Here we go…another vintage ‘review’ and ‘how to use’ sort of post, this time I’ve got with me my favorite ‘toy’ camera, the classic Lomo LC-A. Unlike the new made in China Lomo LC-A+ (which is also pretty good), this one is a vintage original, made in Russia (notice the lettering – think I paid extra for that!) and even though (in my opinion) this vintage one is a better and more valuable camera than the new Chinese version, I got this on eBay for around half the price of a brand new LC-A+. Pretty good deal, if you ask me.
The LC-A is made by LOMO (Leningrad Optical Mechanical Amalgamation), and was introduced in 1984. It’s a fixed lens camera, with a 35mm f2.8 fixed focal length lens, an electronically controlled shutter, and features fully automatic exposure. It was discontinued in 2005, and has since been manufactured in China and branded the Lomo LC-A+
Lomo LC-A: Quick Spec List
- Type: Compact film point-and-shoot film camera
- Lens: Minitar 1 35mm f2.8 fixed lens
- Shutter Speed Range: 1/500 sec – 120 sec
- Aperture Range: f2.8-f16
- ISO Range: 25-400
- Exposure: Automatic, or aperture priority with fixed shutter speed (1/60 sec)
- Meter: CDS light meter
- Focusing: Manual, zone focusing
- Focus zones: 0.8m, 1.5m, 3m, infinity
- Built-in flash: No
- Hot-shoe for external flash: Yes
- Flash sync: 1/60 seconds
- Dimensions: 107 x 68 x 44mm
- Weight: 250g
I’ve been wanting one of these for a long time now. I got this one last year, but before that I had really been waiting to get my hands on some sort of Lomo camera – did a lot of research, watched a lot of videos, browsed a lot of pictures – and well, the point I’m making here is that I knew what I was getting. I knew what it could do, what it’d look like, what kind of pictures it took – everything. Of course, using it is a whole new experience, and I’ve written more about that below, but on first sight, nothing struck me particularly hard. It’s just a solidly built camera that looks interesting and lets you take pictures without much effort.
I debated quite a bit over the choice of getting the LC-A or the new LC-A+, and after a few weeks of research (yeah, I research a lot, even on ‘toys’) I decided on the original – not just because of the price (although that was a part of it, for sure!) but it just seemed a better thing to buy for me: vintage value, better build quality, pretty much all the features of the new one (that I would need anyway) and yes, at half the price. Looking back, it should’ve been an easier decision!
Controls, Design, Handling
Design is dead simple. The looks are a love/hate kinda thing, really…and I love it. Controls are very minimal…and while this means you don’t get much manual control over anything the camera does, this minimalistic approach is the point of the Lomo camera. The Lomo culture. The point is the pure simplicity that it brings to taking pictures – that’s what Lomography is all about – and being the camera that kick-started the whole Lomography thing, the LC-A is all about keeping it simple. Super easy to use.
|The top has the shutter, a film counter, and the rewind crank. And an accessory shoe (there’s no built-in flash)|
|The back has the film door, the film winder, and the viewfinder|
And that’s it. Very simple controls, and very easy to use – the definition of point and shoot. I’ll talk more about using this camera towards the end, but yeah – there’s not going be much to say there!
Compared to the LC-A+
Compared to the newer LC-A+ there are a couple of things that the original does not have. Do these warrant that price tag? No. No way.
First of all the LC-A+ has a mount around the lens, a sort of slot, that allows you to fit these add-on type accessories that are made for it. These accessories don’t fit on the old LC-A as there’s no mount. There’s not a whole load of these – the only one that comes to mind is the wide-angle lens, but I think there are one or two more. Could be useful but I can’t really say I miss these at all, really.
The other one is the ability to take double exposures. Very cool feature, especially when shooting Lomo-style pictures. You take a shot, then take another without rewinding, resulting in the two shots being blended together in a way that’s only possible on film. The LC-A+ allows you to do this.
However, there’s a little trick you can use on the original LC-A too (see Features) to get double exposures – so that’s not really a feature that will separate the two.
The LC-A+ can also be used with films ranging from ISO 100 to 1600, while the old LC-A can only go up to ISO 400 (ISO 25-400). I don’t usually go for high speed film, so I haven’t noticed this as an issue – but I have to admit it could be useful to go above ISO 400.
