The Other Lomo
By Rob Turner
26 Jan 2008
I got my Lubitel earlier this year, having wanted one for ages. I had always found it to be an interesting and affordable introduction into "proper" medium format photography (my only prior exposure to which was my Holga). For me, the Lubitel is the best compromise between size and functionality. This, coupled with the waist level viewfinder, make it perfect for candids and street photography. The finder also means that I can compose my shot properly instead of using the hip-shot, hope for the best approach, of the L-CA which I had always found quite frustrating. The fully manual control also adds to this. I feel that the L-CA is far too limited in terms of flexibility, the manual operation allows for control over depth of field and the way that movement is captured.
The Lubitel comes in five basic flavours, the first being the basic Lubitel. This was made between 1949 and 1956 and featured a Bakelite body and a 75mm F4.5 uncoated lens with five speed + B shutter. This was replaced in 1956 with the Lubitel 2, the main difference being a newer shutter mechanism and the addition of a coating to the lenses. The production of the Lubitel 2 continued until 1980 but a more advanced model, the Lubitel 166, was introduced in 1976. This did away with the old style red-window frame counter and gave the user a (supposedly unreliable) frame counter and a new, thermoplastic body. The 166 was replaced by the 166B in 1986. The key difference was that the 166B reverted to the original red-window type frame counter. The 166 Universal (which I own) was introduced in 1983 and featured a much improved back catch mechanism (older designs were poor and tended to fall open with little provocation) and the ability to shoot either 6x6 or 6x4.5 frames. Mine was bought from the Lomography shop as I thought I would need the warranty. Unfortunately mine didn't come with the frame mask to shoot the 6x4.5 negatives, but I did receive a nice bulk load of film as a replacement, which was far more useful.
Even though the Lubitel isn't without its faults, it is still one of my favorite cameras. The main problem with it is that the focusing screen is poor and focusing can be difficult, although, you can easily overcome this by keeping the lens at smaller apertures to maximise depth of field. The main thing which surprised me about the Lubitel when I first got it was its size. It's pretty tiny for a medium format camera, and very light because of its plastic construction. It has a reasonably sharp lens, especially when stopped down to around ƒ8-10. The lens does show fairly pronounced vignetting at times, but I see this as an advantage as it draws the viewer's eye towards the image's centre. The waist level finder is my favorite part of the camera, it allows me to compose shots on the street without drawing too much attention to myself.
The biggest difficulty I faced when first using my Lubitel was framing shots, as this takes some getting used to. The image on the waist level finder is flipped along its left-right axis. This is very disorientating, especially when shooting action shots (you can fold back the central portion of the front of the light shield, and spy through the small hole to frame your shots, but this doesn't allow for focusing). My tip for this is to get the subject in the frame, then kind of twist the camera left and right, changing the position of the strap on your neck. Try to get the top, bottom or edge of the viewing screen lined up with a vertical or horizontal line within the scene. Now that the camera is level, shuffle sideways until the composition is right.
Here are my top five Lubitel tips:
1.DO NOT buy one from Lomography as I did. Buy from eBay, you will save yourself a fortune.
2.Use faster films unless it is very bright. I tend to use Fuji Superia 400 or Ilford HP5+.
3.If possible, keep the aperture values fairly high. ƒ8 is the largest aperture I would use, as this minimises focusing errors.
4.If you have any other model but the 166 Universal, use a piece of gaffer's tape to secure the back, as this saves you losing whole frames of film when the back opens, which it will.