The Olympus XA-1 is a lightweight, affordable, and uncomplicated 35mm camera. First introduced in 1982, the XA-1 is the least acknowledged camera in the XA series.
Designed by Olympus’s legendary designer Yoshihisu Maitani, the Olympus XA series was a range of clamshell 35 mm rangefinders sold in the early 1980s. These cameras were small, compact, and paved the way for affordable, high-quality pocket cameras.
However, the XA-1 was different from other cameras in the series. It was a simple mechanical camera that took users to the past by incorporating technology from the 1960s.
Despite the use of “vintage camera technology,” the XA-1 is a delight to use. Here’s why
The Cameras Features
One of the most notable features of the XA-1 is the compact clamshell design.
The cameras in the XA series were designed to be small enough to fit in a shirt pocket or a lady’s purse. The XA-1 was the smallest of the XA cameras, which makes this camera ideal for everyday use. You can easily slide the camera in and out of your pocket.
And that’s not all…
The curvy clamshell design also makes it comfortable to hold on your palm.
Using the camera is also straightforward.
It doesn’t have a power button. To use the camera, slide the clamshell open to uncover the lens and activate the selenium metering (technology from the 1960s).
With this camera, you can shoot from the hip, when lying on the ground or overhead.
Another notable feature of the XA-1 is the mechanical shutter. Although most would frown over the traditional sticky out shutter, I find this one of the best features of this camera.
For starters, the shutter doesn’t get stuck.
Secondly, the mechanical shutter makes the XA-1 the only camera in the XA series that can do an exposure lock. If you’re a more creative shooter, this is the XA for you.
To achieve exposure lock, point the camera to a bright light then half-press the shutter. Then move the camera to the object you’d like to capture and press the shutter release to the end.
What about optical quality?
The XA-1 is fitted with a D-Zuiko 35mm f/4 fixed lens that’s located behind the capsule cover. Unlike other clamshell cameras, the XA-1 lens doesn’t extend when the capsule is open. Olympus designed this lens to be shorter than it’s focal length.
As if that’s not enough…
The aperture priority exposure is accurate. The built-in selenium meter, which comes with a red pop up flag mechanism helps to prevent underexposure of photographs.
Like other cameras in the series, the XA-1 came with an external flash unit, the Olympus A9M, which was sold together with the camera. You can also use other flash units such as A11 and A16.
The camera also featured a shutter speed of 1/30 sec to 1/250 sec and an ASA of 100 or 400.
The XA-1 also lacks the signature red membrane touch shutter, which is common in other XA cameras.
Shortcomings of the Camera
There’s a reason why this is the least acknowledged camera in the XA series. One of those reasons is its simplicity.
For starters, the camera has a limited shutter speed range.
The camera also lacks a self-timer and backlight lever.
You also don’t get the option to override the exposure manually.
Despite what people may say, the Olympus XA-1 is a decent camera.
It’s simple to use, can be carried anywhere; it’s aesthetic to look at, and is affordable. It also brings back a feel of the classic vintage camera to a 1980’s rangefinder (new isn’t always better).
A worthy addition to your camera collection.