Olympus XA Kodak 200
5 frames with...

5 Frames with Outdated Film and an Olympus XA From the Junk Drawer – By Vicky Ballas

July 25, 2020

Last summer I cleaned out my son’s camera stash from his high school photography days and found an Olympus XA 35mm, along with an outdated roll of Kodak Gold 200. My photography days were behind me by a few decades, but I recently became a digital beginner via a Nikon D3500 while still practicing my film “skills” with my old Nikon SLR. I was intrigued by the small compact size and unique features of the Olympus so I ventured out to downtown Denver on a hot August afternoon with the small XA tucked into my purse.

The XA was launched in 1979 and sold up to 1986, advertised as a “second camera of the pros” and a small full frame with true rangefinder focus. Designed by Yoshihisa Maitani in 1976, the XA was his last design.  A 1980’s magazine ad declared, “Finally, the pocket camera has grown up to 35”, referring to it’s small size with unique features of a 35 mm. Another ad from the era called it the “Second camera of the pros”, and certainly a fun camera for the novice! The palm fitting contemporary design with a wrist strap is easy the carry. The dual function clamshell sliding cover offers dust protection and quick activation. One has to be mindful of the “feather touch shutter”, as I wasted a few unfortunate exposures with pictures of my feet. The orange shutter button is specifically designed to be very sensitive and whisper quiet to reduce motion/vibration shake.

The XA has a true rangefinder focus, a sharp F2.8 Zuiko lens and aperture priority mode that when set, displays the shutter speed on the left side view finder. The brightly orange colored 8 ft and F5.6 markings are recommended as starting points for walk around street photography for a good balance without having to actually focus. The rangefinder patch is small and not very bright, a feature I found challenging as a spectacle wearer. Aperture settings range from f2.8 to f22, shutter speeds from 1/500 to ten seconds and ASA settings 25-800. I have yet to use the A11 electronic flash, +1.5 back light compensation and self timer. The focus lever and ASA setting are situated at the bottom of the lens. The film is advanced manually with the thumb wheel on the top right. With practice, it is said one can open the sliding cover, have settings in place, and point and shoot with one hand (an art I have not mastered). This provides good practice for judging distances.

Here are 5 frames from my sunny summer afternoon. I like the possibly overexposed or faded quality of the old film, giving the impression of a 1960’s postcard of old snapshots from a distant family vacation. The pictured colonnades at Denver Civic Center park proved to retrospective in another way, as the columns are now covered with graffiti and slogans from the city’s June nights of protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.  I shot them from a car window and you can see the water droplets from the fountains, frozen in time.  The 200 film was ideal for allowing shooting in motion in the 5 o’clock sun.

This is the only roll of color print film I’ve tried in the XA so far. I look forward to trying some B & W and transparencies.

V. Ballas

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Steve Phillips
    July 25, 2020 at 11:46 am

    Nice shots, and as you say, they have a dated look to them, which I like. A bit like you, my own trip back into 35mm photography was sparked by re-discovering an Olympus XA2 which I had put in a cupboard about 20 years ago, and since then it has been joined by an XA, and several others of all shapes and sizes.

  • Reply
    Doug Vaughn
    July 26, 2020 at 9:17 pm

    Vicky, your images turned out very nice, especially for old film. I picked up an XA last year, interestingly enough, right before a trip to Colorado. The lens is sharp and exposures are accurate. I was pleased with how well images from the train museum near Denver turned out. You’re right about that shutter button… it’s a hair trigger. My learning experience for next time is to pay attention to my pinky finger. I don’t have very large hands, but enough that it’s easy to get a shadow in the lower corner of the semi-wide lens if you’re not careful. The camera really is that tiny.

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