Pocket wonder: The Olympus XA with ILFORD PAN 100

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My first of roll of film for the new year 2020: a fresh roll of ILFORD PAN 100 all used up in one day with a camera I’ve never used before. This was January’s commitment to the new year’s resolution I’ve signed up for.

That resolution is to shoot one roll of film per month. Sounds simple enough and should be doable forgetting the children, the full-time job and bugger all light in the winter months.


I’m not restricting myself too much, so the scope is wide in terms of what camera, film and process I’ll use. One thing, I’m a lover of Rodinal but sometimes I do venture out with Caffenol too. I do recall, once even twice using ILFORD developer on HP5plus film at one point.

Returning to the plan, and to be honest here, the goal is to do what makes me happy. So different variants, a different film, a different subject but with the main goal of finishing, developing, scanning and publishing a series of photographs. Keep focused (pun intended).

My partner and my friend, Iris kindly helps me out as always. Whether it’s holding the video camera, making a portrait of me, participating in my creative madness!

The Camera – Olympus XA

A new year, so a new camera – the Olympus XA, not the XA1 or XA2, XA3, XA4. It might be hard to believe but I had no real expectations for this camera at all. I had previously dismissed this camera in its entirety as a mere point and shoot. Was I unfair? Yes, as I found out to my surprise after a little research about the different XA models and how good the tiny XA’s lens is.

Back to the camera experience, I had no idea if the exposure or focusing would work out for me. The focusing is a kind of rangefinder and the exposure is basically aperture priority, i.e the camera looks after the time for you.

Now, because I don’t believe everything that’s written on the Internet. I just used the little black XA it to see if it would capture my mind’s eye. Not thinking too much about it and let it do its thing. What I saw and how I imagined it, is in fact how it turned out. I would have to say I was quite impressed.


I must admit the last time I had such an experience with a camera, was with the original full-frame digital from Canon, the 5D. Both these cameras worked the way I had hoped and anticipated.

Video

I decided to make a video regarding some of the features and operations of the tiny Olympus XA along with the images posted here.

The band in the video is called the Public Hit Factory who were playing in Graz on a Sunday morning.

This would be a good start to a roll of film. We tried the self-timer mode, portraits, landscape and the backlit feature too.

All this on one roll of ILFORD PAN 100 black and white film. We didn’t manage to try out the flash module – A16. That will be for another roll of film, most likely using Kodak color.

Portraiture

Even simple portraits worked with this little gem of machinery at f/2.8. They were definitely achievable. Not bad for a wee black box, I thought to myself.

Street Photography

On the street and roaming from one end of Graz to another taking in the sun and shooting an image here and there was how Sunday was spent.

I guess to say the roll film contains and documents our day out. I took a few candids from the hip, triggered a few while crossing roads. No one seemed too bothered by the XA at all.


Thanks for reading,

~ Gavin

Development recipe

The recipe I used for this roll was used good old faithful Rodinal and I used my Spinamatic device for the 15 minutes, agitating once per minute:

  • 1:25 Rodinal
  • Presoak: 5 mins
  • Duration: 15 mins
  • Agitation: Continuous for the first minute seconds, then 10 seconds each minute.
  • Rinse between developer and fixer
  • 4 mins fixing with ILFORD Rapid Fix

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7 thoughts on “Pocket wonder: The Olympus XA with ILFORD PAN 100”

  1. Beautiful images. And a great camera — the Oly XA is my primary tool for shooting film. The lens is surprisingly sharp, and the camera itself is small enough to keep in one’s pocket. Nice choice.

    Reply
  2. Just watched the video…

    It is not the button on the top of the flash that turns it on. You attach the flash to the camera then push the aperture slider all of the way up, past a bit of resistance, and that will cause the button on the flash to pop up and reveal a translucent button that lights up when the flash is charged and ready.

    You turn it off again by pushing this button down into the top of the flash unit.

    This is not even slightly obvious!

    Reply
  3. I have owned my XA from new since about 1984, and have never fallen out with it nor for a moment thought of selling it as countless other cameras have come and gone. One note of caution to newcomers to film. This is a very difficult camera to load! After 35 years, I still cannot always get it right first time!

    There are two problems: there is only one film drive sprocket (not the usual two) and the take-up reel turns the wrong way, so the film is not pulled against the sprocket. In (I think) every other 35mm camera I have used, the film is wound onto the take-up reel emulsion outwards, so it is pulled into the camera body tight onto the sprockets. On the XA, it winds emulsion inwards, so is pulled across rather than onto the sprocket. These two “features” mean that it is very tricky to ensure that the film winds on properly. I have never found a “knack” – just patience and very careful checking.

    It is vitally important to use the rewind crank to wind the film tight in the cassette (careful not wind it all the way in) so that it is tight while loading. Wind at least a half turn onto the take-up reel, always keeping the film tight, before closing the back. Then, advance the film with the wind-on knob with at least two shutter releases, and be absolutely certain that the rewind knob turns as you advance the film showing that it is being drawn through the camera. It is very easy for the film to become unhitched after the door is closed, and if you don’t notice, you will loose all your pictures (and you will probably rewind your unexposed film back into the cassette).

    This is all old hat for seasoned users of film, but may not be well-known to newcomers.

    Reply
  4. Really enjoyed your piece, Gavin, and made me green into the bargain. The XA is almost at the top of my list of the cameras I should never have let go. Mine was always in my trousers pocket, jingling about with my small change and keys. In the end it had hardly any paint left on the back. But what a great little camera it was. Judging by the prices they command nowadays there are a lot of folk out there that share your enthusiasm for it and rightly so. Designed by the same guy who designed the OM 1 I believe.

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  5. Great article and thanks for sharing. I’ve been looking at one of these for a while now and this just might get me over the line though also considering the Contax Tvs.

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  6. I dug out my old XA a few weeks ago and loaded it with a roll of old Kodacolor II that I found at my Mom’s house. It was a tiny workhorse and led a rough life, including dropping out of my unbuttoned fly fishing vest pocket into the water on Kodiak Island. I am anticipating seeing the developed photos

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  7. Nice write-up. Not log ago, we found our XA tucked away in a box. New battery & it’s working fine. I don’t think we can get Pan 100 here in the US. Doesn’t show up on the Ilford’s USA website.

    Reply

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