Olympus XA – Kodak T-Max 100

I keep a pair of these cameras loaded with different types of film, one with slow film for bright outdoor use and the other with low light and flash photos in mind. It takes a while to get through these rolls because I normally bring the XAs when shooting is secondary, and frankly I tend to forget they’re even with me. They’re that compact.

I’m often too rushed to use the anemic rangefinder so “guess focus” it is. However with such a short focus throw, the distance scale is cramped and it’s a challenge to be precise. In addition, the scale on one camera is metric while the other’s is imperial. It’s not unusual for me to think in meters when the scale reads feet. D’oh. At least the hyperfocal values—3m at f/5.6—are highlighted in red; it’s good enough.

The 35mm f/2.8 lens is sharp when in focus. Its focusing elements are located in the middle of the assembly, so the front element is fixed and does not extend. Incoming light is controlled by a two-bladed square aperture.

I pulled T-Max 100 two stops for versatility in sunny conditions. Developed in Xtol. I got light leaks at the top of some frames from when the camera was in my backpack with the back popped open. It probably happened because I replaced the old light seals with purple princess foam that’s a bit too thick. And because a friend knocked the backpack off the couch. Thud.

Likes

  • The smallest 35mm rangefinder ever made. And light enough to pocket comfortably.
  • Aperture priority operation is quick, accurate, and offers creative control.
  • Images are sharp when there is enough light—and time—to use the rangefinder.
  • Hyperfocal settings are marked for point-and-shoot ease.
  • Sliding cover powers down meter and protects optics. No lens cap to keep track of.
  • Silent leaf shutter, thumb-wheel advance, and inconspicuous form factor. Stealth.

Dislikes

  • Shutter release is flat, flush, and hard to find by feel. It is also a hair trigger. Bad combination.
  • The rangefinder patch is tiny and dim; useless for anything but bright, stationary subjects.
  • Not weather-resistant. Requires the use of Ziploc bags when brought on the bike. Tedious.
  • Negatives exhibit fall-off on the sides at all focus distances.

For such a small camera, the XA is pretty versatile. It’s capable of some serious photography if there is time enough to set up the shot. And if the subjects are getting impatient—because Millennials—it’s easy enough to “set and forget”.

White Clay Creek, Newark, 2016

Maxine, Mount Airy, 2016

Boonies, Verona, 2017

Tammie and Mel, Verona, 2017

County Road PD, Verona, 2017

Mississippi River, Clinton, 2017

Knox Highway 7, Knoxville, 2017

Trellis, Galesburg, 2017