How to Use a Olympus XA 35mm Pocket Film Camera

Hi, I’m Jon and this is Prime Studios photography. In this video I’m going to show you how to use the Olympus XA 35mm film camera. This is easily my all-time favorite camera. It’s combination of small size, useful features, whisper quiet shutter, and sharp lens make it a wonderful camera to have with you all the time in lots of different situations To get your own Olympus XA, as well as the batteries and film to go with it, you can follow the links in the description down below. If you like this video Feel free to hit that “Like” button and subscribe to my channel for more film photography videos. The Olympus XA uses two v76 PX batteries, more commonly known as LR44s. The battery compartment can be opened using a quarter and the batteries need to be placed positive side out. You can check the health of the batteries by flipping the lever on the bottom of the camera to the “Check” position and listening for a tone and looking for a small red LED on the front to light up. To load the film you can open the back of the camera by lifting up on the film rewind knob. Make sure to check the light seals along the edge to ensure no light will get in and expose the film. If the seals are damaged you should be able to take the camera to most camera shops for repair. Insert the film into the left side of the camera and push down on the rewind knob to hold the film canister in place. Pull the film tab to the other side and insert the film tab all the way through one of the slots in the right take-up spool. You want to make sure that the sprocket holes are also lined up with the sprocket here on the bottom. Close the back of the camera and make sure it locks in place. Gently turn the rewind knob clockwise until you feel just a little bit of tension. Slide the camera open and set the ISO using the small switch at the front of the camera. If you look carefully you can actually see the light sensor moving right above the lens. Wind the film forward by using the wheel on the back upper right of the camera. You can verify the film is moving forward by making sure the rewind knob is turning counterclockwise. Activate the shutter button by pushing down softly and continue to wind the film forward and push the shutter until the counter, reads one. Keep in mind that the shutter release on this camera is very sensitive by design, which makes it very easy to take a photo whether you intended to or not. Making sure to close the cover when not in use will help prevent accidentally taking a photo. To take a photo, make sure the camera is opened and that the film has been wound forward as it also primes the shutter. The Olympus XA is an aperture priority camera. This means that you choose the aperture and the camera chooses the shutter speed based on how much light is hitting the light sensor. The aperture can be set with the aperture lever on the front of the camera. Here you can see the aperture getting bigger and smaller as I adjust the f-stop. Note that the aperture is actually made up of two blades, each with two sides which can result in a subtle square shaped bokeh. You can also see a shaped piece of metal in front of the light sensor moving back and forth. As you adjust the aperture you can see the shutter speed that the camera is going to use on the left side of the viewfinder. The XA has a maximum shutter speed of one 1/500th of a second and in all of my testing a minimum shutter speed of approximately 5 seconds. Going above one 1/500th of a second will push the needle into the overexposed area. You can force the shutter into a bulb mode by moving the lever on the bottom of the camera into the “Check” position before you push the shutter button. This will cause the shutter to stay open for as long as you like until you move the lever back to its original position. The annoying part is that the loud tone will be on during the entire exposure. Also, keep in mind the camera is not specifically designed to do this and it may cause your battery to down very quickly. The Olympus XA uses a manual rangefinder style focusing system. You can see both the window for the viewfinder and for the rangefinder on the front of the camera. This presents you with a small yellow square in the middle of the viewfinder Which you can place over your subject and line up the split images to achieve proper focus. The focusing lever also has some knurling just above it’s main handle in case you need to manipulate the focus while on a tripod. The camera also has a distance measurement in feet just above the lens. You’ll notice that the 8-foot mark is colored orange, along with the f/5.6 F-stop, as these settings are believed to be a good balance for general shooting without having to focus for every shot. The Olympus XA also includes a few other features like backlight compensation and a self timer. Both of which can be activated on the bottom of the camera by moving this lever. The backlight compensation feature tells the light meter to overexpose the photo by 1.5 stops of light in order to compensate for a dark subject in the foreground with a bright background. The self timer feature turns on a 12 second timer that activates when you push the shutter button. While it counts down it makes an audible beeping sound and flashes the red LED light on the front of the camera. Take note that it does not change the pitch or frequency of the beeping to indicate that it’s about to take a photo. Another nice feature of the camera is that it can be operated entirely with one hand. This combined with its extremely quiet shutter, and ability to fit into most pockets, makes it an excellent camera for stealthy candid shots or street photography. The XA is compatible with several attachable flashes with the most common being the A11. The flash can be attached easily to the side of the camera simply by screwing it on. The A11 flash takes a single AA battery and works well as a fill flash up to a maximum of about 18 feet at full power. You can turn on the flash by moving the aperture lever all the way to the top and firmly pushing it towards the blue flash symbol. It’s designed to give a little more resistance when moving it to this position. This will cause the flash to start charging, which is indicated by a light popping up and turning orange when fully charged. Leaving the aperture lever in the flash position sets the camera to a default of f/4 and 1/30th of a second. The flash itself can be adjusted for either 100 ISO, or 400 ISO film, or put to it’s full power by using a small switch to the left of the flash tube. Through some testing with my light meter, I’ve discovered that the output of the flash stays the same regardless of what aperture or ISO I set on the camera. The only thing that changes the actual output power of the flash is adjusting the lever on the flash itself. With 400 being the least powerful, then 100, then “Full” power being the strongest. Changing just the ISO switch on the camera, and not changing the ISO of the film itself, will change the shutter speed but have no effect on how bright the flash appears in the exposure. Even at higher shutter speeds the flash will still sync as the XA has a two-bladed leaf shutter. Taking the camera off its default flash mode, by changing the aperture, will both change the shutter speed as well as how bright the flash appears in the exposure. You can figure out which aperture will give you a proper exposure by setting the flash to the “full” setting and focusing on your subject to determine their distance. Then you can calculate the correct aperture to use with the formula “f-stop=flash guide number / subject distance. The guide numbers for the A11 flash are 33 at 100 ISO and 66 at 400 ISO. So for example, if we are using a 400 ISO film, and our subject is 8 feet away, then we’ll be using an f-stop of f/8. If our subject is 2.8 feet away, then we would use an f-stop of f/22. You can turn the flash off simply by pushing down on the charging light. You will know you have reached the end of your roll of film when you can no longer advance it. Make sure you do not try to wind the film by force once you feel resistance, as this might cause it to rip. To rewind the film, first close the camera cover and push the rewind or release button on the bottom of the camera. Lift up the rewind lever and begin to rewind the camera back into it’s canister. Once you feel the film physically come loose from the take-up spool and go entirely back into the film canister, you can lift up the rewind knob, and open the back of the camera, and remove the film. Thank you so much for watching and I hope this video has helped you. Please “Like” this video and subscribe to my channel for more film photography videos. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. Thanks!


