Olympus XA Review: A great camera that is past its prime

The Olympus XA is a cult classic. A simple point and shoot, it hit the sweet spot for a lot of professional photographers. It has a 35mm f/2.8 Zuiko lens, is very compact, and best of all is a rangefinder, which is extremely rare for a camera of this size. 

It should have been my dream film point and shoot camera. Unfortunately, I was only able to shoot one roll of film on this beauty before I had to make the tough decision to return it. The shutter would often stick. Sometimes only for a second, and I would ignore it. Other times I left a friend smiling patiently into the lens while I press the button over and over. 

This taught me a valuable lesson: before ordering a used camera, do quick search from common problems with it. "Olympus XA shutter problems" is one of the first suggestions in Google, and would have been a useful hint. This camera was designed to be an affordable consumer point & shoot, and wasn't built with longevity as a priority. It's easy to find a lot of positive reviews about it, but that assumes that you are using a functional .

Body and Design

The clam shell design is brilliant and something I would love to see on modern digitals. The lens is safe while it's in my bag, and there's no chance of it accidentally going off. It has a sensitive feather touch shutter button that helps cut down on camera vibration. I've never used anything like it before and really like the feel of it. If only it worked...

Image Quality

This won't be the camera that goes with me everywhere as I hoped, but it was fantastic in most respects. The image quality is except, very sharp and plenty of contrast. The corners vignette quite a bit when shooting at f/2.8, which in most cases look great, and when you open up to f/5.6, it's crystal clear. 


The rangefinder style focus is what drew me to this specific camera. It was removed from the later XA2, which only allows you to guestimate the distance. The XA2 is much more common these days, but I think it's worth searching for XA1 just for that difference. In dark conditions, focusing can be a challenge, but the focus ring is marked for distance if you want to estimate. 


The tiny A11 flash feels at home mounted to the side of the XA. It simple, small and runs off a single AA battery. If I were to keep this camera, my biggest gripe would be that there is no way to override the light meter when taking a flash photo. I'm a fan of cutting out ambient light when using direct flash, but there is no way keep the shutter speed fast. For example 1/100 sec instead of going down to 1/15 sec.

It takes a single AA battery, and takes a couple seconds to charge up.


If this was a new camera, it would be nearly perfect. Or if I had found it for cheap, I may have tried to fix it. In the end, I need a camera that I can count on to work every time I pull it out of my bag. The search continues...