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September 13, 2019

A Dope with an Olympus XA

As I learn to use these film cameras again (okay, any camera) I really think my nick name should be Dopey, Sir Dopalot, or, perhaps, The Dopester.

Case in point: I somehow acquired this Olympus XA with an attached A16 flash. Since it came with a bunch of point-and-shoot cameras, I thought it was, as well. So I threw some film in it, fresh batteries, and took it for a spin.

Cute, tidy, simple enough to use, the Olympus XA is a good one to have in your pocket.

It’s maiden voyage was lunch with some of my kids and my grandson Sully. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to test out the flash and if the thing even worked. It was pretty dark in there, but I could see through the viewfinder enough to compose the shot and snap through a whole roll of Kodak T-Max 400. Anyone can do this: Click, wind, wait for flash, click, wind, wait for flash (loads a might slow).

When I got the film back, I was a little disappointed in the lack of sharpness in a lot of the photos. But there were enough good ones that I shrugged and though “Meh.”

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A week later I thought I would try again, this time with some color film I had laying around. I kept it with me as I ran errands in case I had a chance to use it.

Well, during burgers and beers with my son ‘Turo, as I looked through the viewfinder, I realized this thing is a Rangefinder, not just some cheap point-and-shoot. Okay, now the previous roll of not so sharp shots is starting to make sense. I know, Sir Dopalot finally figured THAT one out.

Even though I couldn’t find how to focus, this shot came out okay enough to share. Not sure why I’m getting the double image on parts.

However, I couldn’t find where the focus adjustment was. It wasn’t in what I would consider the expected places. I could see my son was out of focus, according the the square in the middle of the viewfinder, but I couldn’t change it. I hadn’t had THAT many beers, yet. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on it during dinner, so I set it aside for another day.

The next day as I was filling up my truck, I figured this is a good time to look at the camera in the bright daylight. There it was, right under the lens, a little lever I slide back and forth for the focus.

On track now, boys.

I drove around a bit, taking some random pictures of signs, etc., and took it with me as I joined my buddy David Ohman for lunch at Extra Virgin in the Crossroads District. Nice place. I was early, so I walked around a grabbed a few more test shots.

The more I use the camera the more I realize why it remains popular. I see them online bringing $150 – $200. If you’re an 80s vintage fan, this one’s for you. It was produced from ’79-’85. There are later models, cleverly named XA1, XA2, and, yes, XA4.

First of all, it’s small and easy to carry. Of course it’s all plastic, but still feels solid. It could easily slide into a purse or pocket for a day at the zoo, amusement park, or parents day at the local prison.

The flash units is detachable for an even smaller camera. Shown here is my A16 flash.

The flash attached to mine is the A16. I don’t usually use a flash, but this one worked quite well. the A16 is a later model, not as common, and one characteristic that sets it apart is that it has TWO AA batteries for longer life, compared to earlier models. It is detachable, so if your day is exclusively outdoors, it can be removed so the XA has an even smaller foot print.

The lens is a 2.8, so it even does well in low light without a flash, as you can see by this shot I took inside the restaurant. I wanted to use the flash, but I had removed the batteries at some point. Doh!

Even without a flash the Olympus XA works in low light, thanks to the 2.8 lens.

Well hidden, under that camera, is a nice little gem…it’s a switch that allows for a 1.5 backlight exposure compensation. I would prefer a button, like on the Nikon FG and other cameras, but it’s better than nothing. The same switch, on the bottom corner of the camera, also offers a self timer and a battery check. You really have to look for this switch, as it’s not intuitive.

Well hidden under the camera is the battery check, self timer, and back light switch.

The basic camera is an aperture priority 35mm ranging from 2.8 up to 22. So you have SOME control over your photos, unlike a simple point-and-shoot.

There isn’t DX metering, so you’ll want to set your ASA manually on the front, below the lens, just above the focus lever.

Will I keep this one? Not sure. I want to run one more roll through it. But this is a GREAT camera for someone who wants to keep something that’s simple to use close at hand at all times, loaded with film. And by “simple” I mean that even The Dopester was able to eventually figure out how to use it.

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Russell Viers

I'm just a guy who finds the world an interesting place and likes to capture certain moments with a camera. They aren't for sale, or anything. I just like them. Well, usually. I've taken a lot of photos I don't like, as well.

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