Olympus XA2 Compact 35mm Film Camera Review

You May Not Like This

7 min read by Dmitri.
Published on . Updated on .

Olympus XA2 is a popular pocketable 35mm film viewfinder camera with automatic exposure and zone focusing.

Unlike its predecessor, Olympus XA, the XA2 is not a rangefinder. Instead, it uses a zone-focusing system where you guess the distance and set it on the camera before each shot.

Some popular reviews call XA2 a point-and-shoot camera, but that’s pretty far from the truth. You still need to manually set the focus and advance each frame before you can take a photo. A true point-and-shoot camera, as I define it on this blog, should take care of focusing and film advance for you so that all you need to do is point and press the shutter button to shoot (as the name implies).

Nomenclature aside, XA2 can make very sharp photos, is not difficult to use, and fits in a pocket. The XA2 series also comes in a few unique colours in addition to black (the most common one). I found a flashy red copy for this review, which cost me double the usual (~$150 in 2024) or just over $250. Other versions, like pink, white/olive, and blue, can fetch up to $500.

I’ve tried multiple Olympus XA cameras over the years because they’re cute, pocketable, and have an excellent lens. And yet, I found them hard to love and frustrating to use. Each time, I hoped that my previous experience would be somehow irrelevant, and each time I felt disappointed.

XA2 is not an exception. I didn’t like using this camera; I’ll explain why, and I’ll also share the things I did like about this camera — below. This way, you can decide whether it’s just me or if this camera is overhyped.

Olympus XA2 with Harman Phoenix 200 (metered at EI 160).

Olympus XA2 design, portability, and ergonomics.

Olympus XA2 is neither the smallest nor the lightest 35mm film camera ever made — but it gets pretty close. It weighs 209g/7.4oz without film and measures ~ 6.5cm × 10.5cm × 3.8cm (2.6” × 4.1” × 1.6”). A matching A11 flash will add about 91g/3.2oz with a single AA battery that it needs to operate. The remaining roll of 35mm film and two LR-44 batteries will fit right in and won’t weigh that much.

If your jeans aren’t very tight, XA2 will fit in the front pocket, it’s roughly the thickness and the size of a chunky wallet.

The camera’s clamshell design is convenient and stylish. It’s very portable and easy to operate: slide the cover to the left, and the camera is ready to go. Unfortunately, that didn’t always work on my copy (more on that later).

The viewfinder is large and mostly usable with the glasses on. The frame lines are painted with reflective material that’s easy to see in bright light and still decent in the shade.

XA2 will warn you in low light with a green light in the finder. This indicator means that the shutter will fire slowly to compensate for the lack of illumination, which can add motion blur to your images unless you mount your XA2 on a tripod. XA2 does come with a tripod hole, but you can not add a bulb/remote trigger. I also don’t understand why Olympus decided that green is a good colour to warn anyone. In fact, it was very confusing to see the colour that I’ve associated with an affirmative “OK” my entire life appear only when the camera pointed at scenes that were obviously too dark for it.

Olympus XA2 with Harman Phoenix 200 (metered at EI 160). The meter on this camera is moderately capable of shooting in backlit scenes.

You’ll need to set your film’s ISO on the camera’s fiddly little dial just below the lens for the exposure meter to work correctly. It can be anywhere between ISO 25-800 in ⅓ stops — which I found very convenient.

Below the ISO lever, there’s a flash toggle that’ll only work if you’ve attached a matching A11 unit.

The bottom plate has a twist toggle for a battery check and a self-timer. There’s also a battery cover that you can open with a coin. This camera will not work without batteries.

To the left of the lens, you’ll find a zone focusing toggle. It uses icons only (mountain, two people, and two people a little closer). The icon clicks, although you can set the toggle somewhere in between. Closing the camera’s shell will reset the focus slider back to the middle. What those icons mean in terms of real-world distance is unclear: even the manual doesn’t tell what they mean. Thankfully, XA2’s exposure system tends to choose a smaller aperture with its relatively wide 35mm lens, so it’s not difficult to get sharp images.

The large film advance thumb wheel is fairly comfortable, but that’s probably the last good thing I can think of about this camera.

The shutter on XA2 is akin to a modern touchscreen: it gives no haptic feedback. While a touch screen is a display that will usually show you what the camera does, the only way you’ll know that the picture was taken on XA2 is if you hear an incredibly quiet shutter or try to advance to the next frame.

This is the worst shutter button design of any camera, in my opinion. I’m saying this as someone who used a few of these cameras, but I’ve also discovered that it’s a huge pain for repairs as well. The internal components use glue to keep this button in place; you’ll need to rip them apart if you need to get inside.

Olympus XA2 with Harman Phoenix 200 (metered at EI 160).

Olympus XA2 build quality.

The build quality of these cameras is decent at first glance; however, the XA2’s plastic shell gave me a lot of trouble in use.

The clamshell on my copy was very difficult to slide; I had to add tiny drops of lubricant in a few spots to make it usable. The worst part about it is that the camera won’t activate until the cover is slid all the way until contact is made internally, which, in my case, was difficult to do, leading to a few missed shots. If you’re looking to get this camera, I suggest you ask the seller if they have any difficulties with that first or get Super Lube (and try not to use too much of it — a tiny drop will do!)

I did not enjoy setting the zone focus on this camera — the action felt janky, and I couldn’t tell if I was doing the right thing.

While the build quality of XA2 cameras is decent, the oversights in the clamshell design, zone focusing lever, and shutter button made using it an underwhelming experience.

Olympus XA2 with Harman Phoenix 200 (metered at EI 160).

Olympus D-Zuiko 𝒇3.5 35mm lens and image quality.

Of course, your preferences may differ from mine. Maybe your copy has a well-lubed shell, and you don’t mind the shutter button. After all, the XA2 is an incredibly popular little camera that many swear by.

Olympus XA2 with Harman Phoenix 200 (metered at EI 160).

To be fair, XA2 has a sharp, well-corrected lens with minimal aberrations and no vignetting. It handles flares very well.

Some loss of sharpness and swirl can be seen in the corners with it, but that’s hardly an issue.

The images Olympus D-Zuiko 𝒇3.5 35mm creates are characteristically contrasty and vibrant. (Note that the film I used here is exceptionally contrasty on its own, so you should expect less contrast with most films).

How much does Olympus XA2 cost and where to find one.

In 2024, XA2s are still relatively affordable and easy to find. You can find yours for $100-200, depending on the condition. Most copies will be coming from Japan, although some cameras may be available for sale in the US and elsewhere. As always, use best practices when shopping for used equipment online!

By the way: Please consider making your Olympus XA2 camera purchase using this link  so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!