Photos (ST Exclusive)

Leica X-U is for the adventurer in you

The new Leica X-U (Typ 113) has great image quality, with clear details even in the darker areas of an image. Battery life is around 450 still images on a full charge, which is really good compared to most other compact cameras' 300.
The new Leica X-U (Typ 113) has great image quality, with clear details even in the darker areas of an image. Battery life is around 450 still images on a full charge, which is really good compared to most other compact cameras' 300.PHOTO: LEICA

No worries if you drop or submerge this rugged little thing, which is also dust-sealed

If you have always wanted to take a Leica along for that rugged outdoor trip but worried about damaging an expensive camera, the new Leica X-U (Typ 113) is your answer.

It is Leica's first rugged camera and it can be submerged to depths of 15m and withstand drops from up to 1.2m. It is also dust-sealed, shatter-proof and snow-resistant.

To achieve this, the X-U has thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) armouring around its body. All the rear buttons are also protected by it.

Its lens has an underwater protection filter, while the cover for its rear display is hardened for extra protection. A failsafe double-locking battery and memory card compartment cover helps to prevent water seepage.

As I had only five days - mostly of rain - with the camera, I wasn't able to take it for a proper swim in the pool. To test the Leica's waterproofing prowess, I put the camera inside a fountain pool that was around 0.5m deep for 5min, and recorded video while it was submerged. I also dropped the camera from a height of around 1m. It survived.

To test the Leica's waterproofing prowess, I put the camera inside a fountain pool that is around 0.5m deep for 5min, and recorded video while it was submerged. I also dropped the camera from a height of around 1m. It survived.

The X-U's exterior takes its design cues from its predecessor the Leica X (Typ 113), but with new input from Audi Design. It uses the same 16.2-megapixel APS-C image sensor and fixed 23mm f/1.7 lens. This focal length is equivalent to 35mm in 35mm format, due to the APS-C image sensor's 1.5x crop factor.

Its anodised aluminium top is similar to the Leica X with two control dials - one for shutter speed and one for aperture. But instead of a pop-up flash on the top left, like the Leica X, the X-U has a small integrated flash directly above the lens for underwater flash photography.

At its rear, there is an underwater snapshot mode, which can be activated by one of the four directional buttons. Press the UW (Down) button to activate it and the camera will adjust white balance and distortion correction according to the underwater condition.

There is a contoured grip - not found in Leica X - on the camera's right and the entire body has a rubberised non-slip feel. Handling and build of the X-U are top-notch.

  • TECH SPECS

    PRICE: $5,300

    IMAGE SENSOR: 16.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS

    LENS: 23mm f/1.7 ASPH

    SCREEN: Fixed 3-inch display with 920,000 dots

    SHOOTING SPEED: Up to 5 frames per second

    SENSITIVITY: ISO 100 - 12,500

    WEIGHT: 635g (with battery)

  • RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

The X-U is slightly faster than other compact cameras when starting up and shutting down. While most take around 2sec for each operation, the X-U powers up in 1.6sec and shuts down in 1.3sec.

Using an SD card with a maximum writing speed of 70MB per second, it was able to shoot seven Jpeg Superfine images in 1.9sec before the buffer ran out. You cannot shoot RAW images only with this camera, it is either simultaneous RAW and Jpeg files, or Jpeg only.

The X-U has an 11-point autofocusing (AF) system and the AF is almost instantaneous in bright sunlight. In dim light, the camera is able to secure a focus in around 2sec with the help of AF assist light.

Image quality is great, with clear details even in the darker areas of an image.

The images are devoid of noise even at ISO 800. Only at ISO 1,600 will you notice noise artefacts. At ISO 3,200, images are still good enough for Web use. I would avoid setting the camera at ISO 6,400 and above, as the chromatic noise artefacts felt too prominent.

Battery life is around 450 still images on a full charge, which is really good compared to most other compact cameras' 300.

On the downside, there is no built-in electronic viewfinder, which I prefer to use when composing pictures. Another nitpick is that the X-U can only shoot full high-definition (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) videos. Many of its competitors are already offering 4K (3,840 x 2,160 pixels).

And of course, there is the $5,300 price tag to contend with. You can buy a 50.6-megapixel full-frame DSLR like the Canon EOS 5DS with that amount of cash. But then, it is not weather-proof like the X-U.

  • Verdict: It might be really expensive, but the Leica X-U (Typ 113) is the only Leica camera that you can take along anywhere, from underwater to rainforests, without fear of damage.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2016, with the headline 'Leica X-U is for the adventurer in you '. Print Edition | Subscribe