Olympus XA

5 frames with an Olympus XA and XP2 Super at the Pet Parade – By Alex Solomon

Olympia, Washington has a strange fascination with animals and dress-up. In late April there’s a parade where a bunch of people dress up like animals and make big animal floats and dance and shut down the whole downtown area. In the evening they cover themselves with lights and do the same thing all over again. The best part is the kids dressed up like dung beetles pushing giant crepe-paper shit-balls like stick hoops from the 1700’s. In August people dress up again to whatever the theme is (superheroes this year, of course) and dress their pets up too and have a parade downtown. I went to the Pet Parade this year with my Olympus XA. Maybe next year I’ll shoot the shit-balls.

There’s a lot to be annoyed at, in point of fact about the Olympus XA. The viewfinder sucks. The focus patch is barely useful, mine has multiple light leaks and a fiddly meter that sometimes won’t let me take the photo when I want to. On top of all that the lens, though a ‘marvel of engineering,’ is softer than I’d like. Additionally, the rangefinder base-length is like, non-existent. I’ve found that, at least with my copy, it back focuses at 2.8 and is only really reliable at around 5.6 and above. For all that, I’ve taken some of my favorite recent photos with this camera and I adore it. It’s tiny. Cute, even. You really can just throw it in your back pocket and because of that, it’s the camera that I just… have pretty much all the time.

I shot the parade with Ilford XP2 Super 400. It’s one of my favorite black and white films. It’s virtually grainless, sharp and since it’s chromogenic it has the added convenience of being able to throw in the development tank with color film. I rated this roll at 200, developed the film myself at home and scanned the negatives with a Nikon Coolscan 5000. I added a gradient map in Photoshop to give the images a slightly warm tone.

Overall the Olympus and XP2 Super is a fantastic combo. I try to always have at least a couple rolls of XP2 lying around. Especially if you’re coming from the digital side of things and you’d like to dip your toes into film, I highly recommend XP2 for its forgiving exposure latitude and the fact that it has a much finer grain than traditional black and white films.

Thanks for reading! Check out my flickr and instagram if you’re interested in seeing more of my work.

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8 thoughts on “5 frames with an Olympus XA and XP2 Super at the Pet Parade – By Alex Solomon”

  1. No question that the camera’s limitations didn’t stop you from getting some extremely nice results. I love camera gear, and have lots of it- but it is the eye of the photographer that counts most

  2. I bought an Olympus XA on a whim when it was ew on the market. It was always one of my favorite cameras. I was pocketable even with the flash attached and practically bullet proof.
    I didn’t mind the rangefinder because for f/2.8 it had an excellent dof. Mine sample was exceptionally sharp. Eventually I sold it, but I continue to admire the design and functionality.
    I suspect that if you were to get it CLA’d, many of it’s flaws might disappear. But, who wants to spend severalties what the used XA costs to get it CLA’d? BTW, I found your shots to be quite sharp and while XP2 is not my go-to film, its contrast and grainlessness always produces wonderful results. Your composition is quite good too, although I would have preferred that the little girl’s feet not be cut off or the cropping on the bottom be a little higher in image #2.
    Possibly the result of the less than wonderful viewfinder?

    1. I kindof like the junkiness of my XA. I’m less worried about being rough with it. I agree about the framing too, probably photographer error but her expression and shirt were enough for me to include it.

  3. Really like the pictures, it’s a strong set. Shooting XP2 at 200 has gotten really good results… Makes me wonder what it is like at 100. I’ve only shot it at box speed or faster.

    1. Thank you. I’ve shot XP2 as low as 50 with good results. Ilford actually lists in the spec sheet that you can shoot anywhere between 50 and 800 and develop at box speed. My own experience has proven this to be true, with very high detail at the low iso range.

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