The Olympus XA

Hooray for rangefinders! I’m a huge fan of rangefinder-focused cameras. They’re easy to focus, quick to shoot with, and generally a great deal quieter than an SLR. Rangefinders you can buy new today tend towards the prohibitively expensive end of the scale, so I’m becoming an aficionado of vintage Japanese rangefinders.

Starting in the 1960’s there was an explosion of good quality consumer-grade rangefinders coming out of Japan. EBay is rich with these cameras, which can be had for a song, considering the high-quality optics in some of them. My current favorite is my latest eBay score, an Olympus XA. This was made from the early to the mid 1980’s, and is by far the most portable rangefinder I own. It’s tiny! I can carry it around in a coat pocket and not even notice it’s there. I’ve had a roll of film through it, which I just processed last night (Tri-X 400 in Ilford developer, for the wonks). It has its limitations, but it hits a nice sweet spot with close to mid-range photography.

Untitled - 2005  Copyright Michael Merideth
“Untitled – 2005”
Copyright Michael Merideth

Some trees in a local park. The lens is not a super high-resolution lens, but it does produce a nice contrasty image, is fairly fast for the size, and brings in sufficient detail to do an 8×10 print, I think. There’s a bit of vignetting around the corners, and the frame mask is comically uneven, but those are both qualities I happen to like in this kind of camera, at least in moderation.

This isn’t much of a photo. I kind of like how the frontmost branches pop out at the frame a bit, but there’s not much more I can say for the composition. Obviously, you’re not going to get much of a nature shot in a city park, and in Colorado, it’s absurd to waste your time trying.

Untitled - 2005  Copyright Michael Merideth
“Untitled – 2005”
Copyright Michael Merideth

Another shot on the same roll. I liked the texture created by all of the staples in the light pole. Everything is so crooked that I’m afraid the overall image doesn’t work that great, but I do like the organic feeling, the immediacy of the image, which I think is a result of the vignetting and uneven frame. The camera is imposing itself into the image, and in doing so is recalling the reality of the moment when the shutter was tripped.

Coming Soon: the little Olympus takes on landscape photography.


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