Scale Focus

Olympus XA2 or why I learned to love a camera – Guest post by Frank Lehnen

This is a story about love! Untainted love, a love so strong and pure….. oh man, I’ve got to stop this gushing. Just concentrate and get down to the basics about why I came to love this tiny lump of glass and plastic.

The Olympus XA2 is the third in the line started by Yoshihisa Maitani. After the amazing Pen series of cameras, after the outstanding Pen F SLR and the undying OM series, Maitani San wanted to create the ultimate pocketable 35mm full frame camera. And he succeeded wildly.

The first masterwork was the diminutive XA. Tiny but nonetheless a full featured rangefinder with aperture priority automatic exposure and a fabulous lens. The lens alone has been a marvel and a real headache for the optical engineers. How to fit a 35mm lens in a 32mm deep housing? Easy peasy, just build it like a telephoto lens (A 500mm lens is NOT 50cm long, hopefully). This worked, all the time retaining a superb lens quality, sharpness and contrast.

Then came a line of derivatives of the original XA. The XA1 was forgettable… utterly! A fixed focus with a selenium meter like the Olympus Trip 35, full automatic exposure…. nothing to write home about (I’m not putting down the Trip 35 here, that’s a fantastic camera on it’s own). Just that the XA1 did not reach it’s stellar performance.

003

Any unsharpness is the fault of the scanner!

But there were the other models, the Olympus XA2, an XA without rangefinder but nice zone focus system and a full automatic exposure that gives premium results. The XA3 was an XA2 with DX coding built in and the XA4 had a 28 ‘macro’ lens that focused down to 30cm…. OK, they existed, but my camera of choice is the Olympus XA2. Wonderful sharp lens, smooth operation, near completely silent operation and so small I can stick it in the front pocket of my (tight) jeans. Yes, I’m over 50 and wearing tight jeans….

I prefer this camera so much that over the last 3 years I bought, sold, bought again and sold and bought one again. It’s always in my pocket and it’s the camera that always brought me back to film photography when I foolishly tried to save money by relying on a digital camera. Now it will stay for good! I found a very good one with a perfect lens, a sliding lens  cover that does not block the shutter as can happen with this camera – you always have to pay attention that the cover is fully open.

002

Focus is a bit of trouble, sure, but you just have to try and set the slider to the right position. Sometimes it works out! Well, often it works out as my developed films show. Exposure is normally spot on even in difficult conditions. A wonder as you don’t have many possibilities to tweak it, except for changing ISO.

It’s simply so small and hassle free that it incites me to use it. Then again, did I mention that the lens it very sharp?

Compared to ‘other cameras’ (Hamish will understand the pun ;-), it’s tiny!

image

Unobtrusive! A spy camera. You can bring it to your eye in a split second and fire off a shot before anyone takes note. I even shoot blind from the hip sometimes, making for ‘interesting’ pictures….

001

Sometimes it’s hard to find a rational reason. Some cameras just click into place with you, they just work. This one does for sure, though it’s not the only one. Now as an additional bonus it can live in my coat or pants pocket. You can get a clean and perfectly working Olympus XA2 for around 40€ (30£) and might even get the fitting A11 flash with it. The A16 flash is bigger but more powerful, and more expensive too. Even with the flash attached to it’s left side, the XA2 is amazingly compact.

Try one out sometimes, it’s well worth it, and faster to shoot than the XA rangefinder. If you nail focus, it’s just as sharp or even better.

More from the mighty Olympus XA2 on www.franklehnenphotography.com and www.whyfilmcameras.wordpress.com

001

003


Show your support for 35mmc – A message from Hamish

If you found this post interesting or useful, or if it helped you make up your mind about buying one of these cameras, then why not
 
By clicking that link, as long as you buy, bid on or win an auction within 24hrs – at no extra cost to you – I will receive a little kick back from ebay to help keep 35mmc up and running.

Additionally, if you would like to contribute a post of your own to 35mmc, click here!

Thanks,

Hamish

Become a Patron of 35mmc


35mmc will always remain free for anyone to read. Patreon simply offers the opportunity for those who’d like to support me in the process of growing the site to chuck me a few quid a month to help out.

Think of it like a magazine subscription that you don’t have to pay, but if you do, the magazine will get bigger and better quicker!

Thanks in advance!

(there are also perks via Patreon for those who do support me)

Become a Patron!

Write for 35mmc: read more here, about how you can help build upon this ever growing resource
Subscribe/Follow: click here, to discover all the ways you can follow 35mmc

Advertisement

You Might Also Like

28 Comments

  • Reply
    Sean Fisher
    March 27, 2016 at 9:45 am

    Nice one frank!

