5 Frames With an XA2 – A Brace of Olympi, Pt. 1

By Peter Roberts

Love them or hate them, and personally I love them, charity shops (read thrift stores or op shops if you will) have become a ubiquitous feature of most high streets. At their primary level they lull us into a warm feeling of philanthropy when patronising them. At their secondary, and more prosaic, level they satisfy our primitive hunting instinct by offering the chance of unearthing a bargain.

For our purposes here these trophies of the hunt can include cameras. While none of those I’ve managed to bag can be described as being in mint condition this does have the advantage that there is no need to be too precious with them.

An Olympus XA2 spotted in a local charity shop recently proved to be a sitting duck and was soon in the bag. Cosmetically it seemed to be fine, complete with flash, instructions and presentation box. Alright, so the box was missing an insert – no big deal. It even appeared to have a partly used film in it of which more as a bonus of sorts.

A Brief Introduction

Actually the XA2 probably needs little introduction, it’s been featured on 35mmc several times. Unlike its slightly older XA sibling it has no pretensions to being other than an automatic point and shoot whose only controls are ASA setting and focussing. One little peculiarity is that when the cover is slid open the hieroglyphical three stage zone focussing defaults to the middle range: two people sitting on a bench. Given the market for which the camera was intended I guess the theory was that depth of field would take care of what the instructions call snapshots. Fancy subjects such as the indicated mountain or two people in reasonable close-up, special situations the instructions rather ominously calls these, require the focussing to be reset accordingly.

Intending to take the XA2 on a stroll around Greenwich, my favourite testing ground, I ordered a couple of rolls of cheap and cheerful Kentmere 400 and once they arrived we set off. With the camera loaded with a 400 ASA film my thinking was that I would leave the focussing at its default setting and see how it performed. After all, I didn’t expect to encounter any special situations. I wasn’t going to do any portraiture and there’s nothing you could truthfully call a mountain in Greenwich, unless you count Observatory Hill which can seem like one if you go up it by its steepest path.

The 5 Frames

Before I reached deepest Greenwich I stopped off to grab a quick shot of the window of this shabby plumbers’ merchants while it was still there. I’d always thought it would make a good subject, especially when the lights were on to illuminate its dusty wares. Sadly the lights are now no longer on and what remained of the stock has been cleared out.

Closing down

The only time I reset the focus (two people in close-up) was for these two old signs on the wall of the Underground’s emergency power station. I’ve covered their history in a previous post.

London Transport Assembly Point

Into the Old Naval College now and there’s no-one at home in this tucked away corner, there probably hasn’t been since the navy left. A favourite subject of mine for testing, in fact, to Josie’s embarrassment, I’ve been known to move wheelie bins to get that shot. One of the reasons why she’s more than happy to let me go out photo-prowling all on my own.

No-one at home

There are a couple of book stalls in Greenwich Market but the real aficionados make their way to the Oxfam Bookshop just around the corner…..

“Have you got a copy of Murder in the Market?”

…..where, because it fits snugly in the palm of the hand, the XA2 proved to be perfect for shooting from the hip, though in this case it was more like shooting from the thigh.

Bookworm

Two takeaways

When reading up the XA2 I came across comments that the shutter release, a large red oblong, is very sensitive and easy to trip accidentally. I didn’t find this to be the case. I fact I found that my finger had to be squarely in the middle or else it wouldn’t depressed enough to fire.
Being used to grasping at the very least a stub of a lens barrel I had a couple of shots where an errant finger had strayed into the edge of frame.

A bonus afterword

If you’ve got this far you may remember that there was a partly used film in the camera. It proved to be a roll of Kodak Gold Ultra. Now, it’s possible to develop colour negative film in Rodinal using the times for Tri-X as a benchmark. It is even claimed that some colour, albeit muted, is actually apparent. Some examples that can be seen by searching the web appear to bear this out but I can’t help feeling that also apparent is a hint of wishful thinking and auto-suggestion. Doubts notwithstanding and just for the hell of it I gave it a go.

It worked!

So tightly rolled was the film that it took three attempts (there wasn’t going to be a fourth) to get it into the spiral without jamming. Once that hurdle has been cleared it was straightforward. 15 minutes in Rodinal 1:50 produced murky, muddy looking negatives. Somehow the scanner managed to cope with these to reveal half a dozen nondescript holiday snaps. Nondescript that is apart from this one which holds some interest.

“And this was our hotel”

Two minutes internet research identified it as the Esplanade Hotel, Paignton. It’s still there and recognisable from this shot. Judging by the cars parked outside the date is sometime early to mid nineties which explains why the firm was so tightly wound on the take-up spool. And, on a personal note, by weird coincidence the Esplanade Hotel, Paignton was where my parents stayed when on their honeymoon in 1951.

Thanks for reading.

 

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About The Author

By Peter Roberts
Recently retired railwayman with a lifelong interest in all things photographic. A self-professed saddo: other interests include classic cars and model railways.
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Comments

Steviemac on 5 Frames With an XA2 – A Brace of Olympi, Pt. 1

Comment posted: 16/12/2023

That was an excellent little essay on using these wonderful little cameras. The shutter button is the only aspect of them that I don't like, with there being no 'feel' to it. I very much agree with with you on taking the opportunity to photograph old business premises while you have the chance, they disappear so quickly. I procrastinated over photographing a one man cobblers business which looked unchanged since 1950, and then it was suddenly gone, replaced by a bland off licence.
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Peter Roberts replied:

Comment posted: 16/12/2023

No 'feel' is the perfect way to describe the shutter button. Such a pity as otherwise it is such a fun and unobtrusive little camera to use. I too have had quite a few missed opportunities with interesting old shops and buildings. It's no good thinking there's always tommorrow because all too often nowadays there isn't. I really must stir myself to capture some more that I have in mind locally. Thanks for commenting.

