Olympus XA: a classic 35mm compact
29 Oct 2008
It was about 3 years ago that I first heard about the Olympus XA and it's later incarnations, the XA2, XA3 and XA4, and it didn't take me long to decide I had to try it out.
Their increasing popularity has meant that prices are going up (expect to pay €50-100 on eBay for one in good condition) and it's becoming rare to find a bargain online.
How Olympus packed so much into the XA is an engineering marvel: a beautiful 6-element Zuiko f/2.8 35mm lens, coupled rangefinder, aperture-priority metering, +1.5 stop backlight exposure compensation, and a self-timer for good measure. All this in a clamshell body that can take a few knocks and takes only a second or two to get from pocket to shot.
My XA goes with me everywhere, sometimes loaded with regular film, sometimes black and white for home-developing and sometimes slide film for cross-processing. The dilemma of which film to load was easily solved by buying more than one...my current range is 2 XAs and an XA2.
The XA2 does away with the aperture-priority metering and instead provides automatic metering, and also introduces 3-point zone focusing rather than the rangefinder system. The lens is 4-element, f/3.5.
But the technical specs are not what makes this camera special for me. This small, unassuming camera doesn't get lots of attention in the street, so you can be bolder with your shots. Focusing is quick and easy with the rangefinder XA, but you can also leave the aperture at f/5.6, guess the focus and you'll have enough depth-of-field to get the shot. The XA2 is even easier, it's up to you to decide if the difference in lens quality is something you can put up with. For me, the XA2 is my street shooter, the XA for my more "arty" endeavours!
A couple of different detachable flash units are available, the most common being the A11 (one AA battery) and A16 (2 AA batteries and more powerful).
As with all older cameras, some models will need a little care and attention, my first one needed new seals on the rear door and had a faded rangerfinder patch, which were easily remedied with a DIY seal kit from eBay and a small square of masking tape in the centre of the viewfinder.
So, the Olympus XA is My Precious. If you see one going cheap, grab it and have fun! (Or let me know where, because I will!)