Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Random Camera- Olympus XA2

Hello again!  It's time for another entry into my random camera/random film series.  Today, I will be discussing the Olympus XA2.  Typically, when I create posts for this series, I've at least shot the camera or film in question a number of times; however, I've only used the Olympus XA2 once.  I feel that I have a pretty good handle on this camera after one use and since the images were from the Analog's Pulse event in June, I figured it would be a nice way to wrap up that experience.

The Olympus XA (predecessor of the XA2) was introduced in 1979 and quickly became the standard for the XA series.  It was a true rangefinder with aperture priority exposure and a six element lens.  It is a compact, but mighty little camera and was the first of four cameras within the XA series.  Now that you have a brief overview of the original, let's talk about the camera that I have - the Olympus XA2.

The XA2 was introduced in 1980, a year later than the XA and was a more simplistic version of the XA.  The first noticeable difference between the two cameras is the focusing.  The rangefinder focusing of the XA was replaced with a zone focusing system of 3 feet to infinity.  Aperture priority exposure was replaced with an automatic exposure system and the six element lens was replaced with a four element f3.5 lens.  What started as a tiny rangefinder became a tiny point and shoot 35mm camera.  I happened to obtain this camera almost by accident.  I was at an auction about a year and a half ago.  The auction featured a multitude of old film cameras; most of them grouped into box lots.  I was present when the auction began and waited for a few hours, but only a few boxes had been auctioned off.  I was discouraged and didn't want to waste the entire day away, so I left.  After lunch and a few other errands, I decided to go back to see if anything was still left.  Sure enough, the majority of the cameras were still waiting to be auctioned off.  The auctioneer began auctioning off box lots for small amounts of money.  I had my eye on numerous Polaroid SX-70s and ended up winning two boxes for the low price of $11.  I obtained three different SX-70 models in addition to a number of other cameras and accessories.  Hidden in one of those boxes was an untouched Olympus XA2 with accompanying A11 flash unit.  I replaced the batteries and the camera worked like a charm.  It set in my never ending stack of cameras until I decided that Analog's Pulse would be the perfect time to use it.

There are two things that stand out to me when I talk about this camera.  First is the clam shell cover that slides open to essentially turn on the camera and subsequently reveals the lens.  It's a typical feature for Olympus compacts, but there's something that I love about it.  It's almost as if it was created for spies instead of consumers; the cover masking the main thing that makes it a camera - the lens.  However, it pales in comparison to the wonderful Minox spy cameras that are an engineering marvel and are still available and functional today.  Regardless, it brings a bit of intrigue (at least for me) to the camera.  The second thing is the shutter.  The shutter is a square red button on top of camera.  This is the most sensitive shutter that I've ever encountered.  A fellow film photographer that I met on Analog's Pulse, John Meadows, made the comment that he didn't want to get too close for fear that he might sneeze and set off the shutter.  His comment is not too far from the truth.  In fact, the first time I was introduced to a member of the XA series, I set off the shutter and didn't even realize it.  In addition to its sensitivity, it's also very quiet and functions in such a stealthy manner that it again brings about visions of spies during the Cold War.

In regards to the camera's functionality, it's fairly straight forward and can pretty much be used "right out of the box."  There is an "aperture" button on the front of the camera for you to determine the distance to your subject.  Once selected, simply point, compose and click the shutter.  The camera chooses the appropriate shutter speed and aperture and does all of the work for you.  Simply wind the film and follow those steps continuously until your roll is fully exposed.  One thing to remember about this camera is that every time you close the clam shell cover, the focus button resets itself; so, make sure you have the correct distance selected before you fire the shutter.  The camera seems to handle fairly well in a number of different lighting situations.  I used the camera to begin the day when it was overcast and rainy; I went into a few darkened alleys and I shot it when the sun was blazing overhead.  It performed quite well for a compact point and shoot.

A few things I noticed about this camera:

-  There is a green light that occasionally comes on in the viewfinder.  It's actually hard to notice, as I didn't even realize there was a light until the end of my roll.  Apparently this is to alert you to under/over exposure.  It still allows you to take a shot, but there is the potential for the exposure to be off a bit.  When reviewing the images, there were a few that were a bit darker with more grain, but nothing unusable.  So, I assume that the light was flashing when I was creating those exposures.
-  While the compact size makes the Olympus XA2 a great traveling companion, I found it to be a bit awkward in my hands.  I'm typically used to shooting larger medium format cameras or a standard 35mm SLR, so this more delicate than I'm used to.  It doesn't necessarily take away from the camera, but it took some getting used to on my part.
-  The Lomography LC-A+, the flagship Lomography camera, is a sleek, portable, highly coveted 35mm camera.  As great as it may be (I haven't had the privilege of using one yet), it does come with a steep price tag.  The Olympus XA2 (or one of the other XA models) is the perfect substitute.  Yes, the Lomo LC-A+ boasts a 32/2.8 Minitar lens, has multiple apertures, a multiple exposure switch and has the capability to add numerous accessories, but you can still apply the same Lomo rules and attitude when shooting the Olympus XA2.  So, if you want a similar camera and don't won't to shell out a fortune, pick up an Olympus for a fraction of the price.  You can always upgrade later.

Overall, shooting the Olympus XA2 was a nice change of pace for me.  Coupled with Ilford HP5+ 400 black and white film, I was able to produce some decent, higher grain, photos during the first photo walk of Analog's Pulse.  I tend to prefer shooting my SLR and Medium format cameras, so I'm not sure how often I'll use this.  However, I can't rule out that this won't end up in my camera bag on the next outing :)

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