Olympus XA & XA2 [1979]

Pictures Martin Taylor has taken with this camera.

In its day Olympus' XA line of cameras was revolutionary. Today they still make excellent pocket cameras.


I bought this cute, unloved camera secondhand in the UK before I knew the difference between an XA and an XA2. It still turned out to be a competent zone focusing snapshot camera. I carried it in my glove box for several years where it earned some cosmetic scratches to it's revolutionary camshell case but in all that time of extreme temperatures and constant jostling as my car camera it never failed me. Which is more than I can say for the Lomo I bought for my little brother when they were still cheap. We ran a few films through the little Russian before screws began to fall out and electronics failed. So, here's my point, why would you spend $150 on a Lomo, when you can even find one, when you could get a much better camera in the same mold for $20 from eBay?


<rant mode on> There are several groups of people in the world of photography that I have trouble getting on with. All are extremists and all are snobs. As a generalist who likes to try his hand at everything from digital to pinhole photography we're already at loggerheads. These groups include those that preach that digital is not 'real photography' and is killing photography as art - film snobs. It includes those that believe that in order to be a real photographer your camera must cost $3K or more - equipment snobs. Finally, it includes those who believe that any snapshot taken with a cult, quirky camera is art, especially if it's blurry and badly composed - toy camera snobs.

Let's brief address that last group who have the least to be snobby about but lord it over everyone like they know THE photographic truth and everyone else is simply misguided - I'm talking about the Lomo crowd. Obviously I have nothing against Russian cameras having waxed lyrical about my first real camera, the Zenit EM, however, I would not have learnt less had I begun with a Nikon F1 or any other manual camera of the day, and the quality of the mechanics and glass would have been better. For it's price my Zenit was a great camera. For it's original price the Lomo wasn't bad until it began falling apart (I think I paid 18 pounds sterling for the one for my brother). However, the Lomo achieved cult status and now the price of admission is $150. Don't get fooled. There is nothing magic about images taken with a Lomo and just because a few celebrities have carried one that doesn't make the Lomo a fashion or artistic statement. The Lomo's electrics are primitive at best, its glass is nasty and the dreamlike over saturated images it produces would be called soft and inaccurate in relation to any other camera. And don't even get me started on the Holga! I expect to have to change the light seals on a 20 year old camera but on one out of the box, at any price, I expect it to be light tight. What's the point of moving up to medium format just to destroy any resolution gains you just made by shooting through a poorly designed plastic lens. And let's get one last thing clear, vignetting is poor way to add character to a camera and is simply the result of bad optical design. <rant mode off>

That all said, I'm as far away from an equipment snob as you can get (just look at the cameras I use to prove that point). I totally appreciate the philosophy that you don't need an expensive camera to be a good photographer. I appreciate a movement that encourages people to carry and use a camera everywhere and to take risks. I don't believe, however, that you need to join a "society" with $150 dues to adopt that philosophy and to be creative and to have fun.

If you want the use characteristics of a Lomo without any of the hassles get an Olympus XA2 from ebay for much less money. Don't buy into the Lomo mystique just because someone tells you that it's cool. With shots from your XA2 you won't be eligible for the Lomography society's next book but you will be happy with your camera, you won't feel like another hipster clone and chances are your camera will actually work and take a decent picture when you go to use it. Alternatively, if you still want that Eastern block idiosyncrasy over Japanese quality buy a Kiev 35, just do it quickly before the Lomograph Nazis find out about this camera too and start controlling world sales of this Minox clone too.

If you still need to buy a Lomo LCA I have a Trabant that I'm selling for Mercedes money - drop me a line.


The XA2 is a nice point and shoot but the XA is a real, much more versatile camera with a better lens in the same sized package. Instead of the zone focusing of the XA2 the XA has a real rangefinder and aperture priority for more control than the XA2's programmed exposure. Unfortunately, I was far from the first person to recognize the values of the XA and it took me a while to find a decently priced working example. Fortunately I stumbled upon a slightly mislabeled eBay auction and got my XA for $32.30 shipped. Usually, working examples go for $70+. This is still a bargain price for this little gem that, only a year ago, was commanding prices of $100+. The digital revolution has depressed the prices that the XA and like cameras now go for. This makes now an ideal time to snap up some bargains.  It's likely that in years to come photogs will remember how good and how much fun these rangefinders were and the prices will rise again.

