Marvels of miniaturization, the Olympys XA series put great optics into your pocket. The XA came in 1979 with a rangefinder and a six-element f/2.8 lens. The XA2 followed in 1980 with zone focusing and a four-element f/3.5 lens. There was also an XA1, an XA3, and an XA4, each with different specs but all sharing the same basic clamshell body design. Collectors and photographers alike praise these cameras, so I suppose it was just a matter of time before I got one.
All XA-series cameras are itty bitty, at about 2.6 by 4.1 by 1.6 inches. This is in the realm of small digital point-and-shoot cameras – my svelte Canon PowerShot S95 is only fractionally smaller at 2.3 by 3.9 by 1.2 inches.
Miniaturization had its limits in 1980, though. My Canon’s flash is built in, while the XA series offers a range of attachable flashes. My XA2 came with the common A11 flash, which lengthens the camera by about 1.75 inches.
Even though the XA2 has lower specs than the original XA, there’s much to like about both cameras. The XA’s lens is said to be superior, and the camera offers a rangefinder and aperture-priority autoexposure. But the XA2’s lens is no slouch, and the camera offers fully automatic exposure and zone focusing. The focusing lever is next to the lens, with settings for portrait, group, and landscape. The group setting keeps everything beyond 4 feet in focus, making it useful for almost all shots. You’ll seldom need to use portrait, at 3.3 to 5 feet, and landscape, beyond 8.3 feet. The camera itself seems to agree, as when you close it the focus lever moves back to the group setting. Focus may be mechanical, but everything else about the camera needs two SR44 batteries. Fortunately, you can buy those at the drug store.
Given that the XA2 is easily pocketable, barely noticeable to others, and point-and-shoot simple, I thought it’d be a great choice to take along to the Indiana State Fair this year. I’ve wanted to try street photography for a long time and I thought the fair’s crowds would make a great first outing.
My favorite part of the fair is Pioneer Village, where people dress up all old-timey and do things the way Hoosiers did them in the 1800s. These gentlemen were busy sawing logs into boards.
Next to Pioneer Village are rows and rows of antique tractors. Here are some of their noses. I have a soft spot in my heart for Oliver tractors like the green one in front because my father built them in South Bend when I was a boy.
My sons like to visit the midway – the older one for games, the younger one for rides. I’m not crazy about either, but at least there are plenty of people and colors to photograph.
A green light glows inside the viewfinder when the exposure system needs a slow shutter speed; it’s your cue to use either a tripod or the flash. That was never a problem on this hot and blisteringly bright day. At slower speeds the shutter clicks twice, once when it opens and once when it closes, so wait for the second click before you move the camera!
Some complain that the XA2 is clumsy to hold, but I’ve shot thousands of photos with my similarly-sized digital camera and must be used to it. I found the shutter button, which is famously feather light, entirely too easy to press by accident. I thought the thumbwheel winder felt kind of flimsy. And I had to resist the temptation to open the cover by pressing the front and sliding, which works but not without ugly scraping noises. It’s important to open it only from the top, pressing against the ribs next to the XA2 logo.
My test-roll photos are acceptably sharp but not stunningly so. Those shot in the brightest sunlight suffered from noticeable vignetting (darker in the corners than in the middle) but I’ve read that this is typical of the camera. I shot my usual Fujicolor 200, but I chose this roll to try out my nearby CVS Pharmacy for processing. They process, scan, and burn to CD for about $6, which is hard to beat. You can see more photos from this camera in my Olympus XA2 gallery.
Do you like vintage cameras? Then check out my entire collection!