Olympus XA – Proper camera in a small package

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Since getting back film photography over the last two years or so, like many others, I seem to have accumulated a number of different cameras. Some of which the first time round I would never have considered. One of those cameras is the much praised but diminutive Olympus XA.

In my first film photography life, I could not wait to get away from a compact camera. The SLR was the pinnacle of my equipment desires, and for me, the Pentax K1000 was that.

But since re-discovering film with a storage box found Olympus Trip 35 belonging to my wife from I-don’t-know-how-many years ago, the compact scale focus and rangefinder camera has found a place in my heart.

Fast forward to just a few months ago, and now I actively look out for old cameras that pique my interest. A local antiques centre to me does house clearance and sometimes interesting camera gear pops up in there. On the day I went into the shop for a rummage through the box I came upon this little gem. Complete with the original box, the detachable A11 flash unit, a case and even film left in it.

Having read on this very site a couple of XA articles, I knew that this was a camera of some reputation, with its tiny dimensions, cute clamshell case and tack sharp 35mm f2.8 Zuiko lens. The controls are a little fiddly for my larger hands, especially the focus lever, but not enough to cause a major problem. The viewfinder is small but bright enough. The big red shutter button being electronic is also a little sensitive. A quick check over as the batteries were still good, it all seemed to work.

I finished off the roll of Kodak film that was in it, it was so old that everything was massively under exposed. But having a roll of Ilford HP5+ in stock and a trip into London for my day job to do, I thought it would be an ideal opportunity to give the little Olympus XA a proper test drive.

I think for me street photography is where this little camera excels. Small, black, discreet and almost silent when shooting (not the wind on though, that clicks like a tiny football rattle). If you use zone focus it become a cracking little point and shoot. I love it.

Below are a selection from that first roll of the found film and HP5+, let me know what you think.

Beach Vignette
Beach Vignette from the film found inside the XA
1 New Change
Glass Valley – 1 New Change London
St Pauls Garden
St Pauls Garden – London
St Pauls
St Pauls Dome – London
St Pauls Dome Reflection
Reflection – St Paul’s Dome

Olympus OM1. The final destination.

Cameras

If you have read any of my previous posts, you may have noticed a small but growing common thread running through them: the Olympus OM range of compact SLR cameras. I have been using them since early 2016, starting with a borrowed an OM30 from a good friend at the start of my Vinyl Factory photo project. It is good, but requires a stack of five (yes five) little LR/SR44 cells to work! The advance clutch also slipped a few times causing frame overlaps indicating it needed attention. Then, having been bequeathed a “2 Spot” (to use a colloquialism) and bought a used OM2n, I had, inevitably I suppose, begun to hanker after the original. The Olympus OM1.

Much has been written by others on the tech specs of the OM1 on this site and others, so I’m not going to add to the chorus – you can read the timeline story if you want to here.

I’d learned to expose film ‘correctly’ with my late fathers Pentax K1000 through a City & Guilds evening class at a local college in my early twenties. The directness of the all manual camera with a simple needle meter in the viewfinder had been all I’d known. Having used other types of exposure metering in camera since, it now appealed even more. I still cannot believe I sold that camera and all the accessories both he and I had acquired.

Most of the simplicity I was looking for had effectively been achieved with the OM2n in manual mode. This stripped back appeal is something talked about very well by Hamish here. However I often found myself falling back on the excellent aperture priority Auto setting. You can find this all too easily on the little top plate switch on either the “2Spot” or the 2n. I had to change this situation.

After watching a few on Ebay etc. in various conditions, I eventually pulled the trigger on a fully overhauled, early serial, black paint body only from Luton Camera Repair Service. My camera came supplied with a battery conversion, new light seals plus all cleaned and calibrated. There was also just a smidgen of wear to the pentaprism housing paint on the most appropriate corners. Quite an indulgence in my book. Singularity achieved.

