Olympus XA2 Review

When it was first produced in the 1980’s this 35mm zone focusing compact was a technological and design breakthrough. It’s selenium light meter and clam shell design were cutting edge at the time of release and the Zuiko 35mm f3.5 was (and still is) super sharp.

Olympus XA2
Olympus XA2

After using a DSLR in quite heavily for the last year or so it has taken quite a while to get used to using such a supposedly ‘low tech’ camera. There are really only a couple of things you can do wrong when using this camera.

Once the XA2 is loaded with film you first need to select the correct ASA, something i’ve failed to do on a c0uple of occasions. You simply move the little switch under the lense to the ASA setting that matches the speed of the film you are using (available options are ASA 25, 50, 100, 200, 400 & 800).

Before taking a shot the only thing you need to worry about is setting the correct zone focus. On the front of the camera there is a switch with 3 symbols, one for each of the focus zones:

Two Heads: 1.2m – 1.8m

Two Orange Bodies: 1.2 – 6.3m

Mountains: 6.3m – infinity

Every time you reopen the clam shell to take a shot the XA2 resets back to it’s default medium zone (the two orange bodies) so be sure to change zone before shooting if your subject is close by or in the distance. Initially this can be easy to forget and the first couple of roll of film i put through the XA2 contained numerous out of focus shots.

The Olympus XA2 works by using a selenium light meter which is incredibly sensitive. When shooting you will hear two clicks: one when the shutter opens, another when it closes . You need to keep the camera perfectly still until you hear that second click, particularly if shooting in low light.

Shooting film has been a bit of a revelation for me after shooting digital for so long. I like the idea of being forced to think much harder about my shots before pressing the shutter release button. As a result I think shooting film has helped me improve as a photographer.

Cross Processed XA2 Shot
Cross Processed XA2 Shot

The above shot was taken using colour slide film which was then cross processed as regular negative film. The results of doing this are unpredictable, high contrast colours that can offer up some really nice surprises.

The metal body and clam shell design means that most of these cameras tend to be in great condition despite being getting on for 30 years old. The most common repair you’ll need to make (i’ve just had to do this on mine) is to replace the light seals. You’ll know you need to do this if some of your pictures have a orange/yellow line across them. This is a simple job, simply buy some replacement light seals from ebay (they only cost a couple of pounds/dollars), scrape away the gunky foam from inside and fit the new seals.

The great thing about these cameras is that they offer all of the benefits of the much more expensive Lomo LCA while doing so at bargain prices. These cameras often turn up in thrift stores or junk sales but also sell at reasonable prices on ebay. If you see one for a reasonable price, just but it.

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