Put Up Or Shut Up: Olympus XA2

I don’t have a particularly large collection of cameras. In fact, if I’m being pedantic, I don’t really consider I have a collection of cameras at all; they were all bought to be used and not to be put on a shelf. Nevertheless, as I’ve settled in to the five or six I use regularly, on the shelf is exactly where the remainder now spend much of their time. Of course, if it wasn’t for trying all of these cameras I wouldn’t have been able to find the ones I really love to use, but that aside, it’s time for those slackers to put up or shut up. So here’s the plan: I’m going to bung each of these cameras in turn into my bag or pocket, and carry it round with me on a daily basis until I’ve shot a roll or two. I don’t plan to use any of these as my main camera during that time, or to use them solely to capture specific events. Just to be there to shoot some everyday snaps. I also don’t intend to review them as the internet already has enough fantastic camera reviewers that do a better job than I ever could. I’ll just say the things that I like and dislike about each camera; what I love and what drives me nuts. And most importantly, whether it’s a keeper or not.

First up: Olympus XA2.

This tiny 35mm compact came to me about six years ago in a little bundle of cameras from a friend who worked in a charity store. In exchange for a donation, I got this and a couple of 1990s plastic monstrosities. The others I secretly donated to another charity store rather than appear ungrateful, but the XA2 came complete in its box with manual and flash. I don’t think I’ve ever used it. It has fully automatic exposure, a three zone focus selector, and a f/3.5 35mm lens. And that’s it. There’s no exposure lock, but potentially you can gain some control of exposure by altering the ISO setting, which ranges from 25 to 800. But why would you? I don’t think you buy this sort of camera if you are going to faff around. It’s a compact, carry everywhere, point and shoot kind of thing. And I carried it everywhere for a month or so.

OK, so here we go.For the first roll of film I used Kodak Tmax 400…

One word to describe the London skyline these days? Cranes.

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That’s the South African flag flapping in the wind, atop South Africa House. I queued for several hours in 2013 with the woman formerly known as my girlfriend to sign the book of condolence for Nelson Mandela. Somewhere our names and words remain inscribed next to each other.

This ornate building is along The Mall, the road that leads up to Buckingham Palace. I’m not sure what goes on here.

These were taken on the pro-Europe march back in September.

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As I was crossing over Westminster Bridge there seemed to be some kind of crazy boat race going on. No idea what that was about.

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I can’t be sure what nationality this woman is, but odds-on she’s Chinese. This is something I’ve seen more and more in London over the last few years. Pre-wedding photo shoots are very popular amongst the Chinese middle classes these days. It’s not only Chinese students who are studying here, but people come to London specifically to have their photos taken in front of famous London landmarks. In this case it was St. Paul’s Cathedral. There’s a big market in London for this now, and companies are springing up that don’t just take the photographs, they also do the hair and makeup, and even provide the wedding clothes.

Having lunch with friends in Paternoster Square. People are not normally as excited as this to see me

This bronze sculpture by Elisabeth Frink has been in the square since 1975.

This ones a temporary installation for Blood Cancer Awareness Month: 104 giant names to represent the 104 people diagnosed with blood cancer each day in the UK.

Eating bananas is serious business

The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square

The Elizabeth Tower is currently undergoing four years of refurbishment. That also means four years of silence from the bongs of Big Ben in order to protect the hearing of the workers. Cue howls of ‘PC gone mad’ & ‘Nanny State’ from a tabloid press frothing at the mouth.
‘We never worried about these kind of things when I was a lad and it never did me no harm’, claimed Barry Gobshite, a retired construction worker I may have just made up. When asked if he thought that people today were just namby-pamby snowflakes, he responded ‘Can you speak up a bit?’

Foreground building: Since the last five years we’ve been gradually outgrowing our Heathrow office, to the point where we’ve had to rent the ground floor of an adjacent building to fit everyone in. With the lease being up for renewal in 2018, the company spent quite a bit of effort looking round for a suitable building capable of housing everyone.

Background building: In the end it was decided just to build a bigger brand new building next door. As you do. The outside is now pretty much complete and we’re expected to move in Q1 2018.

I had to change the film at this point, and as I knew I’d be travelling to somewhere sunny in the next few days, I dropped in a roll of Tmax 100. The new building looks deceptively small in this shot.

That sunny place is Nice on the French Riviera, where we have a couple of campuses. This was taken after arriving at Nice Côte d’Azur Airport.

When visiting the offices in Nice I normally book one of the usual corporate identikit hotels like the Holiday Inn, but a little bit of googling found the wondeful Villa Azur for not much more money right on the beach. Those are actually chairs on the sun terrace.

A couple of miles inland to our Belair offices

These pictures don’t at all do justice to how wonderful the views of the Alps and the sea are from the grounds

When it comes to compacts, as far as I’m concerned the Olympus Trip is the one that every other camera is going to be compared unfavourably to. That said, the XA2 has a pretty sharp and contrasty lens, and the exposure meter was spot on in every shot. The one thing that did drive me mad was the hair trigger response of the shutter button. You only have to look at it out the corner of your eye and it goes off. I have more than one snap of my feet.

The main point of this exercise is to either find a hidden gem or to reclaim some shelf space. The XA2 doesn’t do anything that my Trip doesn’t do slightly better. It really should go. But its small, by far the smallest camera I own. And it came complete in the box with the and flash and everything. And parting with a decent camera is not as easy as I thought it might be.

