Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Olympus XA, first manufactured in 1975, was a stroke of genius from the mind of Yoshihisa Maitani, the man who brought you the path-breaking Olympus OM series. Maitani has always been obsessed with small cameras: the OM cameras were 35% smaller and lighter than any of the competition; you could fit the half-frame Pen camera into a shoe - and still have room in there for several interchangeable lenses; the pocket-sized Olympus Mju was one of the most successful compact cameras ever.

The XA is the smallest 35mm rangefinder camera ever built. You can manually focus it, select film speed and apertures, attach a flash and, most importantly, it had a radically, phenomenal six-element 35mm lens on it. It was also kind of fiddly and though that appealed to some people, it didn't to others who had SLRs for fiddly work and wanted something simpler, without compromising on quality, for their shirt-pocket point-and-shoot.

Enter the Olympus XA2 in 1980. It shares the same iconic shell design, the same feather-light electromagnetic shutter which does a fantastic job of minimizing camera shake but, instead of aperture priority, it offers a simple full-program mode and, instead of rangefinder focusing, it's got a simple, three-step focusing scale.

It's puppy-sized and lovely, and I'm looking forward for a good, bright day, when I'll be taking it out on the streets, loaded with a roll of monochrome film. What is making me giggle most nerdishly, though, is in the care instructions at the back of the manual:

Drop it in water, and angels will pray over it; drop it on the ground, and it will hurt its leg...



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