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Film Camera Review, Olympus XA1 35mm Viewfinder Film Camera

Film Camera Review: Olympus XA1
A fixed-focus point-and-shoot 35mm film camera, the simplest of the Olympus XA capsule camera series.

The Olympus XA Capsule Camera series, which includes the original Olympus XA, Olympus XA2, Olympus XA3, and Olympus XA4, is one of the series of 35mm film cameras manufactured (by Olympus) in the '80s that have remained favorites not only film camera collectors but film camera enthusiasts as well.

Aside from all these preferred choices, however, there is still Olympus XA1 to consider.

Olympus XA1, Side Front

The Olympus XA1, introduced in 1982, was a fixed-focus point-and-shoot and the simplest of the clamshell design, with the lens protected by a sliding dust cover as found on the rest of the series. The camera comes fitted with a D.Zuiko 4-element in 4-groups 35mm F4 lens, which has a universal focus range from 1.5 meters to infinity.

Exposure is automatic by a built-in selenium meter, and the camera operates on a programmed shutter speed range from F4 at 1/30 second to F22 at 1/250 second.

Olympus XA1 Film ASA Setting

The shutter release, a button instead of the electro-pad of the others, is coupled to a red pop-up flag mechanism that locks the shutter to prevent underexposure in low light conditions.

The camera will only operate with the film speed setting of ISO 100 or ISO 400.


    OLYMPUS XA1 REVIEW AND SAMPLES Video by Damian Brown Photography travel photography geeky olympus olympus xa1 review rangefinder rangefinder camera collection film photography 35mm film The Olympus XA was a 35 mm rangefinder camera built by Olympus of Japan. It was one of the smallest rangefinder cameras ever made, together with the Contax T.
The Olympus XA Capsule Camera series, designed by Yoshihisa Maitani of Olympus Optical Co Ltd., was one of the smallest rangefinder cameras ever made. Although the cameras of the series resembled each other, there were subtle differences in their design. The XA3 and XA4, for example, were slightly larger than the XA and XA2, while the original XA's dust cover dome resembled a flattened oval while the others came with a more rounded design.

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 the film frame window are located to the right of the top plate.

Olympus XA1, Bottom

Located 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 a standard easy load layout with the film chamber, shutter frame, forward sprocket, a multislot take-up spool, and the standard two blank shots to load the film to frame 1.


The XA1's viewfinder is a simple bright frame finder with etched frame lines and the red pop-up shutter lock flag display when activated.

Flash Unit Adaptability

Like the rest of the series, the XA1 is also designed to be used with the proprietary XA series flash units. Though the model was sold mainly with the A9M flash unit as a package, it will also work just as well with the A1LM, A11, or A16 units. By itself, the XA1 does not need any batteries to run or operate.

Camera Body Weight

The Olympus XA1's body weight is only 150 grams.

Using The Camera

Olympus XA1, Handling the camera

The compact clamshell design is ideal for sliding in and out of your pocket and is just as handy to hold 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 moan 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.

Film Camera Review: Olympus XA1 01
Film Camera Review: Olympus XA1 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 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 make 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

Film Camera Review: Olympus XA1 03

As can be seen on 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 conditions. If you are 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, bringing the camera back to the scene you want to capture and press the shutter release home.

A Couple More Shots

Film Camera Review: Olympus XA1 04
Film Camera Review: Olympus XA1 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 glamorous, 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 conditions, but I suppose you can overcome that with the tricks you have up your sleeve.

Olympus XA1, Instruction Cover

Olympus XA1 Instruction -
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.

Looking Forward

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

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  1. If one uses ASA 400 film, setting the expore to ISO 100 in backlight situations suffices as a "backlight lever".

    If one puts the camera with attached flash with the flash not having a battery inserted into flash mode, then the "red lever" can be circumvented: in that I ASSUME that f4 with 1/30s shutter speed is being used.

    1. Nifty idea on the 'backlight lever'

      Do the shutter test with the film back open so you can see whether the aperture blades moves at all, a keen hearing will discern between the changes in shutter speed setting... thanks


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