About 6 months ago, I was visiting my friend Robert at Archinal Camera; a repair shop/photography studio in Richardson. I’ve known the owner for a few years now and I regularly stop in to say hello. When I’m there, I usually look through the random assortment of items & cameras that he has around the shop. It can be a glimpse into the past; sort of a visual road map of where photography has come from. His family has been in the camera repair business since the 50’s, so as you would imagine, there is quite an array of assorted odds & ends. On this particular day, I was browsing through the display case up front. One camera had always caught my eye, yet I had never picked it up, nor had I ever asked about it. It was an Olympus camera with a weird looking flash attachment on its left side. I asked Robert “Hey, what’s this?” He chuckled, “That old thing? It’s a useless old Olympus rangefinder. They used to be really popular back in the 1980’s. You want it? Here!” He picked it up out of the display case and set it on the counter. “It’s yours!” he exclaimed. “That thing has been in there forever …”

Olympus XA 35mm f/2.8 w/ A16 Flash Attachment
Olympus XA 35mm f/2.8 w/ A16 Flash Attachment

Useless? I think not. It’s a mini-rangefinder!! After we visited a little while longer, I thanked him and made my way home. Once there, I proceeded to fiddle with the camera; looked through the viewfinder, checked how the focus worked, looked at the lens (35mm f/2.8-22), played around with the flash, screwed around with the apertures, etc.

– CLICK HERE for the Olympus XA Manual –

This thing is a rockin’ little camera. It can fit in your pocket, purse or wherever. When the flash attachment is removed, it easily fits in the palm of my hand. For film lovers, the XA is a great camera for snagging & sneaking images, of any subject you like, at any particular time.

Olympus XA 35mm f/2.8
Olympus XA 35mm f/2.8

I took it with me to the drive-in movie theater near Ennis, TX. The Galaxy Theatre is a blast!  Well .. when it’s not 100 degrees at 9pm. Lucky for us, even though it was August, there was a storm front moving through, so we enjoyed the movie when the temps were in the 80’s.

Galaxy Movie Theatre - Olympus XA - Ilford HP5 Plus @ 800
Galaxy Movie Theatre – Olympus XA – Ilford HP5 Plus @ 800
Galaxy Drive In Theatre - Olympus XA - Ilford HP5 Plus @ 800
Galaxy Drive In Theatre – Olympus XA – Ilford HP5 Plus @ 800
Galaxy Movie Theatre - Olympus XA - Ilford HP5 Plus @ 800
Galaxy Movie Theatre – Olympus XA – Ilford HP5 Plus @ 800

A few other snapshots from the Olympus XA …

f/22 @ 1/60th - Olympus XA - Delta 400 - D76
f/22 @ 1/60th – Olympus XA – Delta 400 – D76
Cavanaugh Flight Museum - Olympus XA - Ilford HP5 Plus @ 800
Cavanaugh Flight Museum – Olympus XA – Ilford HP5 Plus @ 800
Cavanaugh Flight Museum - Olympus XA - Ilford HP5 Plus @ 800
Cavanaugh Flight Museum – Olympus XA – Ilford HP5 Plus @ 800

You can bring this thing with you everywhere! It’s useful for many things, but I’ve found it’s particularly nice for grab-shots with family & friends. Because it’s so small & quiet, once you get out of the initial oh-you’ve-got-a-camera-and-you’re-taking-pictures-of-me stage, most of the time taking an image with it will go unnoticed. You can use the rangefinder to accurately focus, or if you like ‘shooting from the hip’, simply pick an aperture that will give you the right amount of depth-of-field, pre-focus the camera using the scale on top of the lens, and plink away snapshots.

Olympus XA - Ilford HP5 Plus @ 800
Olympus XA – Ilford HP5 Plus @ 800
Olympus XA - Kodak 35mm Ektar
Olympus XA – Kodak Ektar
Olympus XA - Kodak Ektar
Olympus XA – Kodak Ektar
Olympus XA - Kodak 35mm Ektar
Olympus XA – Kodak 35mm Ektar

A quick test of the A16 flash. Ride ’em Jones!

Olympus XA - Ilford HP5 Plus @ 800 w/ A16 Flash
Olympus XA – Ilford HP5 Plus @ 800 w/ A16 Flash

Now this is definitely not the sharpest lens/camera option out there, but that’s not what I’m after when using this camera. When shooting with the XA, you go into it knowing there are optical concessions.

For those that enjoy film photography, this camera is nice to keep on hand, wherever you go. Because of its size and how it’s built, it can be the perfect film camera to stow away for quick candid grab shots and other photo opps that interest you.

47 Comments

  1. Great entry Justin. I’ve always wanted a range finder. Some time ago, I was going crazy about seeing if I could afford either a 2nd hand M8 / M9 or the legendary Epson RD1S. Yes, they’re all digital, but I really need them to be these days with 3 young kids and the lack of time (okay, I admit patience) on my part. Still this will probably be something I visit again in a few years – again I’ve read how rangefinders aren’t really the best in trying to snap running kids – yeah I know, as if shooting Polaroid / Impossible is right? 😉

  2. Justin Goode Author

    You should pick one up! The XA would actually be a good camera for quick snapshots. Since the focus throw is from 2.8ft – 8ft, you can really use zone focusing with apertures to your advantage. Set it at 5ft and f/5.6 and you’ll be able to snap relatively sharp pictures when running around with them. If time is the issue, scanning and what not, maybe the X100? A buddy of mine raves over his.

  3. I think I might actually have one of these in a box of old cameras someone passed on to me. I will have to look. There was also a Yashica Electro 35 in the box, which I’ve been using (haven’t developed anything yet). Assuming they both work fine, would there be any benefit to using the Olympus rather than the Yashica?

    BTW, great blog. thank you for all you offer here.

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