Leica X-U Review

April 29, 2016 | Amy Davies | Rating star Rating star Rating star Half rating star


Leica introduced the X-U at the beginning of 2016. It’s basically a Leica X which has been redesigned as a “tough” camera.

That means that it is waterproof (down to 15 metres and for up to 60 minutes), shockproof (from heights of up to 1.22m), dustproof and shatterproof.

Unlike most “rugged” or “adventure” cameras, the X-U has otherwise professional level specifications. For example, it has a large APS-C sized CMOS sensor, and a 23mm f/1.7 ASPH. lens - that’s equivalent to 35mm in 35mm format.

Other specifications include the ability to record full HD video, full manual control, raw format recording (in the DNG format), and a three-inch TFT LCD monitor with 920,000 pixels.

The Leica X-U retails for £2399 / $2999.

Ease of Use

While most Leicas are a thing of beauty, the X-U has a much more utilitarian look and feel, which is necessary to maintain its rugged credentials. Leica says that the camera has been designed with help from Audi.

It’s quite a large camera, but it’s important to remember that inside the X-U is an APS-C sized sensor, the same size sensor you’ll find in many DSLRs and CSCs.

The main body of the Leica X-U is surrounded by a rubberised textured grip which makes it feel extremely sturdy in your hands, especially when using it under water. Further helping when shooting underwater is the buttons themselves, which are large and simple to allow you to quickly find the one you need - they would also be good if you were wearing gloves whether shooting underwater or in a cold environment.

On the top of the camera is a metal top plate which contains the shutter release button - which is raised slightly - and two dials. One of the dials changes aperture, while the other changes shutter speed. You can set both to “A” for automatic if you want the camera to enter into a nigh-on automatic mode. There is no mode dial, but you will be shooting in aperture priority if you leave the shutter dial on A but take control of the aperture. And similarly you will be shooting in shutter priority if you leave the aperture dial on A and take control of shutter speed. Each of the dials is ridged while they have a satisfying amount of push so it seems unlikely you’ll accidentally turn the dials when you don’t mean to.

Leica X-U
Front of the Leica X-U

Around the shutter release is a switch which will turn the Leica X-U on and in to either continuous shooting mode or single shooting mode. The shutter button itself is a little small considering how large some of the other buttons on the camera are - and of course the fact that it is arguably the most important button on the camera.

There’s a small video record button which is tucked away next to the shutter release. Its small size means it’s unlikely you’ll accidentally knock it on when you don’t want to video record, but it does also make it a little fiddly if you’re using the camera underwater.

The lens, which is large enough to appear as if it may be detachable (it isn’t), has a large focusing ring, which is also ridged. You can turn it all the way round to the right and the lens will autofocus. The lens has markings in feet and metres to help you when manually focusing, too. Again, the focusing ring is quite stiff - while that helps with smooth manual focusing, it’s quite a slow process. When you start to turn the focusing ring, a magnified view of the scene will appear in the centre of the screen to help you with precision focusing.

Interestingly, the Leica X-U’s inbuilt flash is found on the front of the lens, rather than on the camera itself. This is useful when photographing underwater as it brings the flash closer to the subject - underwater photography is usually characterised by low light.

There’s no viewfinder, but there is a cold shoe on top of the camera where you could add different accessories.

Leica X-U
Rear of the Leica X-U

Moving to the back of the Leica X-U, the layout has been designed to be as simple as possible so as to minimise fuss when you’re shooting underwater or in other “adventurous” situations. The screen has been reinforced so it should withstand some pretty serious abuse.

You will need to use two hands to operate all of the buttons, which seems like a bit of an oversight for a camera which is supposed to be simple to operate, but the more commonly used buttons are grouped on the right hand side, as are the two dials on the top plate.

There’s a four way navigational pad, with each button having a specific function. You can access a timer with the left directional key, exposure bracketing with the up key, flash modes with the right key, and switch on “underwater mode” with the down key - this is basically switching the white balance mode to be specifically for underwater. You’ll know that you’re in underwater mode as a goggles icon will appear on screen. In the middle of the navigational pad there’s a button marked as “info”.

