I Had a Dream...

I think this dream was triggered by the 60th birthday photo I took of Galen that I posted in the Africa blog. I used an Olympus XA for that image.

bythom olympus xa

What if we resurrected the Olympus XA design for the digital era, but with some really modern twists? 

For those that don't remember, the XA was a shirt pocket compact film camera with an excellent lens and some basic controls. You could also attach a dedicated flash to its one side. It was probably the simplest of the most sophisticated film compacts ever made. And that's the thing I miss: something that's always in my shirt pocket that I can pull out, not fiddle with settings, and take high quality level photos instantly. 

Yes, I know some of you are saying "but that's your iPhone 15 Pro Max, Thom." 

Nope. To use the phone I have to fiddle quite a bit, particularly since it doesn't always like to remember settings between sessions. Moreover, then there's the issue of which sensor and lens is used, whether I want that binned, downsized, or whatnot, and have all these controls overlaying the view. 

Here are the key points from my dream about a byThom XAD (the D is for digital):

  • Same size body as original XA, same slide open to reveal lens and viewfinder as it turns on, close slide and it turns off.  
  • 24mp APS-C image sensor and some SoC processor, perhaps a SnapDragon.
  • 16mm, 23mm, or 33mm f/2 lens. Maybe three models with different lenses.
  • Autofocus via PD on sensor.
  • Sensor IS if possible. (I could live with overscan sensor and electronic IS; e.g. 26mp sensor cropped to 24mp)
  • Only five controls: aperture, shutter speed, shutter release, focus, and a user-defined button on front.
  • Front selfie mirror (maybe small LCD).
  • EVF on back, no Rear LCD.
  • No cards, all internal storage (preferably 512GB).
  • No video, only stills.
  • USB-C connectivity only. 
bythom xad

This camera is about dirt-simple UX that can be taught in three minutes. Everything about this product is convenience with high image quality. Best possible image sensor, best possible lens, best possible data handling. 

Wait a second, you're saying, what about exposure? And other things? 

Okay, the XAD determines exposure using a (tunable via app) ETTR analysis. If the aperture and shutter speed you set won't render the final image properly, it uses a virtual Auto ISO schema to produce the JPEG but saves base ISO data for the DNG. Wait, what? Yes, the camera always takes a JPEG and a DNG image. Might have to get creative about how the DNG data is placed in low light, but we're going to rely on post processing to put the final image data where we want it. 

Meanwhile, focus is Human/Cat/Dog subject detect, with closest subject priority otherwise. How do you get AF-S and AF-C? There's an AF button on the back. Press it once and it does AF-S; hold it for more than a quarter second and it's performing AF-C while held. 

If the images are in the camera's storage, how do we get them out? You connect the camera via USB-C to your mobile device or computer. Our apps then do the rest (manually or automatically, as you prefer). 

You may have noticed that button and the "user" defined shutter speed mark. Those controls are "loaded" with what you want them to do via the app (automatically updated on connection). In other words, you can define a slower shutter speed (only one), and you can define a mode the camera goes into by pressing the button on the front (it lights to tell you its in that mode). Modes might be things like bracketing, focus shift, interval, and so on. We'll tackle which to do first by user survey. Oh, and you can create your own mode by combining the base modes ;~). Yeah, programming.

The EVF is simple but tells you everything you need to know. For instance, it shows aperture and shutter speed, and whether focus has been achieved and where. The button that controls mode is shown to be on or off in the EVF. Also, since I know you're worried about that auto exposure system, there's a warning that the JPEG (and DNG in post) needs to be lifted more than three stops (or a different warning level if you made one in the app). If you see that warning, change your aperture or shutter speed if you're concerned about noise. 

Oh dear, there are other things that need to be done, too, right? How about single frame versus continuous release? Same as the AF button: press the shutter release once and it you get a single frame. Hold it for more than a half second and you get a continuous burst (the camera continues recording starting on the initial press, just in case ;~). 

That's right, I'm not adding menus and controls willy nilly. It's not that kind of camera. It's Quality with Convenience. If you want some "menu like" things, check out what the app can do. It's where any added camera features would appear. 

Given the simplicity, this shouldn't be an expensive camera. Call it US$1000, and you can have it in any color you'd like as long as that's black.

 Looking for gear-specific information? Check out our other Web sites:
DSLRS: dslrbodies.com | mirrorless: sansmirror.com | Z System: zsystemuser.com | film SLR: filmbodies.com

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