The Olympus XA1 was ntroduced in 1982. This little gem of a clamshell 35mm compact was the simplest and cheapest of the XA series. It has a fixed-focus f/4 to f/22 x 4 element Zuiko lens, a shutter range of 1/30 to 1/250 sec and programmed exposure via selenium solar cell (like the Olympus Trip) surrounding the lens. There are two film speeds of 100 and 400 ASA via a switch on the base of the camera. The build quality is identical to its siblings the only difference being their varying degrees of sophisticated features.
The XA1 is still regarded by reviewers as the ‘runt’ of the litter due to its lack of relative sophistication but, I think they have all obviously missed the point! The point being that the XA1, as an optical notebook, is a faster handling tool than its stablemates for the shooter of candids and street photography!
It’s totally mechanical so, no battery concerns and it is the only tool in the XA range to have exposure-lock via the shutter button. Don’t underestimate this essential feature! Whilst I’m on the subject of exposure, if the XA1 detects underexposure the shutter will lock and a red flag will pop up in the viewfinder – again, just like the Trip.
I picked up this XA1 ten tears ago for just £2 from a charity (thrift) shop in my nearby UK town of Bridgnorth, Shropshire. It was languishing in a jumble box so I just had to save it!
Frame One: 1930s Austin 7 Sports Tourer. Not at a classic car event but, just parked up in a Shrewsbury town centre side street whilst the owner popped to the shops. It was behind a row of characterless Euro hatches. I reflected on its inherent beauty and example of superb British design and engineering from a bygone age.
Frame Two: Baled hay at a farm in Morville – just outside Bridgnorth. This shot just yelled… “please take me”…
Frame Three: Church of St Gregory, Morville. When asked “penny for your thoughts?” my son said he was just contemplating the parishioners filing through the doorway in 1118 when the church was consecrated. It still retains all of its Norman features.
Frame Four: The Five Ways pub in the High Street of the once proud Black Country industrial town of Cradley Heath. The pub was closed and up for sale. It was once a social centre of the town where local people drank, smoked, played dominoes, cards, pool, skittles and listened and danced to live music. It is now a carpet shop. The pub will never look like this.
Frame Five: A candid shot of my two sons and their offspring in Bridgnorth High Street. This was taken ten years ago and the boys are now almost as tall as thier dads. I’m particularly interested in candid rear views ie people actually going somewhere rather than approaching.
The film used was Ilford XP2 Super – 400 ASA. Processed by Boots (the chemist) and each frame is presented here unedited.
XA1 Pros: Fast handling, exposure lock, quiet thumbwheel film advance, sharp photos from 1.5m to infinity, pocket-sized body, battery-free mechanical operation, no auto-focus to get fooled, does not need a case.
XA1 Cons: None!