Washington at Addison Olympus XA Kosmo Foto 100 2017
Even though I’ve driven the National Road from end to end and have visited the Indiana and Illinois segments more than once, I’ve yet to fully document the road through Indianapolis. I’ve made some photographs Downtown, but very little between there and the eastern and western city limits. It’s in some part because the neighborhoods are bad, and in some part because it can be difficult to find places to park.
But I go to church within sight of this location, the corner of Washington (the National Road) and Addison Streets on the Near Westside. I’d never noticed before that the corner building was originally a lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. It says so above the second-story windows. I’ve lost count of how many such lodges have I encountered as I’ve followed the old roads.
When Kosmo Foto announced its first film, Kosmo Foto Mono, last year I was among the first to preorder. Stephen Dowling, the man behind Kosmo Foto, has been a longtime friend to film photography and to this blog. I was very happy to support his venture and try his film!
This ISO 100 black-and-white negative film is an existing emulsion, repackaged for Kosmo Foto. Dowling hasn’t been forthcoming about what film this is, except to say that he’s shot it for years and loves it.
My Olympus XA was sitting on my desk when my order arrived, so I loaded a roll right into it. And then Margaret and I spent the following weekend in Chicago. The XA spent the whole weekend in my inside coat pocket — except when I got it out to shoot a scene.
I see why Dowling loves this film: it gives a wonderful classic black-and-white look.
This gray, dim weekend presented quite a challenge for the XA on ISO 100 film. I have a pretty steady hand and can dip down to around 1/15 sec. handheld without camera shake — but even at a shutter speed that slow the widest I opened that lens was f/4. My in-focus patches were correspondingly shallow. To compensate, I mostly chose distant subjects and focused at infinity. It worked out. Just look at all that great contrast! And while the film’s grain is detectable, it’s not pronounced.
I felt emboldened to try some street photography. I use that term loosely: I was on the street, there were people, I made some photographs. I focused on the built environment and waited until the arrangement of people on the street was not uninteresting.
This is my favorite Chicago street shot. I wanted the fabulous Oriental Theater sign in my frame, and aligned it roughly on a vertical rule-of-thirds line. Then I put the crowd’s faces on a horizontal rule-of-thirds line. It really worked out.
I shot about half of this 36-exposure roll in Chicago, and the rest closer to home. The grounds of the former Central State Hospital for the Insane in Indianapolis is near where I go to church. The Christel House Academy charter school was built on the grounds a few years ago. The mural on the wall reads LOVE, but the film had trouble picking up the V and especially the E.
Here’s my church, West Park Christian Church, in its context: an Indianapolis neighborhood built around the turn of the 20th century. The church building is steps off the National Road.
Looking out from the church building’s steps, here’s Addison Street. Indianapolis’s old neighborhoods all have names; this one’s is Hawthorne.
Where Hawthorne is a working-class neighborhood, you’ll find central Indiana’s well-to-do in the village of Zionsville. Its charming main street is lined with little shops and restaurants and even one little hotel.
Any time I’m in the village with a camera I photograph the Black Dog Books sign.
Shooting in poor light as I did, Kosmo Foto Mono rendered moderately lit areas well but tended to lose detail in the shadows. I’d like to shoot my next roll on a bright day to see how it behaves. Other old-school contrasty films I’ve shot, such as Fomapan 100 and Kentmere 100, have tended to blow out highlights in bright light. I’ve learned to meter for the highlights to compensate. That’s what I’ll try with Kosmo Foto Mono, too. I look forward to it.
Welcome to downtown New Augusta Olympus XA Kosmo Foto Mono 2017
While I was shooting up my first roll of Kosmo Foto Mono (which I review tomorrow — but for a preview, see my profile on the Kosmo Foto blog) I stopped briefly in New Augusta, a small town that has long since been swallowed up by Indianapolis.
I lived near here for a long time, and it became a place I visited from time to time just for photography. I wouldn’t mind living here. Even though New Augusta is surrounded by suburban strip malls on one side and light industrial on the other, when you’re on its streets it feels like a hundred miles from anywhere.
I keep searching for a fun, easy medium-format camera that delivers good results, and the Agfa Clack just might be the one.
