We never recommend taking cameras into harsh environments unless they’re made for them. Imagine the horror of dropping that pricey, unprotected DSLR on jagged rocks or getting it wet by the pool; if you’re carrying something like a Leica, you certainly don’t want to see that investment fizzle before your eyes. Now, Leica cameras are built to be sturdy, but they aren’t impervious to the elements. That is, until the arrival of the new X-U, the first Leica in a category known as rugged or tough cameras.
The X-U uses a 16.5-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, and has a fixed Leica Summilux 23mm lens with a f/1.7 aperture and 35mm-equivalent angle of view. But what makes this $2,950 camera interesting are the rugged attributes: waterproof down to 49 feet (for an hour), shock-proof from 4 feet, and sealed to protect against dust, sand, rain, etc. The 3-inch LCD has a protective cover, the battery and memory card compartments have a double locking system, and the top and bottom plates and dials are made with tough anodized aluminum.
Rugged cameras aren’t new, but few have the type of specs – large sensor, fast lens (for sweet bokeh), contrast detect autofocusing, and, of course, Leica’s German engineering and design (in collaboration with Audi) – as the X-U. Nikon’s AW1 is perhaps the closest, but most rugged cams are typical compact point-and-shoots. The higher-end specs should help provide some great photography from places like deserts and oceans, and its rugged features allow photographers to go into those environments without cumbersome protective equipment. While Leica users tend to prefer manual controls, the X-U also has automatic functions; when you’re swimming underwater or going through a jungle, the last thing you want to deal with are settings adjustments.
The X-U has controls typical of advanced cameras, giving you quick access to shutter speed and aperture. There’s a sizable grip to give you a nice hold on the camera, and the flash is moved toward the end of the lens (how effective this will be, remains to be seen). The X-U can also shoot video, at Full HD or 720p, and up to 30 frames per second.
Expect this camera to ship later this month, however, specialty camera shops like B&H are already taking preorders. Check out these sample images.