Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Olympus XA2

Since I started shooting film in earnest a couple years ago, I've acquired a small pile of inexpensive film cameras. The smallest of the lot just might be my favorite: the Olympus XA2.


I don't love it best just because it's small. I mostly love it because it's damn simple to use. It is a zone-focus model, meaning you guess the distance to your subject and move the slider  to match. There are three positions:
  • White People: 1.2m to 1.8m
  • Orange People: 1.2m & up
  • Mountains: 6.3m to infinity
The focus resets to the middle (orange people) position whenever you close the clamshell. So when you open it, as long as you're 4-5 feet from your subject, there's no need to fiddle with it. When I'm taking a landscape shot I sometimes remember to flip the switch upward, but for 99% of my shots I just open, point, shoot.

The lens is a sharp, 35mm f/3.5 4-element Tessar type. It's not as fast as the one on my Stylus Epic, but this is really an outdoor camera anyway. Did I mention the lens is sharp?

You wind the film using the thumb wheel in the upper right. Takes a few swipes to advance it all the way. The shutter will not fire unless it's wound completely. The viewfinder has framelines built in, but they're not exact - there will be a little more in your shot than what you see in the rectangle. A green light goes off if the exposure will be 1/30 or slower.

Like the fancier XA, the XA2 features a hair-trigger of a shutter button. It feels strange at first, because it's a flush-mounted electromagnetic button that goes off with a slight touch. This is good because it helps you minimize camera shake, and there is no appreciable lag when you're ready to shoot.

Shutter speeds are 1 - 1/750 second.

The XA2 is a rugged little beast. It feels properly heavy in hand, and I prefer to carry it in a cargo shorts pocket or jacket pocket. It's a little too bulky for a pants pocket (remember, you have to fit a 35mm film cartridge inside). I don't like a strap because I am normally shooting from the hip or a low angle with it without even looking through the viewfinder.

There's a little self-timer/battery check switch on the bottom for long exposures and self portraits!

ASA speeds can be set manually from 25-800. You can fiddle with this to set exposure compensation, but more importantly it allows you to use a 2-bath developer like Diafine that tends to effectively boost the rated speed of your film. If your only option is DX coding, you must find another developer since you're stuck with the rated speed.

Sometimes simplicity is a fantastic thing. When you shoot with the XA2, there's little to worry about other than what's in the frame. And nobody on the street knows you're even shooting pictures. I've loved this spectacular little beauty since I bought it for a measly 20 bucks or so.

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