The Olympus XA2 is tiny, it is quick to turn on, it’s zone focus, and has a brilliant lens. In my humble opinion, it is the best EDC (every day carry) and travel camera, and a good first camera if you are starting with analog photography too.
This is my second XA2, I came across this blue XA2 in an Amsterdam thrift shop. I put a battery in to check if it works, and it did. I bought the camera for 50 Euros – what a steal. I don’t hoard expensive and rare cameras, I am not a collector. It was okay to let my GAS take over and fork over the cash for this camera. I had some Nikon SLR with me for vacation, this XA2 was a fun little bonus for the remainder of my trip. I popped in a roll of Portra 400 and proceeded to document my trip.
The XA2 was designed by Olympus´s legendary designer Yoshihisa Maitani and was introduced to the market in 1979. The XA2 is essentially a simplified version of the XA and was aimed at more amateur photographers.
Build & Design
The only thing that is metal on the XA2 is the back door, the rest is completely made out of plastic. The plastic is very sturdy however, you don’t have to baby it by any means, additionally, it does not scruff easily. All in all, it is very durable. The electronics all sit in the main body, there is nothing attached to the back door, so there are no cables that could break, also no screens means there is little that might fail.
The XA2, while being a marvel of technology for the time, is not very pretty to look at, at least in my opinion. It is an example of form following function. Everything is deliberate and has a reason, it was not made to look pretty. The standard version is black, there were versions in red, blue, and white, also there is a pink version.
As stated before, this thing is very pocketable. It easily fits into the palm of my hand.
The lens is a sharp 35mm f/3.5 Olympus D-Zuiko. I don’t crop to 100% or like to pixel peep, I have never had any issues with the lens. If I messed up a shot, it is because of user error and not the fault of the camera, the lens has never let me down when I was providing the correct conditions. All sample images are unedited 6MP scans from a Noritsu scanner, square images have been cropped.
I have heard that the light meter could be faulty in difficult situations, but I haven’t found this to be true.The light meter performed well in my opinion, I was at fault for the bad exposures because I was using Kodak Gold 200 in these dark scenes.
There are 3 Zone focus settings to the left of the lens, that you adjust with a little lever.
Middle: 1.2m- infinity
Far: 2.5m- infinity
When you close the front, the focus lever is reset to the default middle setting (if you changed it).
I never use the far setting, I leave it in the default setting most of the time. I have missed a few shots because I didn’t put it into the close setting. A good rule is that if you are sitting across from each other at a table, pop it in close mode…
The shutter is the only thing that makes noise. It is very quiet on the street, no one would notice it. This with the camera’s size and atypical look makes this a great camera for street photography.
The shutter can only be used when the shell is open. It is rather sensitive, so be careful! When you press the shutter button, you will hear 2 clicks as the shutter opens and closes. Be careful to not move the camera until you heard the second click. In low light, the time between the clicks is, of course, longer than in bright light. So keep that in mind.
The Viewfinder is big and bright. There is no information in the viewfinder, except for a green light for when a longer shutter speed is going to be used. The frame lines almost fill all of the finder. This may be a caveat for street photographers who want to see what goes on outside the frame.
The camera doesn’t have modes. You can’t adjust the shutter speed or aperture. You just open and shoot.
There is a self-timer that you can activate with a lever on the bottom of the camera.
If you attach the flash, you need to activate it with the lever below the lens.
After you slide open the shell, the XA2 was made for one-handed operation. Your thumb rests on the film wind wheel, which has grooves and is easy to grip. It is so light, long durations of use should not be a problem. With its size, be careful not to put your fingers in front of the lens.
You turn the camera on by sliding the shell to the left. This reveals the viewfinder, the lens, the light meter, the ISO dial, and the flash lever. The shutter button is now usable.
The film wind is a wheel with grooves as found on disposable cameras. The counter goes to 39 frames, which you often get as the camera is so small, and so you lose little film while loading. To rewind the film, there is a rewind button on the bottom and a crank on the top.
- Easy to use
- Quick to get up and running (only need to slide open the shell)
- Fast lens for Point and shoot f/3.5
- Ability to set ISO Manually
- Ability to add a flash
- Lens is protected
- Cheap and available
- Can be a bit dull to use
- No Flash built-in
- Flash increases the size
This little beast is a no-brainer. It is so small, it fits into the palm of my hand, it fits in any pocket. There is no excuse to not have it on you. Then you notice the ease of use. It is truly a point-and-shoot. Its default focus setting is good 99% of the time. You hit the shutter and it just goes. No motor needs to focus the lens, there are no safety features that prevent the shutter from working, there is no annoying flash setting that you constantly need to turn off.
I have had this camera with me everywhere, on planes, in bars and restaurants, while skiing and rollerskating, in the desert, and at the beach. It is never cumbersome to carry with you, and once you get the first few rolls back and see the images that this thing captures, you will always want to have it on you. This thing is meant to be used and abused, it is a tank, it is a workhorse. Due to its low price and durability you do not have to baby it, and having it on you becomes second nature.