Getting back to basics was the intention here. No exposure compensation, and limited manual shutter settings from 1 – 1000th. This means that I have to take a more considered approach to my photography. I have also found that I’ve started to assess light by eye more. Working with Sunny-16 as a starting point, then confirming with the needle; it’s slow progress but I’m getting better. It’s nice to have the meter to confirm or otherwise my initial assessment.

Using the OM1 brings joy to the photography process, with both shutter and aperture dials on the lens barrel, like the 35 SP rangefinder I shoot also, making adjustments with my eye to the big bright viewfinder a breeze

Below are a selection of images for my first couple of rolls with this camera, all either home developed if black and white and scanned by the same lab as my colour film. Colour film processed and scanned at the excellent True Colour Imaging.

Autumn Cherry Leaves
 Autumn Cherry Leaves
Fuji 400
Wife and Grandson
 Woodland Walks
Fuji 400
Angel In The Mist
 Angel In The Mist
Fuji 400
Breakwater at Seasalter, Kent
 Breakwater at Seasalter, Kent
Ilford HP5+
Thames Foreshore
 Thames Foreshore
Ilford HP5+

If you would like to keep in touch with my work, visit either of the following:
www.julianhiggsphoto.com
www.instagram.com/julian.higgs

Published!

Documentary, Project

Some time ago I started my first photography project. This was centered around a vinyl record pressing works in West London called The Vinyl Factory. 

This historic place had been the former EMI pressing works and while a shadow of it’s heyday, still holds a major place in the music industry.

Having taken some images there, I was granted permission to shoot what turned out to be a large number of frames all on film, mostly black and white. This would eventually be put into a book.

In the meantime, some of the images ended up on a vinyl industry blog, and through that came an enquiry to publish some of them in an article in a German tech magazine called Turn On.

These arrived in the post today having been printed and circulated to over 250,000 readers.

Images In Print
Images IN Print

The Meterman

Cameras, Documentary

I use a camera shop in Luton, Bedfordshire England. It happens to be an Olympus service centre, useful when you have a collection of Olympus cameras.

The following images however were not taken with an Olympus camera. I happened to have my antique shop camera with me. The Voigtlander CLR.

Having parked up, I went to the meter to pay, next to it was this chap called Darren. At the point these images were made he had been on the streets for 11 months.

He works the meter, not just asking for loose change but offering advice on the most effective ticket to buy, especially if the ticket takes you into the free periods.

I guess if gives him a sense of worth and value, offering assistance in return for come loose change. He seemed very proud, so I asked for some photos.

Here is a selection of the results.

EMI 1400 Vinyl Record Press

The Importance of a Photography Project

Cameras, Documentary, Project

It is often said that the best way to improve something, anything that you do creatively is to give yourself a project. A self set goal that focuses your creative energies onto an end target. This allows you to break the goal down into steps, a plan, a strategy. I can honestly say that none of that applied to how I started my own long term photography project.

The Vinyl Factory

I had recently got back into taking pictures, mainly on my iPhone and posting them to either Instagram or EyeEm. It seemed I was just snapping aimlessly really. My interest in film cameras had returned after a chance encounter with an Olympus Trip 35. Then quite by chance, I was asked to visit a factory in West London to discuss an engineering contract with a new client as part of my day job.

The client in question was a vinyl record pressing plant now known as The Vinyl Factory. Born from the ashes of the EMI press works when it ceased vinyl record manufacture in the early 2000’s.

Lacquer Master Disc
Lacquer Master Disc before silver coating

On entering the plant, I was overwhelmed with nostalgia for my youth. My record collection and music taste literally defined who I was back then. Standing in the very place responsible for some of the most iconic records ever, I felt compelled to go and get a camera and start photographing everything in sight. But it’s not as easy as that.

After my day job work was done for that visit, I plucked up the courage to ask the MD if it would be OK to come in and shoot some pictures in the factory. That took a little time to get agreement, but after looking at my slowly growing portfolio, was granted permission. Could it be that simple to get access? It seemed so but I think timing and approach had a lot to do with it.

Nickel Plating Baths
Playing the Nickel Plating Baths

With such an analogue legacy before me, it seems the only option was that this project had to be done on analogue cameras, the tools used to record this project had to be authentic, and contemporary with the subject matter.

