Leica is launching its first outdoor and underwater camera with the XU. The APS-C sensor in this model is an absolute unique feature, as tiny compact camera sensors are used in almost all competition models. We have tested the Leixa XU.
The design of the robust and valuable Leica XU housing is characterized by a straight-line design.
Leicas XU can work in up to 15 m water depth for an hour. Powerful is the 3.250 Euro expensive camera in its 140 x 80 x 88 mm large, 620 g heavy housing including lens. Only the small bay window with the mini-flash (LZ 4) above the lens is set up. The Leica X (test in ColorFoto 1/2015) with a 16-megapixel CMOS sensor in the APS-C format and a Summilux 1.7 / 23 mm Asph is the basis.
The housing, coated with a grippy rubber coating, with aluminum top and bottom plates, protects the technology from water and dust. In addition, it is resistant to impact, breakage and colder. Leica names JIS / IEC protection class 68 and MIL standard 810G, method 516.5 as references. The XU makes a correspondingly solid, robust and high-quality impression.
Equipment and Operation
The operation of time, aperture and focus takes place classic by means of setting wheels. For further settings, there are relatively large function buttons next to the LC display, which displays 35 easy-to-read menu items on five panels. These can not be called up individually, but you have to scroll through the individual items from table to board. After all, the XU remembers the last used menu point and starts again with the next menu call. A special feature is the “UW” button on the control, which performs a white balance adjusted to the underwater photography as well as optical corrections. The XU also offers a menu for film mode, sharpness, saturation and contrast.
Thanks to the few, clearly arranged operating elements including the video button, the XU is easy to operate in all situations. Particularly practical: the large AF / MF ring. The aperture wheel should be slightly larger.
The contrast AF system works with spot, single-field or multi-field measurement with 11 points, which can also be combined with facial recognition. The shortest distance is 0.2 m. The manual focus by live view is also easy to operate, especially as an electronic magnifying glass shows the central image section enlarged to 6x magnification. The change between automatic and manual focusing is done quickly and easily on the knurled lens ring. At the right end of the scale behind the? Symbol, the slightly resting AF position follows.
Lens & Exposure
Also the fixed built-in wide-angle lens Summilux 1.7 / 23 mm Asph. Is the same as in the X. With light intensity f / 1.7 and 23 mm focal length, which approximates the 35 mm report focal length at KB, it is a versatile tool. Underwater, this focal length extends to 35 mm (KB equiv.) Because of the changed light refraction.
For exposure, Leica offers the not-defined function “multi-field” measurement, mid-range concentra- tion and spot. By pressing the EV button several times, exposure compensation, exposure series and flash exposure series can be called up to ± 3EV. The shutter speeds range from 1/2000 to 30 s. Since the XU operates with a central shutter, the flash synchronization is possible at all times up to 1/2000 s. The times are selected on the classic time wheel on the top of the XU. The very small diaphragm selection ring at the top right of the camera shows the F-values plus “A”. A classic aperture ring on the lens would be desirable, especially with regard to the use of underwater water. If the two rings are set to “A”, the XU works with automatic program. A program shift can then be performed quickly with the right thumb over the plus / minus keys. The XU user has to dispense with motif programs.
The main switch, which is arranged concentrically around the release button, switches between single or series exposure. A red marked button starts the recording of full HDVideos with 1920 x 1080 pixels and a maximum of 30 full frames / s. The accessory shoe lacks a lightning-mid-contact. This is due to the UW-suitability of the XU, as well as the missing USB and HDMI outputs.
Camera with Life
A rather well-intentioned as a well-made Leica feature is that the camera “for the highest possible picture quality” (according to Leica in the manual) according to its own choice manually or pre-set the automatic settings without warning. The photographer does not recognize this until he sees the displayed recording data during playback. Thus, when testing under daylight conditions, it was not possible to make comparative surveys with all ISO values from 100 to 12,500. The XU refused to expose with more than ISO 400. This only worked again at dusk. Such an incapacitation seems to be a little inappropriate in the case of such an ambitious target group as the Leica buyers.
