Olympus XA series user report
By Gary Perlmutter
I first used the Olympus XA back in the early eighties and recently when looking for a cheap camera to start shooting film again, came across the range once more on eBay. The Olympus XA series first arrived in 1979 with the original XA (and the best specified model). A tiny true rangefinder 35m film camera with a very sharp 35mm f2.8 Zeiss Tessar lens. It had a built-in meter and a matching flashgun that simply screwed onto the side of the camera. Then in 1980 a more affordable addition to the line up was the XA2, this had a pre-focus slider, auto exposure and a cheaper but still very sharp f3.5 Zeiss Tessar lens. Other models released were the very basic XA1, the XA3 (which was really the same as the XA2 but with DX coding so that the film speed was set automatically) and finally the XA4, which had a 28mm macro lens that could focus down to one foot. The example I purchased was the XA2 model for just 7.50GBP or about $13. The original XA’s command a higher price, but can still be found for around 50GBP or $85. Most are still sold complete with the flashgun, which as mentioned earlier simply screws onto the side of the camera body.
When you buy any film camera of this sort of age it’s important that the seals around the camera back are intact. Otherwise you could get light leaking in and fogging the film. They can be replaced but on a camera already so cheap, it’s better to move on and find an example with the seals intact. Other things to look out for are is that the lens is free from fungus or scratches and that the shutter and meter work ok. They operate with two SR44 or equivalent batteries. Using the XA2 is a joy, especially for my passion of street photography. It’s tiny and black with a very quiet shutter, so very inconspicuous. Just slide open the clamshell cover and your ready to go, on the assumption you’ve remembered to load it with film first that is! Loaded with 400 ISO film and having set the focus slider to the middle setting, (Actually it resets to this anyway on closing the cover) most subjects will be sharp from around a metre or so to about 5 metres. So perfect again for shooting in the street. So if you’re looking for a full frame rangefinder camera for less than $85, you need not look much further! I have attached a few images shot with the first roll of Ilford HP5 plus that I put through the camera. I then processed the film myself with Ilford developer and scanned using my Plustek 8100, then tweaked just a little in Lightroom.
Full spec below:
Lens: 35mm f/2.8 internally focused lens. Does not retract: magic optical design makes it shorter than its own focal length! It’s ready to shoot the instant you slid it open.
Exposure: Aperture preferred automation.
ISO: 25 to 800.
Shutter: Automatic electronic analog, 1/500 – 10 seconds.
Aperture: two-bladed manual, f/2.8 – f/22.
Power: Two SR44 cells.
Colors: Black; also red, silver or blue.
Weight: 7.800 oz (221.15g) with batteries (measured).
Size: 2.567″ x 4.123″ x 1.572″ HWD (measured).
Lens: 35mm f/3.5, four element Tessar variant, front element focus.
Focus: three zone manual. Resets to mid-distance when clamshell is closed.
Metering: Center weighted, program auto.
ISO: 25 to 800.
Shutter: 1/500 – 2 seconds. Aperture integrated with the two shutter blades.
Power: 2 SR44 cells.
Size: 2.598″ x 4.102″ x 1.605″ HWD (measured).
Weight: 7.480 oz., (212.1g) with two S76 cells (measured).
Olympus XA4 (1985)
The XA4 was an XA2 with a 28mm lens that scale-focuses as close as 1 foot (0.3m). The wrist strap was this same length so you could tape-off your shots.
Closing the cover also reset the scale focus back to 10 feet (3m).
My links: http://gpstreetphotos.tumblr.com