Apart from these few (two?!) differences, the LC-A has nothing missing from the LC-A+. The original actually benefits by having a superior build quality to the Chinese one – it’s really solid, and feels like it’s built to last (mine’s made in 1989, and still looks like new) – the LC-A+ feels a tad plasticky. The LC-A also has an aperture control, which the LC-A+ doesn’t have, and while the functionality of this is very limited (see Features again), it’s there!
As you can see, it shouldn’t have taken me this long to decide to go with the original LC-A! A no-brainer if you ask me – the only question should be if you can find a good deal going on eBay right when you plan on buying!
Lomo LC-A: Features
The legendary Minitar 1 32mm f2.8 lens: This is what the whole Lomo thing is all about, this awesome little lens! It takes quirky, beautiful pictures that are actually full of what can be considered technical flaws but which come together to form this style of pictures that many people just love. This lens is the basis of the entire Lomo look – without this lens there would be no instagram! Think about that! It’s an absolute gem.
|The fantastic Minitar 1 Lens on the LC-A|
It’s also pretty fast, at f2.8 – so you can take pretty good low-light shots, especially if you pop in a roll of ISO 400 film. It’s got the ability to get decent shallow depth of field too.
The LC-A+ lens is pretty much the same, although the made in China Minitar just doesn’t sound right to me. You can also get the fairly limited LC-A+ RL, which is the same Chinese camera body, but fitted with an original Russian-made lens (RL)…so if you have to have yours brand new, spend a couple of bucks more and go for the RL…I’d say it’s worth it!
Aperture control: Not available on the LC-A+, but not as useful as it seems, this lever gives you pretty limited control over your aperture setting. Basically, you can switch from automatic aperture and set it yourself, but once you do set your manual aperture, you get a fixed shutter speed of 1/60 seconds. Boo. Then again, it can be pretty useful when using an external flash with the LC-A, which is the only I set the aperture manually. Based on the rating of my flash and the ISO of my film, I determine the distance to the subject and use an appropriate aperture. If you didn’t get that, read up on flash ratings, and how it works with aperture and distance (and ISO!)
Zone focusing: Focusing on Lomo cameras is manual. You focus by determining the distance between the camera and the subject, and then set the camera to focus on one of four distance ‘zones’: 0.8m, 1.5m, 3m, and infinity. This tells the camera to focus at a distance of whatever zone you set. Pretty easy: if you think the subject is less than 2m away, set it to the 1.5m zone and shoot. Think it’s way more than 3m away? Set it to infinity. It takes a bit of time to get used to but it’s not really that hard. Notice the close-focusing distance of 0.8m – that’s pretty close for a camera like this, actually – not bad!
Double Exposures: An official feature on the LC-A+, and not so official on the original LC-A, there’s a simple little trick to getting this done: First, take your exposure normally. Then, before you turn the film advance wheel to ready the shutter for the next shot, press the film release button on the bottom of the camera. Holding this button down, turn the advance wheel. What this does is it readies the shutter for the next shot, but as the film release button is pressed, the film doesn’t actually advance, meaning the first (exposed) frame of film is still in place, ready for your second exposure, the double exposure. Perfect! One less reason to buy the LC-A+
Bulb mode: Another unofficial feature, you can use this ‘bulb mode’ to get really cool long exposure effects in your Lomo shots. How? Quite simply, set your ISO between the fastest and slowest settings. On the old LC-A that’d be between 25 and 400. If you got it right, you should be seeing an empty, blank (and black) ISO window. Got it? Then shoot. That’s it. I’m not sure how or why this works but once the ISO is set this way, the shutter remains open as long as the shutter button is depressed. Instant bulb mode! Very cool, I think. However, if you’re about to experiment with this in a bright room, don’t – it works only when there’s relatively less light, which is fine, as you wouldn’t be using this mode unless it’s fairly dark anyway
I read about this on the Lomography blog and I’m sorry to say I can’t find the exact link – but credit to whoever wrote that tip on the Lomo blog! Very useful
Viewfinder: For a toy camera of sorts, the LC-A has a nice little viewfinder. Pretty decent coverage, fairly accurate – I’ve taken pictures at the closest focus distance of 80cm and my composition was fairly similar to what I framed using the finder
It’s also got an indicator that shows which zone you’re focused at, which is very useful – you can be looking through the viewfinder while setting the focus, and you can see if you’ve selected the correct zone without moving the camera from your eye. The finder’s also got two LEDs: one on the left, which tells you that the battery is good for the meter to work (don’t shoot if this doesn’t light up) and another (on the right) to warn you of a slow shutter speed
Pretty cool viewfinder overall – quite pleasant shooting with it.
