Operation Thin the Herd: Olympus XA

Lafayette Theater

I knew I was going to keep this camera the moment I picked it up. The Olympus XA is just that wonderful.

Olympus XA

This tiny rangefinder camera returns stunning images every time I load film into it. Any film, really — black-and-white or color, consumer-grade or professional. It always performs brilliantly. Here are a couple photos I really love from past rolls.

Chrome teeth

Above: the grille of a Dodge Charger on Arista Premium 400. Below: the midway entrance at the Indiana State Fair on Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800.

State Fair at dusk

For Operation Thin the Herd I loaded a roll of Agfa Vista 200, which is just my beloved Fujicolor 200 in disguise. A sidebar: thanks to UK photoblogger Dan James for sending me, at cost, a giant box full of this stuff just before Poundland stopped selling it. Even after I paid for shipping, I got this film cheaper than I can get Fujicolor 200 anywhere in the US.

West Park

While I began the roll shooting a few images around my church, I shot most of it in Lafayette and West Lafayette just after Thanksgiving last year as I returned my son Damion to Purdue to finish the semester. This is part of a mural on the side of a building in Lafayette.

Your Face Here

Though its controls are small, they work easily. Its rangefinder is small but plenty bright; it’s easy to focus. Its coupled light meter handles even complicated lighting situations with surprising aplomb. Shot after shot, the XA returned brilliant color and good sharpness.

Long Center

We had a little dinner in this burger-and-root-beer joint in West Lafayette. If you’re ever on I-65 between Indy and Chicago you’ll see billboards for it. The giant XXX on them is not advertising for an adult bookstore, so don’t look past them too fast.

XXX Root Beer

The Triple-X used to be a drive in, but if you want to eat in your car today you need to order inside and bring it out yourself.

XXX Root Beer

The Triple X is on State Street, which appears to be West Lafayette’s main drag. Given that this is where Purdue is, this street is given over to bars and restaurants that cater to the college crowd. Honestly, I feel a little out of place here.

State St., West Lafayette

The tile accents on this State Street building have captured my attention for years. It was late afternoon and the shadows were strong.

State St., West Lafayette

I was amused to find this unintended selfie on the film tail. I don’t remember taking it.

Inadvertent tail selfie

It’s no wonder the Olympus XA has been so loved since its introduction. It’s simply a wonderful camera. As I continue to thin the herd and work through my small rangefinder cameras, it will be challenging for any of them to approach this camera’s wonderful mix of pocketable size, good usability, and excellent results. I’m sure I’ll part with some otherwise very nice cameras because they don’t measure up to the Olympus XA.

Verdict: Keep

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15 responses to “Operation Thin the Herd: Olympus XA”

  1. Christopher J. May Avatar

    One of Louis Sullivan’s “Jewel Boxes!” I love these banks that he designed towards the end of his career. While it was long after his pioneering days at Adler and Sullivan and he had been mostly forgotten as the world started noticing the work of a new generation of architects (including his one time protégée, Frank Lloyd Wright), the Jewel Boxes prove that Sullivan still could design really, really beautiful buildings.

    It’s just a shame that Chase had to mess it up with their modern branding. It’s completely oblivious to the architectural history and elegance of the building.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh! That bank is a “thing”! Now I’ll have to research Jewel Boxes. Thanks for shining light on that for me!

  2. Joshua Fast Avatar
    Joshua Fast

    You have better luck with this little camera than me. I love Olympus digital but so far I have been underwhelmed with Olympus film cameras. I’ve had two XA’s, the first worked perfectly and the second overexposed. I could never gel with the controls and get into a groove with it. I’ve seen some great results from them so it’s probably just me.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve experienced a few cameras that others love but just don’t click with me. It is an individual thing.

  3. Mike Connealy Avatar

    You’ve done nice work with your XA. I haven’t made any pictures with mine in some time, but I have been carrying it around to use as a light meter after losing the pricey little one I bought not long ago.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Good heavens, man, put some film into it!

  4. Heide Avatar

    Hard to disagree with your results, Jim — it’s a keeper! Wonderful images, all (even the unintentional selfie :).

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks H! It’s a grand little camera.

  5. analogphotobug Avatar

    Love the series…..Hey I think we have one of those stashed away. Need to look for it. I’m not thinning my heard, but for now I’ve stopped adding to it…….

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s a fine little machine — you’ll be glad you found it!

  6. freelancewastrel Avatar

    I was lucky enough to be sent an XA during Emulsive’s ‘Secret Santa’ a couple of years ago and I love it. Sadly it’s developed a fault common to a lot of the XA range, the ‘sticky’ shutter button… I really need to get it fixed. An excellent post Jim.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Ooh, I didn’t know that was a common XA affliction. Here’s hoping mine escapes it.

  7. Carrie Avatar

    Lovely shots! Looks like a nifty little camera, makes me really want to get back into film photography.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      dooooo eeeeeeet!!

  8. […] late in his life. Jim Grey has a photo of one of the jewel boxes in West Lafayette, IN in his Operation Thin the Herd: Olympus XA blog post. Someday I’d love to make a project documenting these stunning […]

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