Why not a digital XA?


Hall of Famer
Cheshire, England
Real Name
Martin Connolly
A question that often strikes me is: if a 35mm film camera can be made as tiny as an Olympus XA, then why can't a "full frame" digital camera with a fixed lens be equally small? And in the same vein, can't a micro four thirds ILC be as small as a Pentax Auto 110? The electronic gubbins can't be any bigger than the film transport, pressure plate etc, and if the image can be focused by the lens onto a frame of 35mm or 110 film, then surely a sensor of that size is feasible? Am I talking total rubbish or is the answer just "marketing"?


Hall of Famer
Study what difficulties Leica has had with their short-flange lens mount and that gives you an idea.

In short, when a ray of light hits the film plane in a steep angle (steepens near the edge of the image circle), the film and its optical properties do the right thing, directing light perpendicular. A digital sensor is all about transparent pieces of glass (microlenses) that have their usual (back)reflective properties: the light hits the microlens in a bad way, some of it will scatter around. There's a great clip from a Kodak engineer giving a talk on this subject, from early 2000s or late 1990s but can't find it on Youtube right now. :/

Many other brands didn't have as much problems with their legacy lenses but that's because they were SLR bodies, larger bodies with deeper flange distances. Nikon F, Canon FD, EF from the 80s all were suitable for digital work. (Of course some of the Nikon F-mount or Canon FD-mount bodies are positively compact, so is my theory off?)

If we're talking about compact cameras like a Ricoh-something from the 90s or Nikon 35-Ti, they have nice compact bodies and positively cutesy lenses on them. Mighty sharp as well. They would be more difficult to build as digital 35mm equivalents. The lenses are sharp for film but they'd probably not satisfy pixel peepers of digital folks. The steep angle requires some bad magic on the sensor and probably tough design on the lens. All making it very unlikely you could pull it off keeping the original dimensions.
Sensors are thicker than film, and cannot handle high angles of incidence. Digital cameras require much more power than a film camera- batteries are bigger than the film cartridge.

Add in that most people want Autofocus (which requires motors) and Liveview, you get a bigger camera.

The Leica M10 reduced body thickness by increasing the thickness of the mount itself.


Probably Not Walter Kernow
I guess the closest to an XA (or the Oly mju/stylus which have AF, are weather resistant, have a flash and battery) would be an RX1 in terms of compact full-frame. Over at the Camerasize website, the Sigma FP & RX1 are roughly 11x4x7cm (excl protruding lens for the RX1). Its interesting that something like the LX100 is a little smaller than these two but not by much and saves space in terms of thickness even though it has a zoom. The Ricoh GR's are pretty compact in APSC and would seem to be the spiritual successer to that line of pocket-able cameras - its pretty svelte in all dimensions while having a decent sized sensor.

I'd love to see Oly make an LX100 style camera but with a fixed lens & m43 sensor in homage to the Pen EES, Trip 35, XA, Mju cameras of yesteryear. I suspect they don't have the financial leeway to experiment with something that may not sell that well beyond the enthusiast market.

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