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Digital Palate Cleansing with An Olympus XA – By Ed Lara

Olympus XA

As much as I love the immediacy of digital photography, I occasionally get overwhelmed and overloaded by the sheer volume of images I take with my digital cameras or my iPhone. Earlier this year, it got so bad that I packed my already pared down set of digital cameras, and got them ready for sale on eBay. In the meantime, I purchased a pair of classic compact 35mm film cameras which I always wanted to have, the Rollie 35SE and the Olympus XA. The XA, in particular, was one of those mythical cameras from my past, but one which I never had a chance to use.

I got into photography when film was the only choice you had, and over time became a die-hard Olympus user. Over the years I had both the OM-1n (which I still have) and OM-2, as well as the Olympus Pen F. When I switched to digital many years later, there was no question that I would carry on with the brand, and until recently all my digital kit was from Olympus. But the one camera I never did have the passion to try or buy was the Olympus XA. Despite all the great advertising and hype when it first came out, I could never take a compact, auto exposure camera with a fixed lens very seriously, even if it was designed by the great Maitaini, who was responsible for the Pen and OM cameras I did use. But, in the midst of my digital doldrums, I happened upon a number of XA reviews (many from this site included), and decided to finally check it out.

When a very good specimen arrived from eBay, I was surprised to see how tiny and well-designed it was. But, despite all the great reviews, I could still not believe that this diminutive toy-like plastic camera could deliver the goods. The Rollie SE, on the other hand, felt solid and serious, and, despite being made in Singapore, still had the heft and gravitas of other prominent Teutonic photographic instruments. But Maitani’s little wonder quietly waited for me to run my first roll of film through it. So, in went a roll of Kodak Ultramax 400, and I took the little XA for a spin around our town on a quiet Saturday morning. Two weeks later, I viewed the scanned images via a Dropbox link from the out-of-state film processing center, and was truly amazed at the sharpness of the lens, and the overall accuracy of the exposure.

I have shot with other film rangefinders before, but somehow have never been able to be as spontaneous in my shooting as I have with the little gem that is the Olympus XA. So, for almost two months I kept the digital cameras in their boxes, ready to get sold on eBay, while I shot almost exclusively with the XA.

It has been a joy to shoot with it, and while I have returned to shooting digital and have added on a few other film cameras to my collection, the XA is still my first choice as far as having a compact, highly intuitive film camera that makes it so easy for me to focus on capturing spontaneous, every day moments. Yes, it can be a bit fiddly to hold, even with my small hands, and I sometimes still miss a shot or two because I can’t intuitively find the shutter button, but I have full faith in this wonderlful little marvel.

You can see more of my photographs on Instagram @photoedontheweb. Thanks for reading.

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