Photography

Vacation camera audition: Olympus XA

I’ve decided to take the Nikon N2000 to Ireland. The results were just too, too good. You all swayed me heavily in your comments on that audition post, by the way. But when I made that decision I hadn’t finished the audition roll in my Olympus XA yet, so I kept shooting. Not that this was a hardship; the XA is delightful.

Olympus XAThis little camera seemed like it would be the perfect vacation companion. Indeed, Moni Smith got great shots from hers in Italy and Ireland this year.

And did it ever handle beautifully for me! It really was everything I thought I wanted in a camera for this trip: small, light, capable.

But shooting an SLR just feels right to me, righter than even the most delightful tiny rangefinder camera. And when the images from the XA came back from the processor, it sealed the deal. I wasn’t quite as happy with them as I was with those from my N2000. I’ll point out why as I share photos from this roll of Kodak T-Max 400.

Margaret and I walked the Old Northside and adjacent Herron-Morton here in Indianapolis one hot August evening while I had the XA along.

1219

It resolved detail well, and returned the fine tones I’ve come to expect from T-Max. I bought five rolls of the stuff for my trip, by the way.

Old Northside

But some of the shots on the roll suffered from a serious lack of shadow detail. I don’t get why; the light wasn’t especially challenging. Could it have been the processing? Different soup, different results? I sent the T-Max I shot in the N2000 to Old School Photo Lab; I sent this roll of T-Max to Dwayne’s.

Old church, Old Northside

Fiddling with these photos in Photoshop I kept seeing blobs of blue in the dark areas. That means those areas resolve to full black. No amount of sliding sliders or curving curves could fix it, meaning the detail just wasn’t there. That was never a problem on the roll of T-Max I shot in the N2000.

Apartment House Entrance

There were also the usual challenges with the viewfinder not exactly lining up with what the lens sees, which is a pet peeve. When I framed this shot, the “Foundry” logo on the right was completely in frame.

The Foundry

The XA and Margaret and I went on a walk through the cemetery near my house. This Liberty Bell replica is a favorite subject.

Liberty Bell replica

I stepped way back for this landscape shot of the bell within its housing.

Washington Park North Cemetery

I finished the roll with a few la de da shots at home. Am I one of the last men alive who irons his own shirts? Who wears ironed shirts at all? I wait for the unironed shirts to pile up and then polish them all off in marathon sessions in my bedroom while I watch shows on Netflix. You can sort of make out, there near the top of the photo up and left of the iron, some plastic boxes under the dark area that is my dresser. Those boxes contain the old cameras I haven’t shot yet.

Ironing

Really, I could do just fine with the XA in Ireland. If some of you hadn’t so strongly suggested taking an SLR, which led me to try the N2000, I would be taking the XA to Ireland!

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24 thoughts on “Vacation camera audition: Olympus XA

  1. hmunro says:

    I have no doubt you’d get great images with whatever camera you brought along, Jim. But an inaccurate viewfinder? That would be a deal-breaker for me. Cute and pocketable as the XA may be, I’m relieved you’re taking the N2000.

    Thank you for sharing your test rolls. It’s been great fun — and a great learning experience — to follow along.

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    • Spot-on viewfinders are a big part of the reason I like SLRs. Every viewfinder/rangefinder camera I’ve ever shot has some amount of viewfinder inaccuracy, and it makes me nuts. Most of the time I can crop to my original vision but not always, as in the case of the Foundry shot.

      Space in my bags is tight but I’m going to make the N2000 fit somehow. I just put fresh batteries in it and bought 5 rolls of T-Max 400 to take along.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Walter says:

    I’m curious if you’ll get any reaction from people on using a film camera over there? I can’t remember when was the last time I saw someone using a film camera around here……I may have seen one or two used at Busch Gardens here in Tampa since so many tourists frequent there?
    Maybe in Europe they’re a bit slower to adopt digital as we quickly have here? Although digital’s been around for quite awhile now, this statement has no merit? Are you going “cold-turkey” and not taking a digital camera/shots as well? I know I personally have come to love instantly seeing how each shot has come out. As well as taking so many more pictures since there’s no processing fee!

