I recently put a roll of film through an Olympus XA2 that someone gave to me. I’ve owned another XA2 so I know that this is a lovely camera — very compact, with a great lens and easy zone focusing. But then I made a series of rookie mistakes shooting this one and it reminded me of a key lesson: when testing something, let the thing you test be the only unknown.
I didn’t follow that maxim when testing this XA2:
- I grabbed a battery out of another camera I’d just shot, which I had pulled out of another camera, and another before it, and who knows how many other cameras before that. That battery could have been tired.
- I used a film I’m still getting to know, Ultrafine Xtreme 100. I’ve liked it a lot every other time I’ve shot it, but I don’t know how it behaves in all conditions yet.
- I used a lab that is fairly new to me to process and scan the roll, and I’m still learning their capabilities.
The scans looked terrible, with both blown-out highlights and very dark shadows. I couldn’t tell how much of that was the lab’s fault and how much was the fault of bad exposures. No amount of Photoshopping could save them. I rescanned the negatives on my flatbed scanner (a Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II) using the software that came with the scanner. That improved them enough that Photoshop could make the images usable.
Here are a few photographs that show what came off my scanner. This was the worst of the photographs as the bridge was badly blown out. I severely squashed the highs and lows out of the shot in Photoshop to make it sort of usable.
This shot is probably the best-exposed of the bunch, and I still had to heavily adjust highlights and shadows on it.
The just-before-dusk light in the nature park was challenging. I had another camera along, one I’ve shot many times. Its meter got the highlights right but left the shadows very dark. So perhaps this was an extreme test of an unknown camera. Fortunately, I took this XA2 along on a day trip to a distant town. It was near the middle of the day and the sun was fully out.
Even on these shots the shadows were very dark. The highlights weren’t as blown, however. But these shots miss the mark in sharpness and detail.
These photos clearly do not represent what this camera or film can do. Here’s a photo I took with my other Olympus XA2, beautifully exposed and full of life.
And here are a few photos on Ultrafine Xtreme 100 from other cameras. First, from my Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK:
And now from a Minolta XG 1 with the 50/1.4 MD Rokkor-X lens.
That frame was processed and scanned by the same lab as did the roll from the XA2, so I know the lab is capable of good work.
I have put a fresh battery and the film I know best, Agfa Vista 200, in the XA2 for another try. I must have missed it before, but the in-viewfinder underexposure light comes on in situations when I would expect it not to. All may not be well with the meter. So the lab appears not to be the problem — instead, it’s probably the camera itself, the one thing that should always have been the only unknown in this equation.