Leica goes swimming with the fishes with its new X-U camera

Leica X-U

Out of the blue, Leica has announced what looks like a waterproof version of its X-E compact camera. The X-U (Typ 113) has an APS-C format sensor and a 23mm (35mm equivalent) f/1.7 Summilux lens. The body is fully waterproofed down to a depth of 15m and features an underwater protection filter.

Leica says the X-U is also shock-resistant, dust-sealed and shatterproof, which suggests somebody actually went out and tested it. And with a camera that costs £2,400 in the UK and $2,950 in the US (about AU$4,287), that must have taken some nerve.

You can get a red floating carry strap for £50 or $95 (about AU$103) – you are definitely going to want one of those if you take this camera into the water – or a £32 or $65 (about AU$66) black neoprene outdoor wrist strap.

Despite the eye-watering price, this is a camera that's very interesting, not to say unique. You can get a cheap 'tough' compact for a tenth of the price but you'll be stuck with a small sensor and middling image quality. Or you could get a regular DSLR or mirrorless camera, buy a dedicated and expensive waterproof housing the size of a small car and stagger round looking like an idiot. So the Leica X-U does have a crazy price tag, but we can't think of any other camera that delivers both DSLR quality and action cam resilience.

Well there is one. The Nikon 1 AW1 is also waterproof and shockproof, and freezeproof too. You can buy one for around a quarter of the price of the Leica X-U and it has the advantage of interchangeable lenses. It has a smaller 1-inch sensor, however, so although the Nikon will deliver pictures miles better than those from tough compacts, the Leica has it beaten for outright image quality. It's APS-C sensor captures 16-megapixel images and it can shoot 1920 x 1080 full HD video too.

The Leica X-U does nothing to dent Leica's reputation for being a luxury brand, but no-one else has made what is effectively a high-end adventure cam, so Leica deserved some credit as an innovator too.

Rod Lawton is Head of Testing for Future Publishing’s photography magazines, including Digital Camera, N-Photo, PhotoPlus, Professional Photography, Photography Week and Practical Photoshop.