Olympus XA – Kodak T-Max 100

I keep a pair of these cameras loaded with different types of film, one with slow film for bright outdoor use and the other with low light and flash photos in mind. It takes a while to get through these rolls because I normally bring the XAs when shooting is secondary, and frankly I tend to forget they’re even with me. They’re that compact.

I’m often too rushed to use the anemic rangefinder so “guess focus” it is. However with such a short focus throw, the distance scale is cramped and it’s a challenge to be precise. In addition, the scale on one camera is metric while the other’s is imperial. It’s not unusual for me to think in meters when the scale reads feet. D’oh. At least the hyperfocal values—3m at f/5.6—are highlighted in red; it’s good enough.

The 35mm f/2.8 lens is sharp when in focus. Its focusing elements are located in the middle of the assembly, so the front element is fixed and does not extend. Incoming light is controlled by a two-bladed square aperture.

I pulled T-Max 100 two stops for versatility in sunny conditions. Developed in Xtol. I got light leaks at the top of some frames from when the camera was in my backpack with the back popped open. It probably happened because I replaced the old light seals with purple princess foam that’s a bit too thick. And because a friend knocked the backpack off the couch. Thud.

Likes

  • The smallest 35mm rangefinder ever made. And light enough to pocket comfortably.
  • Aperture priority operation is quick, accurate, and offers creative control.
  • Images are sharp when there is enough light—and time—to use the rangefinder.
  • Hyperfocal settings are marked for point-and-shoot ease.
  • Sliding cover powers down meter and protects optics. No lens cap to keep track of.
  • Silent leaf shutter, thumb-wheel advance, and inconspicuous form factor. Stealth.

Dislikes

  • Shutter release is flat, flush, and hard to find by feel. It is also a hair trigger. Bad combination.
  • The rangefinder patch is tiny and dim; useless for anything but bright, stationary subjects.
  • Not weather-resistant. Requires the use of Ziploc bags when brought on the bike. Tedious.
  • Negatives exhibit fall-off on the sides at all focus distances.

For such a small camera, the XA is pretty versatile. It’s capable of some serious photography if there is time enough to set up the shot. And if the subjects are getting impatient—because Millennials—it’s easy enough to “set and forget”.

White Clay Creek, Newark, 2016

Maxine, Mount Airy, 2016

Boonies, Verona, 2017

Tammie and Mel, Verona, 2017

County Road PD, Verona, 2017

Mississippi River, Clinton, 2017

Knox Highway 7, Knoxville, 2017

Trellis, Galesburg, 2017

Canon EOS RT – Kodak Tri-X

I really like this camera. The body is unmistakeable with bold lines and defined corners. It shares the same design as the very first EOS model, the EOS 650. The models that followed steadily evolved into the utilitarian blob of the modern EOS.

What sets this apart is the fixed pellicle mirror. It’s transparent; bouncing a portion of the incoming light to the finder, while passing the rest through to the film plane. Hence it doesn’t need to flip up during exposure, and the finder doesn’t ever black out.

I’ve heard it compared to shooting with a rangefinder. I’d agree except the finder doesn’t extend beyond the frame. However it does hold its own when shooting candids and reportage due to the uninterrupted view of the subject.

I shot this roll with the Canon EF 35mm f/2. It’s not the fastest glass, but the focal length is just right for the type of photos I intended to take. And since the lens came from the same period, it completed the kit in terms of style, build, and ergonomics.

I shot Tri-X pushed to 3200 to make up for the slightly slower lens and to complement the type of photos I intended to take.

Likes

  • Instantly familiar operation, if you’ve ever shot Canon EOS.
  • Bare-bones feature set provides an uncluttered shooting experience.
  • No viewfinder blackout or mirror slap thanks to the fixed pellicle mirror design.
  • Features a horizontal split focus screen, uncommon in autofocus SLRs.
  • The relatively slender body and deep grip feels great in smaller hands.
  • The Eighties’ boxy aesthetic makes a statement and is currently en vogue.

Dislikes

  • Needs plenty of light. The viewfinder taxes 2/3 of a stop from the exposure.
  • Manual mode is cumbersome. Display reads OP or CL—as in open or close the aperture. What?
  • The pellicle mirror is delicate at .02mm thin and requires regular dusting, as particles can show up on the negatives.

I ran into the Achilles heel of the pellicle design. The 2/3 stop penalty isn’t an issue when there is plenty of light to go around, but as the sun goes down its impact increases exponentially. Compounded with the three-stop push, I found extremely thin negatives waiting in the tank. Moving forward, I’ll need to be show restraint and consider the camera’s actual readings; it should be lower than what I’d normally expect.