Lomo LC-A: Image Quality
As you would’ve got from my praise for the Minitar lens, this camera takes fantastic pictures. Of course, as you’d expect from a Lomo camera, this isn’t the fantastic type of shot you’d think of in the traditional sense – no, it’s fantastic in the wacky, crazy Lomo sense. Bright colors, smooth vignettes, high contrast…that sort of thing – and pretty sharp too
Out of focus blur is there when you shoot at wide apertures, but unfortunately you can’t really control it – the camera sets it automatically, so the only way you can really get a shot with a large aperture is when there’s low light – but in such cases, the background blur is there, and although the quality is not fantastic, it’s not harsh and edgy either. It’s nice in a very Lomo way
I’m not really going to talk about distortions and stuff like that because, quite frankly, no one cares about these when shooting Lomo cameras. All I can say is this camera has become famous for producing legendary images, and while using it I just can’t say it has ever let me down. It does exactly what it says it does, and it does so in such simple, easy to use and FUN manner, that it’s unlike anything else I’ve used before. If you want super sharp, super clear, fine images that compare to stuff taken by a Canon L lens, this isn’t what you’re looking for – at this price, obviously not – but if you have any common sense and you have a wacky side to your personality, this camera will definitely interest you
Overall, I love the shots it produces. I’ve got some really nice stuff with it (see the gallery) and I should really be using it more often. I personally recommend this one!
Using the LC-A
Usually when talking of a vintage camera, like a TLR or rangefinder, I describe how it’s used. The Lomo is actually very easy to use but I’ll just write this part down anyway – for completeness if nothing else!
First up, pop in the film – and set the ISO speed of the film, for the light meter to adjust accordingly. Unless you’re using a flash, keep the aperture set at A (Automatic)
Open the lens cover – the shutter is locked until the lens is opened anyway, so you will never lose a frame of film this way. Excellent
Judge subject distance – roam around the streets or wherever till you spot a subject you want to shoot…then judge how far it is from you. For me, an arm’s length is around a meter, so if this was the case I’d set it to the 0.8m zone. More than that, maybe two arm lengths, and I’d use the 1.5m zone – even further out and I think it’d be safe to use infinity, although you can always try the 3m zone too
Set focus zone and click – that’s it. Set the focus lever to the zone you want, and shoot! I made it sound much more complicated than it really is. It’s easily the simplest point-and-shoot camera there is!
What I liked/What I didn’t like
- Legendary Minitar lens
- Superb images, with the style that we now know as the Lomo style – oozing with character
- Extremely fun to use
- Pure simplicity of operation removes the complex bits out of the art – all you think about is the shot
- Owning one is owning a piece of history
- Aperture control is very limited
- No flash (not really an issue but I have to fill this bit out)
And that’s the Lomo LC-A original! Seriously, it’s one of the most fun cameras I’ve used. It takes away all the hassle and complication out of photography and gives you the dead basics – just point and shoot. Street shooting with this thing has given me loads of joy.
Of course it takes a bit of getting used to. When you use something that is unlike anything you’ve tried before, it’s always going to take a bit of patience, and trial-and-error. My first roll, somehow, turned out great, but the next two or three were complete disasters. Out of focus, off exposure, blurry…but I soon got the hang of zone focusing, and I just got used to using this camera, and everything else fell into place. It has since become one of the favorites in my collection
Should you get one? Definitely! At $150 (that’s what I paid) it’s less than a cheap digital point-and-shoot, and it’s half the price of a brand new LC-A+…it really is a good deal…and you will never realize how much fun you can have with one of these Lomos until you actually do. You can gets yours at Amazon, the price there is pretty low, from what I see: choose between the LC-A+ and the LC-A+ RL. I often buy from B&H Photo too - and as you know, buying from these links will be much appreciated! Until next time.
*Heshan Jayakody is a photographer based-in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He's also the owner of pixelogist.me. This original article was published here.