Leica is a respected institution in photography, and rightly so. Over the last 100+ years, the company has mastered the crafts of making exceptional lenses, designing beautiful bodies, and creating a palpable aura of superiority around all of its products. That’s what it wants to do with the Leica X-U too. It’s the camera Leica wants you to own if you’re already loaded down with cameras and need a great running around shooter that can also get slapped, dropped, and drowned. This isn’t a first camera to own. It’s a second or third. Unfortunately the Leica X-U might be at home in the wet, but falls short as a speedy spare.
This dust-sealed, and shock and waterproof (up to 15 meters!) camera is undeniably sexy and will probably get you laid. The thermoplastic elastomer body feels cool, the matte finish looks great, and the little red Leica dot is an immediate signal of professional quality machinery at a price point only the 1 percent can afford ($3,295 USD). That all makes it the perfect wing wo/man—but not necessarily the best camera.
The moment the camera was delivered to the office, I unpacked it (kudos to the packaging designers!), popped in a memory card, and took a lap around Union Square, feeling like a million bucks (were strapped around my neck).
I had not made it three blocks from the office before someone (with beautiful eyes and perfect skin) asked me, “What kind of camera is that?” I like to think it was my own stunning looks that compelled my new friend to chat me up—but that’s just not true—it was the camera. Three weeks with the X-U got me two dates and one make out session—I’m not sure they were worth $3,295, but thank you Leica!
Given this is a camera review and not a post on how to get yourself laid, let’s talk a little more about the camera. There are two design choices Leica made that I wish they had not. First, there is no view finder. This is the first camera I have shot without one, and it made me feel like I was using my iPhone—cheap and amateur. There is a learning curve to holding a camera four inches from your face as opposed to pressed against your nose. I just wish they would have given us a choice to do either—or if they forced us to use the 3-inch LCD monitor, at the least they could have included tilting capabilities.
Leica did a great job of integrating a powerful flash above the lens: it has a pretty long flash recharge time (Leica claims 5 but I usually clocked 2-3 seconds), it is bright, and it is adequately adjustable (+/-3 EV to 1/3 EV increments). Leica also made the interesting choice of adding a hot shoe onto the camera THAT DOES NOT WORK. I called Leica customer service twice to make sure I got this right—and it is true, the hot shoe is non-functioning. Why include it? Anyone? Thoughts? Ideas?
I do everything, except sleep, in my glasses. I have terrible vision, I do not like sticking my finger in my eye, I am not eligible for Lasik, and I love seeing the world, so glasses are a must. Cameras have always been an extension of my (four) eyes, until I got the X-U in my hands. Its focusing mechanism is terrible.
The camera has a big sensor (SMOS censor, 23.6 x 15.7 mm : 16+ million pixels), a contrast-based autofocusing system, four metering options, and a sleek manual focusing ring—none of which seemed to help me take photos that were in focus. The indestructibleness of the device, namely its incasing, always seemed to get in the way of taking a crisp image—it felt like I was shooting through a glass lens housed inside of a plastic soda bottle.
If one spends onerous amounts of time checking and rechecking the focus (in both manual and auto modes) and re-taking images over and over and over again, yes, the 100 years of Leica expertise emerges. But most of us need devices that can react and adjust on a dime, and this is not that device.
Here is an example: I was invited to the official Tony Awards afterparty at The Plaza (fancy! Perfect for this camera!) and ran into this fabulous guy in an amazing suit whom I had to take a picture of. It is super awkward when you are trying to take a “quick pic” of a total stranger who is probably in the middle of negotiating some big Broadway deal (especially when you are on your knees shooting his crotch) and you keep fumbling because the flash recycle time is two seconds and the fucking camera will not take a photo that is in focus. It took me nine clicks to get these five images—and they are still not really in focus, even at a f5.6!
Hands down, the camera’s focusing capabilities is its biggest flaw.
I have lost four cameras to spilled drinks, accidents with lube, and/or dust storms—and each time has been traumatizing because I feel naked without a functioning camera. When I was offered the opportunity to shoot with a.) a Leica (that I did not have to pay for!) and b.) one that was effectively indestructible, I was in heaven.
I slept with, showered with, and did everything with the X-U during the first week of having it. I made a point of throwing it into the water as much as possible. It is a great party trick and a perfect excuse to go to the beach.
The camera has an underwater mode with a dedicated button, designed to compensate for discrepancies in color, tone, and distortion underwater versus above. The half in/half out photo of the guys in the pool accentuates the compensation—the stitched image below shows how, in my view, the setting sometimes makes no difference as it was shot in non-UW mode all the way through.
The Leica X-U also has a video mode, in case you need it. Yet at this point 1080p at 30fps is nothing exceptional, and the camera is not great in low lights. But water always makes everything more fun!
One gains a certain sense of liberation when there is less concern about dropping one’s camera, or getting caught in the rain, or peeing on it—it all becomes more fun, it allows one to explore a little more and worry a little less. It is also great when you can do it all with a sexy little box attached to your body. All of that being said, the freedom that the Leica X-U allows should not come at the cost of your firstborn child. Or if it does, it should damn well be worth it.
- If money is no object, you like taking selfies in the shower, and you enjoy having the newest “accessory” hanging from your neck, this camera is for you.
- If you take photos on the move and are looking for something that is highly responsive and quick to react, pass on THIS Leica.
- What is not to love about a manual focus ring!
- This camera will get you laid.
- I will never understand the function of a non-functioning hot shoe.