Many cameras in this category take 620 film, which has been out of production since 1996. It’s the same film as 120, just on a different spool. You can still buy 120 film, so you can respool 120 film onto a 620 spool in a dark bag (instructions here) or buy pre-respooled 620 (one source here). But for me the hassle of the former and the expense of the latter have lost their charm. Unfortunately, most of the simple medium-format cameras take 620.
Because it takes 120 film, the Agfa Clack has long been on my radar. It was a hugely popular family snapshot camera in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s. Because the Clack didn’t catch on in the US, they can be hard to come by – and they command tall prices. I routinely see them go for $60 and $70 on eBay. For a box camera! I decided I would pay no more than $30, and I waited a year before I found one at that price.
This camera is a paragon of simplicity and functional design. It’s so German! And since it’s German, you pronounce the As in this camera’s name as ah.Ahgfa Clahck. This camera just has to be named after the sound its shutter makes as it opens and closes.
In many ways, the Clack is as simple as it gets – light-tight box, single-element lens, single-speed leaf shutter. But it offers some surprising features and clever engineering. On the lens barrel is a lever that slides three aperture masks into place – the first for closeups, the second for overcast days, and the third for bright sunlight. The closeup aperture includes a magnifying lens that’s supposed to focus from 3 feet. Without it, the lens focuses from 10 feet. The sunlight aperture includes a yellow filter, which adds contrast to skies when using black-and-white film.
The first and third apertures are slightly smaller than the second, though there’s wide disagreement about what f stops these apertures actually are. f/8 and f/10? f/10 and f/11? f/11 and f/13? Nobody seems to agree on the shutter’s speed, either, with guesses ranging from 1/35 to 1/60 sec. But specs in this range are in line with the slow-speed, wide-latitude black-and-white films consumers bought in those days.
The camera’s ovoid shape (when viewed from the top or the bottom) was not just styling. There’s no pressure plate in the Clack to hold the film flat. Instead, the film flows along the curved back, which matches the curve in the single element lens to yield an undistorted image.
The Clack is two pieces that come apart for film loading. You twist the mechanism on the bottom toward AUF to open it; the top pops up and you pull it out. All of the camera’s works are in the top piece, and you spool the film around the back of it. When you drop the top back into the bottom, twisting the mechanism to ZU draws the top down and locks it tight.
In the middle of the open-close mechanism is a tripod socket, an unusual feature on such a simple camera. The Clack pairs it with a cable release socket, which is on the lens barrel below the shutter lever. These two features make it possible to eliminate camera shake for the sharpest photos the lens can deliver.
By the way, if you like box cameras also see my reviews of the Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model D (here), the Kodak Duaflex II (here), the Ansco Shur Shot (here), the Ansco B-2 Cadet (here), and the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
The Clack’s lens can deliver remarkable sharpness for its simplicity. I loaded a roll of Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros and spent a very sunny afternoon in South Broad Ripple. This little retaining wall had taken a tumble.
A sticker inside the Clack recommends DIN 17 film, which is equivalent to ISO 40. I shot ISO 100 Acros confidently, however, because of its exposure latitude. It was a mistake; the Clack overexposed the film. Fortunately, Photoshop Elements let me correct exposure on each shot.
No matter, I had a great time shooting the Clack. Given that a roll of 120 produces just eight exposures in the Clack, it didn’t take me long. Shake was a bit of a problem though.
I got spot-on exposures when I put a roll of ISO 50 Ilford Pan F Plus into the Clack. I took it out on a day of errands and photographed the places where I stopped.
The Pan F really brought out the Clack’s best, with good sharpness and rich tones.
Another time I spooled some Kodak Ektar 100 into the Clack and shot it around the yard. I’ve had good luck with Ektar in box cameras.
I thought the colors and the sharpness were a little off this time. But I had my usual good time with the Clack, so who cares?
Finally, as I was teaching myself to develop black-and-white film I put a roll of ISO 100 Kosmo Foto Mono through the Clack. I overdeveloped the roll, but that’s not the Clack’s fault.
This is the photo that turned out best from that outing. This is about as close to anything as you can focus the Clack, unless you use the Portrait setting in very good light.
In this camera’s heyday, images were usually contact printed from the negatives, resulting in 6 by 9 centimeter photographs. Contact printing gives crisp results when there was a little camera shake or when the lens itself was poor. But the Clack’s lens is surprisingly good for as simple as it is. The corners are slightly soft, but everywhere else detail and sharpness remain good.