It wasn’t long since I purchased a classic fixed lens rangefinder. A near mint Olympus 35SP, you can read about that here, so was on the lookout for a small project, an essay subject. Something to give me a reason to shoot. Serendipity?

Nickel Plating Baths
Nickel Plating Baths

Now what? I was in way over my head, having never done anything like this before. Looking at essays online, to get some ideas, I started shooting, some colour film some black and white, to see what worked and go from there.

Setting The Stamper Plates
Setting The Stamper Plates

The first rolls showed lots of promise. Both the color and black and white had potential. Every frame seemed to scream vintage character, and history. However, after some consideration, discussion with friends, and the client (I use the word loosely as it was self commissioned project!) I settled on Ilford excellent HP5+ Black & White, for a number of reasons, speed being one, but mainly I just thought the aesthetic gave the right look. Black vinyl, white labels.

New Pressed Record
New Pressed Record

Now this is where the hard work set in. With maybe 70-100 frames after the first visit or two, the gestation and editing begun. Killing your own babies is a very difficult process. Extracting just the images that really connected with the slowly unfolding narrative was really difficult. Particularly as I didn’t have a clear brief in the first place! I needed space between the shoot, first view of the shots and eventual selection to get the objectivity needed. They say this is what Garry Winogrand did with his rolls. One reason why so many undeveloped rolls were found after he died. He needed to look at the images without the memory of taking them, seeing them with fresh eyes.

Portrait of a press operator
Portrait of a press operator

Clearly I couldn’t do that. But I could put some space between me and the images to get some perspective on them. This of course extends the duration of any project timeline. A typical photo project I read somewhere was between 2 – 5 years. I wasn’t sure I would be able to sustain that level of commitment, especially with an art director friend saying I just needed to finish it and move on.

Andy, long serving press operator
Andy, long serving press operator

The largest challenge I found was the edit. Not editing or retouching of the images themselves, but the selection of images. With about 400 plus images to choose from, some very similar but with a slightly different angle or lighting, it seemed never ending. Pulling all my favorites into a book template really helped. What would have been even better in hindsight would be to use prints to select and order the sequence. This is how I feel it would go in future. Taking the time to note image numbers and roll numbers with greater diligence would make this stage much easier.

Setting The Presses
Setting The Presses

The real sticking point for me was coming up with the words needed to tie it all together. It needed a story, more than just the pictures. There was a lot going on in some of the images and without some explanation, the relevance of the image in would be lost. Running the commentary through every page detracted from the idea of a photo book. It broke the flow of the images.  So after a couple of re-writes the images and words were divided into three sections. Process, People and Place. This I felt was a natural grouping of subject matter.

Empty Press Halls
Empty Press Halls

Finally after two proof prints, and nearly two years of shooting, consideration, writing and thought process a complete book emerged. A long way from the initial concept of a brief photo essay of say 10-15 images and a short article, but it is something I am proud of. It’s also the most expensive book I own.  Adding up the film, processing, proof prints and days of holiday taken to shoot I don’t want to think what this project has actually cost directly. Not to mention the gear acquisition that occurred during the process. Starting with a single rangefinder and ending up with two Olympus OM SLR bodies and a collection of lenses, continuous soft box lights and bags etc.

Factory Building
Former Factory Building

Giving myself a project has been a great learning experience and one I plan to repeat. But only once I’ve managed to do something with the product of all this effort. Maybe before? I have a few ideas for the next one, but with the wisdom of hindsight it will be based around smaller “projectettes” that could build in to a larger body of work. I have definitely been bitten by the documentary bug, recording for the future what is today seen as ordinary.

So, go on, give yourself a project this year and see where it takes you. You may surprise yourself.

