Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Another Olympus XA2

I’ve never read a negative review of Olympus’s XA2, a remarkably compact 35mm camera. Everybody seems to like it. eBay bears it out: prices hover around $100 for working and complete examples. I am fortunate, as this one came to me for free from the collection of an old friend’s father.

Olympus XA2

The tiny XA2, introduced in 1980, was based on the 1979 XA but replaced its rangefinder with zone focusing and its f/2.8 lens with an f/3.5 lens. And when I say this camera is tiny, I mean tiny — it’s only fractionally larger than my Canon S95 or my wife’s Sony RX100, both compact digital point-and-shoot cameras that don’t have to hold a 35mm film cartridge.

Olympus XA2

I loaded a roll of Ultrafine Xtreme 100 black-and-white film, pulled a battery out of another camera I’d just finished using, slipped this XA2 into my coat pocket, and took it everywhere for a couple weeks. And then, as I explained in this post, I got black shadows, blown-out highlights, poor sharpness, and lack of detail. Here’s a shot from inside a nature park near my home, heavily Photoshopped to make it usable.

Starkey Park, Zionsville

I know better than to test a new-to-me old camera with an old battery and film I don’t know well yet, and then to send the film to a lab I’m still getting to know. So I declared the first test roll null and void, and loaded a fresh battery and tried-and-true Agfa Vista 200 into the camera. I had the camera shop downtown process and scan the film. Glory be, I got good stuff back from the XA2 this time.

Indianapolis Artsgarden

The little green light inside the viewfinder came on a lot, meaning that the XA2 needed a slow shutter speed to get a good exposure and that you should consider using flash or a tripod. Bollocks, I said each time. Every day but one I shot this camera I enjoyed full sun. I should have been getting plenty fast shutter speeds.

Co-op

I can’t tell what is making that green light come on so often. The XA2 doesn’t tell you what aperture and shutter speed it’s choosing based on the meter’s reading, so I don’t know how I would check this meter’s functioning against a known-good meter. But these results speak for themselves: it didn’t matter.

Suburban autumn

Autumn came late in central Indiana this year. It served to deepen the eventual colors, but to shorten their life span. It seemed like all the trees changed color and dumped all their leaves inside two weeks. I was fortunate to be able to take several good walks with the XA2 in my coat pocket during those days. That’s the XA2’s killer feature, by the way: you can carry it everywhere so easily.

Red

These full-sun photos were all noticeably vignetted, so much so that in the centers, light colors tended toward white. I was able to fix that pretty well in Photoshop. I had the same effect with an XA2 I used to own, so I assume this is endemic to the camera.

Yellow tree on Old 334

I experienced the common (and minor) challenges with the XA2 as I used it: the clamshell cover hangs up unless you slide it open in exactly the right direction, and the shutter button is super sensitive and likely to fire when you don’t mean it. If this were my only camera I’d get past those quirks after three or four more rolls.

Wrecks

I finished the roll before meeting a friend for lunch Downtown on a gray, chilly day. That green slow-shutter light was on for every shot, but as you can see the camera did fine.

Maryland St.

When you close the XA2 it moves the focus to the middle zone, which brings into focus everything 4 feet or more away. Because the camera biases toward big depth of field, for most subjects you can just open the camera, frame, and press the button. For truly far-away subjects you can use the landscape setting, and for close subjects (no closer than three feet, though) you can use the portrait setting. I did that here, and in this light got a narrow-enough in-focus patch that the background blurred a little.

Blue umbrella

To see more from both XA2s I’ve owned, check out my Olympus XA2 gallery.

Many film photographers say they prefer the XA2 to the XA. I’m not in that camp. I like the XA’s rangefinder and I prefer the characteristics of its lens. That said, the XA2 is almost point-and-shoot simple with plenty great optics. If I shot people on the street, this would be a great camera for it: open it, frame, snap, done.

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Lilly Lake, Eagle Creek Park *EXPLORED*

Autumn at Lilly Lake
Canon Canonet QL17 G-III
Agfa Vista 200
2018

This photo was featured in Flickr Explore on November 19. It’s always fun to see all the likes and comments when one of my photos makes Explore.

I wonder how many Flickr viewers had any idea that I was shooting film? To know, they’d only have to click through to my image’s page and read the description.

Can an experienced eye guess that this is a film photograph? To me, the sky is the tell. It has a nuance to it that digital cameras seem unable to capture. They tend to render skies almost too perfectly, with wispy clouds against a sea of perfect azure.