  • Reply
    Frank Lehnen
    March 27, 2016 at 9:48 am

    Thanks Sean, I appreciate!

  • Reply
    Blinx
    March 27, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    Bought an XA2 when they first came out, and enjoyed using it. The one downside is it would vignette heavily, especially at wider apertures. I returned it to Olympus who tested it and replied saying it was “functioning correctly”, a euphemism for “they all do that sir”. On transparencies it was most noticeable, so I sold it on.

    A zone or scale focus camera is still the fastest thing out there for street photography, and for black and white the vignette is less intrusive. And it is tiny!

    • Reply
      Frank Lehnen
      March 27, 2016 at 3:32 pm

      Yes, it’s vignetting a bit at wide apertures, but that does not bother me. I even like the look – my other regular companion is a Lomo LC-A….

  • Reply
    Robert
    March 27, 2016 at 4:55 pm

    Hi, this site costs me so much money. 3 weeks ago I stumbled upon 35mmc and within half an hour I bought an Olympus Trip 35 and a ton of film on eBay. While waiting for delivery I fell in love with the XA series. After your post I’m going to have to justify another camera. I might go for the XA though for that rangefinder experience. Thanks for the advice!

  • Reply
    Robert
    March 27, 2016 at 4:56 pm

    Hi, this site costs me so much money. 3 weeks ago I stumbled upon 35mmc and within half an hour I bought an Olympus Trip 35 and a ton of film on eBay. While waiting for delivery I fell in love with the XA series. After your post I’m going to have to justify another camera. I might go for the XA though for that rangefinder experience.

    Thanks for the advice!

    • Reply
      Frank Lehnen
      March 27, 2016 at 6:44 pm

      Well Robert, can’t say I’m sorry as I’m in the same situation – new post, new camera!

      What I prefer in the XA2 compared to the XA is the speed of operation. – the rangefinder of the XA war too finicky for me, definitely. The viewfinder is not bigger than that of the XA2 but you have to try to focus accurately…. I find it very hard. Try the XA2! Trust me 😉

  • Reply
    Charles
    March 27, 2016 at 6:33 pm

    Good post. I usually end up returning to my XA2 because it is the perfect carry-anywhere small 35mm shooter with a sharp lens, and is very discreet. A brilliant piece of design.

    • Reply
      Frank Lehnen
      March 27, 2016 at 6:45 pm

      Yes, it’s VERY discreet – that’s what I love about it! And the speed it gives me.

  • Reply
    Simon
    March 27, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    How much do I love my XA2?

    My girlfriend said, “it’s me or the camera.”

    Being single isn’t so bad.

    • Reply
      Frank Lehnen
      March 27, 2016 at 7:05 pm

      Lol, Simon, you embarrassed me there. Got a table full of guests right now and I know I should not check my messages but I did. And had to explain to my wife why I laughed out loud.

      Perhaps being single is really not so bad….

  • Reply
    simon
    March 27, 2016 at 9:10 pm

    Haha. I’m sorry I embarrassed you.

    Seriously though, I’m constantly amazed by the images I get from the XA2.

  • Reply
    Andy Sedik
    March 27, 2016 at 11:44 pm

    Great writeup on a great camera. Back in 2003 I took two of them on a vacation to Prague and Slovakia. I didn’t want to bring a huge SLR kit so I decided to go for a pocketable camera. I looked at buying a Yashica T4 but found it too pricey. I tried bidding for an XA on eBay but kept getting outbid. One day I noticed a very reasonably priced XA2 and bought it. Shortly thereafter I scored a second at an even better price. I couldn’t have picked better travel cameras.
    Here’s one of my favorite snaps from the trip: https://www.flickr.com/photos/arachide/16416563029

  • Reply
    Frank Lehnen
    March 28, 2016 at 7:36 am

    Yes, it’s the ideal travel camera!

  • Reply
    JK Lockwood
    March 28, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    Great write-up Frank. Miss my Olympus XA with A11 flash. It went everywhere with me. Talk about compact, discrete and pocketable.

    • Reply
      Frank Lehnen
      March 28, 2016 at 1:37 pm

      Thanks, I’ll not go anywhere without it in my pocket!

  • Reply
    Ken Hindle-May
    March 29, 2016 at 12:32 pm

    Counterintuitively, the XA1 was actually introduced after the XA and XA2 (but before the XA3 and XA4, just to be extra confusing) as a budget version with an F/4 lens and a selenium meter instead of the CdS meter the others have. It still has the same great design and form factor as the others, but otherwise just isn’t on the same level.

