“Of course they are..” I remember thinking to myself as I read the headline that Agfa Vista films were being discontinued. Why? Because it had just cemented its position as my go-to roll for weekend getaways. An almost perfect companion to the tiny must-pack-with-me Olympus XA that’s always in my pocket for casual trips. Best enjoy what I have left!
The Olympus XA is a small and unobtrusive 35mm rangefinder camera. It’s perfect for cozy cabins on coastal islands, car camping and cook-offs, without making you look like a Nat Geo wannabe in front of your friends. The kind of camera that lets people be candid for candids.
Its small size belies what a powerhouse it really is. The 6 element, 5 group Zuiko 35mm f/2.8 lens is a sharp beauty. The shutter is super quiet and very sensitive, so tends not to disrupt the moment, unlike the slap of an SLR or whir of a point and shoot. It’s still shockingly inexpensive on the usual online markets and for a plastic-bodied camera, it’s also surprisingly robust. My particular XA survived an icy plunge 2ft into a glacier run-off creek and not only survived, but still produced great (and rather interesting) photos from that hike — but that’s a topic for another article!
Cheap and Cheerful
Like the camera housing it, Agfa Vista Plus 200 was relatively inexpensive and yet a joy to use. The combination produced punchy photos, with lovely saturation and an overall look that said good-times. A bit slow perhaps, but by the time the sun’s gone down we’re several drinks deep and few of my shots from that manual focus mini-rangefinder would stand a chance anyway.
The most recent photos I captured with this combination were on a long-weekend trip to Madeira Park, British Columbia with my wife and four of our close friends. By chance, the town was hosting the downhill-longboarding championships that weekend, just a short walk from the cabin we had rented. Having never witnessed such a race, we dedicated one afternoon of our trip to checking it out. Would the little XA be able to capture the fast and furious action?
Admittedly, trying to capture high-speed anything on a wide-angle, aperture priority camera with low ISO film was an iffy proposition at best. Throw-in a cloudy day and I was almost ready to give-up before I started, but hey it’s Vista, so let’s take a chance! After watching the first few heats of the event I decided to try some panning shots to capture the sense of speed with which the long-boarders passed.
I positioned myself on the outside of the fastest corner, stopped down the XA to get the shutter speed to around 1/40th and pre-focused for the middle of the road. With it’s hair-trigger shutter, once you got the timing right, the little XA delivered. Now, when I look at the grainy, blurry, hurried shots that resulted, I’m immediately teleported back behind the hay-bails, waiting for the next heat to blow by.
Chilling in The Sun
We awoke the next day to sunny blue skies and hiked to one of the many rocky coves that form the coastline of Madeira Park, for a lazy picnic by the sea to recover from the previous nights’ revelries. The XA/Vista combination wouldn’t have to work as hard as it did the day before on a bright, slow-moving day like this, so as my pals dozed in the sun, I took the opportunity to wander and snap whatever caught my eye.
I am not as tempted to shoot a random flower or tree when using other film stocks — still life taking a back seat to landscapes and street in most of my photography — but Vista eggs me on, sending me hunting for colors and textures and begging the question “I wonder how that would look”? More often than not, it looked rather neat. Even the landscapes take on a bit of a dreamy character befitting my nostalgia for those moments. Hey, maybe there was something to that name “Vista” after all…
Alas, the journey home is never as exciting as the journey out to a little getaway, but the promise of a roll to develop leaves a lingering spark of anticipation that is just one of the many aspects of film photography that I enjoy. Within a few days I’d make my way to my favorite lab, and then wait excitedly for my images to arrive so I could relive some moments or laugh at some happy accidents I caught along the way, (I wasn’t kidding about how sensitive that shutter release button is).
True, it’s Portra 400 and/or Ektar 100 in my bag when I travel abroad and hope to document foreign places to write about later. But Vista was the perfect goofing around film that still managed to produce some beautiful results, and the XA it’s perfect companion for the task.
I invite you to discuss the faithfulness (or not) of its color reproduction etc. to your hearts’ content — being colorblind, I’m a bit gun-shy on the topic. To me, it captured how colors “feel” very well and when I look through the rolls I shot on our little adventures I often feel a faithful reproduction of the emotions I felt in the moment, and usually wind up with a smile on my face. Not bad for what was once one of the cheapest rolls in the arsenal.
A single lonely roll of Agfa Vista Plus 200 still sits in my fridge but I have a plan for putting it to good use. The first weekend getaway we book once the lockdown is over, I’ll load it into my XA to capture what will no doubt be a very good time indeed.
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