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    • Walter, I’m not sure what reaction I’ll get! Not only do I wonder whether anybody will notice I’m shooting a 35-year-old film camera, I wonder whether they’ll notice that my camera has a strange name on it, as the N2000 is called the F301 over there.

      I am meeting another film-photoblogger while I’m over there, a fellow who lives in Northern Ireland. That will be fun!

      I am bringing my digital Canon S95 too. I’m shooting b/w in my film camera and color with the S95. The reality is, if I shot all film over there the processing/scanning costs would crush me when I return. Already, I spend so much on processing/scanning every year that I could buy a new midlevel DSLR annually.

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      • Walter says:

        I’m sure processing on your own has crossed your mind a time or two…. What’s holding you back? From following you for a few years, it sounds as if it’s something you’d greatly enjoy!

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        • Time. And it’s not the processing, which isn’t hard or all that time consuming — it’s the scanning. I have a scanner that does 35mm negatives, but it can take me an entire evening to scan them and process them. I just don’t have that kind of time these days. I’m hopeful that after I’m empty nested — my youngest is a senior in high school!!! — that I can make time to do this.

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  3. Andy Umbo says:

    Jim, you might try using a chromogenic black & white film like Ilford XP-2. I had to pack up my black & white processing equipment a while back, and it was an eye-opener as regards to quality level in professional black & white film labs! Even as a pro, I had always done my own because of the variation. I was getting results all over the place: if the film looked well processed, the prints and scans could be “off”, if the prints and scans were pretty good, they were dirty, with grit embedded in the film and scratches.

    I had such a problem with variations of shadow detail and processing, I finally gave up and shot XP-2. The process was C-41, and totally machine controlled to meet Kodak specs, so my film always came out exactly as expected (I won’t say it was better than the best black & white film conventionally processed, tho, just very consistent). The upside was that the film was made for scanning, and since it was chromogenic,therefore dye layers, the film could be scanned with all the “digital ice” process on, for clean and scratchless looks; no silver halides to screw up the laser..

    Give it a try, I’m not using anything else until I go back and build a darkroom again…

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    • At this point I want to stick with the film I know, and when I’m back I’ll send the rolls to Old School Photo Lab, which seems to do fine work with T-Max. But I hear your basic point, that the chromogenic films at least offer consistent results. I’ve tried the Kodak version but never the Ilford. I didn’t like the purple caste I got back on the Kodak; I had to Photoshop it out of every shot.

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  4. Hey, Jim! I didn’t know these little gems existed until a few months ago and I started seeing them in Thrift stores here in Oregon. I bought one that went to Derek Wong, and the one I have won’t forward, but the electronics seem to work otherwise, any good resources for XA repair? This seems like the perfect street/work camera. especially that detachable flash.

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    • What is this mystical, magical land where Olympus XAs can be found in thrift stores? I must go there immediately!!

      Yes, the XA is a wonderful casual companion — capable and easy to carry.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think you made a good choice. I like the XA, however the viewfinder and flexibility of the Nikon is probably better for pictures that you may not get a chance to shoot again. Even though I have advocated for film I usually opt for my digital SLR when I need to be sure about getting the picture. Also it has the option to take hi-def video which comes in handy.

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  6. Yes the XA is so tiny, maybe that could be squeezed in to your bag or pocket too? But I do like the idea of just taking one camera away, and not having the dilemma of which one to choose. Which is exactly what I did on a recent holiday, with my XA incidentally! As much as I love SLRs, the control they give and the wonderful pictures they can make, I knew on family days out I wouldn’t have the time or inclination or space to lug around such a camera.

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    • I decided to use my digital Canon S95 instead. It’s even smaller than the XA, and I can take as many shots using it as I want without having to pay for film processing when I get home! Lugging around an SLR was why I initially leaned toward a compact camera. But at least my N2000 is pretty light.

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