Just above the navigational pad are two buttons marked with a +/- symbol which are used for altering exposure compensation. You simply press the + button to dial in exposure compensation, or - to dial it down. Nothing will happen if you press the buttons when shooting in manual mode.

Leica X-U
Top of the Leica X-U

To the left of the screen there’s a button marked “play”, for playing back images, a button which doubles up as a delete button when in playback, and changing the focus mode when in shooting (or bringing up focus assist when using manual focus), another for white balance, another for ISO (sensitivity) and a final one for accessing the main menu (and which you can use as a set button).

There are four different focus modes available to choose from. If you choose “Spot/Single Field” focusing you’ll be able to shift the AF point around the frame to the one you want to use. To do that you need to hold down the focus button for more than a second until the arrows appear - it’s not obvious that you need to do it, but it is mentioned in the detailed manual which you can download from the Leica website.

When you’re navigating through the main menu, rather than pressing the central button to select a specific menu item (as would seem logical), you need to press the right directional key to access the additional options. Although it’s not that obvious a way of working (unless you’re already used to using Leica cameras), it’s something you get used to eventually and it becomes second nature with time.

Leica X-U
The Leica X-U In-hand

Each of the buttons is quite stiff to push, presumably because of the waterproofing housing, but that has the benefit of making it unlikely you’ll accidentally push a button you don’t want to when using the camera underwater. There’s just one “door” on the camera, which reveals the battery and memory card. You will need to push down a switch, then move the lock across to open it - it’s quite fiddly and stiff to do this, but that’s good as it makes it extremely unlikely you’ll be able to do this underwater and expose the interior of the camera to water.

Unlike the Leica Q, the rear screen of the X-U is not touch sensitive, but there’s little use for a touch sensitive screen when the camera is designed to be used underwater so that’s no surprise.

Although full manual control is available with the Leica X-U, there will be times when the camera wrestles back some control from you. For instance, when attempting to photograph a close-up image - the closest focusing distance being 20cm - even if you have the aperture set to f/1.7, the X-U will automatically change to f/2.8. This is presumably to prevent dark shading appearing in the corner of the image which is likely to result from wide apertures at close distances - but it’s a little odd that you can’t make that decision for yourself.

Image Quality

All of the sample images in this review were taken using the 16 megapixel Superfine JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 6Mb.

In good conditions, the Leica X-U can produce some excellent images - as we’ve come to expect from Leica cameras. Many rugged or waterproof cameras often suffer with poor all-round image quality, so it’s nice to see a camera which you could realistically use even when not faced with tough conditions.

There’s bags of detail, again, what we’d expect from a large APS-C sensor. The overall impression of noise is good, but if you examine JPEG images at ISO 3200, you can see there’s a fair bit of noise introduced to images - which is something to bear in mind if you want to crop an image.

That said, the X-U is not without its faults. There seems to be quite a strong problem with cyan colouring of skies in JPEG images - our sample shots show that in some landscape images, the sky is overly vibrant which results in an unnatural look. Luckily, the DNG raw files don’t seem to suffer from the same problem, where colours are much more realistic.

Automatic white balance is generally very good, while there’s a specific underwater white balance mode which helps even out any problems with odd colour casts when photographing underwater. All-purpose metering is also good in the majority of shooting conditions, except where there’s a very high contrast situation which may prevent completely accurate renditions.

Because the sensor is so large, and the lens can open up to f/1.7 you can get some great shallow depth of field effects. It would be nicer if you could focus a little closer than 20cm though, as it makes shooting macro subjects near on impossible - if you’re into scuba diving and the like, you may relish the opportunity to photograph detailed shots, but the focusing may not be up to the task for close objects.

There’s not too much in the way of creative options for the Leica X-U, with just a few “film modes” to choose from. Leica probably wants to keep it simple, but it would be nice to have a few more options here.