Don't be fooled by the XA's plastic camshell case and disposable camera-like thumb wheel film advanced for underneath the XA's cute exterior beats the heart of a real camera, not a toy. The above description applies to all the XA line bar the XA1 which is only a tiny step up from a disposable camera, but the XA itself is the best of the line. The tiny range of movement available for lens focusing takes a little getting used to but it works well. The viewfinder is bright with an unobtrusive meter needle report on the shutter speed that will be used for your chosen aperture. The rangefinder double image, despite its tiny rangefinder window baseline separation, works well in all but the lowest of light by which point the f2.8 lens will not be fast enough anyway and you'll need help from the A11 flash. This simple flash is dedicated to the XA series and works well for what it is but I am not a fan of flash photography, especially onboard camera flash photography, so I tend to use the XA in reasonably well lit situations and leave the A11 flash at home.

As an unobtrusive street camera the XA is pretty hard to beat. No other camera deflects attention like it. My SLR's are too serious and people stiffen when they see them. My digital camera looks so space age that it attracts inquisitive techno-geeks. Even my old 70's, chrome and black rangefinders attract some curious retro/nostalgia attention. The XA, however, with its tiny, toy-like looks, is not taken very seriously by people when they spot you shooting with it. Subjects seem to assume that you're a snapshot tourist with a cheap consumer point and shoot and ignore you accordingly which makes it an ideal pocketable, street photography camera.


Thanks for this great piece on the Olympus XA, now you know of course I've got to get one. Actually I've been thinking of getting one - for the past few weeks. Thanks for the extremely helpful info. Take care.

Posted by: Cole at January 15, 2004 1:55 PM

Caros amigos, como estão?

Gostaria de saber aonde eu posso encontrar esta máquina fotográfica: Olympus XA, eu tinha uma e me
roubãrao, e gostaria de adiquirir uma nova completa, mas eu queria saber a onde posso encontrar em que loja, e gostaria de saber o preço! Agradecidammente.

Sibélius Donato Tenório

Posted by: Sibélius Donato Tenório at February 19, 2004 7:21 AM

Caros amigos, como estão?

Gostaria de saber sevocês vendem essa máquina? Olympus XA completa com flash e bolsa, e gostaria de saber o preço e de adquirir esta máquina,eu tinha uma e me roubarão viu,isso é uma coleção que eu faço com máquinas viu. Aguardarei respostas de vocês.

Com carinho.


Posted by: Sibélius Donato Tenório at May 9, 2004 9:54 AM

Nice write-up on a great little camera. I have 3 XAs that I use regularly. I wont ruin your day by telling you how much I paid for them, but suffice it to say they're worth far more to me. They're one of those things that prove that the latest and greatest isn't always the best.

Posted by: Gary at July 2, 2004 9:44 PM

Found your site through blogspot and wanted to say hi

Posted by: popupblockers at July 16, 2004 5:42 PM

Nice stuff Martin. I'm an XA fan too - have you seen www.diaxa.com/XA a site with loads of XA info.

Posted by: Bill Martin at November 29, 2004 5:45 AM

Finally somebody that thinks the way I think about LOMO, It sucks a lot.
Very good article about Olympus XA, I have 2 and as Photojournalist I’m using it believe or not, my colleges in a newspaper saw the photos and they don’t believe it was done with the little black camera on my hand.
You right equipment snobs no doubt about it, to be a real photographer you really don’t need an expansive camera, it’s not the camera that made the photo, it’s the photographer, I have a Leica M6 and I’m not a Cartier-Bresson.
They use to say, " if you can’t fight them, them join them" no way XA is XA Lomo, well I don’t know what it is, and really I’m not interest.

Posted by: José Gonçalves at December 13, 2004 1:51 PM

I have had an XA from new (1980ish)and even bought a spare in the 90s. my pride is my XA4 which took some finding. my XA has been to europe and japan several times and the XA4 has been to japan once, neither camera has ever failed me or needed repair, my minox 35EL is in for another repair and my rollie 35T is in being serviced (slow shutter speeds very slow now, but to be fair it's 26 yrs old and this it's first service)
the most fun with the XA is using it in low light with no flash becuase you can often get really sharp images at slow speeds with these little babys, no arty blur for me.

