Film Photography Reviews

Review of Olympus XA2 | 35mm film camera

What sort of camera is it?

The Olympus XA2 is a 35mm film camera. It’s a point-and-shoot ‘zone focus’ camera. Zone focus means it has different planes of focus that need to be set before you take a photo;

  • close-up (3-5.9 ft)
  • medium distance (4 ft-infinity), and
  • landscape (20.7 ft-infinity).

olympus xa2 - self-portrait reflection

What does it look like?

This is a small camera and I think it’s pretty cute. It fits nicely in my average-sized, human, female hand and I can pop it snugly into the back-pocket of my jeans. The one I have is black but I am told they also made a few in other colours: grey and red specifically. These colour choices are no surprise when you consider it dates from the early 1980s – everything was black, red or grey back then.

olympus xa2 35mm camera
Photo by Timmy Toucan, on Flickr

How does it work?

It has a rather nifty clam-shell cover which slides across and protects the lens and other little buttons – this cover also stops the shutter from working, so you can close it up and throw it in your bag without needing the extra expense/fiddliness/weight of a camera case.

When you slide open the cover you’ll see below the lens are settings for ISO (film speed) – the dial is teeny-weeny but you only need to set it once per film so that makes sense.

To be honest the diagrams on the zone control slider threw me a bit at first. The ‘close-up; zone is represented by two people and so is the ‘medium distance’ zone. Crazy. When you look a bit closer though you can see that what the icons are depicting are either just the head and shoulders for the ‘close-up’ or whole people for the ‘medium distance’. Once you have this sussed though it’s a piece of cake.

So, to set the zone you move the slider so it is pointing UP at the relevant icon – each time you close the case it will revert to the ‘middle distance’ setting. And that’s all there is to it, really.

olympus xa2 - bunting

Does it have a light meter?

When you take a photo the shutter opens, it measures the light coming into the camera and decides when it needs to close the shutter. Normally this happens extremely quickly, but when shooting in low light you will hear a definite open [pause] and then closing of the shutter – so remember to keep your finger on the shutter button in these situations, until your hear both clicks. The great advantage to this type of light meter is that it is great for night time shots – you can keep the shutter open for as long as you’re happy to keep your finger on the button.

olympus xa2 - subway

What about a flash?

The actual camera itself does not have a flash, however there is a flash unit (Olympus A11) which attaches to the side – it seems more advanced than the usual little pop-up gizmos that most cameras of this size have – and if you are like me and prefer to shoot without flash then you can leave it off most of the time.

olympus xa2 with a11 flash
Photo by wwarby, on Flickr

Can it do anything else?

One of the features I particularly love on this camera is the battery test. I know it’s not very rock and roll but I have learnt through bitter experience the nightmare that a dud battery can bring. On the base of the camera you move the lever to the first setting and it emitts a high pitched beep if there is power in the battery. Simple and reassuring.

Next to this control on the base of the camera is a self-timer function. I’ve not used this feature yet but it’s good to know it’s there – especially as this camera is capable of taking photos in really low light with long exposures, it would be a good way of taking a steady photo without a tripod.

olympus xa2 - waltzer

How much does it cost and where can I buy one?

Be quick, I have a feeling that once people cotton on to how awesome these cameras are, news will spread like wildfire and you won’t find the bargains like you can at the moment. The prices vary upon condition, anywhere from £2-£40 (including the flash) – which I am sure you’ll agree is quite the bargain! (Its close cousin, the hugely popular Lomo LC-A costs anywhere from £80-£300). Scoot on over to ebay and see what you can find.

olympus xa2 - space hopper

Further reading

olympus xa2 - dining

Unless otherwise indicated all photos have been taken by me using an Olympus XA2 and FujiColor Pro 160C 35mm film.

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  • Reply
    9 October 2011 at 04:41

    Yeah, I love my XA. I’m surprised by how different our two models are. Mine is a rangefinder. It has a little bar on the bottom that you slide until the two images in the viewfinder are together. Where your range focus slider is the XA has a slider that controls aperture.
    Super nifty camera with great colors.

  • Reply
    9 October 2011 at 12:48

    They’re really quite different aren’t they – I initially printed off the manual for the XA rather than the XA2 thinking they’d be similar enough to get the gist but they were wildly different!

  • Reply
    9 October 2011 at 19:23

    I love the Olympus XA it has a fantastic lens and is very simple to use. Certainly XA and Xa2 are much different cameras both capable of producing great photos. The XA series is experiencing a new interest from younger photogs with the lomography movement and is getting tougher to buy for a reasonable price.

    Excellent blog!

  • Reply
    28 November 2012 at 18:37

    Clear, to the point with excellent photographic examples.

    Thank you.

    • Reply
      7 December 2012 at 00:15

      So pleased it was helpful for you :)

  • Reply
    1 July 2013 at 08:21

    Thanks for this review! I’ve just ordered a 2nd hand XA2! This article’s a big help

    • Reply
      1 July 2013 at 22:18

      So pleased you found this useful – hope you have lots of fun with your new camera!

  • Reply
    Candace Broughton
    6 January 2016 at 20:22

    I have loved my totally manual Pentax K1000 since 1980, but it’s really too heavy to lug around very far. When I realized the newer dSLRs aren’t much smaller, I began my quest for another “semi-manual” 35 mm. camera that offered some level of photographer-control, I wound up buying a XA2 on eBay. However…it’s a different breed than my Pentax K1000.
    After reading that I am not the only one to mistake the XA and XA2 I’m feeling better now…I, too printed off the XA manual thinking the XA2 can’t be THAT different Well, after struggling for hours, I realized these are two DIFFERENT cameras! Once I started looking at this blog and other websites, however, I am thinking I can find a way to make this work…although now I wish I had a XA with its nifty rangefinder.
    So thank you for saving my sanity. Now for some good old 35 mm. photography.

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