There are 7 ISO settings available on the Leica X-U. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting:


ISO 100 (100% Crop)

ISO 100 (100% Crop)

iso100.jpg iso100raw.jpg

ISO 200 (100% Crop)

ISO 200 (100% Crop)

iso200.jpg iso200raw.jpg

ISO 400 (100% Crop)

ISO 400 (100% Crop)

iso400.jpg iso400raw.jpg

ISO 800 (100% Crop)

ISO 800 (100% Crop)

iso800.jpg iso800raw.jpg

ISO 1600 (100% Crop)

ISO 1600 (100% Crop)

iso1600.jpg iso1600raw.jpg

ISO 3200 (100% Crop)

ISO 3200 (100% Crop)

iso3200.jpg iso3200raw.jpg

ISO 6400 (100% Crop)

ISO 6400 (100% Crop)

iso6400.jpg iso6400raw.jpg

Focal Range

The Leica X-U's lens provides a focal length of 35mm in 35mm terms, as demonstrated below.



Chromatic Aberrations

The Leica X-U handled chromatic aberrations extremely well during the review, with very limited purple fringing mainly present around the edges of objects in high-contrast situations, as shown in the example below.

Chromatic Aberrations 1 (100% Crop)



The Leica X-U offers a Macro setting that allows you to focus on a subject that is 20cms away from the camera.




The flash settings on the Leica X-U are Automatic, automatic/red eye reduction, ON, ON/red eye reduction, long-term synchronization/red eye reduction, OFF. These shots of a white coloured wall were taken at a distance of 1.5m.

Flash Off - Wide Angle (35mm)

Flash On - Wide Angle (35mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

And here are a couple of portrait shots. As you can see, neither the Auto setting or the Red Eye Fix option caused any amount of red-eye.

Flash On

Flash On (100% Crop)
flash_on1.jpg flash_on1a.jpg

Red Eye

Red Eye (100% Crop)

flash_redeye.jpg flash_redeye1.jpg


The Leica X-U's maximum shutter speed is 30 seconds in the Manual mode, which is great news if you're seriously interested in night photography. The shot below was taken using a shutter speed of 30 seconds at ISO 200.


Night (100% Crop)

night1.jpg night1a.jpg

Film Modes

The Leica X-U offers 5 different film modes.



filmmodestandard.jpg filmmodenatural.jpg


B&W Natural

filmmodevivid.jpg filmmodebandwnatural.jpg

B&W High Contrast


Sample Images

This is a selection of sample images from the Leica X-U camera, which were all taken using the 16 megapixel JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.

Sample RAW Images

The Leica X-U enables users to capture RAW and JPEG format files. We've provided some Leica RAW (DNG) samples for you to download (thumbnail images shown below are not 100% representative).

Sample Movie & Video

This is a sample movie at the highest quality setting of 1920x1080 pixels at 30 frames per second. Please note that this 16 second movie is 30.9Mb in size.

Product Images

Leica X-U

Front of the Leica X-U

Leica X-U

Side of the Leica X-U

Leica X-U

Side of the Leica X-U

Leica X-U

Rear of the Leica X-U

Leica X-U

Rear of the Leica X-U / Image Displayed

Leica X-U

Rear of the Leica X-U / Turned On

Leica X-U

Rear of the Leica X-U / Main Menu

Leica X-U

Top of the Leica X-U

Leica X-U

Bottom of the Leica X-U


Leica X-U

Side of the Leica X-U

Leica X-U
Side of the Leica X-U
Leica X-U
Front of the Leica X-U
Leica X-U
Front of the Leica X-U
Leica X-U
Battery Compartment
Leica X-U
Memory Card Slot


Leica is good at making niche cameras, and it’s done it again here with the X-U.

While it’s true that the rugged / tough market could do with an injection of much needed quality, it seems relatively unlikely that the average sports/diving enthusiast is going to want to shell out Leica cash for a camera that can capture their antics.

The Leica X-U is capable of capturing some very nice, detailed shots. There’s great scope for shallow depth of field. But with a fixed focal length, and a reluctance to focus closely, its uses are a little limited for some types of photography.

