Olympus XA2 Review : Good yes but classic…..

I suspect this review may get me flamed, but I have to be honest whilst the XA2 is a good P&S camera IMHO it isn’t the classic it’s often described as

Olympus XA2
Olympus XA2 open & closed

That said it’s not a bad choice and can give you great shots.

Arriving Engrossed
OLympus XA2 with Kodak BW400CN. Edinburgh 2013

The XA series has a almost mythological status amongst devotees. And there is a lot to like here with a compact, lens protecting sliding cover body plus (with the exception of the XA1) a cunning metering system that supports a wide range of ASA speeds and can do up to 2 minute shots with a neat electronic self timer. The star of the show is the might XA rangefinder arguable the most compact 35mm rangefinder in the world but we’re focusing on its more widespread P&S sibling.

Olympus XA2  Specs

  • Lens:  D Zuiko 35mm 1:3.5
  • Focus:  Fixed/Zone
  • Aperture: f/3.8 – f/14
  • Shutter: 2min-1/750
  • Meter:  CdS
  • ASA range : 25-800
  • EV 100asa :  -3 to 17
  • Batteries : 2 xSR44 (or 2xLR44)

The XA2 (and its slightly tweaked brethren the XA3 and XA4) is a viewfinder point and shoot with same fast lens and shutter arrangements. The XA2 is often labelled as a zone focus P&S but that perhaps is a debatable point. You  do get the option of 3 focus zones set by a switch beside the lens (neatly shutting the lens resets this to the middle distance) but Olympus intended those to be used in poor light with the camera being used in middle setting in good conditions.

Sailing on deck
Olympus XA2 with Agfaphoto Vista Plus 200. Butlins, Skegness 2014

As well as the cunning compact clamshell, pocket fitting design,  the XA2 boast a pedigree triplet Zuiko lens, support for up to 800asa and a electronic timer (activated by small lever on base that also doubles as battery check). This allows you to exploit its bonkers up 2 minute exposure time (the lomo LC-A is about the only camera that I can think of that offers this as well but you’ll be stuck holding it’s shutter button down for 2 minutes) . To shoot simply slide the clamshell open and hit the button.

Mancunian Perspective
Olympus XA2 with Ilford XP2. Manchester 2014

Hmm… the shutter button or lack of.  The XA2 has a styled red flat button patch you gently press a bit like the later agfas. There’slittle haptic feedback & no ability to exposure lock (not too big an issue you can use the film speed to adjust exposure). Also 20+ years on it can be a bit inconsistent and it doesn’t always tripping immediately on depression. The viewfinder is good and central with a green LED coming on to warn you low light as well as flash related indicators. It’s worth noting that  you’ll need one of the range of Olympus’ proprietary flash units as there is no hot shoe here nor is there any manual exposure control available.

Bit early for drinks
Olympus XA2 with Lomography 800CN. Carlisle 2013

The lens is good – a 4 element 1:3.5 zuiko. On a good day you get great sharp shots without a doubt but it doesn’t have the same sharpness as you get with a Trip 35 in low light and is almost a f-stop slower.  I find my LC-A better in low light too although the XA2 knocks it for 6 when the sun is out. There is little or no vignetting and no chromatic aberrations of note

The stairs
Olympus XA2 with Kodak BW400CN. NMS Edinburgh 2013

I had 2. Both suffered from the same shutter issue and they both had  (to varying degrees) another recognised issue. The flash unit didn’t always fire – unlike with the much maligned XA1 I own. I’m down to one now as one’s zone focus locked out and metering became unreliable. I’ve commented elsewhere that a humble Halina MW35E outshot one of these

Mid Babycino
Olympus XA2 with Kodak Ultra 400. Butlins, Skegness 2014

Look I wanna really love this camera and sure on a good day it is potentially the sharpest P&S in it’s class, it’s compact and it’s well designed but the button and the flash, they just niggle me. I’m happy using it but if I had to pick my Olympus Trip 35 is just much better and my LC-A more reliable (and yup I fully accept there are plenty of folk who’ve had the reverse experience)

Burgers & Cocktails
Olympus XA2 with Kodak BW400CN. Castleford 2014

The XA3 adds auto DX coding, support up to 1600 and a backlight adjust button. The XA4 is much rarer and features a 28mm lens with macro features (and DX coding). The XA1 is an interesting beast. Much maligned it is a fixed focus and only meters for 100 or 400asa film but it represents the missing link between the fabulous Trip 35  with a battery free selenium array. It also has a conventional if rather protuberant  shutter button. The big hitter is a XA the original and rangefinder version which also has aperture priority exposure.

