Thoughts and Field Test: Leica X-U Underwater Camera

The post Thoughts and Field Test: Leica X-U Underwater Camera appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Suzi Pratt.

leica-x-u-underwater-camera-review

When it comes to waterproof cameras, you’re likely to think of GoPro or a similar action camera first. But what if you wanted a waterproof camera with full manual control? There aren’t many options on the market unless you’re willing to splurge for an underwater housing for a DSLR or mirrorless camera. But there’s a less-known option made by the venerable camera brand, Leica. In 2016, Leica introduced the Leica X-U – a rugged, waterproof compact camera. It didn’t seem to get much fanfare as it was completely unbeknownst to me until I browsed Borrowlenses.com in search of a camera for my upcoming whitewater rafting trip.

So how did it perform? Read on to find out!

Leica XU underwater camera

Technical specs

The Leica X-U is considered a point and shoot camera. It has a 16.2 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor and a fixed Summilux 23mm f/1.7 lens (equivalent to about 35mm in 35mm format). The camera can shoot both RAW and JPG photos and record full HD video (1080p).

Some dials allow you to take full manual control of the camera and set the ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. You can even manually focus the lens.

Taking into consideration all of these specs, this is essentially a pro-level camera that has the added benefit of being dustproof, shatterproof, waterproof (up to 15 meters for 60 minutes), and shockproof (from heights of up to 1.22 meters). It has a pro-grade camera price tag retailing at $2,999 USD.

Look and feel

There’s no escaping the fact that the Leica X-U is a chunky camera, especially when compared to other waterproof point-and-shoots on the market. It weighs in at 1.32 lbs and doesn’t float or come with a floating strap. Thus, you’ll want to make sure it is always strapped tight to you, or find a floating strap for it.

The camera exterior, made of anti-slip rubber, feels good in the hands. In front is a manual focus fixed lens with a built-in flash on top. There’s also a hot shoe on top of the camera for adding a larger flash or extra accessories.

Leica also includes a rubber lens cap with a small strap, but it fits very loosely and is prone to falling off. I recommend looping the lens cap strap to the camera for extra security.

Leica XU underwater camera

Ease of use

This was my first time using a Leica camera. Up until this point, all I knew about Leicas was that 1) they were expensive, 2) they’re very solid in construction, and 3) their user interface is relatively simple and straightforward. All of these assumptions are true in the Leica X-U, but it is the third point that I appreciated the most.

The bulk of the camera’s controls are in the top two knobs and the lens’ focus ring. If you’ve used a film camera or Fujifilm mirrorless camera, you’ll feel right at home. Any other camera settings are controlled using buttons on the rear end of the camera, where there is also a large, brightly-lit LCD screen. Buttons were decently responsive, and the LCD was fast and accurate.

The one thing I wish Leica included is a touchscreen LCD. Menus are laid out simply, and it was easy to adjust settings. A rechargeable battery powers the camera, and it easily lasted a full day of shooting.

Leica XU underwater camera

Performance in the field

I extensively researched this camera before renting it for my rafting trip. Unfortunately, most of the camera reviews swayed toward the negative. Many claim the Leica X-U’s autofocus is too slow, and its overall features fall behind when compared to what modern cameras (and smartphones) can achieve.

When shooting with this camera, I brushed off those negative reviews. Shooting with this camera was an absolute joy. I loved the ability to shoot in manual without having to worry about water splashes. And it is very easy to go from shooting still photos to video since the video record button is right next to the shutter.

Leica-X-U-underwater-camera

Best of all was the ability to shoot photos of the night stars, which was my main reason for wanting this camera. My rafting trip frowned upon bringing non-waterproof cameras, so I didn’t want to risk bringing my expensive mirrorless cameras.

However, we would be spending the night in the pitch-black forests of Southern Oregon with stars shining bright every night, and I wanted the ability to snap photos of them.

With its fast aperture and the ability to shoot in manual focus, the Leica X-U had the capability of pulling off star photography, and it did so pretty well.

Leica XU Underwater Camera

At the end of each day, I reviewed the photos and videos on the camera and marveled at what I was able to capture. Those negative reviews seemed completely wrong – that is until I reviewed everything on my computer.

Image and video quality

It’s a classic mistake to review media content on a tiny device screen and think that everything is working well. The real quality test is to review them on a big screen. Doing this showed that those reviewers were 100% right.

The Leica X-U’s image quality is quite good when shooting a static or slow-moving object. However, the camera absolutely blew the autofocus when shooting anything in movement.

This is an odd shortcoming for a camera that seems built for action, but it happened on a very consistent basis.

