Vintage Camera Review: Olympus XA2

The Olympus XA2 probably isn’t as famous at its predecessor, but it is quite a beautiful and simple camera to use. In some ways I think about it as Olympus’ version of the Lomography LCA camera. It’s characterized by its simple operation, its very interesting flash design, its small size, and its pretty darned good image quality. These days, I’d strongly recommend it as a compact film shooter for anyone who loves street photography or even just wants something incredibly pocketable. Where the Olympus XA had aperture priority control, the Olympus XA2 doesn’t. Instead, you’ve got ISO control and zone focusing. That’s it. Otherwise, you’re at the mercy of a very good light meter. Of course, you can always trick the camera using ISO changes, but you may not want to do that all the time.

Gear Used

The Olympus XA2 was tested with the flash it comes with along with Fujifilm Superia 200.

Tech Specs

Specs for the Olympus XA2 were borrowed from Matt’s Classic Cameras

  • Produced 1980-86 Olympus Optical Co. Ltd., Tokyo, Japan
  • Film type 135 (35mm)
  • Picture size 24mm x 36mm
  • Weight 200g
  • Lens D.Zuiko 35mm 1:3.5-22 (4 elements in 3 groups)
  • Focal range 1.3m to infinity in 3 zones
  • Filter size n/a
  • Shutter Olympus between-lens
  • Shutter speeds 2s-1/750 aperture-priority automatic
  • Viewfinder Albada-type bright-line finder
  • Exposure meter CdS
  • Battery two SR44 / S76 silver oxide button
  • ASA 25-800
  • Self-timer
  • Thumbwheel winder

Ergonomics

The Olympus XA2 is a compact film camera in every sense. The lens cover simply slides on or off while still staying on the camera itself. The flash for it, the Olympus A11, can screw into the side when it needs to be used.

When the lens is unsheathed, it looks like this. By default, the focusing on the left side in this image defaults to the middle position. This is the zone focusing area. No, this camera won’t be doing macros. Instead, it’s great for street work. There is ISO control as well as a 35mm f3.5 lens.

When you’re done using the Olympus XA2 you can close the camera back up and protect the lens. Indeed, it’s pretty small overall.


At the top here, you’ll find this red button. It’s very subtle and small, but that’s how you activate the shutter. On the bottom of the Olympus XA2 is a film release button and then you can use the winder up top to rewind the film. Pull that lever up and the back will pop open for you to take your film out and reload some new stuff.

Build Quality

The Olympus XA2 has an all-plastic body. It isn’t cheaply built though but I’m very careful not to drop it. It’s also not very friendly to be used with a camera strap unless you use something that goes into the tripod socket. What’s really nice is the design that reveals the lens and closes it back up for storage. Olympus could use a heck of alot more compact cameras with this design.

Ease of Use

The Olympus XA2 is pretty simple to use as long as you remember you’re not in control of the exposure for the most part. It has a meter built in and you’ll need to remember the maximum aperture of f3.5. With that said, it makes a whole lot of sense to keep the flash on and to also remember how far out you’re focusing with the camera.

Focusing

Focusing the Olympus XA2 is done with this switch on the side where your right hand will hold the camera. It works via zone focusing. One setting shows full body, one half body, and one for infinity. As you look through the lens, you learn to figure out how far away the camera will focus based on these settings. In some ways this is easier than other methods.

Image Quality

My version has a bit of light leaks, but that’s never harmed anyone.

Conclusions

The Olympus XA2 is a pretty fantastic camera that belongs in the hands of anyone who’d love to get into analog film photography, but let’s go deeper.

Who is the Olympus XA2 for? I’d say it’s for anyone looking to get into film photography with a point and shoot and street photographers. If you’re looking for something a step up from a disposable camera, this would be it.

What makes the Olympus XA2 so special? That would be the small size, the lens covering, the flash, and the simple use.

When would you want to use the Olympus XA2? The ISOs don’t go up too high, but as long as you’ve got the flash you’ll be fine in lower light situations. Take it with you everywhere. But also keep in mind that you should be careful with it. It isn’t weather sealed.

How does one make the most use of the Olympus XA2? You can make the most of the XA2 by loading black and white film and shooting some street photography. The fairly soft aesthetic of the lens combined with the light leaks this camera gave me is pretty appealing to me.

Why would you get the Olympus XA2? It’s pretty affordable. You can use it before you step up to something like a film SLR, film rangefinder, or a more complicated point and shoot like the Hexar AF.