Expect to replace light seals and watch out for batteries left in from the 80’s. I’d buy with a flash unit (and check that they work !). Expect to pay £20-30 for one from good seller with flash but you can also pick up sub £10 with a bit of luck.This makes them a much cheaper buy than a second-hand LC-A and for many a much better deal (just not me . The XA will go for much more.

Alternatives

  • Olympus Trip 35 – the grandaddy P&S for a reason
  • Lomo LC-A – Soviet competitor saddled with the lomography tag
  • Agfa Optima Sensor 535 – German 80’s P&S
  • Chinon 35 – Rare 70’s rangefinder derived P&S

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10 thoughts on “Olympus XA2 Review : Good yes but classic…..”

  1. The pics are simply gorgeous. I found this camera a few days ago and while I was searching for info about the zone focus of this gear I’ve stumbled upon your blog.
    Best,

  2. I always assumed the XA2 default on case closed was just to make the best attempt to save a photo if user forgot to focus, and used used zones even in daylight (though mainly landscapes). When using a trip I envied the one less decision point of 3 instead of 4 zones…but, studying the XA DOF table, perhaps that is an optimisation too far… Also, when using the Trip, I tended to set by zone, then double check the distance scale(a pity it is underneath) and perhaps choose an intermediate point.
    Perhaps you could get better results with an XA4 which has a distance slider rather than 3 symbols.
    Regards

  3. Sorry, on closer examination the XA4 scale is no improvement, just infinity, 3m,0.7,0.5 and 0.3m… That leaves an XA I suppose…

    Do you find the XA1 clearer in same goohdish conditions?
    I await your new XA2 ‘s results.
    NB I hold the shutter side with thumb underneath the body base.

    Regards

    1. The XA1 is quite fun and not bad as a fixed focus. Given exposure system limitations and the fact you can only set for 100 or 400 iso best shot 400iso. On a good day with 400 pretty sharp but although you do notice slight difference in lower light. I like the xa1 mainly as its the underdog of the family and has a normal shutter button. Shame Olympus hobbled it with just 2 Iso settings (it really is the spiritual successor to the PEN EE)

  4. According to the manual the XA2 zones are focused at 1.2m, 2.7m and infinity: so using some online calculators and the rangefinder-XA manual, and using form (Fn: near zone DOF range, mid zone DOF range, far zone DOF range)—–

    F3.5: 1.1-1.33, 2.2-3.5, 11.7-Infinity
    F5.6: 1.0-1.43, 2.0-4.26, 7.3-Infinity
    F8.0: 1.0-1.55, 1.8-5.65, 5.1-Infinity
    F11: 0.9-1.8, 1.6-9.6, 3.7 -Infinity
    F14: 0.86-2, 1.4-29.9, 2.9-Infinity

    The DOF range s given in the manual seem to be based on F16 but the XA2 spec says F14 is the limit: hmmmm.

    Wouldn’t an extra 5m zone (hyperfocal at F8) have been more useful as a default fixed focus zone. So I think it is best to use the XA as a zone camera and allow for the missing zones. I wonder if the XA1 is fixed at 5m? Also, from the above the mountain zone would often seem more useful than middle?

    A pity I can’t find a graph of the XA2 auto-exposure behaviour but I presume it should try and keep apertures closed up for as long as possible…..
    (I did find someones guesstimate: https://www.flickr.com/groups/52897625@N00/discuss/72157629825134549/ )

    Regards

    1. The consensus for fixed focus cameras was to set the focal sweet spot around 3-5m. That was it was likely to the commonest used point (aka the family snap shot) and rely on hyperfocal distance to make shots of stuff nearer or further acceptable (many scale or zone focus cameras usually had a setting around this point marked for quick snap shooting – the Olympus trip is a classic example with the 3-5m zone marked differently

      Remember the XA2 was intended to be used as fixed focus in bright conditions because of this

  5. The manual seems ambiguous I suppose: it does have a picture of a person photographing a mountain using the mountain setting and of a close-up (but indoors) using the portrait setting:
    to a person coming from another zone focus camera (eg me, from a Trip) it would seem logical to treat it as zone focus, even in daylight (and why not: results should be better, especially after examining the DOF table).
    However, it does put the extra zones under special circumstances, so others might treat it as fixed focus except in poor light/landscapes for large print circumstances (but it seems non-ideal to me).
    Perhaps the manual was trying to be all things to all persons i.e. allow for two levels of user…

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