Verdict? Keeper. Relectuantly. Damn.


The People’s March for Europe

These photos were taken on a pro-European march a few weeks back. I should probably write a bit more about it, but since legislation was introduced in the late 1990s to make civil discussion about politics on the internet illegal, I’ve found it’s best just to keep quiet.

London, Sep 09 2017
Camera: Nikon F90x
Film: Kodak Tmax 400
Process:Developed in D76 1+1

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24 Grosvenor Square

The US Embassy, London, applying for a visa. It’s a brutalist slab of architecture that’s says ‘Do not come in, you are not welcome’. On the plus side, it was used in the filming of the 1976 classic The Omen, where it doubled as….. er… the US Embassy. Gregory Peck played Robert Thorn, US Ambassador to the UK and adoptive father to the Antichrist. I believe that was actually the official job description.

Camera: Fujifilm X100T


Sphinx Aren’t What They Used To Be

A couple of unusual things happened this weekend. Firstly, the weather forecasters predicted two full days of complete sunshine and a temperature of 21C. In London. In early April. The second strange thing was that this absurd prediction actually came true. Normally during such a weekend I might typically have driven down to the coast, or maybe spent some time cycling in the park. But a few recent events have conspired to suck some of the energy and enthusiasm out of me. So instead I unfolded my handwritten list of Cemeteries I Haven’t Yet Visited, closed my eyes, and randomly prodded the paper.

West Norwood Cemetery is a 40 acre site in south east London, so for me that’s a 30 minute train ride up to central London, followed by a further 15 minutes out through the other side. It’s one of The Magnificent Seven, the group of private cemeteries that were established in the 19th century to deal with overcrowding at the various parish cemeteries. It’s not the first of the seven I’ve visited.

The cemetery had its first burials in 1837, and although all the plots are now taken, the crematorium is still active and you can have your ashes stashed in the columbarium. It holds London’s finest collection of sepulchral monuments, has 69 listed structures, and is on the National Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. It’s a peaceful place.

All of these were shot with an orange filter, most of them them with the wonderful (but hefty) Mamiya Sekor C F/2.8 45mm lens (35mm equivlant=28mm). I semi-stand developed them (one gentle inversion at the half-way mark) in a 1+99 dilution of Rodinal for 60 minutes. I find this gives a really nice level of bite without being too grainy. On these sunny, cloudless days I don’t bother with the onboard meter. I just use sunny 16, allow an extra stop of light to compensate for the filter, and then it’s just 1/125 & F/11 or permutations thereof all the way.

Camera: Mamiya 645 Pro TL
Film: Ilford FP4
Process: Developed in Rodinal 1+99 for 60 minutes

The Crematorium; still in use today

After a hour or so of wandering round, I found a shady spot to eat the sandwich I had brought with me, and was thinking about catching the train home. That’s when it occurred to me that a couple of stops and about ten minutes further down the line was Crystal Palace Park.

I’d forgotten how nice Crystal Palace Station is, and at the risk of being mistaken for a train geek, I took a quick snap. To be honest, when you spend a sunny Saturday hanging round a cemetery, people thinking you’re a train spotter is the least of your worries.

Wikipedia describes Crystal Palace Park as a Victorian pleasure park, which I think is a lovely turn of phrase. The district of Crystal Palace takes its name from the building –The Crystal Palace – in which the Great Exhibition of 1851 was held. Yet the exhibition wasn’t held in Crystal Palace; it was held in Hyde Park in central London. Confused? Don’t be.

The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations (phew) was conceived as a celebration of modern industrial technology and design. It was an attempt to show the rest of the world how Britain was a clear leader in industry, and in the process stick two fingers up to the French after their highly successful Industrial Exposition of 1844. Plus ça change. After the exhibition, between 1852 and 1855, the park was created as a home for the relocated and rebuilt Crystal Palace, but tragically the building was destroyed by fire in 1936, leaving just the few remnants you can see from the photos.

That’s the Crystal Palace TV Transmitter in the background. 719 feet and the fifth tallest structure in London.

There’s plenty to see and do in the park. The boating lake. A maze. The famous Crystal Palace Dinosaurs – a series of extinct (and often inaccurate) animal sculptures that date from 1852. But it was the sphinxes that really drew me here on this day. It was about twelve years ago now, on my only previous visit to the park, that I sat beneath them holding the hand of a pretty red-headed girl with a kind heart. I’ve no idea what’s happened in her life since then, but a few years back I was surprised to be told she now lives just a couple of miles away from me. I keep that little bit of information wrapped up and tucked away at the back of my mind, but occasionally I take it out, just to see how it feels.

There are six sphinxes in all , and they’ve been there ever since the site was moved from central London in the 1850s. What surprised me however, is that they are now in much better condition than when I last saw them. And as you clearly can’t see from the photo, they’ve been painted terracotta. I’ve since found out they were restored last year, and analysis has shown that they were regularly painted up until about 1900, after which they gradually started to fall in to disrepair.

This dude was happy to ham it up for the camera.

And in the middle of the park, at the sports centre, they were playing beach volleyball. I took the photo just so I can tell people that I did indeed have a lovely day at the seaside, and no, I didn’t waste a glorious weekend wallowing in nostalgia and gravestones..