As over the time my son’s Olympus XA 2 became my favourite “short trip camera”, he kindly asked me after a while to get one on my own. Luckily I found, on the same flea market, nearly the same camera: an Olympus XA, another of Yoshihisa Maitani’s masterpieces (You really have to read this article in which you also learn what incident was the inspiration for the XA series) As usual on this very special flea market, were you also can for example get cheap “used” or “found” tools from construction sites, it came without a battery, so buying it was a bit of a gamble. So I ran into the nearest drugstore to get an SR44 battery and inserted it, and after I heard the battery indicator responding with the familiar “beep” and the shutter with the hardly hearable click, I knew: those 35€ were well spent.
About the camera:
The Olympus XA was designed in 1979 in a revolutionary way: the lens cover did not only cover the lens, but also protected the rangefinder window from dust and served as the on/off switch of the camera. It is only slightly bigger than the Minox 35 or the Rollei 35, but the lens did not have to be expanded, so the camera was ready to shoot immediately. This was made possible by the biggest innovation of the camera, the six (!) element 35mm f 2.4 lens with internal focus. Although optically a mild wide angle lens, it’s designed like a telephoto. My expertise on lenses and optics is just slightly better then my Japanese or Hungarian (I’m really working on the second), but all experts say this idea was awesome. And also, unlike all other compact mechanical 35mm cameras, this is no point and shoot or a zone focus viewfinder, this is a rangefinder camera, and probably the smallest ever produced, at least when opened. (The Contax T plays in the same size league but with an incredible price tag). If the Olympus XA 2 was the successor of the Trip 35, the XA would be the successor of the Olympus 35 RC, another reason I had it on my wishlist for the collection. The two “missing” Olympus left now are a PEN F, an OM-1 or OM-2 and a 35 SP. The camera has, like my Yashica Electro 35 GT, an aperture priority automatic automatic but shows the shutter time in the viewfinder and is and is powered by two SR 44 batteries. There are two flash units (due to lack of PC sync or hot shoe, only this flash units fit to the camera), the A 11 and the more powerful A 16.
Please allow me to quote myself:
Open the back by pulling the film crank, insert your film and close. Open the camera front, set the matching ISO with the small lever under the lens. Shoot and advance once and you are ready to go.
Select a matching aperture with the slider on the right side of your camera, the matching exposure time (1/500 – 1s) will be indexed by the small needle in the viewfinder.If the needle falls below 1/30, using a tripod is recommended. The camera’s longest exposure time is 10 seconds. To focus guess the distance between 0,85 cm an∞ or focus using the split window indicator and the small lever under the lens. You might have forgotten it: this is a rangefinder after all.
On the bottom of the camera, you’ll find a small lever with three (XA 2: two) functions:
- To compensate for backlight, move it to the first position and add 1,5 stops
- check the battery
- Activate the 7″ self timer, in case you do not have a tripod, this adds stability to the camera
If you want to use the flash, attach it to the side with the little screw and activate it with the little flash lever beneath the lens.
When the film is full, push the little button on the bottom (you can also use this for double exposure, but you have to trick the exposure with the ISO settings to avoid over exposure), rewind and remove the film.
The Olympus XA is an incredible compact, sharp and reliable camera. It is said, that the best camera is the one you have with you. This is this camera.
|Year built||?, produced between 1979 and 1985|
|Lens||F.Zuiko 35mm 1:2.8-22|
|Special features||smallest 35mm rangefinder|
|Date of purchase||2018|
|Place of purchase||Flea market Leopoldplatz|
Tips & Tricks:
Take this camera with you, wherever you go.
Film purchase & processing:
The camera can use any 35mm film from 25 to 800 ASA, I usually shoot with 400 ASA which can be developed anywhere.
http://www.diaxa.com/xastart.htm (History and review of the XA family)
http://www.kenrockwell.com/olympus/xa.htm (Comparison of the XA & XA 2)
https://www.olympus-global.com/brand/museum/lecture/vol2_05/ (lecture from Yoshihisa Maitani himself on the idea of the XA)
https://blog.jimgrey.net/2012/09/20/olympus-xa/ (Jim Grey’s review of the Olympus XA)
The guy who starred in the Olympus Trip 35 ad, also made one appearance in this ad for the full XA range: