5 frames with...

5 Frames from New York, on Cinestill 50D with the Olympus XA – by Simon King

I recently returned to London from a week in New York, which I spent exploring the city with the sole purpose of photography. Usually my travel setup involves two bodies which can share lenses, but earlier in the year I started to use my Rollei 35AFM as a pocket snapshot machine, and as such it never left my front shirt pocket – not when travelling, and not when in London. However as time went on I decided that the Rollei, while a spectacular camera, was not justifiable; I sold it and bought an Olympus XA. I wrote about one of my first rolls through the XA here, where I mentioned how I was struggling with the 35mm field of view.

Despite this I have stuck with the XA, and shoot it very frequently – mostly snapshots, but also when I need something wide angle, or very discreet for a situation. When in New York I used the XA as a colour camera (after finishing the roll of T-Max 400 which was already loaded), complementing my Leica M6 which ran only black and white film throughout the trip.

It spent the week in its usual spot, my shirt pocket, always cocked and cover closed, ready to fire as soon as I needed it to. Over eight days I went through two rolls of Cinestill 50D and half a roll of Kodak Pro Image 100. These are much lower films than I usually shoot, but my assumption was that I would be mostly shooting in bright summer light.

Something I hadn’t accounted for when selecting my film options for the XA was that by selecting lower speed ISOs I wasn’t able to shoot comfortably on the Subway system. While excellent for bright light Cinestill 50D at f/2.8 was giving me shutter speeds from 1/2 a second to a full ten second exposure at one point. When shooting the Subway with faster 400 speed films in my Leica M6 and 90mm at f/2 I was setting my shutter fairly consistently at 1/30ths – 125ths which gave me images I was much happier with.

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I’m used to loading a 400 speed film in the XA and shooting it EI800 then push processing it, which is useable in almost any situation for me. By switching up my workflow in favour of the sunlight it meant poorer images in lower light. I think I’ll be sticking to 400 speed and simply overexposing in the future, as there was one shot in particular (immediately above) which I think would be much, much better without the motion blur.

The XA was great for situations I didn’t want to bring my M to my face. I really enjoy framing by eye, which is much easier on the wider lens, and focusing/shooting from the hip. Especially in New York I found it a useful skill.

The 35mm lens is still something I’m getting to grips with. I’m used to spotting a composition from further away, then moving closer to accommodate. I feel that with the snapshot approach of the XA I have leant towards more spontaneous image taking, with less concern for the exactness I usually apply to my images. I shot things I wouldn’t have normally looked at twice, and I think this made for a really nice little collection of smaller moments, which is sort of refreshing.

Thanks for taking the time to look at my images here. You can see more of my images from New York in the article I wrote specifically about it on my own blog. You can also follow me on Instagram for a curated feed of my best work!

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11 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Roger B
    September 1, 2019 at 3:30 pm

    A very good idea that, to NOT take your Leica into NYC’s subways. Carrying such bling makes you a target. The XA with suitably-high ISO loads may be the perfect choice.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Simon
      September 1, 2019 at 3:35 pm

      I never felt unsafe carrying my Leica in any part of the city, but the XA would definitely be a choice for people who want something a little more stealthy and cheap for situations they would otherwise feel unsafe in.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    James
    September 1, 2019 at 5:19 pm

    Rubbish.
    I have lived in New York City nearly my entire life. It isn’t as uniformly safe as it had been under previous mayors (the present one is a high-functioning cretin), it remains safer that nearly any large Western city. The city is teeming with tourists throughout the year often armed with CaNikon behemoths, so an M6/7 with the red dot obscured is no more apparent than a Fujifilm X100. Some areas are indeed unsafe and don’t merit a visit in any event, whilst the subway (underground) after midnight isn’t as advisable as it had once been.
    Overall, there isn’t much to fear if you aren’t foolhardy.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Robert
    September 2, 2019 at 12:09 am

    Love this.
    I relate to feeling of freedom you get with snapshot cameras- I feel if I’ve got fast enough film in one I could capture unexpected scenes on the fly whereas I’d need more time to manually focus an SLRS. I’m glad you posted that blurry shot on the subway. It gets surprisingly dark on the tube but as your eye becomes accustomed it’s easy to forget how long an exposure could could be. This happens to me all the time! I have an XA2 which I haven’t figured out yet. Do or did you use the attached flash? How’d it go and would you advise it?

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Simon
      September 2, 2019 at 10:14 am

      Thank you! I agree, sometimes you just need a snapshot machine for those fast, unexpected moments. I never use flash for my street photography, but I know it’s worked for some. Give it a try, but practice on some friends before using it with strangers! The XA2 is a superb camera, you’ll be sure to get the hang of it eventually!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Marco C
    September 2, 2019 at 7:38 am

    When I had a XA, to shoot in low light with a reasonable exposure time for handheld, I set the aperture on flash and added the +1.5 ev for back-lit scenes. It goes around f/3.5 at 1/15s 😉

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Simon
      September 2, 2019 at 10:12 am

      That’s a great technique for some, but flash just isn’t for me 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Marco C
    September 2, 2019 at 8:59 pm

    Who said you had to actually use the flash? 😉

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Simon
      September 2, 2019 at 9:08 pm

      It was the implication 👀

      • Avatar
        Reply
        Marco C
        September 3, 2019 at 10:22 pm

        I don’t know if there was irony to be caught, but you can use the flash mode without the flash 😬

        • Avatar
          Reply
          Simon
          September 3, 2019 at 10:33 pm

          I got it, thank you! 🙂

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