Holding up traffic, Olympus XA3
Scale Focus

Olympus XA3 Review – Highs and Lows of Travel Photography with a Simple Compact Camera – By Keith Tomlinson

January 14, 2020

Well, what can I say? I fell foul of hype and hyperbole this year and I have learnt my lesson.  I own a perfectly good Olympus Trip and a Rollei 35 but no that was not enough! I was heading to Thailand for the trip of a lifetime and wanted to accompany my digital camera with a point and shoot. Instead of using either of the two cameras I have (and am aware of how to use), I decided in a rash moment to get my hands on an Olympus XA3.

Why?  Cause the web said so!

Wat, Bangkok, Olympus XA3

Wat, Bangkok, Olympus XA3

Joking aside I got it as it was light, had a good lens and the design means the lens is always protected – perfect for travelling. I cannot remember if I took any shots before I went away (as I did not give myself any time), but I learnt a few lessons with the XA3.

Yes it is light, yes it is small but the automated system is something you have to get used to. I’d shoot photos with my digital camera and then aim to capture one special shot on film and this is where I came unstuck.

In brilliant light, with a steady hand and patience, the XA3 performed brilliantly well.  In fact, I have some wonderful crips photos that are metered well and either the Kodak Gold or the FujiFilm (expired) stock, produced some pleasing results.

It all went pear-shaped when the light was poor or if I rushed or was moving.

I would forget that pressing the shutter button and hearing a click did not mean the XA3 was finished taking the shot.  Dependant on the lighting conditions, the XA3 sets the shutter speed automatically, but there is no way to know what this is.  Time after time I would click the button, forget and move.  Then I would hear the XA3 click again and realise I’d ruined the shot.

Party Boat Bangkok

Oddly I think this is a happy accident. Party Boat. Olympus XA3

This was not helped by the camera being so light.  It can be hard to keep it steady as you need some weight to ensure that you keep the camera stable, but this isn’t the case.

I also think the alignment of the XA3’s viewfinder and the final photo is slightly off.  I have many photos from the trips with artefacts in them I did not see when I was shooting.  This is unusual for my film photography as I do this to slow down and look.  I don’t understand why certain things crept into the shots – maybe I wasn’t seeing them clearly enough or maybe the final shot is wider than the viewfinder…Don’t get me wrong, as a travel camera and a pocketable 35mm, this is a great little piece of kit. I don’t think it warrants the hype or the ever-increasing price tag though.

Unusually I shot colour film for the Thailand trip (I normally prefer black and white), but as I was expecting (and got) a lot of vibrant things to shoot, I wanted to ensure the film matched the surroundings.

Drag Boat, Olympus XA3

Drag Boat, Olympus XA3

Holding up traffic, Olympus XA3

Holding up traffic, Olympus XA3

Wat Aran, Bangkok Olympus XA3

Wat Aran, Bangkok Olympus XA3

I do have some bright, sharp and clear photos which I am really happy with.  When bright and steady the Olympus XA3 metered well and I produced lovely photos.  Those that merge between travel photographs and tourist photography.

I have learnt to stop being impulsive with my purchases, to ignore the internet (yeah right) and to kerb my enthusiasm for new gear (no comment).

I’ve also learnt there are some great entry-level cameras out there and some great tools to keep on you all the time, but you have to be wary of their limitations.

I still like the XA3 but I am not sure I would use it again.  Maybe I should try and recoup my costs and put it on eBay (anyone interested!)

Keith Tomlinson – ContinuousFocus.co.uk
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8 Comments

  • Reply
    Pritam Singh
    January 14, 2020 at 8:26 pm

    Kerb your enthusiasm by all means but don’t curb it ever.
    Thank you for sharing your observations about the XA3, much appreciated.
    Good wishes.

    • Reply
      keith1974
      January 14, 2020 at 9:23 pm

      Thank you for the wise words and comments. I agree. It’s a nice little camera but be careful and mindful when using it.

  • Reply
    Geof Abruzzi
    January 14, 2020 at 9:05 pm

    I have a camera on order that I am planning on taking on a vacation in a month and a half. You can be sure that in the ~5 weeks I have the camera before I leave on the trip, I’ll be shooting (and developing) a bunch of rolls before I commit to taking it! (BTW–Thailand is a great place for photography. I especially loved Chiang Mai, which is much more pedestrian sized than Bankok!)

    • Reply
      keith1974
      January 14, 2020 at 9:24 pm

      I agree Thailand is a great place for photography.

      Next time I will be sure to test a lot before to embark on my travels.

  • Reply
    Robert
    January 15, 2020 at 12:05 am

    I’m so glad you wrote this piece. I have an XA3 and didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t get it because of the internet but because it was going dirt cheap but I knew it had a bit of status albeit not as much as the XA. I even posted stories on my IG asking for tips on how to shoot it. I can relate exactly to what you say about hearing the click and assuming the frame had finished being exposed.
    It’s interesting you put the XA3 in front of your Trip 35 which was designed to be a travel camera. Did you find any similarities between the two in terms of handling?
    Also how did you find the effects of the flash?
    I love my XA3 but It makes me miss my Trip.

    • Reply
      keith1974
      January 15, 2020 at 5:53 am

      Hi

      Thanks for the comment. At least you feel my pain!

      I didn’t want to take the trip as it was marginally heavier than the XA3 and to be honest I never got great results from it. I also have a Rollei 35 and wish I’d taken that – but that is much heavier.

      I don’t have the flash component so am unable to comment about that.

  • Reply
    Robert
    January 15, 2020 at 12:17 am

    Actually I just checked. Mine’s an XA2. As you were.

  • Reply
    Mike Hannon
    January 15, 2020 at 3:28 pm

    At least with the XA2 you can check what shutter speed it wants to use and adjust ISO accordingly or just not take the shot…

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