We’ve all heard stories of free cameras, the one found at the back of the closet and salvaged from neglect. It makes sense. At one point almost every family had a low-end 35mm point-and-shoot, if not a couple, and many families had an SLR or something similar. Given that cameras were so common for so long it only makes sense that there would be a few forgotten somewhere, especially after budget photography made such a hard swerve into digital. Maybe, I thought one afternoon, there’s room in my life for an adopted camera.
Like almost everyone else in the film community, I approach purchasing cameras with deliberation. They can be expensive, after all. They’re a creative tool and we like to choose our creative tools carefully. But an adopted camera? It’s free, or close to it. Ideally, it comes with no expectations. By its very nature an adopted camera defuses the complications of gear acquisition syndrome and, hopefully, nets you something pretty fun.
The search began on social media. “I’m looking to adopt a 35mm point-and-shoot camera”, I posted on Facebook, “Anyone have one kicking around the back of their closet?” It didn’t take long. Two hours later I had an Olympus XA2 winging its way to my house for the cost of shipping and a few adult beverages. The Olympus XA2, while lacking the true rangefinder capabilities of the original XA, typically comes in a close second in discussions of the XA series. So far I seemed to have come out ahead in my quest for an adopted camera.
When it arrived, my first thought was that it was ridiculously toylike. It is, quite literally, pocket-sized. Not an overly generous “this fits in the very large pockets of my winter coat”, this camera fits in the hip pocket of my jeans or the chest pocket of a flannel shirt. Upon visual inspection the only worry was some gummier than usual light seals. I purchased a replacement battery at my local Walgreens, loaded a roll of Fuji Superia 400 and was off to the races.
This camera is damn fun to shoot, and given that it only has a range focusing switch on the front and a shutter button it’s not really possible to overthink things. I snapped through my first roll, quickly picking up the trick of opening the cover with one hand, bringing it up to my eye, and taking the shot in one smooth motion. My daughter playing in our garden, a family trip to the mountains, a barbecue, the XA2 made an appearance at all of these. A point-and-shoot lets me show up with a camera without being the guy who shows up with a camera. No one likes the guy with a camera. It even earned praise from my wife, not a photographer, who liked the compact size and ease of use.
I won’t dig into the technical details of the XA2, those have been covered elsewhere. Instead, I’ll confirm that the camera takes a great photo. Is it as sharp as my SLR or my digital gear? No, but it’s quirky in all the right ways. The pictures have character, some funk to them, and I was surprised and pleased when my test roll came back and there were some legitimate keepers. Are there any consequential shots on the roll, something that I would ever describe as art or creative endeavor? No, but that’s not really the point. Out of this camera will stream pictures of our daughter at the zoo, friends sharing drinks, roadside attractions, camping weekends, and family trips for the holidays. And that’s just fine. Perhaps we all need a camera that we know we can just go and shoot. Perhaps we all need an adopted camera.