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People crossing street (Pic: Rob Young)
The XA2 is a perfect street shooter – once you work out that pesky focusing (All pics: Rob Andrews)

By London Camera Project

One night just before the break for Christmas I met up with some of my digital shooting friends (no judgement, please) and had a friendly walk around Soho. I carried my trusty Panasonic Lumix and my new-to-me Olympus XA2.

My Lumix is quite old and has a small sensor so isn’t good at night. As a result, I’ve got used to selecting black and white, boosting the ISO and pumping the flash up to max. I like this look of isolated and illuminated figures against black but not featureless backgrounds so I tried to replicate it on film.

I loaded Kosmo Foto Mono (a 100-ISO film) and selected 800 ISO. That’s the highest ISO the XA2 will go to. For me that’s fine as street lighting and shop fronts will usually provide enough background lighting.

It was my first real attempt at street photography with this camera. It’s really small and pocketable and easily fits the palm of the average hand without the flash but still feels good with it attached. With one hand you can open the clamshell, wind it on and focus and then fire the shutter. Very easy to use.

Zone focus is selected via a small switch that slides up to infinity, the middle is for waist up portraits of two people standing together and the bottom is for portraits. Maybe I’ll try portraits with it one day, but it’s not a priority.

The XA2 is fitted with the A11 flash which takes one AA battery. To power up the flash, the tiny switch under the lens has to be flicked to the right and a little cube pops out the top of the unit which glows orange when the flash is charged. This is its main downside. It takes ages to recycle between discharges. This sucks in a street photography scenario. I had to wait a while between shots which severely reduced spontaneity but didn’t fully remove it. I could still fire the shutter but in low light I’d have to hold it really still.

I could not be happier with these images. I wanted high contrast, deep blacks and strong punchy whites and that’s pretty much what I got. Mono is a 100-ISO film and pushing it this far meant I wasn’t expecting razor sharp lines and ultra-detailed shadows. These scans have had no editing at all and they have a kind of soft creamy look.

To summarise, Yoshihisa Maitani played a blinder: this is a tidy little shooter. Without the flash it’s very capable but discreet little unit with a gorgeous lens. It’s ridiculously easy to use but the flash is slow and the viewfinder gives little information.

For clarity, I am not a street photographer. I like taking pictures for fun and I’m more than aware of the difference. In order to better enjoy using this camera on the streets I will find and fit an A16 flash for faster recycle times. Oh, and I really need to improve my distance estimation skills.

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3 years ago

Such fantastic shots, great work!

3 years ago
Reply to  JTK

Thanks so much JTK. Have you tried any of the XA series?

Adrian Veselu
Adrian Veselu
3 years ago

Great article! What developer did you used and time, dilution, etc.?

3 years ago
Reply to  Adrian Veselu

Adrian. I got the film developed at Forest Photograhic on Hoe Street in Walthamstow. They really know their stuff. https://www.forestphotographic.co.uk/