Olympus XA rangefinder
Olympus’s design genius of the 1970s, Yoshihisa Maitana, gave birth to the XA in 1979 which became a classic compact rangefinder, very collectible 40 years later. If you are a student of industrial design the XA is inspiringly clever. It is a triumph of design with the lens and all operating mechanisms inside the clamshell cover when the XA is not in use. At 100mm long and 40mm thick it is the smallest practical rangefinder I have come across. The zone focus Rollei 35 has a smaller body but is not really practical being quite fiddly to shoot. The XA is the exact opposite – slide the clamshell cover open which brings the XA to attention , wind the film on, set the aperture, focus the rangefinder and shoot. For candid street photography where the aperture usually does not need adjustment between shots and the rangefinder focus can be pre-set, being shutter ready is nearly instant. The electronic shutter release is very sensitive which minimises camera shake but takes a little getting used to. A few inadvertent releases raise awareness. The lens design is very clever being inner focusing meaning front and rear elements do not move when focusing. It is composed of 6 elements in 5 groups. The Zuiko lens is an F Zuiko, with F being the sixth letter, identifying the 6 element lens. I do appreciate the slightly wider angle at 35mm than most fixed lens rangefinders as this suits candid photography very well. The aperture range is F2.8 – F22 giving plenty of scope for various light conditions. 25 – 800 ASA film speed. Shutter speed range, indicated in the viewfinder, is 10 sec to 1/500. Below 1/30 sec beware of camera shake, overcome somewhat by the unique little lever which folds out from the base. This has 3 purposes: 1) +1.5 ev exposure compensation. 2) Battery check -audible and visual and 3) Support for the camera when using a longer exposure. The XA selects a suitable speed according to conditions and the photographer selected aperture. Rangefinder focus is quick and easy, operated via a small lever at the base of the lens. This has a short throw, moving the co-incident image together in moments. Street photography is a cinch with this little beauty as its small rounded body shape slips in and out of a pocket with ease having no catching protrusions. Unnoticed by passers-by the XA is a great little camera to have with you at all times. There are 4 versions of the XA – XA, XA2, XA3 and XA4. The original XA is the only rangefinder of the series. Durability is very good even though the XA is mostly plastic the film door being metal. I have had several in my collection and never had a problem with any. Yes, the meter can die and the shutter can stick, however these XAs have had a hard life, not looked after or stored properly. Given proper care and attention these little cameras are extremely durable. There are 2 flash units which go with the XA, the A11 and the more powerful A16. I hardly use flash at all and if I did the A11 would suffice. A lot of XA flash units are dead as the capacitors fail over time. The XA is very battery friendly, using 2 LR44 which are cheap, available anywhere and last for ages. The XA will not work without batteries. The A11 flash uses 1xAA battery with the A16 using 2. NZ$350 - $400 will buy an A condition XA, add another NZ$20 - $50 and you have a working flash as well.
Price range for the XA is wide, and they can found as low as $50.00 but these may not be in great condition. For an immediately useable example in perfect condition with A11 flash unit, and pdf instructions, expect to pay close to NZ$400. You will keep using this camera as they are so convenient and well designed. The results aren’t bad either. We use Ilford 125 Black & White and Fuji slide film – usually Velvia 100. Also, and quite importantly, you will not lose your money, as there is no 'techno' price rot, in fact if the camera is looked after it will appreciate.