Featured Camera: The Olympus XA

You may have heard of the Olympus XA2, the XA1 and the XA3, but today we are bringing it back to the fantastic original camera in the series - the Olympus XA. And, although this is rare among series of cameras, we think this one is the best.


We have been taking this camera on holiday with us since we got it, and here are our thoughts on it.

Olympus XA camera

What is the Olympus XA?

The Olympus XA is the first camera in the XA series, succeeded by the XA1, XA2, XA3 and XA4. It was introduced in 1979 and discontinued in 1985. 


The Olympus XA is a rangefinder camera. A rangefinder is a type of camera that uses a small patch in the viewfinder to help you focus your camera. We'll talk more about this later.


The XA series are known for their compact size and super sharp lenses, and I consider them point and shoot cameras despite their manual focus.

What features does the Olympus XA have?

The greatest feature of the Olympus XA camera is its fantastically sharp 28mm f/2.8 lens. It is a Zuiko lens, a manufacturer known for their high quality construction and exceptional quality.


The Olympus XA has most must-have features that you want when creating images.

Diagram of the Olympus XA lens

Other features of the Olympus XA include:


  • Manual winding
  • Automatic shutter speed with a shutter speed indicator in the viewfinder
  • Manual aperture
  • Rangefinder focusing
  • Detachable flash
  • Self-timer
  • Back-light exposure compensation mode
Olympus XA 35mm point and shoot camera advert

Using the Olympus XA

Using the Olympus XA took a while to get used to. Having all the settings on the front of the camera meant I was often forgetting to set my aperture, however leaving it at the f/5.6 means you can't go wrong.


The other setting on the front of the camera is the focus, which moves the rangefinder patch in the viewfinder.

View of Tenby taken on the Olympus XA

How does the Olympus XA rangefinder work?


The Olympus XA rangefinder is easy to use when you get used to it. In the centre of the viewfinder is a small yellow patch that reflects part of your view. The goal is to line up this reflected view with what you can see and want to focus on.


It is a really simple system, but does take some getting used to. I found it easy to use as a glasses-wearer and it was nice to have the reassurance that what I was photographing was definitely in focus. I had to re-check the focus on a couple of shots when I wasn't sure where the rangefinder patch was exactly.

View of Tenby taken on the Olympus XA
View of Bournemouth Harbour taken on the Olympus XA

Views of Tenby and Bournemouth, taken on the Olympus XA with Portra 400

Sample images from the Olympus XA

I was really pleased with the film I got back from using the Olympus XA. We used a roll of Kodak Portra 400, and also used it across a variety of lighting situations to really test the camera's limits.


Our roll of film was developed by Gulabi, who are a Glasgow-based film lab. 

View of bandstand in Tenby
View of Tenby taken on the Olympus XA
View of the sky taken with the Canon F-1

Views of Tenby and Bournemouth, taken on the Olympus XA with Portra 400

View of beach taken on Olympus XA

You can see the sharpness of the lens in these photographs. There is a slight vignette in the corners of the photographs, but not enough to cause concern or decrease the quality of the image, in my opinion.

Person on beach taken with Olympus XA
Person on beach taken on Olympus XA

Can you use the Olympus XA at night?

Here is another area where the Olympus XA really surprised me. 


As the shutter speed is automatic, I thought it would have failed during low light situations without the flash attached.


However, these next images were taken without flash at night. 

Person using sparklers at night taken with the Olympus XA
Firework taken on the Olympus XA
Firework taken on the Olympus XA

Even in the super dark setting, the Olympus XA managed to expose the sudden flashes of light really well, and also maintained the sharp focus seen throughout the daylight shots.


For these photographs, the camera was set to the infinity focus mark. 

Final Thoughts on the Olympus XA


For a camera the size of your palm, the Olympus XA delivers the quality, versatility, and sharpness of a SLR camera. Its features are all packed into the small body well, and it feels not only sturdy, but capable of great things. 


The Olympus XA is an ideal everyday camera for putting in your pocket, and taking for a stroll, or in your backpack when you go travelling.


Those who have used the other Olympus XA cameras in the range will appreciate the rangefinder, over the later models' zone focusing. And fans of SLR cameras will appreciate the compact size of the camera, whilst not losing all of the functionality you want when photographing.

Still stuck on which film camera to buy?


Try our film camera quiz. All you have to do is answer a few questions, and then you will get a list of personalised camera recommendations. 


Or send us a message on Instagram, send us an email, chat to us on our live website chat, or read some more of our blog posts!

If you like what we do, but can't buy a camera from us, please consider buying us a cup of coffee! It helps us to keep these resources free, consistent, and accessible. 

Max, owner of Cameras By Max

Article written by: Max

Max is the owner of Cameras By Max. They work full-time repairing and refurbishing all the 35mm film cameras you see on the website. Their favourite camera (at the moment) is the Olympus XA, and their favourite city in the world is Edinburgh.

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