Leica XU Underwater Camera

For fast-paced scenarios, the autofocus simply wasn’t fast enough, leading to many unfocused shots like this.

Leica XU Underwater Camera

The video quality was downright atrocious, and I’m ashamed that I put so much trust in this camera when shooting videos. My Samsung Galaxy S10, in its waterproof case, took far better video.

So…should you use this camera?

Handling this camera was an absolute joy, but I can’t commend its photo or video quality.

If you’re seeking a waterproof camera with manual controls, this camera might work for you, but it depends on what you’re shooting. In fast-paced action scenarios, this camera’s autofocus performance won’t keep up. But if you’re shooting static landscapes or astrophotography, this camera will likely meet your needs.

For videography, don’t even bother.

Leica XU Underwater Camera

Leica XU Underwater Camera

Leica XU Underwater Camera

Leica XU Underwater Camera

Leica XU Underwater Camera

Leica XU Underwater Camera

Leica XU Underwater Camera

Leica XU Underwater Camera

Leica XU Underwater Camera

The post Thoughts and Field Test: Leica X-U Underwater Camera appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Suzi Pratt.

Review: Sony A7R IV Mirrorless Camera

The post Review: Sony A7R IV Mirrorless Camera appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Anabel DFlux.

Sony-A7r-IV-review

Having just purchased the Sony A7r III earlier this year, I didn’t expect to add another camera to my collection so quickly. Until… the Sony A7r IV announced it was on pre-order. Typically, I will not invest in yet another body unless something truly monumental comes about, and this was such a situation. The A7r IV is a piece of machinery unlike any other – and I don’t regret a single dime spent. This Sony A7r IV review will explain why.

Mirrorless versus Digital 

Review: Sony A7R IV Mirrorless Camera

By now, 2019, many photographers are well aware of mirrorless cameras invading the digital photography market. Just to refresh on some of the key differences in technology between DSLRs/SLRs and mirrorless cameras… 

Mirrorless cameras, as the name suggests, does not utilize a mirror to reflect the image to the viewfinder. The way that a digital camera works is that a mirror inside the camera reflects the light up to the optical viewfinder. This is also how you see the image before you take it.

In a mirrorless camera, the imaging sensor is exposed to light at all times. This gives you a digital preview of your image either on the rear LCD screen or an electronic viewfinder (EVF). This allows you to see exposure changes in real-time on a mirrorless camera. The lack of a mirror also aids in the camera’s size, allowing the mirrorless model to be smaller and lighter than a traditional DSLR.

DSLR aficionados don’t trust the digital viewfinder portrayal in mirrorless cameras as this is system-based, while the DSLR uses a practical application to show a true-to-life, through-the-lens optical viewfinder system. This uses a series of mirrors to reflect light to your eye. However, as a new mirrorless user, I can testify that the electronic viewfinder display is extremely accurate to the image I create when clicking the shutter button. 

In regards to quality, both can excel in optical quality, image sensors, technical aspects, and adeptness at shooting conditions. Both are equally spectacular, with each model having its own pros and cons (of course). It does come down a lot to personal choice.

Specifications

Sony-A7r-IV-review

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get back to the drool-worthy A7r IV. The specifications of this newest member to the Alpha line is what made me fall out of my seat and need to order this model.

And it has not disappointed.

A true feat of modern technology, it includes the following specs:

  • A whopping 61 MP, 35 mm full-frame Exmor R™ CMOS and enhanced processing system. This produces an image sized at 9504 x 6336. For landscape and commercial photographers, the a7r IV features a 240MP pixel-shift mode.
  • ISO 100–32000 (ISO numbers up from ISO 50 to ISO 102400 can be set as expanded ISO range.)
  • Fast Hybrid AF with Wide (567-points (phase-detection AF), 425-points (contrast-detection AF))/Zone/Center/Flexible Spot (S/M/L)/Expanded Flexible Spot/Tracking (Wide/Zone/Center/Flexible Spot (S/M/L)/Expanded Flexible Spot) The focus modes include AF-A (Automatic AF), AF-S (Single-shot AF), AF-C (Continuous AF), DMF (Direct Manual Focus), Manual Focus.
  • Eye-start AF, Lock-on AF [Still] Human (Right/Left Eye Select)/Animal, [Movie] Human (Right/Left Eye Select), AF micro adjustment, and predictive AF control. 
  • High-speed continuous shooting of up to 10fps12 with AF/AE tracking.
  • 5-axis image stabilization with 5.5-stop exposure advantage20.
  • 4K video in full-width and crop modes.
  • Dual card slots with simultaneous or consecutive recording.
  • Silent Shooting Mode.
  • You can operate the camera via newly supported wireless PC Remote functions via Wi-Fi.