If you would like to follow my work you can via the links below.

www.julianhiggsphoto.com
www.instagram.com/julian.higgs

Zeiss Ikon Nettar 517/16 – A Family Friend

Cameras, Documentary, Folding Cameras

After my dalliances with compact Rangefinder cameras, a very good friend of mine who is also an amateur photographer presented me with a thin strip of brown leather from a certain period in camera history, hung with a larger case and various brown pouches. Investigating further I found a Zeiss Ikon Nettar 517/16, supplied complete with clip on rangefinder, yellow filter with lens hood and an Agfa fan out flashgun, all in separate little cases. Cute!

“What’s this?” I enquired. “It’s my dads old camera from his time in Germany in the ‘50’s on National Service, I thought you would like to have a play with it as I know you like old odd cameras.”

Given its simplicity, and limited settings I wondered how I even shoot this camera with modern film? I knew it should work because I had seen others online get good results, however the cameras shutter speeds didn’t get anywhere near my understanding of Sunny 16 using the ISO 400 Ilford HP5+ I had in stock. So I loaded one in and set out on a short photo walk along Whitstable High Street with no meter or rangefinder, just with my eyes for exposure and my best estimation of focus distance. Thank goodness for the exposure latitude of film.

Below are a selection of the results. It’s been a great pleasure to shoot this camera with a personal connection. I plan a family portrait session with the owner at some point. A fitting use I think for a family heirloom.

Because these images were grabbed in less than an hour, with little time to think about what I was actually doing, I didn’t note the settings, something I need to get better at. Intuition and guesstimation were my meter, fortunately, all 12 frames captured something. No retouching or post production, just straight from the scanner. Developed at home in Ifotec LC29 and scanned at Truecolour Imaging in Luton (I can’t wait to receive my pixl-latr, Hamish). Overall I feel very pleased with the results. Is there room for improvement? Of course! But it’s not a bad start. Always learning.

Olympus OM2n

Olympus OM2n SLR – A Camera for everyone

Cameras, Documentary, Uncategorized

“I think you’re getting obsessed” my wife said when I told her about my latest impulse purchase, an Olympus OM2n. It was to good of a deal to pass up! She’s right though.

I had fallen in love with my bequeathed OM2 SP, but wanted to have the manual interface and functionality of the OM1 as well as some of the auto exposure electronics that the SP has. The OM2n seemed to deliver it all.

A kit had come up on a well known auction site with a best offer option and a buy it now price of £100.00 including a couple of Vivitar third party lenses (28mm and a 70-200 zoom) as well as the standard 50mm f1.8, an Olympus flash, all in a retro semi hard case and with a brown leather “ever-ready” case. It looked lovely, caught up in the moment I offered, first bid refused, second accepted. Oops! 

It all arrived safely, but with the potential for light seals needing replacement (I haven’t had this done as yet, and probably won’t till it’s absolutely necessary) and a sticky aperture on the 50mm all was well. After a full service on just the lens at Luton Camera Repair Service, all is now working beautifully. I’ve run a few rolls through this one so far, mostly colour, mostly Portra 400, making me even more impressed by the OM series generally. Since this addition to the family, I’ve picked up a bargain 50mm f1.4 as my standard lens, great for street portraits that I love doing when I get the opportunity. A couple are below.

The OM2n also has a few tricks up its sleeve too. Automatic slower shutter speeds up to 120 seconds for use in low light that you can’t get manually, for example. I’ve benefitted from the slow speeds on a dark workshop shoot in particularly low light that’s provided, in my opinion, satisfying results.

I have completely fallen for the OM range now. It is small enough to carry all day and a joy to operate, has one of the biggest, brightest viewfinders I’ve used, a smooth film advance and a most satisfying shutter sound. For the price these go for even fully serviced, I am smitten.

Now, how about looking for a nice OM1 to extend the line up…..

