Waterproof to 49 feet. Shockproof to 4-foot drops. Grippy rubber exterior. Cold shoe accessory mount. Bright f/1.7 lens. Sharp rear display. APS-C image sensor. Strong manual focus experience. Detailed images at high ISO.
Top controls include a shutter speed dial, an aperture control dial, and a dedicated button to trigger 1080p video recording. The shutter release is surrounded by the power switch, which is also used to toggle between Single (S) and Continuous (C) shooting. A cold shoe, with a removable protective cover, also sits at the top, centered behind the lens. If you prefer to use an external light rather than the flash that sits at the front of the X-U’s lens, you can mount it here.
Buttons run across the rear to the left of the LCD. From top to bottom they are Play, Delete/Focus, White Balance (WB), ISO, and Menu/Set. To the right there’s a -/+ control to set exposure compensation when shooting in Shutter or Aperture Priority mode. If you opt for Program mode you’ll need to press the EV +/- button before using the -/+ controls. And if you prefer full manual operation the camera switches to Exposure Bracketing mode rather than straight Exposure Compensation—you can use the EV +/- and -/+ controls to set the X-U to capture a series of images at varying exposure settings.
In addition to EV +/-, other controls on the d-pad adjust the flash output (right), activate Underwater mode (down), and set the self-timer (left). Underwater mode, marked as UW, disables in-camera corrections for images. This gives the lens a slightly wider field of view and sets the white balance for underwater use, but also introduces about 2.7 percent barrel distortion (absent from images otherwise). Our test chart showed some serious color fringing at high-contrast areas of the frame that’s normally absent when shooting in UW mode, but that won’t be as much of an issue when shooting underwater. And if you’re photographing a subject up close, depth of field will further hide the blue and yellow chromatic aberration.
That’s not the only area in which Leica wrests control. When shooting under bright light, the X-U automatically drops its ISO sensitivity, even if you have it set to a very high level. Again, this is in deference to ensuring that you don’t accidentally ruin an image via unintentional overexposure. These type of features are beneficial for getting clearer, properly exposed shots—but should be able to be turned off if desired.
While I didn’t go swimming with the X-U (the downside to reviewing a waterproof camera in New York in late winter), I did take a close look at the design of the physical controls. The shutter and aperture control dials are raised far enough from the body and finished knurled edges that you should have no problem turning them, even when wearing diving gloves. Likewise, the manual focus ring is large, well damped, and a real joy to use—a rarity for a camera with an electronic focus system. Turning the ring automatically brings up a magnified view of the center of the frame so that you can more precisely adjust focus.
I ran the same performance tests on the X-U as I did with the X (Typ 113) and results are similar across the board. If you want to do a deep dive into its speed and image quality, you can look at my X (Typ 113) review. But be aware that autofocus is on the slow side—the camera requires about 0.4-second to lock onto a target and capture an image. Burst shooting is available at the same 5fps rate for up to 7 frames at a time.
The Leica X-U (Typ 113) delivers image quality on par with an SLR in a compact body that can go deep underwater, without the need for an external housing. It stands alone in the market—but it’s also priced like a Leica. Though when you consider that a good underwater housing for an SLR or mirrorless camera can cost more than $1,000, the price tag is less shocking. If you want a camera with a big image sensor that you can take on dives, it’s worth consideration. But our Editors’ Choice recommendation in the rugged compact space stays with the Olympus Tough TG-4. It’s a point-and-shoot with a smaller sensor, so its image quality isn’t on the same level as the X-U—but its price is a lot more down to earth.