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Film Photography

single frame: Autumn at Lilly Lake

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Film Photography

Strolling Downtown in Indianapolis with the Canonet QL17 G-III

While I was looking for work I had a lot of coffee, lunch, and drinks appointments with people in my industry, as I tried to find opportunity. Even though this exhausts me — I am a pegging-the-meter introvert — I really love catching up with colleagues and getting to know people in my industry whom I hadn’t met yet. My appointments had me driving all over Indianapolis and its north suburbs, and I always brought a camera along. One of those cameras was my Canonet QL17 G-III. Agfa Vista 200 was inside.

Sunrise houses on Meridian Street

I met the VP of Engineering of a well-known local startup one morning near his South Meridian Street office Downtown. This little sliver of Indianapolis’s main street has been isolated from the rest of Meridian Street thanks to resolving an awkward fork with another major street. It has allowed two blocks of charming old houses to remain.

View of Downtown from the south

Here’s where northbound Meridian Street ends, with its view of the Indianapolis skyline. The building at the photo’s center is Salesforce Tower, housing the largest employer of software people in Indiana. It was built in 1990 as Bank One Tower.

Beer and food

A little park stands where Meridian Street used to. After you cross through it you reach the Slippery Noodle Inn, Indiana’s oldest bar. This is its south wall.

Down an Indianapolis alley

Here’s a quick look down an alley, toward the old Union Station. A whole bunch of tracks run through Downtown, elevated since before anybody can remember.

Scooters

Bird and Lime electric scooters litter Downtown’s streets. I rode one once. It was kind of fun, but not worth what it cost.

Green arches

I strolled looking for interesting scenes to photograph. I forget where this scene is exactly, but it’s within a couple blocks of those scooters.

Lit balls

Same with this festive scene devoid of customers on this chilly, gray morning.

The Claddagh

I know exactly where this restaurant is, however: on Meridian Street just north of the tracks. My wife and I come here from time to time, as we like fresh Guinness, Irish whiskey, shepherd’s pie, and fish and chips.

Church door

I made a point of walking the few blocks over to St. John the Evangelist Church to photograph this great door. Then I walked back to my car and drove to my next appointment.

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Collecting Cameras

Just a reminder that I have some film-photo gear for sale on my For Sale page.

Minolta SR-T-101

I’m winding down Operation Thin the Herd, where I’m evaluating each camera in my collection and deciding which stay or go. My aim is to shrink my collection to cameras I’ll use regularly. 

I’m offering some great gear at reasonable prices. Check out my For Sale page to see what’s on offer.

Shipping is free anywhere in North America on all items! I’m happy to ship outside North America for actual shipping cost.

Gear for sale

Aside
Blogosphere

Recommended reading

It’s December 9th. Have you finished your Christmas shopping? If not, let these Best Blog Posts of the Week be a balm.

💻 Do you think $300 is a lot of money? Seth Godin says that your answer might change depending on the context — that value depends on a number of variables. Read Situational spending

State Theater
Canon PowerShot S95, 2018.

💻 Venture capitalist Fred Wilson writes a useful article on litigating in corporate America: when to do it, and to accept that you might be right and lose anyway. I think this is a useful guide on when and how hard to fight back on anything. Read Litigation

💻 Sign fans really need to check out Debra Jane Seltzer’s great new book, Vintage Signs of America. Denny Gibson reviews it on his blog this week. Read Book Review: Vintage Signs of America

📰 I was born in August and was thus the youngest boy in my school class. All the way through my maturity lagged my peers, some of whom were a full year older than me. I turned out all right, but I’ve always wondered how my life would have been different had my parents held me back a year so I could mature. Now there’s evidence that this lagging maturity might be inappropriately diagnosed, and treated, as ADHD. It makes me glad I was a kid in the ’70s before Ritalin. From the New York Times. Read The Link Between August Birthdays and ADHD

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Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Canon Canonet QL17 G-III

Black Dog Books

When I started collecting cameras again in 2006 I decided to specialize in fixed-lens rangefinders. I expected that in time I’d own one example of each of Canon’s extensive Canonet line, with the Canonet QL17 G-III as their centerpiece. I soon found a good deal on this one.

Canonet QL 17 GIII

My Canonet had its faults. Leading the way was a wicked light leak from degraded seals, an common affliction with this camera. The shot below of my departed friend Gracie (on Fujicolor 200) shows my Canonet’s light leak in full bloom. After this I sealed the camera’s seams with electrical tape after loading film. Also, lower shutter speeds were suspect, the meter was probably a little off, and the ISO selector was stiff. Yet my Canonet always returned good images.