Posted by: simon at December 23, 2004 4:40 PM

Overlooked but noteworthy is the Olympus XA3. It's usually dismissed as a re-dressed XA2, but it has the added features of an increased ISO setting and DX coding option, and the +1.5 EV exposure compensation switch brought over from the original XA.

Love these cameras, but I can't quite bring myself to buying the custom-colored (blue, red, gold) XA2 "limited" models.

-David K.

Posted by: David Karsenough at December 29, 2004 8:52 AM

fantastic write up i have just got an xa of ebay
still waiting to get film developed 20 shots to go
tempted to just take pics of anything cant wait its
like waiting for christmas

Posted by: john at January 19, 2005 12:36 AM

Hello: I was grazing Olympus bodies on eBay (looking for a clean OM1) and came upon this little camera that I remembered lusting after in the early 80's. Threw in a bid and got lucky - plastic case, manuals, A11 and all. Seller even included a Si-Ox battery.

My first roll was all Kodak color shots in natural light of some kids playing in the snow - mixed up with the same subjects using a Pentax MX and SMC-M f/1.4 50mm.

It doesn't seem possible, but these images are sharper and more vibrant. Unbelieveable.

I found your blog researching this camera in Google - the reviews are astounding. I would call XA people a shadow cult, but you might be insulted to be compared to LOMO geeks!
-- Paul

Posted by: Conserve Liberty at January 30, 2005 2:34 PM

got one of these little xa2 . ineed to find
A11 fash any body now of one

Posted by: leonard dunbar at February 7, 2005 8:20 PM

I picked up a somewhat rough-looking but fully functioning XA & A11 flash for $50 via Craigslist (NYC) a few days ago. I had one quite a few years back, and it was great to have one again - I'd almost forgotten just how good the thing was, and is. Working as I type this on scanning and printing from the few rolls I've managed to put through it so far, and liking what I'm seeing.

As far as the Lomo/Holga craze goes, I can live with it, up to a point - I know a few friends and colleagues who have done stunning work with the things, but I think that most _every_ camera or format has gone through a cult stage before simply taking its place as part of the "scene". Same goes for digital. Shoot what you like, and vice-versa.

Posted by: Barrett at March 11, 2005 9:13 PM

Nice site and blog, Martin. Nice to see another XA fan on the net!

I bought one of these like-new with the A11 flash last summer and it's been a blast. I took it on vacation with me when I had very limited luggage space, ran six rolls of slide film through it and every exposure was extremely sharp, nicely contrasty, and metering was spot on except for four or five shots where I bumped the camera during time exposures or accidentally hit the shutter release. Never needed the flash, even though I only used 100 and 200 speed film, but a flexipod is a must-have accessory. I'm not sure I'd travel with any other camera I own now (and I have 22 of 'em).

Cult camera or no, at least the XA has the chops to back up its reputation.

Posted by: Doug K. at March 23, 2005 8:20 PM

I was in a charity shop looking through a box of those snappy happy, focus free,(as if autofocusing was an impediment to good results)thin plastic type cameras,and there at the bottom of the heap was an XA2 IN FAIRLY GOOD CONDITION, IT COST ME $1 AUSTRALIAN abut 75c US,GOT HOME CLEANED IT UP PUT TWO 1.4 B/CELL BATTERIES IN IT, AND THE THING WORKS, BUT SELF TIMER BLEEPS BUT THE SHUTTER DOES'NT WORK, HAVE PUT NEW LIGHT SEAL IN IT, WHAT DO I CARE FOR THE PRICE, have put film in it, will get back to you on the results. Chas

Posted by: Chas at June 5, 2005 11:25 PM

Yesterday I purchased an Olympus XA for $7.99 at Goodwill. It has not one scratch or blemish on it. After reading all of the online info. i could find I am really jumping for joy. I'm lookinf forward to lats of fine photos from it. It is MUCH smaller than my Nikon N80 or Canon AE1 Program. This is a Keeper.