Catkins

Catkins. Ilford HP5+
Robin the street characiture artist, Biggleswade, Bedfordshire

Robin the street characiture artist, Biggleswade, Bedfordshire. Ilford HP5+
Light on stool and stove

Light on the stove and stool at Cook Joinery Kodak Portra 400
Gary Cook, proprietor of Cook Joinery, Hackney

Gary Cook, proprietor of Cook Joinery. Kodak Portra 400
Chantal, street portrait of owner of a particularly lovely VW Multivan, Ile De Ré, France

Chantal, street portrait of owner of a particularly lovely VW Multivan, Ile De Ré, France. Kodak Portra 400

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Olympus OM2-SP – A Pro 35mm SLR

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Ok, I know this is not a rangefinder, but it is a 35mm compact camera, a system camera I grant you, but a 35mm one and it is compact, as others have testified.

🙂

This camera got me onto the Olympus OM system fully. I had borrowed an OM 30 from a friend and had some success with it but the wind clutch seemed to be slipping, leading to overlapping frames. My brother-in-law had this OM2 SP laying dormant in a cupboard at home in New Jersey and offered me ownership.

Well, what would you say?

Having had just started my book project with a 35 SP rangefinder, a camera featured here, I felt I needed more control. I liked the OM30 but with it’s iffy advance the opportunity to use an OM with spot proved too good to pass up.

It has its well noted faults, battery drain being one of the most common, but if you just remember to take the batteries out after use its fine. Mine seems to have a tight film advance lever. It starts OK but as you progress through the roll it gets worse, maybe a trip to Luton Camera Repairs will solve this issue.

Since taking stewardship of this little gem I have invested OM glass, and have now collected the 28mm f2.8, 35mm f2, 50mm f1.4 and f1.8 and 100mm f2.8 and a couple of Vivitar lenses that came with the OM2n purchased recently. More will undoubtedly follow. These also get to played with on a Sony digital body. They are lovely lenses.

Have a look at these images and let me know what you think

If you would like to keep in touch with my work, visit any of the following.

http://www.instagram.com/julian.higgs
http://www.eyeem.com/julianhiggs

Antique Shop Camera

Cameras, Documentary, Uncategorized

Antique and Collectable shops have until recently not been places I have frequented, however, I have noticed a few old cameras in some so in a quest to find a gem or two I have started to pop in on the off chance to see what I find.

In one I found a Rollie LED, but they wanted too much for it, the FED4 I shot and sold came from a charity shop for £10.00, so I knew they were out there.

Then one day on the way back from dropping off my wife’s car for a service, we wandered into to Mannuccis Antiques Emporium in Dunstable. I didn’t hold out any hope of finding a classic Leica but I may find something interesting?

I struck lucky.

Not only was there a couple of cameras there, but they had what has turned out to be a lovely Voightlnder CLR rangefinder. A quick barter on the marked price bought me the camera for £20.00! bargain! With it’s match needle meter and 50 mm f2.8 Color-Skopar lens, it looked beautiful in the glass case. On inspection, I found the rangefinder patch a little dim and the shutter release is in the wrong place for me but I thought it was worth a go, even if only for the Voightlander name alone.

 

For its first outing I loaded it with Fuji Superia 200 colour film I took it to a local classic car rally where my band was playing, and in between sets I went wandering with the camera.

The resulting images were truly amazing in my eyes, sharp, well exposed, and such beautiful colours.

I loved the images so much I felt I needed to shoot some more of this, so the next post will be from this little camera too, but with Lomo 400 film, my go to film for colour, low cost and easy to source almost anywhere.

Have a look at the attached images and let me know if you agree.

Cheers for now!

 

First Photo Project

Cameras, Documentary, Uncategorized

So having found a great shooting camera in the 35SP I needed a project. A new customer of mine for my day job was a very interesting factory. Based in the former EMI record pressing works, The Vinyl Factory is an independent vinyl record pressing plant, record label and all round creative hub.

I showed the MD my growing portfolio, and was granted access to start shooting. To begin with just the machines, but this soon started to grow into a major project. What started as an essay, had morphed into a book project and has continued to dominate my photography equipment purchases and thinking since, and still does till publish date.

For now, here are a few samples from the first roll of Ilford HP5 through the 35SP at the factory.

Since these pictures were taken in March 2017, I have returned at least four more times for whole days, building trust with the workers to shoot more documentary style work, that hopefully with build into a solid portfolio and printed book.