Olympus XA4 - The Best Travel Camera Ever?

Discussion in 'Alternate Digital Cameras' started by Jon Buffington, Dec 11, 2017.

  1. Jon Buffington

    Jon Buffington Well-Known Member

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    Jim Fox, if you would like to move this to the film camera section, feel free. Definitely an ALT camera selection though :)

    Is the Olympus XA4 the best travel camera ever? Well, we shall take a look!

    There are all sorts of cameras to take when traveling. This decision making process plagues me every time my wife and I go on vacation. The problem is I am a camera collector and aficionado of using old cameras. I also love to shoot film, both color and traditional B&W but also shoot digital. So the question boils down to systems and what I am planning on doing. Usually I will take a Leica or 2 with lenses and a film Canon EOS so as to change lenses with my digital EOS Canon 5dmkii. At least that is what I am currently doing. But...what about when I don't want a camera to lug around but want one for snapshots? Camera phone???? I could and sometimes do but will explain why not preferably. Lets explore this issue.

    The DSLR: Big, heavy and not something I want to lug around as a snap-shooter. If I have something planned, maybe so and will equally be carrying a tripod and usually additional lenses. Not ideal for the idea of "travel" due to the fact that unless intentional shooting opportunity affords itself, I will intentionally leave the gear in the car/hotel/tent. Not so practical (for me).

    The SLR (film): Now we are getting somewhere. Film SLR's, especially pre digital automation (and pre digital capture) and pre auto-focus were sometimes quite small. Particularly bodies of the late 70's and early 80's. Add a couple small primes in a small shoulder bag (or not), put on your favorite prime lens (50,35,28) and you had a nice light weight package. Problem though, I don't always want a camera hanging around my neck and if I do, I want even smaller. Enter the...

    Leica Rangefinder: My ideal, smaller than an SLR with lens (my leica iiif and collapsible summitar is almost pocket-able) and due to being a rangefinder, much better to grab shots, aka, snap shooting. Problem here is, my M5 has a meter so ideal, but, about the size of a small slr. My IIIf is much smaller, but no meter. Great when I shoot c-41 (I can guess exposure) but with B&W, I prefer to have a meter. Plus, if I want to bring a wider than 50mm lens, I need an external finder making it a bit bulkier. Still, for long day hikes, the IIIf with attached 28mm lens and finder is my preferred tool of trade. But still, I want smaller...

    Olympus XA4: My quest originally had me land on the Olympus XA. A super small legitimately pocket-able rangefinder with a pretty good 35/2.8 lens. However, I am not necessarily a 35mm focal length fan (quickly changing though) and prefer either a 28, 40 (great compromise between 35 and 50) or 50. The XA rangefinder patch is dim and focusing is slow but you can scale focus to speed things up. But...yet again, I was not fully satisfied. Enter the rather rare Olympus XA4. This XA model has a very nice 28/3.5 lens (sharper than the 35/2.8 on the XA, IMO) and is scale focus. It also scale focuses down to 12 inches! Pseudo macro mode. The XA4, with a wider, better lens and simpler focusing mechanism combined with a very small clam shell package that you can slide into your front pocket (or put around your neck on simple strap and stuff in front pocket) make this the carry all and every where. It is so small, you can always have it with you.

    Now you may be thinking, "well I always have my android/iphone with me, why not use this?" To each their own but here are my reasons. Cell phone you have to unlock, click on the app, make sure the setting is correct (do I have it on the front facing camera from the last selfie? do I need to turn the flash off? HDR mode?). Too slow...I want something quicker, and, more importantly, I prefer film for snap shooting any day. The Olympus XA4 is fast. Slide open the camera, point, shoot. It starts out at the 10' range on the slider for focusing. One click up infinity focuses. Click down for closer. It becomes very intuitive. Fast, fast, fast and little to think about.

    But how are the images? Well, I took some snapshots on our last vacation. I found my self grabbing this camera more than any other, regardless of whether I used it...it was with me. Here are a few shots, all shot on Kodak TriX film, developed in hc110.

    [​IMG]

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    and for comparison in sizes (excuse the cell phone pic), 5dmkii, canon ae-1, oly XA4

    [​IMG]

    Fits in the shirt/pants pocket very easily and quicker than the cell phone.

    These cameras were made for approximately 2 years so kind of rare but do pop up routinely on buy-sell film forums as well as on ebay and are still quite affordable in the $150 range.

    Is this the best travel camera? I don't know...but currently for me, it is. Maybe for you...???
     
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  2. JimFox

    JimFox Moderator
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    Hey Jon,

    What a very cool write up! The Alt forum sounds great for this. Though I didn't realize the XA4 was a film camera. It seems when people mention Travel Cameras they seem to always be referring to one of the small mirrorless cameras by Sony or Fuji. Well I guess Olympus too?

    Anyway, so it was quite a nice surprise as I read this that it was a film camera. It does appear to be quite capable from the looks of your images you have added. #2 and #4 are really cool shots! Very cool in fact I would like to see a few of those B&W's put into the B&W or Landscape forum in their own thread.
     
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  3. Jeffrey

    Jeffrey Supporting Member

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    yeah, I had one of those. It was super cool. I felt like James Bond. No longer have it.
     
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  4. Jon Buffington

    Jon Buffington Well-Known Member

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    Hey Jim, thanks for the feedback. I will take those suggestions to heart and post in the B&W forum as well.

    Is there a perfect camera? Probably not but one that suits the particular need? Well, that's why we have different tools (cameras). This one suits my need for pocketable. One day, I will try out one of those digi Fuji x100's and get one for my wife. She likes easy, small and digital. Man, if only I could get a digital full frame in the small package of the XA4 (won't happen and cannot due to sensor and electronic physical space requirements).
     
  5. Jon Buffington

    Jon Buffington Well-Known Member

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    Yes, VERY unobtrusive camera. That can be a big plus, especially when "street" shooting or in public places where whipping out a big ole dslr will raise eyebrows.
     

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