Gracie

I adored this camera for several years. It easy to carry compared to the much larger and heavier fixed-lens rangefinders I had been buying and the controls all fell right to hand. I loved the sharp, detailed images the lens projected onto any film I threw at it. Here I used Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros.

Indianapolis Fire Dept., Broad Ripple

I suspected I was going to want to keep this camera as part of Operation Thin the Herd, but not in its sickly condition. So I sent it out for CLA, and then put two rolls of Agfa Vista 200 through it. Wow, what a CLA will do for how a camera feels in your hands. Every control worked as smoothly as the factory originally intended.

Open for Men and Women

The fellow who did the CLA sent it back to me with a zinc-air 675 battery inside. It powered the meter accurately. But this Canonet was designed for 625 mercury batteries, which have a different form factor. Alkaline 625 cells share that form factor, but because they don’t deliver a consistent voltage across their lives they can lead to misexposure. The films I typically shoot have enough latitude that it doesn’t matter, and the alkaline 625s last a long time. The zinc-air 675s die after a few months. 

Lilly Lake, Eagle Creek Park

I pulled the 675 out and inserted a fresh alkaline 625 cell — and it didn’t work. I tried another, and it didn’t work either. Puzzled, I contacted the CLA guy, who apologized and said he’d fix the issue if I shipped it to him, but suggested I just use the 675 cells for their always-accurate voltage. I decided it wasn’t worth the cost and hassle to mail the camera back for adjustment. So I just got to shooting.

Lilly Lake, Eagle Creek Park

I didn’t stick with rangefinders. One person gifted me a Minolta X-700 and someone else an Olympus OM-1, and I fell in love with the 35mm SLR. That’s where my collection has gone, and as a result I haven’t shot this Canonet in six years.

At Coxhall Gardens

It’s a shame, really. There’s still a place in my shrinking collection for a couple good rangefinder cameras. I love my Yashica Lynx 14e for its sublime lens, and my Konica Auto S2 just feels great in my hands. But this Canonet is smaller and lighter than both of them and delivers quality results through its 40mm f/1.7 lens.

At Coxhall Gardens

Many other fixed-lens rangefinder cameras have passed through my hands, and this little Canonet is the best user of them all. It’s a good size even for my largish hands. The little lever on the focusing ring is right where my finger expects it to be, and it glides precisely. Slung over my shoulder I hardly notice it’s there. I’m more likely to grab it for an impromptu photo walk than any other rangefinder I’ve ever owned.

At Coxhall Gardens

For this camera’s turn in Operation Thin the Herd I took it on several impromptu photo walks: downtown Zionsville, Lilly Lake at Indianapolis’s Eagle Creek Park, Coxhall Gardens in Carmel, and on a rainy day to the hip intersection of 49th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. in Indianapolis. It was a fine companion on them all. I only wish that the rangefinder patch were brighter. In dimmer light I struggled to see the split image within it. Maybe that’s just middle-aged eyes.

At Coxhall Gardens

In the decade since I bought this Canonet I’ve been blessed to use some truly outstanding gear. I have a lot more experience now against which to compare this camera. It’s a nice camera. It feels good to use. It gives fine images. But I don’t experience it as great in any of these measures. For most everyday photography I’m going to reach for something like my Pentax ME anyway, mount one of the many excellent lenses I have for it, and get results no less than equal to these.

49th & Penn

There’s nothing about this Canonet that makes it my best choice for a particular situation. In contrast, my cumbersome Yashica Lynx 14e has a killer use: its giant f/1.4 lens returns brilliant photographs indoors on black-and-white film. I can imagine future scenarios where I’ll be glad to have that camera in my arsenal. Not so this Canonet.

Bathroom selfie

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Canon Canonet QL17 G-III gallery.

Given this Canonet’s cult status, I feel like I should keep it in my collection. When I put film into it I really thought I’d fall in love all over again. I managed, disappointingly, to fall only in like.

I’ve waffled for weeks about this camera’s fate. I’ve rewritten the end of this post four times, flip-flopping between Keep and Goodbye all the way. What I finally decided is that because I’ve become an SLR guy, any non-SLR has to blow my socks off in some way to stay in the collection. This Canonet just didn’t do that.

Verdict: Goodbye

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