Olympus XA1, All You Need To Know

Olympus XA1, Pair

Olympus XA1, Top Front

Introduction and Overview

How much do you know about the Olympus XA1? Not much, I assume. You might even be surprised to know that the model ever existed. Seems that the XA1 is the least acknowledged or known of the compact clamshell designed 35mm range/viewfinder film cameras made popular by Olympus in the 80's.

Contrary to the few adverse comments belittling the camera that you can find scattered across the Net, I find the Olympus XA1 to be exactly the opposite, and a delight to use.

OLYMPUS XA1 REVIEW AND SAMPLES

Olympus Capsule Cameras

The Olympus Capsule camera series is best known for the Olympus XA which came with signature red membrane touch shutter and a semi-automatic aperture preferred shutter system. It was one of the most compact 35mm rangefinders on the market then. Success breeds success, the capsule series was expanded to incorporate the XA2, a viewfinder with zone focusing; the XA3, upgraded XA2 with DX decoding; the XA4 with macro capabilities; and then there was the XA1.


The Olympus XA1

Olympus XA1, Side Front
The XA1, introduced in 1982, a true point-and-shoot, was the simplest in the clamshell XA range. It came with a fixed focus four elements in four groups 35mm f/4 lens, a programmed shutter range from f4/1.30 second to f22/1.250 second. Exposure is automatic by a built-in selenium meter, which is coupled to a shutter lock with a red pop-up flag mechanism that prevents underexposure (as seen previously on the Olympus Trip 35).


Basic Camera Features

The Olympus XA1 is normally sold as a kit with the Olympus A9M external flash unit. The A9M is a purely manual flash unit powered by a single AA battery.

Olympus XA1, Front

The D.Zuiko 35mm f/4 fixed lens sits protected behind the capsule cover until it is opened, showing the lens surrounded by bubble modules with the selenium cell behind it. On the lower part of the lens is the latch lever that turns on the flash unit. The viewfinder is on the upper part of the lens assembly.

Olympus XA1, Top

On the left of the top plate of the XA1 is the film rewind crank, which will be half covered when the capsule cover is opened. The shutter release button, the only protrusion out of the body when the capsule is closed,  and film frame window are located to the right of the top plate.

Olympus XA1, Bottom

On the bottom plate are the film ISO selector dial and the rewind release button. The XA1 does not have a tripod socket.

Olympus XA1, Film Box

The back of the XA1 is plain except for the viewfinder eyepiece, which is again covered when the capsule cover is closed. The film forward wind is on the right shoulder of the camera body, and the film back is a fixed hinge type. Film loading is standard easy load with film chamber, shutter frame, forward sprocket, a multislot take-up spool, and the standard two blank shots to load the film to frame 1.


Film ASA Speed

Olympus XA1 Film ASA Setting
The only film speed settings are ASA 100 and ASA 400. Like the rest of the series, the camera only uses a proprietary XA series flash units. The XA1 was sold with the A9M flash unit as a package but will also work with the A11 or A16. By itself, the XA1 does not need any batteries to run or operate it.


Very Affordable

The Olympus XA1 is very affordable, getting one from online sellers and auction sites are usually dirt cheap.


Using The Camera

Olympus XA1, Handling the camera
The compact clamshell design is ideal sliding in and out of your pocket and is just as handy to hold snug in the palm of your hand. Slide the clamshell open to uncover the lens, which also activates the camera’s selenium metering, and you are ready to go.

While some moans at the lack of the red membrane touch shutter, as the rest of the series has them, the shutter of the XA1 is mechanical, does not get stuck, and you know what, the XA1 is the only model in the series that you can do exposure lock with.

Olympus XA1, All You Need To Know, Sample Image 01
Olympus XA1, All You Need To Know, Sample Image 02

The camera does not have a self-timer and the back-light lever which the others have. The fixed f/4 lens does not need any focusing effort on your part, everything in between 1.5 meters to infinity will be in focus. There is no manual override option for exposure, as what you can do on the Olympus Trip 35, either.

All these the XA1 sound like an ideal street shooter actually, where you can shoot from the hip, held up above your head, or while groveling on the ground, and such. Wouldn't that be great?


Exposure Lock Trick

Olympus XA1, All You Need To Know, Sample Image 03

Reminiscence of the Olympus Trip 35 and the Pen EF, the XA1 uses the red pop-up flag system which will activate and lock the shutter in insufficient light condition. If you into some creative shooting, you can overcome this by first pointing the camera to a brighter light source, one which will not trigger the red pop-up flag, half-press the shutter, bring the camera back to the scene you want to capture, and press the shutter release home.


A Couple More Shots

Olympus XA1, All You Need To Know, Sample Image 04
Olympus XA1, All You Need To Know, Sample Image 05

So how was your session with the camera? I thoroughly enjoyed mine, in good lighting condition the renowned Zuiko glass is all glam and glamor, as you can see from the photos posted here, grain and all.

I will continue using it as a fun street shooter, getting yourself lost in the crowd, with a good 35mm lens to boot. Images might not be as clear and sharp in lower light condition, but I suppose you can overcome that too with the tricks that you have up your sleeve.


Olympus XA1, Instruction Cover
Olympus XA1 Instruction - 35mm-compact.com
Use this link if you are looking for the XA1 instruction, the pages are scanned individually. This is the only site I found on the internet so far, the download is free.


How to Use Almost Any 35mm Film Camera - wikiHow
Use this link here if you are new to film cameras and wants to know how to load, shoot, rewind and unload the film cassette from the camera once you finished shooting the whole roll.


Resource Links:
Olympus XA1: Shooting Hipster Style
Olympus XA1: Soft, Sharp and Saturated

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