Sony-A7r-IV-review

Much like the other models in the Alpha line, this camera is an E-mount that only accepts E-mount lenses (unless you use an adapter). The awesome thing about E-mount, though, is that many brands (alongside Sony) make lenses for it, including Zeiss, Sigma, and Tamron.

Build 

Sony-A7r-IV-review

I did not expect a redesign of the A7r IV body. Silly me! I expected a perfect replica of the A7r III with more advanced technology. In fact, the A7r IV has improved upon its predecessor’s body and ergonomics. They have changed the design, proving that Sony listened to photographer complaints and suggestions when redesigning this camera.

Firstly, the grip is different. Sony modified the contour, and the grip has deepened – for lack of a better term. I found it to be much more comfortable, and my hand cramped less during prolonged use (photographers, you know what I’m talking about here).

The camera grip reminded me of my large DSLRs rather than a mirrorless, and I liked that a lot. While I have small, feminine hands, I am sure this new grip design will work nicely with larger hands too.

Sony has also redesigned the buttons. They’re softer and “squishier” to the touch. There is also a redesigned joystick and an amended exposure compensation dial that now includes a lock button (thankfully!).

Sony-A7r-IV-review

A big change is the card slot door. The new card door no longer needs a lock lever. Just pull straight back like Canon and Nikon. This provides a much tighter seal as well. Oh, and speaking of cards…Slot 1 is now on the top, not backward like the A7r III (which constantly confused me).

The Sony A7r IV is sized at 5.07 x 3.8 x 3.05″/128.9 x 96.4 x 77.5 mm and 1.46 lb/665 g.

Ease of use 

Sony-A7r-IV-review

In my brain, Sony Alpha and ease-of-use are synonymous phrases. This camera is quick to set up, even simpler to use, and you can run off and play immediately when the battery is charged. The menu and settings are intended for professionals, but if you’ve been doing photography and understand how a camera works, figuring it out is quick.

I’ve heard complaints about the Sony menu, but I’ve personally not had any problems with it. I easily found everything I needed and do all of my adjustments within about 10 minutes.

This is coming from a Canon user that features an entirely different menu. 

I do wish the eye-tracking mode was an actual button on the camera as you can switch between Human subject or Animal subject. It would be convenient to have this as a button rather than having to dig into the menu to change this feature. I find myself continually changing it back and forth (being both a human and a pet photographer).

Autofocus, sharpness, and clarity 

Sony-A7r-IV-review

Just one word: phenomenal. 

I could end the review with just that one word and be satisfied. However, to go into detail…the autofocus is lightning sharp. Definitely the fastest autofocus of all of my cameras – and I have a lot of them! I find the autofocus to be even faster and more accurate than the A7r III – and that’s saying a lot, as the A7r III is very fast as well. 

I’ve captured dogs running – high speed – directly at my camera without even losing focus on their eyes for a second. That is how superb the eye-tracking mode is. I see a lot of use for this camera in sports photography if you have large enough cards to accommodate the 61-megapixels, of course! You can bring the camera down to 24-megapixels if needed, but that’s no fun.

Review: Sony A7R IV Mirrorless Camera

The predictive AI focus has truly revolutionized the way you can photograph subjects moving erratically or quickly, and I am living for it. This has made my job much easier with pets, or little humans that love to run away from mom!

In regards to sharpness and clarity, (while much of the final quality and look comes from the lens), in this case, the camera plays a big role. This is where the Sony mirrorless cameras begin to stand out significantly. The images are extremely sharp and clear. To some, maybe even artificially so. The look is very distinct. Professional photographers can quite easily pick out a Sony mirrorless photograph from the rest. The 61-megapixels show an immense amount of detail, excellent for commercial and detail work. 

Buffering

Review: Sony A7R IV Mirrorless Camera

Despite the enormous amount of megapixels, the A7R IV can still fire up to 10 frames-per-second with autofocus and autoexposure active. That’s impressive! The camera can keep at this for up to 68 compressed raw images.

Color rendering

Review: Sony A7R IV Mirrorless Camera

With vivid, vibrant, and deep colors, there is little editing I need to do with this camera. Even in low light, the colors tend to be quite true. The dynamic range is superb with 15-stops of dynamic range. I have been able to pull incredible details, colors, and information from darker images. 

Low light capability 

Review: Sony A7R IV Mirrorless Camera

The only gripe I have with this model is the low light capability is not improved over its preceding version. That doesn’t mean that the low light capability is bad – it’s just not better. For a camera that has improved in so many ways, I would have liked to see an even better low light sensor in this particular model.

