In Focus: Highs and Lows of Travel Photography with the Olympus XA3 (as featured on 35mmc)

My original article as featured on 35MMC, 14 January 2020.

Wat, Bangkok, Olympus XA3
Wat, Bangkok, Olympus XA3

Well, what can I say? I fell foul of hype and hyperbole this year and I have learnt my lesson. I own a perfectly good Olympus Trip and a Rollei 35 but no that was not enough!

I was heading to Thailand for the trip of a lifetime and wanted to accompany my digital camera with a point and shoot. Instead of using either of the two cameras I have (and am aware of how to use), I decided in a rash moment to get my hands on an Olympus XA3.

Why? Cause the web said so!

Joking aside I got it as it was light, had a good lens and the design means the lens is always protected – perfect for travelling. I cannot remember if I took any shots before I went away (as I did not give myself any time), but I learnt a few lessons with the XA3. 

Yes it is light, yes it is small but the automated system is something you have to get used to. I’d shoot photos with my digital camera and then aim to capture one special shot on film and this is where I came unstuck.

In brilliant light, with a steady hand and patience, the XA3 performed brilliantly well.  In fact, I have some wonderful crips photos that are metered well and either the Kodak Gold or the FujiFilm (expired) stock, produced some pleasing results.

It all went pear-shaped when the light was poor or if I rushed or was moving.

I would forget that pressing the shutter button and hearing a click did not mean the camera was finished taking the shot.  Dependant on the lighting conditions the XA3 sets the shutter speed automatically but there is no way to know what this is.  Time after time I would click the button, forget and move.  Then I would hear the camera click again and realise I’d ruined the shot.

Oddly I think this is a happy accident. Party boat, Bangkok, Olympus XA3 

This was not helped by the camera is so light.  It can be hard to keep it steady as you need some weight to ensure that you can keep the camera stable and this isn’t the case.

I also think the alignment of the viewfinder and the final photo is slightly off.  I have many photos from the trips with artefacts in them I did not see when I was shooting.  This is unusual for my film photography as I do this to slow down and look.   I don’t understand why certain things crept into the shots – maybe I wasn’t seeing them clearly enough or maybe the final shot is wider than the viewfinder…Don’t get me wrong, as a travel camera and a pocketable 35mm, this is a great little piece of kit. I don’t think it warrants the hype or the ever-increasing price tag though.

Unusually I shot colour film for the Thailand trip (I normally prefer black and white), but as I was expecting (and got) a lot of vibrant things to shoot, I wanted to ensure the film matched the surroundings.

Dragon Boat, Olympus XA3
Holding up traffic, Olympus XA3
Wat Aran, Bangkok Olympus XA3

I do have some bright, sharp and clear photos which I am really happy with.  When bright and steady the Olympus XA3 metered well and I produced lovely photos.  Those that merge between travel photographs and tourist photography.

I have learnt to stop being impulsive with my purchases, to ignore the internet (yeah right) and to kerb my enthusiasm for new gear (no comment).

I’ve also learnt there are some great entry-level cameras out there and some great tools to keep on you all the time, but you have to be wary of their limitations.

I still like the XA3 but I am not sure I would use it again.  Maybe I should try and recoup my costs and put it on eBay (anyone interested!)

Keith Tomlinson
Published 14 January 2020



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