Posted by: Will at June 9, 2005 3:42 PM

why is it that most of the negative opinion pieces on lomo lc-a are written by people who haven't spent a significant amount of time with it?

at any rate, i have, and it takes pictures just the way i want them. good things bad things. y'all sound like you work for one of the companies for goodness sake. surely it's hyped up, but whatever that's par for the course with any marketing.

at any rate, my XA2 + A11 is on its way, and i'm looking forward to shooting with it.


Posted by: jon at June 21, 2005 11:45 PM

Over 425 sample photos from XA owners can be found here - http://flickr.com/groups/olympusxa/

Posted by: TeaLady at July 13, 2005 3:25 AM

I owned an XA and found it to be a good camera, but not a great one. You've listed most of its attributes. Negatives are: Tends to vignette when shot wide open, it can't use screw-in filters, and internal construction utilizes some cost-saving parts which are not up to the standard of earlier-era cameras. The latter is relevant because of the age of these cameras. Once they break, they're often not repairable.

Posted by: Tom at July 17, 2005 4:29 PM

i took my XA camping last week & found it a joy to use. even in subdued light every picture came out perfectly exposed & clear as a bell. love my camera!

Posted by: mike a. at September 9, 2005 1:43 PM

Well, you left out the fact that the XA has a less than accurate lightmeter. It's not only inaccurate, often exposing + or - one full stop (even when properly adjusted within spec) but also, it isn't linear: it will under or over-expose at varying apertures. As a result, you can't use slide film in the thing without ruining frames on a regular basis. The Oly repair guy I talked to admitted this and said the camera depends upon the exposure latitude of negative film to obtain usable photos.

Posted by: Ron Mc. at November 5, 2005 10:20 AM

Ron - I don't use slide film in my XA but many on the yahoo XA group claim to. I don't think the XA's exposure system is any less accurate than any of its contemporaries but your results may vary example by example. Let's face it , the XA is old and I'm just glad mine is still working. It makes a great pocket camera but when exposure and quality are critical I reply on something larger and more fully featured.
Regards - Martin

Posted by: Martin Taylor at November 8, 2005 3:04 PM

Pictures at full aperture were always soft on mine, otherwise it seemed to work alright.

Posted by: aloe at November 25, 2005 10:57 AM

I purchased a blue XA2 second-hand for $5 Australian (around US$2.50) and it worked fine until I dropped it ... Now the sliding lens cover is loose and, though the camera still works fine, the cover won't 'click' shut.

Does anyone know what I should do with this camera? Is there any way of getting it fixed, or would I be better off selling it and getting my hands on a working black model.

I really love this camera, so it's a tough decision for me ...

Posted by: Alex at January 26, 2006 4:11 PM

in the 1980s, i always looked down my nose at these camera,as little plastic odd shaped toys...i have never been so wrong in my life..
i got a real cheap bargain xa on ebay uk last year..at the same time got some out of date kodachrome 200 and 64...
i took shots in various locations day night sunny dull..
all i can say was i was stunned by the optical quality, exposure accuracy...one of the reasons these are great for reversal stocks,is it is not through the lens metering...so metering area is larger and less prone to false readings...
as someone that has spent over 3000 dollars on nikon,contax,leica and minolta compacts in the past...
the olympus xa is the bargain of the year...

Posted by: alan doyle at January 30, 2006 5:27 PM

i normaly shoot digitals (a80 and new r1) but i just got my first prints from the XA and i'm pleased! it is shurely a great machine, a great lens! i will have do do some scanning now...

and mot to forgett, great site! thanks!


Posted by: re_ at February 1, 2006 11:08 AM

i normaly shoot digitals (a80 and new r1) but i just got my first prints from the XA and i'm pleased! it is shurely a great machine, a great lens! i will have do do some scanning now...

and mot to forgett, great site! thanks!


Posted by: re_ at February 1, 2006 11:08 AM

I had an XA - I used it for about a year until it broke and could not be repaired. It's built well by the standards of today, but it's still a point-and-shoot with plastic gears, etc. I never could get dependable exposures with slide film on mine, either.

Posted by: Roger A. at February 27, 2006 7:44 AM

I'm having to close the comments on the XA for a while due a spammers having latched on to this post. Normal service will be resumed once I work out how to control the spam better.

Posted by: Martin Taylor at August 22, 2006 9:05 AM