However, the larger megapixel count does allow for significantly more manipulation, and it hasn’t phased me to take care of noise through a quick flick of the Noise slider in Lightroom. Ideally, it would have been nice not to need to do this.

With that said, I have not personally noticed worse noise at the same ISO levels, as some photographers have reported. The autofocus in low light is superb. It’s great for my concert photography endeavors, and even better than the firmware update on my A7r III.

Battery life 

Review: Sony A7R IV Mirrorless Camera

For battery life, my original frame of reference is my many Canon DSLR cameras. The 5D Mark IV, 5D Mark III, 7D Mark II, and 1Dx Mark II are the models I use. In my experience, Sony batteries are not nearly as powerful or long-lasting as Canon batteries. However, this makes sense, as the power necessary to operate a mirrorless tends to be more draining than the DSLRs due to the mirrorless cameras using a digital viewfinder and LCD display. 

When I purchased my first Sony camera, I went ahead and bought a second battery. The battery is the same as the one that the Sony A7r IV uses, so now I have two additional batteries for it. I am glad that I did because the battery does not last me all day like Canon cameras. I seldom end up switching to a second Canon battery. Even after shooting a dog agility trial for eight hours without turning the body off. On the Sony, I found myself switching the battery mid-day on all-day shoots.

It is key to note I am not using a battery grip. With a battery grip, the power lasts significantly longer. 

However, when comparing to Sony itself, the battery in the newer Alpha series cameras are significantly better and far more superb than previous models. The Sony NPFZ100 Z-Series Rechargeable Battery is no joke – far more powerful than the previous batteries used by the company. 

Final thoughts

Review: Sony A7R IV Mirrorless Camera

Do you need the power of the Sony A7r IV? Generally, probably not. For specialty work? Absolutely. The specifications are very much overkill for the average photographer, but for those that have found a use for its tremendous amount of megapixels or the ease in which the AI focuses, this is absolutely a worthy investment.

It’s likely great enough to sell prior pieces of equipment in order to buy the A7r IV.

I work a lot in commercial photography, and this camera allows me to better produce commercial imagery for my corporate clients – something I couldn’t pass up. 

Would you like to own this camera? Why? Or are you lucky enough to have you tried the Sony A7r IV? What are your thoughts? Share with us in the comments! 

The post Review: Sony A7R IV Mirrorless Camera appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Anabel DFlux.

GoPro Hero4 Black – Camera Review

GoPro Hero 4 Black Review

The GoPro Hero 4 Black edition is an action cam for recording video but it’s also a very powerful stills camera if you’re interested in getting super wide angle shots on a budget, especially if you want to shoot underwater.

If you are into shooting video of the 4K variety, don’t overlook this tiny but powerful little camera. Here’s a short test film I put together to show the 4K chops of the GoPro Hero4 Black.

The 4K Image Quality

I was so impressed with the clarity of the 4K video captured by the GoPro that I decided to shoot a little film while visiting Thailand and Cambodia. With only a cheap tripod and a slider you can create some beautiful looking 4K footage. To watch the above film in 4K click on the Youtube quality setting and set it to 2160p. Even if you don’t have a 4K capable screen you’ll still benefit from seeing that glorious extra resolution.

The 4K image quality is amazing when you consider the price tag, but only in the right light. When shooting in dark or shaded conditions the image quality takes a massive drop with lots of noise and hardly any shadow detail.

In low light conditions you’ll get better results on your still images by shooting in the 8 Megapixel still mode.

Not Just an Action Cam

With my film I set out to create a little art piece rather than the usual death-defying action or skateboard fails that you usually see from GoPro footage. It’s actually when using the GoPro in a fairly slow and stable setting, that you really get to see that crisp 4k at its best.

Once you start jumping around and adding major vibration to your recordings, you might as well just shoot in 1080p and save yourself some disc space.

Gopro Here 4 Review by Gavin Hardcastle

Shooting Stills

Once I’d gotten over the outrageous fisheye (Wide and SuperWide) perspective of the GoPro, the sharpness of that cheap little piece of glass blew me away. Not only are stills very, very crisp if you keep the camera still, but the 4K footage is so sharp that you can easily grab stills from frames in your video and that is where the GoPro really excels for stills photography.

Yes, you’ll get better dynamic range and overall image quality from hitting the shutter button to actually take a still image, but if you missed the moment, the 4K video recording most likely didn’t.