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Gil Aegerter on 5 Frames With an XA2 – A Brace of Olympi, Pt. 1

Comment posted: 13/12/2023

Fun post! The afterword is excellent!
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Peter Roberts replied:

Comment posted: 13/12/2023

I'm pleased that you found it fun Gil. I do try to make my posts entertaining so as to reflect the enjoyment I get out of both the photography and the writing of them.

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Dean Lawrence on 5 Frames With an XA2 – A Brace of Olympi, Pt. 1

Comment posted: 13/12/2023

Cracking article Peter, I do like to read your posts and see your images. That camera really looks like a good find, and as you say, no need to be too precious with it. I must confess that I was surprised to see such a clear image from the old film. I'd definitely class it as a winner. Thanks for sharing with us.
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Peter Roberts replied:

Comment posted: 13/12/2023

Thanks for the compliment Dean. I only developed that film for the hell of it and was suprised myself. I'm now kicking myself because there have been a couple of cameras that I've picked up that had film in them which I discarded. If only I'd known about that trick with Rodinal before.

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Alex on 5 Frames With an XA2 – A Brace of Olympi, Pt. 1

Comment posted: 13/12/2023

Thanks Peter, a very nice write up. I was actually only thinking last week that you, Bob and myself ought to try to arrange another meet up - perhaps Greenwich some time in the new year? In the early 1980s I won a Daily Mirror sponsored 'Young Photographer of the Year' category (I think largely because few others must have entered rather than any talent on my part) and the prize was an XA2. I never used in much as I did not find it as nice to use as my then SLR. Having done years of service in my sisters hands as her point and shoot before mobile phones took over that role, it now lurks in a drawer. Perhaps I should dust it off and take it for a walk too? Anyway thanks for the interesting article and superb photos. All the best - maybe catch up in person in 2024?
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Peter Roberts replied:

Comment posted: 13/12/2023

Thanks Alex. First of all, belated congratulations on your win! Back in the day I had a few things published in railway papers and magazines, but only because I was the the only one with a camera on hand to record whatever it was. It still gave me a buzz even if they weren't the sort of thing that had Magnum beating a path to my door. The advent of cameras on phones sounded the death knell for cameras like the XA2 and probably also pocketable digitals. Perhaps this trend has now been reversed with the seeming popularity of disposable cameras. Another meet up some time in the new year would be great. We'll have to see what can be arranged. Greenwich never palls for me. Whatever happens you really should let your XA2 see a slice of the action

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Tim Wainwright replied:

Comment posted: 13/12/2023

Hi again.....don't know how I managed to post as 'Alex'....it's actually Tim! Would be good to meet up again, let;'s try to sort something out in the new year. Cheers

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Peter Roberts replied:

Comment posted: 13/12/2023

Hi Tim, I did think "Alex? Alex? Who ********* is Alex?" but didn't like to say. There were after all several people commenting to Bob's post that they would like to join us if ever we have another meet up. I recently did another photo walk with an old friend of mine who is also expressing interest in another one. He's currently completely digital although I keep nagging him to give his father's old Pentax an outing. Getting him involved too might be just the thing. See you soon hopefully, Peter.

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Tim Wainwright replied:

Comment posted: 13/12/2023

I'll pop out an email in the New Year (perhaps when the days get a little longer so more shooting time?) to you and Bob and then we can go from there....late February / March time? Maybe by then I'll have dusted off my old XA2! Have a great Xmas and 2024. Cheers!

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Peter Roberts replied:

Comment posted: 13/12/2023

Sounds good to me Tim. All the best to you and yours.

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Geoff Chaplin on 5 Frames With an XA2 – A Brace of Olympi, Pt. 1

Comment posted: 13/12/2023

Love it!! Why am I bothering with s heavy Leica? Maybe you know the actual focal distance settings of the lens, the images look perfect on my phone. Very enjoyable article, thanks.
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Lars replied:

Comment posted: 13/12/2023

Hi! If I remember correctly from reading the manual online: close-up/portrait: 1,2 m / 4 ft. Default/group: 3 m / 10 ft. Mountain - is not quite infinity! 10 m. I think I understand the thinking behind that: Lens opens to f/3,5. It is assumed that DOF will cover up to actual infinity and this way you get a bit more foreground focus. I have one myself. In low light with the lens running at full opening, the three-step focus is a bit too coarse IMHO. 400 ISO is the way.

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Peter Roberts replied:

Comment posted: 13/12/2023

Thanks Geoff, I'm glad you enjoyed it. Lars has commented with the specs of the lens and apart from mentioning that it is a 35mm he has covered it all. Yes, it is very light and very small. In some ways, if like me you are used to something a bit more beefy, this can be a disadvantage. That said, I was very impressed with the quality of the images that could be squeezed out from it.

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Peter Roberts replied:

Comment posted: 13/12/2023

Thanks Lars, you've covered it all. I agree that 400 ISO is probably best, although interestingly the settings go up to 800.

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