Olympus XA4 – the best travel camera ever

Is the Olympus XA4 the best travel camera ever? Well, we shall take a look!

There are all sorts of cameras to take when traveling. This decision making process plagues me every time my wife and I go on vacation. The problem is I am a camera collector and aficionado of using old cameras. I also love to shoot film, both color and traditional B&W but also shoot digital. So the question boils down to systems and what I am planning on doing. Usually I will take a Leica or 2 with lenses and a film Canon EOS so as to change lenses with my digital EOS Canon 5dmkii. At least that is what I am currently doing. But…what about when I don’t want a camera to lug around but want one for snapshots? Camera phone???? I could and sometimes do but will explain why not preferably. Lets explore this issue.

The DSLR: Big, heavy and not something I want to lug around as a snap-shooter. If I have something planned, maybe so and will equally be carrying a tripod and usually additional lenses. Not ideal for the idea of “travel” due to the fact that unless intentional shooting opportunity affords itself, I will intentionally leave the gear in the car/hotel/tent. Not so practical (for me).

The SLR (film): Now we are getting somewhere. Film SLR’s, especially pre digital automation (to digital capture) and pre auto-focus were sometimes quite small. Particularly bodies of the late 70’s and early 80’s. Add a couple small primes in a small should bag (or not), put on your favorite prime lens (50,35,28) and you had a nice light weight package. Problem though, I don’t always want a camera hanging around my neck and if I do, I want even smaller. Enter the…

Leica Rangefinder: My ideal, smaller than an SLR with lens (my leica iiif and collapsible summitar is almost pocket-able) and due to being a rangefinder, much better to grab shots, aka, snap shooting. Problem here is, my M5 has a meter so ideal, but, about the size of a small slr. My IIIf is much smaller, but no meter. Great when I shoot c-41 (I can guess exposure) but with B&W, I prefer to have a meter. Plus, if I want to bring a wider than 50mm lens, I need an external finder making it a bit bulkier. Still, for long day hikes, the IIIf with attached 28mm lens and finder is my preferred tool of trade. But still, I want smaller…

Olympus XA4: My quest originally had me land on the Olympus XA. A super small legitimately pocket-able rangefinder with a pretty good 35/2.8 lens. However, I am not necessarily a 35mm focal length fan (quickly changing though) and prefer/red either a 28, 40 (great compromise) or 50. The XA rangefinder patch is dim and focusing is slow but you can scale focus to speed things up. But…yet again, I was not fully satisfied. Enter the rather rare Olympus XA4. This XA model has a very nice 28/3.5 lens (sharper than the 35/2.8 on the XA, IMO) and is scale focus. It also scale focuses down to 12 inches! Pseudo macro mode. The XA4, with a wider, better lens and simpler focusing mechanism combined with a very small clam shell package that you can slide into your front pocket (or put around your neck on simple strap and stuff in front pocket) make this the carry all and every where. It is so small, you can always have it with you.

Now you may be thinking, “well I always have my android/iphone with me, why not use this?” To each their own but here are my reasons. Cell phone you have to unlock, click on the app, make sure the setting is correct (do I have it on the front facing camera from the last selfie? do I need to turn the flash off? HDR mode? Too slow…I want something quicker, and, more importantly, I prefer film for snap shooting any day. The Olympus XA4 is fast. Slide open the camera, point, shoot. It starts out at the 10′ range on the slider for focusing. One click up infinity focuses. Click down for closer. It becomes very intuitive. Fast, fast, fast and little to think about.

But how are the images? Well, I took some snapshots on our last vacation. I found my self grabbing this camera more than any other, regardless of whether I used it…it was with me. Here are a few shots, all shot on Kodak TriX film, developed in hc110.

Madison River

Madison River 1


Blacktail Plateau

Madison River 2

Near Grand Prismatic Spring

and the beauty itself
Olympus XA4

Olympus XA4 – best travel camera? Maybe…