The Clack is a winner.
If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here! To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.
The Olympus XA has been called the little camera that the pros grab when they want to travel light. After shooting with one, I can see why – it’s light and easy to use, and yields standout results. Yet as I researched to write this post, I was surprised to find so many complaints about it.
The XA’s centerpiece is its fine 35 mm f/2.8 lens, of six elements in five groups. It is only 31 mm long, shorter than its focal length – just imagine the engineering necessary to pull that off! Yet some complain that this design yields barrel distortion and light falloff (darkening) in the corners.
Some also complain about the XA’s rangefinder, saying that the focusing patch is too small, and the awkwardly placed lever has a very short throw. They have a point about the lever’s placement – it’s below the lens and film-speed scale, and its entire range of motion is about a half inch.
Finally, I read complaints about the range of attachable flashes, that they’re all too big. I’ll grant that complaint. The A11 flash may add only an inch and a half to the XA’s four-inch length, but it sure manages to make it too long for my jeans pocket.
If you like quality 35mm compacts, also check out my review of the Olympus XA2 here. Other small, but not quite this small, 35mm Olympuses I’ve reviewed include the Stylus (here), the Stylus Epic Zoom 80 (here), and the μ[mju:] Zoom 140 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
I dropped a roll of Fujicolor 200 and two SR44 batteries into my XA and got to shooting. The complainers, I quickly decided, must only be picking at nits. The rangefinder is remarkably easy to focus. The lens returned superb results. But I removed the A11 flash. I did want to carry the camera in my pocket, after all.
Because of the need to set aperture and focus, the XA isn’t quite as instantly ready as its brother, the almost point-and-shoot XA2. But using either camera begins the same way: by sliding the clamshell open to reveal the lens. Be sure to do it by pressing against the ribs on top of the camera.
At a skosh under eight ounces, it was easy to slip the XA into my pocket for a bicycle ride to Juan Solomon Park and its brand new playground. I can’t figure out what this piece of equipment is fun for, but I sure liked the subtle shadow it threw in the evening sunlight. The XA is an aperture-priority camera, meaning you set the aperture and the camera chooses a shutter speed based on what the light meter tells it. The XA can focus as close as 2.8 feet. I set the aperture wide, moved in close, and focused on the nearest blue disc, and got good sharpness up close and a creamy softness father away.
The f/2.8 lens can be stopped all the way down to f/22, which is pinhole tiny and in good light would provide sharp results for a mile. It was perfect for this long shot of tiny Kirklin, Indiana.
The XA’s electronic shutter operates from 1/500 to 10 seconds. A display inside the viewfinder shows the shutter speed the camera mates to the aperture you choose.
I really took to the Olympus XA. It became one of my go-to cameras. I’ve shot all sorts of subjects with it, on all sorts of film. Here’s an old Chrysler I photographed on Arista Premium 400.
Also, the teeth of an old Dodge Charger. The rangefinder patch is small, but it’s bright enough and I’ve always been able to easily focus it accurately.
I made one of my favorite photos of all time with the Olympus XA: approaching the midway of the Indiana State Fair as the sun was almost set. I was shooting Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800.
The controls are all tiny, especially the rangefinder lever. They feel slight, as if too much pressure could break them off. Just go gently and all will be well. But do go, as this camera is such an easy companion to bring along. I brought it along to visit my son at Purdue and we walked along Lafayette’s main street, where I photographed the Lafayette Theater marquee on Agfa Vista 200.
It also came along on a frigid December weekend to Chicago, shooting Kosmo Foto Mono. I kept it in my inner coat pocket when I wasn’t using it so it would stay warm. It performed flawlessly when I brought it out into the chilled air.
My one complaint with the XA is that the shutter button requires only the slightest of pressure to fire. I’ve wasted a few shots that way. Not this one, however. I think it turned out fine.
I picked up my XA at a fire-sale price because the eBay seller mistakenly listed it as an “Olympus A11” after the attached flash. But when this camera was new in 1979, its price was no fire sale: $233, which is equivalent to well north of $800 today. Olympus made XAs through 1985, so even at that price it must have been popular. No wonder; it is a wonderful camera.
If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here! To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.
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