The Olympus XA2 is the most “Barnack” camera i’ve ever owned.
Probably a lot of readers won’t agree with this sentence but if you’re curious, just keep reading to know why i think so.
How much would you pay for a full frame, all black, with a nice OVF, silent and pocketable camera???
Today, a lot of photographers would pay about 2500€ for a digital full frame compact camera with a 35mm fixed lens (i mean the Sony RX1) and about 500€ for an external optical viewfinder. Add that the RX1 is not pocketable.
Probably they don’t know they can get a little gem like the Olympus XA2 for about 1/100 of the price, and this is nothing if they consider the fun they can have with film photography and the lot of things they can learn from it (that’s UNVALUABLE!).
This little camera was designed by the absolute genius of Maitani, the man who also designed the OM and Pen series (the original half format camera, not the digital one!).
In the 1979 this man invented the Olympus XA, a small – probably the smallest ever! – rangefinder camera, with a great 35mm f2.8 lens.
It was a big success, so in 1980 Olympus released some “variants” with different specs, including the XA2.
The body was the same of the XA – all black, metal and plastic, really solid- but the RF was gone: the camera had a zone focusing system. The lens is a 35mm, but with a different design, with a maximum aperture of 3.5. It has a sliding cover mechanism that also work as On/off for the camera if opened/closed. The camera is minimalism at its best. In fact you find just a viewfinder on the back, a red shutter button, the iso selector and the zone focus mechanism. That’s all. You don’t need nothing else to get GREAT photos.
THE SHOOTING EXPERIENCE
Oscar Barnack was the man who invented the 35mm film. He designed the first Leica cameras. He revolutioned the world of photography, forever.
Before him, camera weren’t absolutely pocketable. He did a revolution! Finally you could have acceptable quality with great portability, thanks to the “new” 24×36 “sensor size”.
So the expression “Barnack Camera” usually refers to the screw mount Leicas, pocketable cameras, stealthy and capable of great photos, unintimidating, that you can have always with you, waiting for a great moment to be captured and not losing it when it appears.
This concept applied undoubtely well to the screw mount Leicas for about 20 years; there was no alternative if you wanted to have always a camera with you.
But for today’s standards, using a screw mount Leica can be really really slow.
Yes you can still carry it always with you (as I did for some time) with a collapsible lens, but i think that there are better/faster alternatives.
The XA2 embodies the Barnack Camera myth at the best.
It is pocketable, i mean REALLY pocketable, since it can stay without problems in your jeans.
It can stay always with you, you have no excuses.
It produces really nice photos.
It is really fast – you grab it, slide the cover and ta-da, you’re ready to shot without preoccupation to focus.
Yes, you don’t have to worry a lot about focusing thanks to the fastest focus technique ever: the zone focusing.
Near the lens, the camera has a little lever and it can switch to 3 position according to the distance of your subject : portrait, medium distance, landscape.
How is it possible?
To understand this, you have to know that a lens has his own depth of field; depth of field is bigger when the focal is shorter, for example a 24mm lens has a lot of depth of field, while a 85mm has a little dof, and dof also increases when closing down the aperture.
If you have a big dof, a lot of things in the picture will be in focus.
Olympus was very smart to choose a 35mm lens with a 3.5 aperture: this mean that almost everything will be in focus even at the maximum aperture.
When you slide the cover is medium, that covers from about 2-3 meters to near infinity, so this is the setting you will need in almost every situation!AMAZING!
You just have to set to landscape or portrait only if you are shooting a really close subject or a really far one.
Trust me, this is so liberating! It set you absolutely FREE, you just have to focus on composition and on your subject and when everything is ok just click the shutter!
In fact, the camera is all automatic: it sets the f-stops and shutter speeds automatically, doing very accurate exposures in every situation.
Olympus is known to be one of the best company regard exposure automatic setting.
The viewfinder is really good. It is of a similar size of the one of the Fuji X100, it is crisp and bright, with nice framelines.
When the shutter speed is low (under 1/30 if i remember correctly) it warns you with a red light to avoid blurry photos.
The shutter button is really really sensible; i recommend not to wind all the film advance dial since if it’s all winded and you just touch the button it can shoot!
When you need to shoot, just finish the winding with a fraction of a second and shoot!
Doing this little exploit make possible to avoid rubbish non-wanted shots.
The shutter is really really silent. Nobody will notice you while shooting! It’s a leaf shutter, so the sound is similar to a x100. You know that it’s amazing while shooting the streets.
Being a leaf shutter, it also means that you can do relatively long shutter speeds without blurring the photo, since the shutter is really “soft” and it doesn’t cause a “shake” when opening\closing.
I really recommend to you this little camera: is stealthy, cheap, pocketable, with a good OVF and with a nice lens.
It has EVERYTHING you need to get a GREAT photo.
Think at the work of H.C.Bresson: do you remember any of his great photo because of the bokeh it had? Or because the super sharpness of it?
I hope you liked this informal, non technical review. It’s intended to be a sum of the experiences i had with this camera.
Any questions?Doubts?Use the comments!
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