raw files, but keep an eye out for blue skies turning cyan as they move towards over-exposure.

One area where the X-U disappoints is with its autofocusing. It’s slow, especially with close subjects. When I was photographing ducks swimming around the camera, I resorted to manual focus, setting a suitable focus distance and relying on depth of field to get the subject sharp.

The closest focusing distance is also 20cm and with a wide-angle lens this doesn’t always seem close enough on a camera that could be used underwater. Divers often want to photograph small subjects close-to.

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Leica X-U (Typ 113) Verdict

While the X-U is capable of producing very high quality images, the camera is hampered by its slow autofocus system, especially in low light conditions. As light levels drop underwater this is could be a significant issue.

Similarly, while the wide-angle lens is sharp, it’s not necessarily the best choice for underwater as a zoom lens affords more flexibility, allowing tighter framing of subjects.

Although the X-U has a large sensor for a waterproof or rugged camera, it costs around 10x the price of most other waterproof compact cameras. And while they may not always deliver quite the same image quality, they are more versatile.

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