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.
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.
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.
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…..
…..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.
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.
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.
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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