I have three examples from the Olympus XA(n) series – an XA, an XA1 and an XA2. The XA1 is pretty much ignored by “serious photographers” apparently – it doesn’t have the nice electronic shutter (being completely battery-free) and has absolutely no focussing controls at all, just automatic exposure.
There is something about this that makes it an excellent street photo camera. Here are some pictures from a recent roll that I took, using Fomapan 100 (I’m now very fond of Fomapan film but that’s a separate issue). Yes, it has fixed focus, but at just the distance that you would actually want to focus when taking snapshots on the street. These Olympus people weren’t stupid. Plus, do note that you can get an XA1 for about a fiver on eBay.
I got the Olympus XA that I bid for in the post earlier today, incidentally, for all those thousands of you who are fascinated with my eBay activity. So now I have an XA, an XA1 and an XA2. That’s probably enough to be getting on with.
They all look extremely similar, but are really quite different in operation. I took the XA out today and wandered around snapping with it for a bit; it is much more of a “compact 35mm rangefinder” than a “camera you keep in your pocket in case aliens land next to you”. It has optical focusing, an ƒ2.8 lens, aperture-based exposure and an indicator of the current shutter speed in the viewfinder (from 1/500 to 2s). These are all quite simple to use, but one will be tempted to spend more time fiddling with them to get a perfect picture I suspect, rather than just pointing and taking the picture and seeing how it comes out later.
The XA1, in contrast, has automatic exposure and basically no controls at all apart from setting the film speed and whether you want to use the flash – not even focusing. It doesn’t have a battery; the lightmeter works with a selenium photoelectric cell. I have some surprisingly good pictures from it though. The XA2 is in-between, with three focus zones and the same light-touch electronic shutter release as the XA.
I suppose the relative use of them for “street photography” depends on exactly how you think of this concept as working.