A few little niggles, such as taking control of aperture away from you at times, are also a little odd. It’s good that you can shoot in the DNG raw format, but you might find that you’re relying on those if you shoot a lot of landscape images as the X-U really struggles with cyan skies, and that’s disappointing for a camera with such a high price tag.

Sadly, high ISO shooting is also far from perfect. At ISO 3200 there’s a noticeable degradation of quality at 100%. Luckily, the overall impression of good detail saves it from being a disaster, but with such a large sensor, we’d hoped for a little more.

Finally, there’s the odd looks of the X-U to get over. Leica is famed for producing cameras that are so gorgeous that photographers are willing to pay the premium price tag which is associated with them. Sadly, in a bid to create a rugged and waterproof model, Leica has had to sacrifice some looks for the X-U. Some people may like it, but it’s far from a classic Leica look.

It’s also a shame not to see inbuilt Wi-Fi for a camera like this. The type of photographer who is shooting shots in rugged conditions may wish to share them quickly on social media sites.

Overall, the Leica X-U is a camera which is capable, but not amazing - and certainly not for the price. We’re hopeful that other manufacturers will be inspired by Leica’s move and start to create high quality waterproof models, though.

3.5 stars

Ratings (out of 5)
Design 3.5
Features 3.5
Ease-of-use 4
Image quality 3.5
Value for money 2

Main Rivals

Listed below are some of the rivals of the Leica X-U.

Canon PowerShot D30

The Canon PowerShot D30 is an action compact camera that's waterproof to an impressive 25m, as well as being dust, freeze and shock proof. The Canon D30 also offers12 megapixels, a 5x zoom, 1080p HD video, built-in GPS and a 3-inch screen. Read our in-depth Canon PowerShot D30 review now...

Fujifilm FinePix XP80

The Fujifilm FinePix XP80 is a tough water, freeze, shock and dust proof compact camera. The XP80 offers a 16.4 million pixel 1/2.3 inch BSI-CMOS sensor, built-in wi-fi, 10fps burst shooting, 1080i HD movies, a 5x zoom lens and a 2.7 inch LCD screen. Read our Fujifilm FinePix XP80 review now...

Nikon 1 AW1

The Nikon 1 AW1 is the World's first ever water-, freeze-, dust- and shockproof compact system camera. The AW1 is waterproof to 15 metres, freezeproof to -10°C and shockproof from heights of up to 2m, and comes with a new all-weather 1 Nikkor AW 11-27.5mm f/3.5–5.6 lens. Is this the perfect action camera for all the family? Read our Nikon 1 AW1 review to find out...

Olympus Tough TG-3

The Olympus Tough TG-3 is a new water, freeze, shock and dust proof compact camera for 2014. Boasting a fast f2.0 aperture high-speed lens, the 16 megapixel TG-3 also offers built-in wi-fi and GPS connectivity, 1080p HD movies, a 4x zoom lens and a 3 inch OLED screen. Read our Olympus Tough TG-3 review to find out what this all-action camera is capable of...

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT5

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT5 is a new freeze, shock, water and dust proof camera. The well-appointed Panasonic FT5 also features built-in GPS, wi-fi and NFC functionality, a compass, altimeter and barometer, 4.6x zoom, 1920x1080 full-HD movie recording and a 16 megapixel sensor. Read our Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT5 review to find out if this is the best do-it-all camera for your family....

Ricoh WG-5 GPS

The Ricoh WG-5 GPS is a new shock, freeze, dust, water and crush proof compact camera. The Ricoh WG-5 GPS offers a 16 megapixel Backside Illumination CMOS sensor, a 4x zoom lens with f/2 aperture, Full HD movie recording and built-in LED macro lights. Available for £259.99 / $379.95, read our in-depth Ricoh WG-5 GPS review now...