Talia, Mount Airy, 2015

Pizza Night, Mount Airy, 2015

Rob and Joe, Brewerytown, 2015

Cabin, Hocking Hills, 2016

Olympus Stylus Zoom 80 Wide DLX – Kodak Tri-X

I’ve been on an ongoing quest for the perfect riding camera. Unlike the original Stylus models which have attained cult status, this zoom version can be had for dirt cheap. It was worth a shot.

For this first roll I pulled Tri-X one stop for a classic look from a not-so-classic point-and-shoot. I couldn’t manually set the film speed, so I hacked the DX encoding using a blade and some vinyl tape. Developed in Xtol. The photos turned out punchy even when I exposed for the shadows.

Likes

  • While it’s bulky for an ultra-compact, its girth provides ample grip even when gloved.
  • Its contoured form slips easily in and out of jersey pockets despite its size.
  • The sliding lens cover and weather-resistance allows for quick, care-free use.
  • Powers up to a useful, slightly wide 28mm focal length.
  • A breeze to shoot thanks to modern conveniences like autofocus, autoexposure, and built-in flash.

Dislikes

  • Heavy for an ultra-compact; there’s no upside to this on the bike.
  • The tiny viewfinder and vague markings make framing a challenge even without eyewear.
  • Its tired, erratic motor whine does not inspire confidence.
  • Disabling the flash—which is on by default—requires awkward fiddling.
  • The champagne-colored plastic body doesn’t exactly embody the spirit of analog photography.

Imagine stopping on the side of the road to catch a fleeting scene on film while your riding buddies patiently humor you or—worse—ride off into the distance. While I normally prefer to have more control over my exposures, in this situation the Stylus wins hands down. It’s quick on the draw and simple to shoot. I do wish it was slimmer and lighter, but for twelve bucks I can’t complain.

Cabin Entrance, Pennsylvania, 2017

Henry Avenue Bridge, Philadelphia, 2017

Deck Chairs, Philadelphia, 2017

Henry Avenue Bridge, Philadelphia, 2017

Balomingo Detour, Conshohocken, 2017

Tammie, Jenkintown, 2017

Caddy, Mount Airy, 2017

Maxine, Mount Airy, 2017

Mamiya M645 1000S – Ilford FP4 Plus

This Mamiya was my first—and for a while, only—medium format camera. I wanted to shoot larger negatives but didn’t really know what to look for. I was lucky enough to pick out this dependable workhorse. I had to re-familiarize myself since I haven’t used it in a while; I used to know it better .

The Mamiya-Sekor C 80mm f/1.9 was mounted for this roll. It’s sharp enough wide open and the bokeh is okay, good for shooting indoors with natural light. It also excels at taming high contrast scenes. My other lens option is a punchy 55mm with a leaf shutter. Considering the location it may have been more appropriate.

I’ve only used FP4 once before. It was on a sunny day and bringing out the shadows worked well for me. So for these high contrast scenes, I pulled the exposure two stops to ISO 32. Developed in Kodak Xtol. I had just finished scanning when I noticed a line scored on the left of each frame from the film transport.

Likes

  • Built like a tank and weighs like one, too.
  • Large, bright viewfinder features an angled split screen, a microprism ring, and a magnifier.
  • Top-mounted auxiliary shutter release works well with waist-level shooting.
  • Electronic timing is consistent and relatively easy to tweak.
  • 6×4.5 is a nice compromise between frame count and negative size.

Dislikes

  • Main shutter release trips too easily, requiring constant engagement of the safety lock.
  • The shutter speed dial is awkward; a safety button needs to be depressed while setting the speed.
  • When the large mirror swings up towards the finder to take the exposure, it causes a visual sensation of camera sway. It’s alarming.
  • The top speed of 1/1000s can’t actually be achieved, at least not on this sample.
  • Battery life is unpredictable; there might be a constant draw.

For medium format, this kit handles well enough. I don’t have to match backs to bodies, mess with dark slides, or peek through red windows. It has all the right stuff. Whenever I pick it up, I’m reminded of it.

Unfortunately I’m more likely to pick out a 6×6 or a 6×9 over this smaller format. If I’m going to shoot big, may as well go BIG. Well… you know what I mean.

The Great Beech, Philadelphia, 2017

The Great Beech, Philadelphia, 2017

Andorra Woods, Philadelphia, 2017

Andorra Meadows, Philadelphia, 2017

Andorra Meadows, Philadelphia, 2017

Andorra Meadows, Philadelphia, 2017