The XA1 is often rated as the runt of the XA series litter by XA officandos. But this little overlooked number can still deliver despite it’s limitations and can surprise.
The XA series was Olympus compact clamshell range of cameras that were sold predominately in the 80’s and carried the torch on for Olympus from the Trip 35 and 70’s compact rangefinders. The series is probably best known for the XA probably the most compact 35mm rangefinder in the world and the Ubiquitous XA2 (to some one of the finest P&S there was – I’ve already said it’s good but just not that good). The XA3 & 4 build on the XA2 but in the middle sits the humble XA1
This shares the shares the same clamshell design. This makes it compact and ideal to keep in the pocket. You slide open the clamshell to activate the camera’s metering & shutter. But open it and you’ll get a blast from the past in that it’s selenium metered (so no batteries). The spec is also suspiciously not a million miles removed from its more famous selenium ring predecessor the trip with the exception the lens is fixed focus and a fraction of a stop slower. Like the Trip shooting in too low light causes a red flag appears in the viewfinder which locks the shutter.
Olympus XA1 Specs
- Lens: D. Zuiko 35mm
- Focus: Fixed (1.5m to ∞)
- Metering: Selenium Cell
- Aperture: f/4-f/22
- Shutter: 1/30-1/250
- EV 100asa: 9-17
- Film speed: 100 or 400asa
- Filter-Thread: None
The camera also lacks the red membrane touch shutter of the rest of the series. Some moan about its more traditional sticky out shutter but I for one am happier with it and certainly you don’t get any annoying sticky shutter issues. And …psst… wanna know a secret unlike the other XAs you can exposure lock by half depressing it. Sadly it isn’t cable threaded.
Now the downsides. The camera is the most basic in the series, I’ll admit. The camera’s speed range is much more limited (no 2 minute metered exposures here) and you are irritatingly limited to either 100 or 400 asa. The camera loses the self timer and backlight lever compared to its siblings. The lens is f/4 compared to the XA2 f /3.5 (a pretty minor issue – otherwise they are both 4 element set ups). The lens is fixed which does become an issue in low light whereas the XA2 has the zone options. Like the XA2 there is no manual override option for exposure as you get with the Trip.
Like all of the series the camera only uses as a proprietary XA series flash units. It was sold with the A9M as a package but will work with the better units like the A11 or A16.
So how does it shoot ? In good conditions it does fine and I’d argue little different from the XA2 (predominantly a fixed focus camera with the option of zone focus in low light). Yup it does become poorer at low light but then again the XA2 isn’t exactly spectacular there either although it’s zone focusing does help. I’m Guessing the sweet spot for the XA1 in low light is around 3-5 meters. Manual suggests 1.5m to ∞ in good conditions.
Is it better than a XA2 ? In good light it’s just as good and has a better shutter button IMHO and can exposure lock. The XA2 is more versatile however and on a recent trip away where I took the XA1, I was missing having either a LC-A or XA2 for the long shutters in low light. Still the XA1 is a fine camera with 400asa and good weather. It knocks the spots off cheap plastic fix focus numbers. The XA1 is widely available and you should get well under a tenner as it tends to have bad press. Expect to replace the light seals.
- Olympus XA2 : CdS metered and better spec’d big brother
- Lomo LC-A : Russian compact that launched a 1000 hipsters
- Pentax Pino 35 – surprisingly good manual fixed focus with flash
- Halina Micro 35 – Fixed focus flash compact from Haking
- Olympus XA series on camera-wiki.org
- XA1 overview inc. manual at 35mm-compact.com (in French)
- Olympus XA Users Collective Group at Flickr