5 frames with Kodak Portra 160 and an Olympus XA – By Ted Ayre

If you know the North West of England you will know that sunshine can be a rare thing! So when the sun came out for the bank holiday weekend I decided that it was time to use my first ever roll of professional film – Kodak Portra 160.

However, I currently only have one camera – the Olympus XA, that I bought from Skears Photographic, Northampton a few weeks ago. My other camera purchases including family hand-me-downs were in a box to be traded – I’m currently on the hunt for my first ever SLR. I was honestly feeling a bit jaded about the whole photography thing, having been ripped off on eBay (you’ll maybe know the feeling!) and the XA was available fully serviced, with a warranty from a proper shop. That weekend the sun was shining, I’d just taken a chance on yet another new camera, and I was hoping Kodak Portra 160 and a walk into Manchester City Centre might cheer me up!

The Camera…

The XA is small enough to fit in my shirt pocket, is easy to operate, and has all the necessary options for aperture priority shooting. I love using the XA for street photography, just stick it at f/5.6 or f/8 during the day and zone focus. However, if you have more time you can use the tiny rangefinder patch to compose shots too if you like.

Compared to SLRs I’ve borrowed, the experience is very different using this little rangefinder camera. I’ve found that I feel less obtrusive to folks in the street, and I am able to capture more candid moments.  I want to become more confident and less self-conscious about using a camera publicly, and the little XA is the perfect tool to build that confidence. The rangefinder is a useful tool on this camera, but is very small/faint in the viewfinder. To be honest, I was zone focusing most of the time and would highly recommend Hamish’s in-depth article for the Ilford website here, as a point of reference. By using this method I was able to be faster and more spontaneous with my camera as I walked through the city.

The Film Stock…

I have to say, there is a lot of hype around the Kodak Portra range, and in my opinion it is well deserved – this film stock is the best colour negative I have ever used. Portra 160 has very fine and smooth grain, with a neutral colour palette, and its sharpness suits the legendary F. Zuiko 35mm f2.8 lens in the Olympus XA. This was my first time ever using a professional emulsion film, so I was shooting at box speed, and trying to maintain an even exposure throughout the day. The combination of the accurate light meter on the camera, and the infamous wide latitude of this film stock meant that my results came out just as I’d planned. I know it’s a bit more expensive, but I think it is worth it for the reliable results.

My 5 Frames…

I’m sharing these photos because I’ve never used a professional film stock before. I’ve always been a photography enthusiast, mainly enjoying the work of others, but have recently been trying to sort myself out with a decent camera  and some professional film to have a go for myself. So did my last-ditch attempt at getting a decent compact camera make the grade for a photo walk? Absolutely! I was very impressed, and I’m looking forward to going on the hunt for an all mechanical SLR sometime soon. How did I feel about using a professional stock? Well when I got the scans back I couldn’t believe the fidelity of the image! Portra has this beautiful neutral colour rendering, and was flexible enough throughout the day as the light changed to handle most things. I’m no expert, but this film made me feel like one!

Walking Couple, Roadworks, Old Red Brick Building
Bloom Street
Old Red Brick Building, Flanked by Two Other Old Red Brick Buildings with Deep Shadows
Harbour Street
Mixture of Buildings Old and New, Red Brick and Limestone, with Reflections off the Canal running centrally between the corridor of buildings.
Manchester Canal

The Science Park Bike Sheds were an afterthought walking home.
I’m impressed how Portra 160 handles the fluorescent light well in balance with the dwindling daylight.

Four Bikes underneath a fluorescent light, image taken through glass and mesh, the background car park is dimly lit
Manchester Science Park Bike Sheds

Finally, I had to share this shot of two ladies in front of Empire Exchange Vintage – street photography serendipity I think!

Two Older Ladies pass in front of a vintage shop, with colourful signs advertising and odd trinkets and curios inside
Empire Exchange Vintage

All scans were developed and processed by Come Through Lab in Ancoats, Manchester
Find them on instagram here: @comethroughlab 
No post-processing or cropping was used for these images.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to share more of my photos and experiences with this community soon.
You can find me on Instagram: @tedayre

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6 thoughts on “5 frames with Kodak Portra 160 and an Olympus XA – By Ted Ayre”

  1. Love the form factor of the XA. Good to see pictures of central Manchester again – I haven’t been there much since lockdown. I’m missing visits to drool at the used kit at the Real Camera Company.
    Any idea what sort of SLR you are after?

    1. Yeah the XA really surprised me! Oh and The Real Camera Co. is always tempting haha! Well I recently got myself an all manual SLR and am writing up a review at the moment… so wait and see!

  2. Fantastic shots, and the team at come through labs are fantastic. Keep waiting for a chance to get a couple of rolls through the EOS3, see how it turns out

    1. Good plan Iain, the EOS3 will be solid I’m sure! Totally agree that Come Through Lab have given a boost to the analog community in Manchester.

  3. I’ve have a few FEDs that I’ve enjoyed using. (some Zorkis as well, but tbh I can’t stand using them for some reason) I got the EOS3 as it’s familiar to me (canon 5d2 when playing digital) but also it’s allowed me to throw some kentmere 400 through it at 800 and with the extended shutter speeds still take in bright light.

    I tend to view all my scans in lightroom so I ask the guys at come through lab to not use the adjustments available on their scanner as I’m probably going to move sliders a touch anyway.

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