The “image stabilization” of the Leica, as soon as it is activated, leads to a quite uncontrolled individual life. It is not a “real” image stabilizer with lens or sensor shift. By means of multi-shot technology, the XU consists of two individual photos, which are as sharp as possible. From what exposure time the stabilization begins to work, Leica does not give. It works according to instructions with exposure times between 1 s and 1/2000 s (the question is: What is to stabilize 1/2000 s?) And up to ISO 6400. Since she works with two shots, she can not synonymous with Moving objects in the image.
LCD Monitor & Displays
The 3-inch LC display with 306 667 RGB pixels shows a sharp image. Pans cause minor drag-out blurs, but no jerks. As a result of UW-fitness, a connection for an electronic viewfinder is missing. Instead of a wheel for the right thumb – as with the Leica X – the XU has ± keys. The grid and the histogram can be displayed during recording, during playback the XU shows overlaid motif areas marked red. After pressing the “Play” button, the subject appears full-screened with time and aperture information, pressing the “Info” button changes to the mode with the image in the stamp format and detailed shooting information.
The Leica XU saves the photos to SD cards in JPEG, RAW or JPEG format. With RAW, Leica continues to rely on Adobe’s DNG-RAW. Who wants and it needs, can also use in the XU also EyeFi SD cards for wireless transmission via WLAN.
Speed & Picture Quality
Speed is not a strength of the Leica XU. The measured turn-on delay is 1.9 s, where the Leica X still came to 1.1 s. Also the AF times of 0.55 s / 1.67 s (300/30 Lux) are not a fame sheet for the XU. It has to be defeated not only of the X, but also far cheaper cameras.
The Leica Q proves that the Leica Q has a 0.17 s AF time at 300 as well as 30 lux. The XU focusses virtually practically noiseless from 0.2 m to infinity. The promised serial image rate holds the XU at 5 fps for JPEGs, and with RAW it even makes 6 fps, in both cases up to 6 shots at a time instead of 7 as the X. For videos with normal panes followed the continuous multi-field -AF with the focus mostly reliable with occasionally slight delay. The fact that the autofocus did its work was not only seen on the videos, but in silent surroundings, you could also hear a ticking sound during playback. This was also the case with manual focus tracking.
Surprisingly, the XU shows very similar results to the X in image quality. At ISO 100, the XU uses the resolving power in the center of the image with a measured 1628 LP / BH up to the Nyquist limit. The resolution falls barely to ISO 1600 with 1557 LP / BH.
In noise, the XU is less cautious. With a VN value of 0.6, it works largely free of noise at ISO 100, but at ISO 800, the VN value rises to 1.8 and already reaches 2.6 at ISO 1600. The Dead-Leaves-Cross curves up to ISO 800 show a strong contrast enhancement at the low ISO values, particularly in the case of ISO 100, especially in the high-contrast range, which is accompanied by an even higher increase in the dead- Leaves direct values.
In the same direction, the edge concreting of the XU also works to an extent of up to ISO 800 and strongly interferes with the image design. This creates a crisp image impression, but at the expense of a natural image impression and with the appearance of artifacts. In the dynamic, the XU surpasses the sister model X by 11.3 EV by more than 1 EV. The dynamics are only slowly declining to 8.7 at ISO 1600, and are only noticeable.
For 3250 euros, Leica offers the same good optical quality as the Leica X, which is identical in essential points, but is also quite aggressive. The light-weight 35 mm wide-angle fixed focal length makes the XU versatile. The classic, simple operating concept will find friends even under water or in inhospitable environments, especially as the rear control buttons turn out to be bigger and more gripping than other cameras. Also the practical switch between autofocus and manual focus is pleasing.
On the other hand, the autofocus is simply too slow in bad light. At this point, the XU remains far behind the Q with a full-size sensor, which makes it costly to buy – despite the unrivaled combination of a rugged outdoor housing with an APS-C sensor.
Assessment of Tester Horst Gottfried
Rarely has underwater photography felt more dignified than with the haptics of the Leica XU. For this, one has to bring a few sacrifices in the form of more size and weight on the one hand and missing connections on the other hand. The center-to-center or cable flash connector was also sacrificed for water density, as well as HDMI and USB jacks or an optional electronic viewfinder.
It is less logical to say that in the XU, too, Leica incurs his ambitious and ambitious clientele again and again. The arbitrary change of selected time or ISO values by the camera, if it considers itself to be smarter than the photographer, can hardly be described.
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