I am a light traveler. I got fascinated with the idea of one-bagging, I started optimizing everything I would carry. One time, I even grew a beard just so that I wouldn’t have to pack my razor. One thing I couldn’t, or rather didn’t optimize was my photography gear. As a G.A.S. survivor, I still had a lot of camera gear left. Nothing too crazy but at any given time, I have/had a film body (Leica M6), a digital (Fujifilm X-Pro 2 and Leica M240), and a few primes (28, 35, 50mm). Packing for travel meant playing Tetris with my camera gear so that I could fit it all in one bag.
I decided to change that when I was packing for my tip to Seoul. “Travel light and see the world right” was the motto. So I decided to bring only one camera. I was still experimenting with different films and I had just discovered Kodak Ultramax. My iPhone was good enough to cover for a digital camera and I wanted to shoot film. So, enter Olympus XA2.
I didn’t want to lug around my M6 for the trip and XA2 was a perfect replacement. Not to mention that the price difference was literally $1000 vs $80. 8% the price, %50 the weight. It even came with my favorite/most comfortable focal length.
But of course, it comes at a price – pun intended. I lose almost all controls.
I only get 3 focus settings and after 10 rolls, I still don’t have the confidence in focus. Not that it matters too much, since the shots are, well, sharp enough for my purposes.
The next loss I mourn is that of the meter. I usually shoot tri-x @ 1600 and cinestil @ 3200~6400, but XA2 only supports up to iso 800.
However, that’s not a huge complaint because it’s a damn accurate one. Even in dark situations, the metering was near perfect. The real problem tho, is that camera is willing to lower the shutter speed a lot – up to 2 seconds – and you get no indication of that. When shooting in dark places, just remember to give it some time. Don’t shoot and scoot. Why not stay and get a few more shots anyways?
Losing the decisive moment because of technical error ruining the shot is annoying, but maybe losing controls wasn’t so much of a bad thing. When I’m shooting with my M6 or FX-3, or any other manual film camera with an accurate meter, I fiddle with settings so much I lose the shot unless I’m zone focusing with sunny 16 or shooting with a flash. So, counter-argument: Point and take the damn shot.
For the size, IQ is a lot more than I could ever ask for. In daylight where the camera can liberally tighten the aperture, everything is in focus. Vignetting is slightly visible, thought it’s a problem that can easily be fixed (or a one I’m too lazy to fix) in post.
I bought this one on a whim as a flea market find. After putting 10+ rolls through it, the clear verdict is that this one’s definitely a keeper.
Easy to carry, full frame, point and shoot. A cult classic. Olympus XA2