Travelling light in Dusseldorf – 2: with Olympus XA4
The Olympus XA4, the rarest of the Olympus XAs (it was made for only about a year, in 1985 I think), is in many ways an ideal ‘travelling light’ film camera, though it does have its drawbacks. The 5 element high quality Zuiko lens not only gives a useful moderate wide angle for those cramped urban shots or for landscape, it gives that bit of extra margin in depth of field for point and shoot – it’s 28mm focal length and f/3.5 maximum aperture.
The XA4, if you can find one, usually goes for quite a bit more than the XA, but only about the same as many ask for a Lomo LC-A and cheaper than a new one; in most ways I think it’s a much better camera.
A disadvantage is that you have little control over exposure other than setting the film speed, from 25 to 1600 in full stop intervals (whereas the XA film speed can be set at 1/3 stop intervals), and a +1.5 backlight setting. However, the programmed exposure system will expose from 2 seconds at f/3.5 to 1/750th at f/14 – a bit faster than the 1/500th of the XA. Although the top film speed setting on the XA is only 800ASA, the shutter speed is shown in the viewfinder and the XA will hold the shutter open for up to about 10 seconds.
I’ve found the exposure system to be pretty accurate and was pleased to see that, viewed on the light table, almost every exposure was about right when the Astia 100F loaded for these shots came back from the Fuji processing lab in Leeds, which gives excellent service.
Strangely enough I have in the past done some of my own E6 processing, ‘strangely’ because I don’t remember doing any C-41 as it always seemed easier and no more expensive to go to the local shop (even now I’d only do it for interest as my local photography shop, which always has a good range of classic film cameras for sale, does a good job and turns a film round for me, without prints, in 15-20 minutes for £1.99). For the moment E6 now seems just too demanding for my kitchen sink processing.
The XA4’s zone focussing is pretty good too though I do miss the rangefinder of the XA. When you close the cover the distance is re-set to 3ft which is usually good for a quick grab shot – but you have to get used to remembering this as, other than 3ft, the focus setting is not retained when the cover is closed.
The combination of the sharp Zuiko lens and the subtlety of Astia brings out the grain in the wood of the window shutters pictured above without over saturating the red painted areas; the colours look pretty much spot on in the original transparencies and on my Mac monitors.
But where the XA4 really offers something extra is its ‘macro’ capability. There are not many, if any, other pocketable film point-and-shoots which will focus down to a foot, 0.3 metres, as the XA4 will.
It also has settings for 0.3 and 0.5 metres, and the original wrist strap, if it still has it (mine does) is a useful measuring ‘tape’ for the short macro distances.
Like the XA, it has a self-timer and the setting lever for this (and battery check or back-light) on the bottom also swings out so the camera will be steady on any flat surface for the shots using the self-timer, be it for including yourself or removing the likelihood of camera shake in long exposures.
If you use flash there are several dedicated compact flashes which connect to the camera with different guide numbers. I rarely use flash though I do have them all and any of them slips easily into a small pocket; if you are going to use it a lot it can just be left attached and the combination will still slip into a pocket.
So, if I could take only one camera when ‘travelling light’ I’d probably opt for the XA, but all the cameras in this series are so small and light that such a scenario is unlikely so I’d have the XA in one pocket and the XA4 in another. Because of it’s wider angle and macro capability, I’d probably have colour film in the XA4 and B/W in the XA, as I did on this trip to see my grandchildren. But, as you may have seen from my post upon my return, on this occasion I also took Lomo’s granddad for fun – and still didn’t need a ‘bag’.
Seems like a great camera. Your pictures are wonderful, and I especially like the macro function.
Hi. Many thanks. I always look forward to your new posts, especially the B/W ones. Thanks also for the pointer to the BBC piece about Lomo – interesting. I’m not pulled in by the Lomo thing – I bought my LC-A (now not working) just because it was very cheap at the time (about £1!). However, when it was working I did like some of the unusual things it would do, but predictably once you got to know it. I’m really not drawn to the ‘unpredictable’ aspect of Lomography – but I suppose that’s only an extension of the anticipation waiting for a film to be developed. But thank heavens for it; it has certainly contributed to the survival of film I think, and it’s great to see all that expired film is being used rather than chucked in the bin.