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Film Camera Review, Olympus XA 35mm Film Cameras, 1979-85

Olympus XA Capsule Cameras
A quick look at the Olympus XA series of ultra-compact fixed focus, zone focus, and rangefinder 35mm film cameras.

The Olympus XA series of ultra-compact 35mm film cameras or the XA Capsule Cameras (as termed by Olympus) was developed as a compact and lightweight camera that would fit easily in your coat pocket or purse. The camera can be carried without the need for additional casing as it comes with its own clamshell which slides over the lens and viewfinder area as a protective cover when not in use.

Starting off with the original Olympus XA released in 1979, the only true rangefinder camera within the series, a total of 5 models catering to different market segments and advances in technology was produced.

Designed by Yoshihisa Maitani, the XA has a lot going for its size. These include an aperture priority exposure system, a sharp and contrasty six-element Zuiko 35mm f/2.8 lens of renowned Olympus glass, a CdS exposure meter, and a shutter speed range from 1/500 - 10 seconds.

Power for the electronics is from standard SR-44 1.5 silver oxide batteries which will and do last forever. A small swing-out lever from the base plate of the camera provides a combination of self-timer, battery check, and back-light compensation functionalities.

The shutter release mechanism for the XA series, aside from the push-button XA1, is an electromagnetic feather-touch button designed to reduce camera shake.

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Built-wise, the XA was the first full-featured camera in which plastic materials were used for the body and other key parts.

The XA soon became a favorite with street photographers and some say, professionals. The form factor makes it very handy and unobtrusive to carry around; a tourist’s happy snapper, perfect for grabbing that candid and wild street shots without anyone noticing.

The 5 models of the Olympus XA series:

  • Olympus XA - Compact rangefinder with aperture priority 35mm f/2.8 lens
  • Olympus XA4 Macro - Distance focus camera, 28mm wide macro lens
  • Olympus XA3 - Same as XA2 with "DX" automatic film speed recognition
  • Olympus XA2 - Zone focus camera, automatic shutter, 35mm f/3.5 lens
  • Olympus XA1 - Point-and-shoot mechanical camera with a selenium meter

Externally Mounted Flash Units

The XA series was also accompanied by a range of externally mounted strobe flash units designed to complement the overall look of the compact:
  • A9M - Manual flash intended for use with the XA1. Uses one AA battery.
  • A11 - Auto flash with settings for ASA 100 and ASA 400. Uses one AA battery.
  • A16 - Auto flash, bigger than the A11. Has settings for ASA 100 and ASA 400. Uses two AA batteries.
  • A1L - Lithium batteries are not replaceable by the user without dismantling the flash.
  • A macro attachment was available for the A-11 and A-1L to use with the XA4 at a close focusing range.

Olympus XA (1979)

Olympus XA (1979)

The XA, introduced in 1979 was the benchmark of the series, coming in with a range of sophisticated features, including a true built-in rangefinder and aperture-preferred AE, a six-element Zuiko 35mm f/2.8 lens, a CdS exposure meter, and a shutter range from 1/500 - 10 seconds. The XA was also the first full-featured camera in which plastic materials were used for the body and other key parts.

Olympus XA2 (1980)

Olympus XA2 (1980)

The XA2, introduced in 1980, was a simplified version of the XA, outfitted with zone focusing and a programmed exposure system. It had a four-elements-in-four-groups Zuiko 35mm f/3.5 lens. The exposure meter was a CdS exposure sensor above the lens. The shutter speed range was 2 secs. to 1/750. The minimum focusing distance is 3.3 feet or 1 meter. Its film speed range was ASA 25 -800. The XA2 was available in four body colors and was the first camera to win a Good Design award from the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

Olympus XA1 (1982)

Olympus XA1 (1982)

The XA1, introduced in 1982, was the true point-and-shoot, simplest of the series. It had a fixed focus four elements 35mm f/4 lens, a mechanical push-button shutter from 1/30 to 1/250, and a programmed exposure driven by a selenium meter. Works just like the Trip 35, or was it a Trip 35 reborn? The only film speed settings were 100 and 400 ISO.

Olympus XA3 (1986)

Olympus XA 3 (1986)

Olympus XA 3 Collection (1986)

The XA3, released in 1985, was basically an XA2 with DX film coding and manual ASA settings up to 1600 ASA. Also had the "backlight compensation" feature from the original XA, a feature lacking in the XA2. A limited edition in red was also produced.

Olympus XA4 Macro (1985)

Olympus XA4 (1985)

Rarest, and most sought after by collectors and enthusiasts, the XA4 Macro, released in 1985, had a 28mm f/3.5 wide-angle lens, perfect for landscapes, people at work, and at play, where you can get in right into their midst. The 28mm was also capable of macro photography at a minimum distance of 30cm and the XA4 Macro came with a strap that could be used to check the distance from the subject.

Film ASA speed, like the XA3, is up to 1600 for this model. Like the XA2, the range setting was automatically reset to 3m whenever the sliding barrier was opened or closed in case the user forgot to switch the focus control.

Loading Film

Olympus XA Capsule Cameras, Loading the film
  • Open the back of your XA by pulling the rewind knob up and releasing the spring latch that locks the back in place. Insert the 35mm film cassette into the left side of the camera back. Once inserted, push the film rewind dial down to lock the film canister into place.
  • Pull a small amount of film from the cassette, across the camera back, and insert the film leader into a slot on the film take-up reel.
  • When the film is firmly spooled on the take-up reel, advance the film using the film advance crank. Observe to make sure that the film has started to wind around the take-up reel. Close the back of your camera.

Olympus XA Capsule Cameras, Loading the film
  • After you close the camera back, slide the clamshell open, snap the shutter, crank the film forward, and repeat until the film counter registers 1. This is to ensure that the part of the film that was exposed while you were loading the camera is completely cranked forward.
Adjust the ASA setting on the camera to that of the film you are using and you are set to go!

Focusing on a Rangefinder (Olympus XA)

Olympus XA Capsule Cameras, Focusing the XA
The rangefinder on the Olympus XA uses a dual-image parallax device that merges the two images you see in the viewfinder into one at the correct focus distance. The second image is captured by a smaller window, thus a smaller image, located just beside the main viewfinder window.

To get the range (distance) correct, turn the focusing lever located on the lower part of the lens housing, while you are looking at the subject through the viewfinder until the overlapping images merge into one.

You are now at the correct focus distance.

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