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Olympus XA

A clamshell classic that once again helped Olympus redefine 35mm photography.


Olympus XA

Twice in my life I have opened a parcel to see the shy, clam shell face of an Olympus XA looking at me. The first time was unboxing a brand new one on the occasion of my 18th birthday, bought for me by my brother; such a thoughtful and generous man, he had seen how much interest I had taken in his OM cameras and just knew I would love a camera of my own.

I used that XA for about 2 years before trading it in (but not ‘up’ arguably) for a Minolta SLR. I probably didn’t get as much for it as I could have; being a bit naïve I would say, and I came to regret the sale.

Front view of the Olympus XA.

Fast forward around 30 years. I had done some paid work for another friend on a website. The work was done and I had the cash. One Saturday morning, postie arrived with a parcel of brown paper for me. Puzzling. I wasn’t expecting anything. I unwrapped it, and there, once again, was an Olympus XA, which had belonged to my friend. He had decided to give it to me. It was quite a moment. I splashed a few tears on the thing as I inspected it.

Why is the Olympus XA a Landmark Camera?

1: The world’s smallest 35mm camera in operation.
2: Unusual clamshell design.
3: Ground breaking lens design.

The User Experience

Though contested in this regard, I am quite certain the Olympus XA is the smallest 35mm camera ever made. Others may have slightly smaller dimensions, but require their lens to be extended to be of any use. Not so the XA. The clamshell design allows you to slide open and click.

Olympus XA with A11 flash attached.

Pocket rocket

Chief camera designer Yoshihisa Maitani once again came up with a brilliant and innovative camera, shrinking dimensions and weight without compromising usability. Okay, perhaps the XA is not suited to large hands. The rounded edges of the camera and the lack of any protruberances make this a comfortable camera to carry in a pocket.

Front view of the Olympus XA.

All the control you need

Opening the sliding clamshell cover turns the camera on. The XA is fully electronic and powered by 2 LR/SR44 button cells. Space saving features include the thumb-wheel film advance, and the sliding tab on the right side of the body to control aperture. Rangefinder focus is controlled by a small lever below the lens. Here you also find the film speed dial (with a range of ISO 25-800).

Enjoy the view

The viewfinder has an embedded rangefinder frame and a display of the shutter speed on the left hand side from 1 second to 1/500th second. Maitani even found room for exposure compensation control in the form of a small lever on the camera’s base. When pulled out this provides 1.5 stops compensation to the shutter speed to counteract back lighting. The lever also serves as a battery tester and self timer too.

Bottom of the Olympus XA with battery chamber and multi-functional lever.

Petite and discreet

The electronic shutter release is not to everyone’s taste. It is subtle, and is more of a squeeze than a press. However, it provides advantages. You can choose slower shutter speeds and still get sharp images. You hear and feel a delicate click on release of the shutter. This a very discreet camera and great for getting near to action with its 35mm f/2.8 Zuiko lens.

Top of the Olympus XA with the electronic release, frame counter and thumbwheel film advance.

The XA also came with a detachable flash, which I seldom used. With flash detached, the camera can be pocketed and taken anywhere.

Olympus XA with film door open.

Photographs taken with the Olympus XA

These photos were taken on Skiddaw, the third highest peak in the Lake District. It’s a brilliant camera for mountain walks. I used T-MAX P3200 rated at ISO 800T. The film was developed in Adox FX-39II for 9 minutes.


Further Reading:

Diaxa
Casual Photophile
Photoethnography

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2 Comments

  1. The Olympus XA series is so great! I have an XA2 and love it. It doesn’t have the rangefinder or aperture-priority exposure, just a viewfinder zone-focus with auto exposure. It’s a great “take everywhere” camera for quick shots.

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