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13 thoughts on “Olympus XA2 – A Brief Guide to my Every Day Carry Camera”
Thank is for the detailed review!
It’s a bit love it or loathe it. I think I find myself in the loathe it category but then again I haven’t ever handled it..
Hi, thanks for the review. To be honest it’s my least favorite of the XA-models but certainly only in comparison – if I had only one (the XA-2) I would unconditionally love it.
Martin in Austria
Good assessment of the camera’s strengths.
One disagreement, though:
The camera is a beauty! Super cool design.
I’m fonder of the black ones — and think they’re better looking than
the blue or red models — but it’s another ingenious Yoshihisa Maitani
masterstroke, regardless of color.
If you run across the original XA, grab one of those, too. Being a true
rangefinder, they give you more control over your images, and they are
fitted with a fantastic f2.8 lens.
I’m in agreement with John, the XA series is cute, not ugly. Otherwise, great post, Sean!
Nice review! I have an XA2 and an XA4, and I prefer the slightly wider angle lens (28mm vs 35mm) of the XA4. Both are easier to use than the XA, which requires more thought for aperture and focusing (but also gives a little more control back to the photographer). For everyday carry, or for throwing into a handlebar bag on my bicycle, the XA2 and XA4 are hard to beat!
I have a number of XA and XA-2 cameras in all of the colours except pink – they are just too expensive. I love them. I have rarely got a bad picture from mine they just seem to work all by themselves. The Mju is similar The extra stop on the XA is useful and the rangefinder is surprisingly accurate considering how small the distance between the measuring lenses. Wonderful cameras
We bought an XA as a wedding gift to ourselves in 1980. My wife carried it while I hauled around a Nikon F3. The F3 is long gone thanks to a smash & grab. The XA is still with us after 43 years! In a rare example of foresight, I took out the batteries and put the camera & flash away decades ago. I came across it in the autumn of 2022, just before we flew to London. I cleaned it up, new batteries and the little sucker worked! It became my back-up camera to the M2. More recently, I underwent spine surgery to repair badly damaged vertebrae. I wrapped the XA in a sock and snuck it into the hospital in my toiletry bag. I made ‘illegal’ snaps of my bed, my feet and my room during my 5 day stay. I was caught by my night nurse, but I convinced her to keep quiet about my activity. Once I’m back on my feet I’ll process the HP-5 and see if my clandestine photography will yield images. The XA is in better shape than I am.
If you find one, get it. Another thing: When they came out, the New York Times issued them to their photographers so they were always with a camera.
I had a black one way back when it was fairly new. Really liked it but on my honeymoon trip to San Francisco and Napa it died on me. I ducked into a camera story ( Wish we could still do that easily) and they didn’t have a replacement so I bought the Nikon equivalent, the Lite Touch. I still have it. Still works. But I liked that little Olympus more.
Nice article and its good that you demonstrated the faults with the problematic shots. They don’t seem capable of producing a digital camera with such good optics and form factor. Tempting ….
Took out an XA on a two year placement in Gambia west Africa, got nicked in the first week.
Had a friend bring out a replacement, turned out to be an XA2. – How l grew to love that wee gem !
My Nikon (F) changed the atmosphere as soon as it was brought out, no use for my Cartier Bresson intentions.
I blacked out all the white markings with an indelible pen and used it every day, shooting mainly FP4 l came back with dozens of spools to process, some of the best shots l ever got.
After settling back to Scottish life l began to think some of my images were a bit soft , so l put it in for a service . Got a phone call from the shop asking ” what the hell were you doing with that poor camera? Looks like it has been sandblasted !” ( I had actually been in the desert a few times and covered the end of the Paris/Dakar twice ). Fortunately a pal had given me his faulty old one and the shop swapped the lens cluster over , – so , good as new !
Still got it , and always will ( also still have the ‘F’ ) should really get back to real film photography!
Excellent review, I really got a feel for how this camera is to use in real life. Blue! That ain’t your average everyday XA-2 🙂
A lovely post, and I think the train station image is fantastic!
Many, many years ago, I took an XA2 to Africa for a few months along with my Nikon bodies and lenses. At the airport in Lilongwe, Malawi, all my Nikon gear was seized because I hadn’t registered as a journalist ahead of Prince Charles’ arrival. But they overlooked the XA2 in my jacket pocket! So I at least had that for the next two weeks, and it was great, surviving all sorts of folderol. I never expected to see my Nikons again, but when I went to fly out again, the same official who had taken my cameras went and fetched them out of storage. Honest folks.
On the same Africa trip, I wound up giving the XA2 to my brother-in-law because I wrecked his little car in southeast Zimbabwe by hitting an impala. But that’s another story.
Good review, and nice shots.
I bought an XA3 when they came out in the 80s, and it was finding it at the back of a wardrobe thirty-odd years later which got me back into film photography. Quite a few small cameras later, it is still the one which goes in my pocket.
I have also acquired an XA4 with it’s wide angle lens & close-up options. I did try an original XA, but found the range finder just a bit too faint and small. And I have to say, if I ever saw a red or blue one, I would find it hard to resist.