Review Roundup

Reviews of the Leica X-U from around the web.

pcmag.com »

While Leica's most recent fixed-lens compact camera, the full-frame Q, is a technological marvel, the company hasn't always released compacts that are as polished. The X (Typ 113)$2,019.60 at Amazon, released late in 2014, delivered solid image quality for its class when we reviewed it, but was slow to focus and had some operational quirks. Now Leica has taken the same camera and redesigned its body to make it make it waterproof, shockproof, and dustproof, in the form of the X-U (Typ 113).
Read the full review »


  Leica Summilux 23mm f/1.7 ASPH. (equals 35mm field of view in 35mm- format), 10 lens elements in 8 groups, 4 aspherical surfaces, UW protective glass
System Contrast-based
Distance settings range From 20 cm to infinity, automatic (autofocus) or manual distance setting, optional MF Assist function for distance settings
Metering function Single field, 11-field, spot, face recognition
  CMOS sensor, size APS-C (23.6 x 15.7mm) with 16.5/16.2 million pixels (total/effective), format aspect ratio 3:2
  Selectable for JPEG format: 16 MP - 4928 x 3264 pixels,12,2 MP- 4272 x 2856 pixels, 7 MP - 3264 x 2160 pixels, 3 MP- 2144 x 1424 pixels,1,8 MP - 1632 x 1080 pixels, DNG: 4944 x 3278 pixels
Recording Format MP4
Resolution/ Image sequence rate Selectable, 1920 x 1080p, 30fps or 1280 x 720p, 30fps
Exposure control
Exposure modes Automatic program, aperture priority, shutter speed priority, and manual setting
Exposure metering Multi-field, center weighted, spot
Exposure compensation ±3 EV in 1/3 EV increments
Automatic bracketing Three pictures in graduations of up to 3 EV, can be set in 1/3 EV increments
ISO Range
  Automatic, ISO 100, ISO 200, ISO 400, ISO 800, ISO 1600, ISO 3200, ISO 6400, ISO 12500
White Balance
  Automatic, daylight, cloudy, halogen lighting, shadow, electronic flash, two manual settings, manual color temperature setting
UW Mode
  Accessible via separate button, adapts white balance and distortion correction to underwater conditions
Shutter Speed Range
  30 s to 1⁄2000s
Image Series
  3fps or 5fps, max. seven exposures at constant exposure frequency with DNG + JPEG Fine
Operating Modes Automatic, automatic/red eye reduction, ON, ON/red eye reduction, long-term synchronization/red eye reduction, OFF
Flash exposure compensation ±3 EV to 1/3 EV increments
Flash operating range (for ISO 100/21°) approx. 0.3 –2.0 m, guide number: 5
Flash recharge time Approx. 5 s with fully charged battery
  3" TFT LCD monitor with approx. 920,000 pixels
Storage Media
  SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards, multi-media cards
  Delay time either 2 or 12s
Operating conditions
  Ambient temperature: 0° to 40 °C/32° to 104 °F (on land/underwater); max. humidity: 85 % (non-condensation)
Water/Dust Resistance
  In compliance with JIS/IEC protection class 68 (IP68) (in accordance with Leica Camera AG testing conditions[1]), allows underwater photography in depths up to 15m / 49ft for max. 60 minutes
Impact Resistance
  In compliance with MIL-STD 810G, method 516.5[2] (in accordance with Leica Camera AG testing conditions[1])
Power Supply
  Lithium ion rechargeable battery, nominal voltage 3.7V, capacity 1600mAh (as per CIPA standard): approx. 450 exposures, charging time (after deep discharge): approx. 200 min., Model No. BP-DC8, manufacturer: PT SANYO Energy Batam, manufactured in Indonesia
  Input: 100 - 240V AC, 50/60 Hz, 0.2A, automatic switchover, output: 4.2V DC, 0.65A, Model No. BC-DC8, operating conditions: 0 - 35°C/32°-95°F Manufacturer: Phihong (Dongguan) Electronics Co.,Ltd, Made in China
  Plastic core, aluminum upper and lower covers, flexible TPE reinforcement
Tripod Thread
  A 1⁄4 DIN 4503 (1⁄4“)
  (WxHxD) Approx. 140 x 79 x 88mm / 5^33⁄64 x 3^1⁄8 x 3^15⁄32”
  Approx. 600/635g / 21.16/22.4oz (without/with battery)

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