5 Frames with the Olympus XA3

Ever since my brother gave me my first camera, a Canon A-1 for all of those wondering, I`ve fallen in love with film photography.

At first, I shot exclusively on SLR’s, such as the aforementioned Canon A-1. I didn’t really feel the need to try other cameras, let alone carry a second one around with me.

As I went to Shanghai for an exchange semester, I quickly notice everyday scenes that grabbed my attention, but I rarely had my trusty SLR with me. I suddenly needed a small, pocketable and fast shooting camera to carry with me everywhere.

After reading everything I could about compact cameras I found an Olympus XA3 in pretty good shape. I originally set out to find an XA, but since I don’t speak mandarin and I wanted to get a camera as fast as possible I settled for what I could find.

The Olympus XA3 is a tiny black brick. The only pops of color come from the white Olympus logo and the orange shutter button.  It doesn’t get more discrete than this. The shutter is electronically controlled and very quiet. Add a super shallow shutter button and you get a camera feels faster than it really is. Even the film advance wheel helps it pass unnoticed. I took countless street shots, nobody even noticed and when they did, they assumed that I was using a toy camera.

After I got my first film back, I was blown away by the sharpness of the lens. Granted a 35mm focal length with a max aperture of 3.5 doesn’t sound sexy, but this lens is very sharp and renders images in a lovely way.

It took me a while to get used to the zone focusing system, but after trying different speed film, I settled on 400 and 800 ISO  film for maximum depth of field and high shutter speeds, which ensured I could pull the camera out my pocket and take the shot as fast as possible without having to worry about blurry images.

I love this little camera. It the perfect take everywhere camera. Sure, it’s not the most technical and doesn’t have the best optics, but it’s perfect for those everyday moments worth capturing.

Olympus XA3 review

Intro

As the fourth iteration of the XA line, this little camera upped the ante to was already a very capable and discrete camera. Unlike the original XA which had a proper rangefinder, aperture priority shooting mode, a 35mm lens with a max aperture of 2.8 and was built mostly out of metal, the XA3 was redesigned with a more user-friendly experience in mind. Its body is mostly plastic, and the shooting mode is purely automatic, just set the focus distance to one of the three predefined distances and press the shutter.  It’s basically an XA2 with an extended ISO range and DX coding.

Specs

  • Film type: 135 (35mm)
  • Weight: 200g
  • Lens: D.Zuiko 35mm 1:3.5-22 (4 elements in 3 groups)
  • Focal range: 1.3m to infinity in 3 zones
  • Shutter speeds: 2s-1/750 aperture-priority automatic
  • Viewfinder: Albada-type bright-line finder
  • Exposure meter: CdS
  • Battery: two SR44 / S76 silver oxide button
  • ISO range: 25-1600
  • Self-timer: 10s
  • Film advance: Thumb-wheel winder

Body

The Olympus XA3 is a tiny black brick. The only pops of color come from the white Olympus logo and the orange shutter button. It doesn’t get more discrete than this. Its film advance is handled by a thumbwheel winder, which gives it a disposable camera feel, but at the same time makes it that much more discrete. The lens and ISO settings are placed behind a sliding lens cover. The ISO range is set in full-stop increments from ISO 25 all the way to 1600 and the camera also has DX coding. If the film used has a DX code, the ISO will automatically default to it and ignore the setting on the front. One way to get around that is to cover the pins in the film compartment with electrical tape. Not the most sophisticated hack, but it’s quick and easy. One feature the XA3 has that the XA2 doesn’t is the exposure compensation lever. Much like the XA, the XA3 has one more setting in the battery check lever that overexposes the shot by 1.5 stops, giving you an easy workaround for backlight scenes.

Shooting experience

If you’re into street shooting, I highly recommend getting one. It’s the most discrete camera I know and the layout of the controls and features lets you shoot faster than with most cameras.
Thanks to its super sneaky shutter, compact size, and clam-shell design, you can take the camera out of a coat pocket, compose and take the shot and put it away without drawing attention. Thanks to its program shooting mode and lean and mean shooting philosophy, it lets you get in the moment and really concentrate on the details. I would even go as far as calling it a Zen camera, one that gets out of the way and lets you capture that decisive moment.

Conclusion

If candid street shots are your thing then go and buy one ASAP, plus their still reasonably cheap. I would recommend this camera for anyone looking for a carry anywhere and take candid shots without all the fuss and bulk of a manual or aperture priority camera. Or even as a second camera to load another film stock and carry it as a backup. It weighs next to nothing and complements a proper manual camera nicely.