A Review of the Olympus XA

Few cameras have been able to reach the same level of cult following that the Olympus XA has built up in recent years. Does the camera deserve the hype?

In this video, Kyle McDougall walks us through his experience with the camera and provides a bit of background about the camera. Briefly, there are four versions of the XA (the XA, XA2, XA3, and XA4), with the XA itself being the most feature-rich and having the fastest lens of the bunch. Based on Kyle's experience, the camera has earned its renowned reputation. 

Personally, I've never shot with the Olympus XA, but I have several friends that have them and swear by them. The only film camera that I have any personal experience with that comes close is the Fuji GA645 (you can find the review here), which is medium format compared to 35mm for the XA, but to me, it gives off the same vibe. That is, they're so easy to use that it's properly difficult to mess up and the resulting images are great. Sure, there are other cameras with a simple interface and usability, but few options offer the same quality for the price.  

What about you? Do you have any experience with the Olympus XA? What did you think?

James Madison's picture

Madison is a mathematician turned statistician based out of Columbus, OH. He fell back in love with film years ago while living in Charleston, SC and hasn't looked back since. In early 2019 he started a website about film photography.

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I owned one years ago.

Very interesting

Had one. Loved it except for one irritating reason. At least in the one that I had, vignetted the photos. Most of the time, it was ok but especially with sunny, clear skies... bleah.

I bought an XA when they first appeared and still think it was the best body design for a pocketable camera. Mine was unreliable and needed a repair under warranty that took weeks when it simply wouldn’t turn on. Out of warranty the shutter release went intermittent and then died. The quoted repair price and limited repair warranty was too much given it’s track record. It’s probably a better buy now because the duds like mine will have joined landfill years ago! Survival of the fittest...

I own a couple and this article has given me the kick I need to go dig them out, one is brand new in box NOS, it'll be interesting to see if it fires up.
The below shot is from an original XA we had just found on a flea market for €1
We went straight to a bar to load up a roll and my wife had the honour of the first shot.

My Fuji F31d is still going strong since 2006

Brilliant little high quality camera. I still have mine plus flash in original box and handbook. I used it as a backup camera for my Pentax SLR when doing shoots and for colour film when shooting Kodachrome.

Haven't used it for years as I have not any love for film in this digital era.

One of my first cameras, wish I still had it but I think it got lost in a move many years ago... It was complete with box and the flash that mounted to the side.

Never owned one but a friend had one and loved it. I do recall however, reliability issues. The little screw on flash that mounted on the side was cool. It was "the camera you had with you" back in the film days. Back then the camera I had with me was similar size Minolta, can't remember the model number but I still have it somewhere.

I own one, but have not used it for a few years. May need to blow the dust off it.

I've collected many pocket cameras over the years: Minox 35, Voigtländer Vito C, Ricoh FF-1, Cosina CX-2 and CX-3, Olympus XA and XA2.
As far as handling is concerned, the XA series is above the rest, head and shoulder: best viewfinders there, while all aside of the Voigtländer have rather small viewfinders. The drawbridge cover of the Minox, Voigtländer and Ricoh are a drawback. The Cover of the Cosina is actually quite clever, but its lens is really not that great compared to its direct competitors. With the XA series, Olympus achieved something they are pretty good at: a camera that feels really good to use. It simply feels just right, something the others don't come anywhere close to.
The original XA's big issue seems to be reliability. I bought two. One wouldn't work - opened it and found some rotten contacts, the other's shutter fires at what looks like 1/125 no matter what, and you keep reading about such issues. On the other hand, both my XA2 work just fine. An ideal pocket camera if you can get over the insecurity of the rather vague distance scale.

I keep 2 of them on me pretty much wherever I go... An original XA for b&w and an XA3 that's loaded with colour negative film. I've been thinking of retiring them both by replacing with a Fuji X100V but I love film and the 2 XAs give me pretty much everything I need from a compact daily shooter.

Love my XA2 for travel. It's so small/pocketable/ easy to carry when you need to go ultralight or as a 2nd camera to a larger digital camera. Ultimate stealth street photography camera makes really nice images with B&W film. You can find them pretty cheap but you'll likely have to replace the foam gaskets to get a good light seal.

For definitive XA review check out my blog jimchungblog.com

For definitive XA review check out my blog, jimchungblog dot com.

This was my go to camera back in the day. It predates cellphones and instagram! The best camera is the one you carry with you period. Rumour had it Yoshihisa Maitani designed it after he missed a photo of a explosion he witnessed but he had no camera to record it!
I had no money to afford a SLR and bought the cheaper XA2 with zone focusing. The only thing i disliked about it was the setting defaulted to medium focus range shots when you closed the cover. i loved close ups at parties so i ground the tab on the cover to stay in the close up setting.

Shot on my XA. Kodak Kodacolor VR 400 from 1987. I love this camera!!! It’s a nice break from my plethora of SLR’s. Fully capable in such a diminutive body!