The Olympus XA series of cameras were compact cameras in a clam-shell case, kind of new and innovative at the time. Although this camera was supposedly replaced by the Epic Stylus mju series in 1991, the diehard XA fans really felt it was a “downgrade”. Well, that’s food for contention. It was bigger, but the ability to add on a relatively powerful flash, paired with a stupendous lens, made it a winner. OK, you had to have “bigger” pockets. But so what. The images were on par with any Zeiss or Nikon glass at the time.
And in the Beginning…. Olympus XA
The original XA came out in 1979. It had an actual rangefinder focusing mechanism and an aperture priority exposure system within it’s relatively small footprint. A true accomplishment in 1979. And the six element Zuiko 35mm f/2.8 lens and a shutter to 1/500 made it a real camera capable of some awesome imaging. Even to this day. Along with the A11 flash, that attached seamlessly to the body, why more people don’t opt for this camera over a Yashica T4 leaves most photographer’s scratching their collective heads.
Now, I’m not going to say the heft and solid feel of the camera could possibly compete with the Titanium wonders that came along a bit later. E.g., Contax T2/3, Nikon Ti, Leica Minilux, etc. But they were mostly 90’s cameras, and other than build, (and price), they’d be hard pressed to produce better images.
The XA2,…the Most Common XA
In 1980, the XA2 was released by Olympus. A simple version of the XA. For weekend warriors I guess. It went from a six element Zuiko 35mm f/2.8 to a four element Zuiko 35mm f/3.5. It’s shutter speed increased to 1/750 and programmed exposure. And it could focus down to 1 meter. So, as you can see, there were improvements and cost cutting measures incorporated. A conundrum. It had no DX, of course, and film ASA was limited to 25 to 800. The cool thing for ‘collectors’ is the limited number of colored ones in red, blue, white and pink! With pink being the rarest. But, like I wouldn’t buy a pink Instax camera, I wouldn’t buy a pink XA. (I would think any color other than black is for collectors alone)
The exposure meter was a sensor above the lens, and worked quite well. Especially considering this was pre “fuzzy logic, matrix, blah-blah, etc.” metering. The XA1 came out in 1982. Don’t ask me about the perplexing Japanese thought process on numbering. It was simpler and cheaper. I am not a fan of the lens on this model, but I’m sure I’ll hear about it. It had a four element 35mm f/4 lens. It’s shutter was limited from1/30 to 1/250. (I guess they thought you’d never go to the beach) The programmed mode used a new at the time selenium metering sensor,….but it only had 2 ASA settings! 100 and 400 ISO. Olympus called this model the “XA1”. I called it the “Mom” camera.
DX Coding and 1600 Arrives
Olympus finally released an XA3. It was basically an X2, but had DX coding and could accommodate 1600 speed film. It also had a better meter than the XA2, allowing for exposure compensation. So, you think that’s it? Yes, there was an XA4 released in 1985. Although I’ve personally never seen one, it had a five element Zuiko 28mm f/3.5 lens that could focus to a little over a foot. Very close considering this was not an SLR camera, and parallax was of great concern. Olympus addressed this by including a special strap for measuring .5 meter and .3 meter distances. Okey dokey.My personal favorites are the XA and XA2.
The Integrated Flash
Now to the A11. But that’s not the only flash made for the Olympus XA. There was the A9M, the A11, and the A16. Oh, and let’s not forget the A1L, which was for the XA4 only. Below is a chart of the various models. Only the GN’s for the A1L are suspect, since that was suppose to be a macro camera. I guess. You just dialed in the film speed. Unfortunately, they only have 100 and 400 ISO selections. Guide Numbers are shown in the chart. These are no Nikon SB-900’s, but for a compact, the GN is high.
|Model||Weight||GN||Battery||Recycle||100 ASA||400 ASA|
|A9M||1.8oz||30 ft||1xAA||7 sec||7.5 ft||14.8 ft|
|A1L||1.4oz||23 ft||Lithium||1.5 sec||6 ft||10 ft|
|A11||2.3oz||33 ft||1xAA||7 sec||8.2f t||16.4 ft|
|A16||3.1oz||59 ft||2xAA||5 sec||13.2 ft||26.4 ft|
Below is a link to the PDF Olympus manual for the original Olympus XA. A good read if you’re pondering a sturdy, proven film point and shoot. Not a Leica, but they go for a song, and the images are sharp and clear.