Imagine having a DSLR that shoots at 30 fps. When that day arrives you’ll never miss a moment of action but I doubt you’ll be paying $500 for that kind of power. Until that day, the GoPro Hero4 Black Edition will have to do. It fits in your pocket, weighs less than a muffin, and can go underwater when placed in the skin-tight waterproof housing.

Try doing that with your DSLR. Actually, don’t!

GoPro Hero Camera Review

Ease of Use

In terms of what photography settings you can control, things are very limited. You can’t set focus, do long exposures, or have any control over depth of field. You can change the white balance, ISO, and exposure value by two stops but that’s about it.

The idea with the GoPro is switch it on and start shooting. It’s about as automatic as it gets.

You get three buttons to set the shooting mode and the preferences of those modes. Sounds simple but having used professional cameras for years I have to say this is really frustrating. I was forever switching into the wrong mode accidentally which ruined some shoots. I’d often think I was shooting a 4k video sequence when in fact all I’d done was take a still image.

You’ll get much better control of the GoPro if you use the Smartphone app but even that is limited. The image quality that gets transmitted to your phone is so bad that you won’t be able to clearly see everything in your frame, meaning you’ll get some nasty surprises during editing.

GoPro Here 4 Black Edition Review

The Touch Screen Option

For an additional $90 you can attach a touch screen to the back of the GoPro. I found it to be a total waste of money and much prefer using the phone app. Of course, the app option won’t be much help for surfers and water warriors in general, in which case, the touch screen is better than nothing.

I guarantee that it will drive you crazy the first time you try the Unlock Touchscreen swipe action, that you’re forced to use through the plastic housing. It’s kind of like scratching an itch while wearing boxing gloves.

GoPro Hereo 4 Review in Cambodia

Battery Purgatory

I take back all my previous complaints about the battery life on mirrorless cameras. I’ve had sneezes that lasted longer than the battery in the GoPro. If you’re really lucky you’ll get around 20 minutes of battery life in clement temperatures. I shudder to think what the battery life would be in subzero temperatures.

Dynamic Range

I realize I’m totally spoiled with a background using DSLR and mirrorless cameras so it’s unfair to expect the GoPro to perform on that level, especially at just $500. I have to say though that the dynamic range of the GoPro 4K footage is pretty feeble. You’ll have to get used to blown out skies and murky shadows that you just can’t recover in post.

I’d happily pay considerably more for a Pro version that allowed for better image quality and some kind of RAW video format that allows better control of shadows and highlights, but I’m not sure if that’s currently possible for such a tiny little camera.

The Gopro Hero 4 Review

There was no chance of recovering the blown out highlights of the trees in the background in this 4K video frame.

Exposure Shifting Issues

I had to scrap a lot of footage due to the fact that you can’t lock the exposure on the GoPro. As you move the camera around it’s constantly adjusting exposure. While that’s an essential requirement for action footage recording, it totally ruins artistic slider shots. If ever a Pro version of the GoPro becomes available I’d like to have a RAW video format and exposure locked where I decide to set it.

Slow Motion

Another cool feature of the latest GoPro is that it can record at 120 fps (frames per second) but unfortunately that’s only at 1080p resolution. When played back at 30 fps in editing software you get super smooth slow motion. I can’t wait for the next generation of GoPro that records 4K at 120 fps.

The Gopro Here 4 Black Edition Camera Review

Should GoPro Owners Upgrade

If you already own a previous version of the GoPro and you’re thinking of upgrading, I’d ask yourself if the 4K recording means that much to you. If you’re recording dirt bike adventures in 4K you’ll not see much of an improvement over upscaled 1080p footage. All that shaking and fast movement really makes the 4k quality pointless.

If you’re filming drone or slider footage, the 4K image quality is a major upgrade and gives you that added option of grabbing sharp stills from the frames of your video.

Things I love about the GoPro4 Black Edition

  • Fits in your pocket
  • Sharp 4K video for under $500
  • It’s waterproof (when placed in the housing)
  • Weighs less than a muffin
  • Super wide angle for less than the cost of a DSLR fisheye lens
  • Ideal for drones
  • The phone app

Things I dislike about the GoPro4 Black Edition

  • Battery life is beyond pathetic
  • You cannot lock the exposure value
  • The three button controls are annoying
  • The optional touchscreen is painful to use

Conclusion

Grumbles aside, I’m still impressed by the things I can do with this sub $500 camera. Capturing crispy 4k video footage from a palm sized toy is a breath of fresh air for me, especially when you consider the heavy gear I usually lug around on my travels. I’m giving the GoPro Hero4 Black Edition a generous four out of five stars.

The post GoPro Hero4 Black – Camera Review by Gavin Hardcastle appeared first on Digital Photography School.