  1. Fergus Wilson June 1, 2019 at 11:55 pm

    Most comprehensive and professional review for this camera, nice work! Wish this was here when I first started shooting with the xa

  2. Rollo Tamaci June 10, 2019 at 1:27 am

    Thank you!

  3. Punk Rachmaninoff June 17, 2019 at 12:56 am

    can you verify if these original xa cameras need the battery to advance the film winder/fire the shutter? bought one in "as is" condition today, can't seem to understand why the camera is stuck in the cocked position… the rewind button is also stuck in the depressed position.

    other than those major problems, i guess everything works. the rangefinder is dim, but i is probably better on a sunny day.

    the battery compartment was empty, the aperture blades are nice and clean.

    after a fair amount of googling, i don't want to waste more money on batteries if it is something major like the rusty magnet issue, perhaps? perhaps it's just a parts camera.

  4. Adam Redmond June 25, 2019 at 5:18 am

    I had no idea about the "secret" bulb mode. Great video!

  5. jameswburke July 4, 2019 at 3:36 pm

    Great little camera. Carried mine everywhere in the '90s and got pics I would have missed otherwise. Great lens too 😉

  6. Andrea. S July 10, 2019 at 7:24 pm

    You shouldnt touch the batteries with ur bare hands. I think it affects the battery, thats what i heard anyways

  7. David Reid August 27, 2019 at 11:28 am

    Excellent informative video. I am curious about this camera. Now I intend to buy one.

  8. Berika Beridze October 2, 2019 at 7:35 pm

    Great tutorial!

  9. Konstantina Temiridou October 6, 2019 at 4:21 pm

    Can you explain the difference between A11 and A16 flash? Which one is better?

  10. Nutdanai Phuangthong December 7, 2019 at 11:11 am

    Very detailed and informative, thank you very much

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