Olympus XA - Review

Olympus XA - Overview

The XA was the first in line of five XA compact cameras which were introduced by Japanese camera manufacturer Olympus in 1978. Although being the first model introduced, the XA is the top model in the XA line of cameras. It was marketed towards semi-professional to professional users, who were looking for a pocketable, high quality compact camera. The Olympus XA, is a true rangefinder camera for 135mm film with a bright 35mm f/2.8 lens. The camera can be equipped with a flash (4 different types available) which is controlled automatically.

Shooting experience

The cameras mode of operation is aperture priority. It is easy to use, yet it delivers very consistent images in terms of exposure. To compensate the exposure, you can either use the backlight compensation switch on the bottom of the camera, which gives you a +1.5 stop increase, or you can change the ISO/ASA film speed setting below the lens from 25 to 800. Focusing with the focusing lever located below the lens is a breeze and the wide-angle lens is very forgiving in terms of depth of field, so there are hardly any out-of-focus shots. The clamshell door protects the lens when closed. Additionally, it locks the shutter button and turns the power off. Probably one of the most notable features is the extrordinary smooth shutter release. The small red button on top of the camera is very sensitive and enables the user to take shake-free pictures. The electronically controled shutter itself is very quiet, which makes the camera combined with its unobtrusive design the perfect street shooter. I have been able to get very close to my subjects without being noticed. Another big advantage of the camera is its size. Measuring about 102x64.5x40 cm it is so small that you can take it everywhere you go. And what sounds better than a full-frame, pocketable rangefinder with a 35mm f/2.8 lens? After using the XA for about a year, I have to admit that I love it!

closed clamshell door

with electronic flash A11

Image Quality

The image quality is pretty decent, if you consider how small the camera is. It offers good contrast, reasonable resolution and nice colour rendition. Combined with very consistent metering, almost nothing can go wrong. The lens shows some vignetting at larger apertures, see the pictures below.

shot with ILFORD XP2

slight vignetting adds to the overall feel

high contrast situation

perfect for street photography

Build Quality

The build quality of this camera is very good, taking into account that almost everything exept the lens is made of plastic. Because of bad treatment, a lot of these cameras today are in bad shape and I would definitely check the camera personally before buying it. Some of the main problems I encountered were scratched lenses and broken clamshell doors. I never had one with a faulty circuit board, but it seems to be a problem with these cameras sometimes. Also, the shutter button might become sticky if the camera was not used regularly over the past years (easy to fix - just look it up on the web).

Price and availability

Usually you pay about 50 € for a XA with normal usage marks from a private seller. Mint cameras with a working flash and original plastic box cost start from 80 € up to 140 €. To find a camera in good working condition in Europe for reasonable price can take a while, so do not hesitate to buy if you stumble across one - you won't regret it!