    The XA was one of my first ‘must have’ film cameras. I didn’t have a rangefinder at that time and as soon as I read about the XA I knew I had to make it my first. I wasn’t disappointed and it’s taken some of my most pleasing travel and street photographs. Then last year my wife was complaining about not getting the chance to take enough photos, so I resolved to buy her an XA2 so she could always have a good quality camera on her. I actually find myself wanting to borrow hers a lot of the time, because even though the XA’s lens is probably that little bit better, the RF focusing is fiddly and the patch is small and pale. Zone focusing suits the camera better for its likely uses, I think.

    I actually bought a non-functional XA2 that I thought I could get going, but after giving it a good clean and retensioning the shutter spring it wasn’t to be. There must be some kind of fine electrical fault between the switch and shutter because it fires just fine when you trip the armature. If anyone wants it for parts or repair you can have it for the price of postage.

  • Reply
    Frank Lehnen
    March 29, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    Yes Ken, the XA’s and XA2’s etc are a bit sensitive…. Either the sliding cover does not open correctly and blocks the shutter, or the shutter button somply gets blocked up. There’s websites that tell you what to do about it but I never was able to repain one that showed the shutter button problem.

    Then there’s a ceramic element in the meter system that can just break – and that’s the end of any XA camera.

    But as long as they work, they are truly wonderful things! You are right.

    • Reply
      Blinx
      March 29, 2016 at 2:15 pm

      The MjuII fixed most of the XA’s electronic shortcomings, but acquired a few of its own. My ideal would have been a mix of both – manual focus and film advance with the Mju internals and weatherproofing. Olympus needed another generation of clamshell 35mm ultra-compacts to get things right, but technological events intervened.

      • Reply
        Frank Lehnen
        March 29, 2016 at 2:23 pm

        True, but I have a deep dislike for motorized compacts….

  • Reply
    walker
    March 30, 2016 at 12:10 pm

    No doubt, it’s a great camera. Even if I do not mind the vignetting @ wide apertures I regularly use the camera with 400 ASA film to stay safe. Just recently I’ve changed all the light seals and I was surprised how easy was to dissasemble it.

  • Reply
    Martin
    February 13, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    I’m also a big XA fan simply because the pictures I get with it are better than with any of my other cameras. If only someone could make a digital version of the XA2! But as we all know, film produces better pictures. My XA2 has been with me all round the world and has never let me down. It makes me go close and unlike most modern cameras just gets the exposure right so you don’t even have to think about it. And that amazing lens! I have all 5 models and although the XA1 should be my favourite, I just love my XA2 the best. Perhaps the perfect camera.

    • Reply
      Frank Lehnen
      February 13, 2017 at 4:46 pm

      Right you are! Only slight bad point is the close focus which is 1.2m. A bit too long. But you don’t always need to focus that close…

  • Reply
    Keiran Clennell
    June 2, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    Managed to pick one of these up in a charity shop a couple days ago for £2.50! Came in the plastic case, with the instruction manual and it’s in great condition! Can’t wait to start using it.

    • Reply
      Frank Lehnen
      June 2, 2017 at 6:05 pm

      Great find!!! Use it well and have fun with it!!

  • Reply
    Mary
    November 14, 2017 at 10:33 pm

    Great photos, could you please elaborate a little more regarding the zone focusing. I just received my first roll back using the xa3 and i am really disappointed. Not very many were in focus. I’m hoping i have just got the focusing zones mixed up. So just how far away do i have to be from my subject in the close, medium and far away zones? Thanks

    • Reply
      Frank Lehnen
      November 14, 2017 at 10:47 pm

      Thanks, Mary!

      I’m fact the XA2 (and I think the 3 too) has a close focus limit of 1.2m (4ft). Pretty bad in my opinion but we’ll have to live with it. The medium position focuses at 3m and then there’s infinity.

      Your depth of field depends on the light – brighter = smaller aperture = deeper focus zone!

      Faster film helps too. I usually use only ISO 400 in the XA2.

      So the trick is to evaluate the distance correctly and set the slider accordingly.

      Remember, close focus is the lower position and infinity is up!

      And don’t hesitate to set intermediate positions.

      I can tell you that my first
      roll in the XA2 was mostly badly focused too. Mixed up far and near setting (still happens sometimes 😎) and I needed practice.

      With fast film and a bit of concentration you will master the beast!

      Happy shooting!

  • Reply
    Nate G
    May 22, 2018 at 11:16 pm

    Thanks for all the info, guys. Love the comment about the dinner interruptions.
    Ken, if you’ve got that broken Xa2 I’d be willing to take a crack at its shutter circuitry. =)

  • Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    By using this website you agree to accept our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions

    Subscribe to email updates

    You have Successfully Subscribed!

    Pin It on Pinterest

    Share This

    Thank you for commenting

    ...now share the post with your friends?

    Advertisement