Choosing a pocketable film camera to join the Olympus OM SLRs for my next trip to Romania

In my most recent post here I left open the question of which pocketable film camera I might choose to go along with the SLRs, Olympus OMs. One I pulled out is the Vivitar ‘Ultra Wide and Slim’.

Cosina CX-1 and CX-2 on either side of the Vivitar ‘Ultra Wide and Slim’

Cosina CX-1 and CX-2 on either side of the Vivitar ‘Ultra Wide and Slim’

I can hear “Are you kidding?” If you’re not into that odd world of ‘Lomography‘ and if you picked one up in a charity shop you might throw it back as a cheap bit of plastic junk. It is, but a fun bit of junk which now has a bit of a cult following. If you don’t know it and are tempted by a £1 price tag you’ll probably break it on the first outing if you’ve loaded in with a 36 exposure 35mm film – the wind on ‘mechanism’, if you can call it that, will handle only a 24 exposure film. It’s got one speed, 1/125sec, and one aperture, f/11, so generally useable on bright sunny days only. And the viewfinder will show you only about 3/4 of what you’ll get on the film (great for handing to relatives who insist of chopping off part of the intended family group). All in all, every trip to the processor or waiting to see what comes out of your developing tank is an adventure. Weighing in at only 65g, 2.3oz, add 18g or just over 1/2oz for the film, it can sit hardly noticed in your back pocket all day. It’s a pain to open until you know the secret, turn it face up while sliding the catch, and it might take you a while to figure out that the film loads the opposite way to what you’re used to. Anyway, if you do see it in a charity shop for a pound or two buy it as you can subsequently make a bob or two if you put it on Ebay!

So, what’s its secret weapon? A plastic lens which will often produce crazy effects – flare, distortion of colour, a lot of vignetting, a lot of barrel distortion – but, a focal length of only 22mm. So super wide photography on a budget.

So, no it will not be my choice for the ‘pocketable’ but I might slip it in anyway.

Olympus XA4

A more serious choice could be the Olympus XA4 which is rather less wide, a superb 28mm, f/3.5 Zuiko will focus down to 30cm for macro. With an excellent bright viewfinder which shows you a pretty true image of what you’ll get on film, it has a 1.5x exposure setting for back lit subjects, a self timer and even a battery check. The exposure meter can be set for ISOs from 25 to 1600. It takes a dinky little custom flash if you are into such things. However, it needs two 357 batteries and weighs in at 262g, just under 9.1/4oz with film. So it will not sit comfortably in the back pocket of light summer shorts. What is more, it could set you back well over £100 for an example in good, working condition.

Cosina CX-1/CX-2

Another possibility is a Cosina CX-?. The CX-1 has a Cosinon 33mm, f/3.5 lens (4 elements in 3 groups) which isn’t bad but will focus only down to 0.9m; apart from a numbered focussing scale it has a useful zone focussing window with symbols at the top of the lens, really handy. The viewfinder (x0.5), with parallax compensating mark, is reasonable but not anywhere near as bright as the Olympus. The auto exposure system is simple – green light in the viewfinder if the battery is OK, a red light if the exposure is longer than 1/45 sec. ISO (marked as ASA) can be set only from 25 to 400. There’s a conventional flash shoe on top (X sync at 1/45 sec) but it takes a custom Cosina auto flash. Like the Olympus it requires two SR 44 batteries. It weighs about 242g with film. Nowadays a good CX-1 could cost you around £50.

The CX-1’s sibling, the CX-2, is very similar, at least it looks similar. But somehow Cosina managed to fit in some extra features around a superior 35mm, f/2.8 Cosinon (5 elements in 5 groups). The zone focussing symbols are repeated at the bottom of the viewfinder so can be seen when the camera is put to the eye. What is surprising to me is that the CX-2 is equipped to take a motor drive, 1fps. The camera  weighs about 10g more than the CX-1.

The CX-2 is the daddy of the Lomo LC-A but for some reason the Russian designers abandoned the rotating lens cover when they sort of copied it and went for a lever. The Cosina solution is far better in my opinion and one of the features of both Cosinas which I really like. I also like the the large, conventional shutter release (rather like the Olympus XA3) better than the electromagnetic thing on the Olympus XA4. The bare CX-2 seems to go for much the same price as a CX-1, but can double with custom flash and motor winder.

All in all, I think I’ll probably settle for the CX-2. It’s a great street camera, a second or two to whip it out, turn the lens cover and shoot. In fact I usually carry it with a wrist strap for there is a lug.