Olympus XA series user report By Gary Perlmutter

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:
Olympus XA

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.
Focus: Rangefinder.
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).

Olympus XA2
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
Twitter: @gpstreetphotos



I believe

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  1. I have some great prints from my XA I had during the eighties and nineties. Took it on my first big overseas trip to Europe (from New Zealand) but unfortunately it died on almost the first day in Greece. I went mad and paid an excessive amount (about USD $1200) on a Sony handy cam instead.

  2. Gary – Really cool article. I have the XA4. This was the 28mm version and was sought after at the time for rock climbers because of its light weight and 28mm field of view. Back in 1985 I was a climber around the Pacific Northwest, so I bought the Olympus XA4 and began my interest in the 28mm FOV. Now with the M240 my favorite lens is the Summicron 28mm 2.0. Great little camera and I’m still shooting it and trying to squeeze out a roll of Tri-X that has been in it for 3 years.

  3. I have a original XA as my daily shooter it’s a wonderful camera. Eats up roll after roll of Tri-X.

  4. Wonderful piece of design. I’ve got an XA4 Macro in almost new condition in the cupboard.
    Only used it a few times. Thanks for jogging my memory, will take it out for some snapshot fun. What I love about these cameras is no pesky menus to deal with and a button battery that doesn’t need recharging every day! Yay!

  5. Nice cameras, nice shots. As much as I love small, over time I found the XA too small. Need a bit more to hold, a bigger range finder. But obviously a nice camera for those who can manage and appreciate.

  6. Really glad to read your article and see your pics. I have something similar from the early nineties – an Olympus mju-2 (possibly called Stylus in the USA), and I use it as my full-frame monochrome camera with lovely sharp results. The most pocketable little wonder. (Would display some but I’ve never figured out how to send photos to this very good site!)

  7. I sold a Leica M3 when these came out, because in my opinion they made the M3 obsolete for my purposes. A full frame rangefinder in a much tinier package, a depth of field indicator, fast enough 35mm lens, electronic shutter, coupled removeable flash, and aperture priority exposure.

    I found them a little delicate, and went through three, after film advance issues on one and lens element separation on another. I thought the lens perfectly fine, although others slammed it.

    On a camera like this- hand held, quick grab snaps- the quality of an extra fine Leitz lens would have been wasted, and results indistinguishable.

    Pretty sure I still have one in a drawer, but it was eventually passed in useage by small 35mm autofocus cameras.

    • Should add… in 80 or 81 when these came out, a used M3 body was over $300, while these XA cameras sold new with warranty for just over $100.

  8. BTW, I’m sure they were all 100% Japanese Zuiko lenses. They are great lenses and Zeiss could not have done better.

  9. Still have an XA3 (same as XA2 with auto ISO) that replaced an XA2 that fell off a cliff. Also got the great big A16 flash and used ISO 400 film because the flash lacked an ISO 200 setting. Left the SLR at home and backpacked with it for 6 months. Found the experience liberating and am now deciding on a similarly small fixed lens digital compact, but can’t decide. None quite as satisfying to hold or use as the Olympus XA series, it just feels good.

  10. Never had one, but my Rollei 35 and Minox GT-E (both very extant) filled a similar role. Fun to use (and were great inside museums and galleries), especially if there are digital toting onlookers nearby. Placing them (or the Nex-7 etc) on an early 1950’s Susis or Rotu ‘flimsy’ tripod can draw more pitying glances as well.

    Good contrast control, Gary.

  11. Great fun little camera. Need to use my XA more. Only complaint in using it as a street camera is that the shutter button can be a hair trigger.

    Thanks for the post.

  12. I love this camera, it is for me one of the best designed camera bodies ever. I carried the XA3 for years in my Levis 501 pocket and got shots you couldn’t even dream of getting with an SLR at the time. I guess I am going to get some fresh SR44 cells soon 😉

  13. I use my XA and XA2 daily. They are compact enough to fit nearly any pocket and give great results. I just love those cameras!

  14. I had an XA once upon a time. It was a convenient (and pricey) little camera to be sure, but you were paying primarily for its compactness and innovative clamshell case, over optical quality. It’s not that it had a bad lens, per se, but at the time Olympus had other compact, if somewhat larger, film cameras with much better lenses. My older (and cheaper) Olympus 35 RC handily ran circles around the XA.

  15. I bought the XA a while back to shoot some double exposures on. One thing to look out for with XAs is the rangefinder spot fading. Mine had that problem (didn’t think to ask about it on ebay) which made focus harder. The lens on that XA is fantastic. Thanks for the report!

  16. Nice article. I still have my XA which I bought back in 1979. I’m confused that you say it’s a Zeiss Tessar. My camera has a Zuiko 35mm F/2.8 and the image in this post shows a Zuiko too, as does another XA post on this blog (http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2011/06/08/17592/).

    The Tessar lens was used on Rollei and Rolleiflex cameras among other brands of German origin. I also had a Rollei 35T with the Tessar.

  17. Wow! I still have one of these cameras. I don’t use it anymore as I’m a totally digital photographer now. I carried this camera all over Europe for years; it was also fantastic for taking photos during skiing, hiking, and cycling trips.
    Thanks for reminding me how great this camera was/is.

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