Compact Camera Club - Lomo LC-A+
Updated: Jan 9
In 1991, a group of Austrian students travelling in Prague happened upon a small compact camera in a vintage camera shop: the Lomo Kompakt Automat, or LC-A for short; a Soviet Union 35mm camera produced by Leningrad Optics and Mechanics Association (LOMO) in 1984, but by ’91 was no longer in production. In essence a Soviet Union approved copy of the Chinese Cosina CX-2, the original LOMO LC-A was a zone focusing fixed lens 35mm compact camera with an automatic exposure setting but with an ability to set aperture value manually, fixing shutter speed at 1/60th when set. The Austrian students fell in love with it and the pictures it took. By 2006 they founded their own company and introduced a sympathetically updated version of the same camera: The Lomo LC-A+: the flagship camera of the Lomographic Society, nowadays trading as Lomography: an Internationally represented organisation with a focus (no pun intended…) on the virtues of artistic film photography.
I have something of a mixed opinion of Lomography, on the one hand I feel that any company prepared to extol the virtues of shooting film, and to buck the trend producing new film (well, sort of…) and new film cameras in the digital era deserves all the support it can get from the film photography community. And Lomography certainly have contributed some impressive new film cameras in the last 13 years be them original designs or remakes of old retro cameras. However on the flip side their tendency to talk in a derogatory way about digital photography (“Leave the Digital Grind Behind”) gives them an air of elitism or snobbishness that I feel is un-necessary. Market your products on the positives, not in criticism of your competition. I shoot both film and digital and both have their pro's and con's. Admittedly they have scaled back on that marketing tactic though, especially since beginning to move into the “art lens” market as of recent times producing lenses for DSLR and CSC mounts. I also find sometimes that Lomography tends to focus on making cameras that are angled more towards the fashion crowd: looks and aesthetic over form and function. Innumerable different versions of the Diana+, La Sardina and recently: Lomo’Instant is evidence enough of that. You might consider that snobbishness on my part, but my feelings are that it shouldn’t really be the market you focus on. Those people don’t really care about photography, they just want something that looks good… even if they don't know how to use it. And it's superficial. That criticism aside, I maintain a mostly positive opinion of Lomography as a brand. I even spent some time working for them at a concession in Selfridges & Co. in Birmingham back in 2012 which was great fun and also happened to be the year I got my own LC-A+…
If you're not familiar with the LC-A+ it is a 35mm compact film camera with a 32mm glass lens (early iterations of the LC-A+ featured a lens built by the original LOMO themselves, but nowadays that lens is manufactured in China and goes by the name of the Minitar-1 lens), an automatic exposure circuit coupled to a front mounted light meter working with an aperture range from f2.8 to f16 and a shutter speed range from 1/500 to, theoretically, infinity. It has a front mounted lever to adjust focusing distance, starting at 0.8m, 0.8-1.5m, 1.5m to 3m and 3m to infinity. The automatic exposure circuit is calibrated by a front mounted scroll wheel allowing you to chose an ASA (or ISO) with a range from 100 to 1600. Using this you can also get creative with under exposing or over exposing a film but only in one full stop increments, there are no half stops like on the Olympus Trip 35. The bottom of the camera also has a lever to reset the shutter mechanism so you can double expose or multiple expose the same film frame. And finally for good measure they stuck a hot shoe mount on the top! The light meter is powered by 3 LR44 batteries that you fit in the bottom, LR44's still being readily available in most places or online. When powered a red light will light up in the viewfinder. Make sure you pay attention to that because if that light doesn't light up, the light meter isn't getting power and without power it won't trigger the aperture mechanism, but your camera will still trigger the shutter, it just won't expose the film, so you can waste a few shots very easily that way. There is also a second red light that lights up to warn you if the available light is below a certain value to fire the shutter at a speed that will avoid camera shake. I'd wanted an LC-A+ for a very long time. I went to a Lomography event in Birmingham in 2011 just so I could get to play with one. In my opinion it was the perfect premium compact: with an automatic exposure circuit built in, but with the ability to switch between focal ranges I knew it was the type of camera you could literally carry everywhere and still be relied upon to get great photos. And I don't think I was wrong! I've put almost every different type of film through it and always got something I've been happy with!
Another feature I haven't mentioned is the 2 carefully marked grooves in the front casing of the camera body. Using these you can attach a range of different accessories sold by Lomography to modify your photos. There's a Super Wide Angle lens that pushes the LC-A+ focal length to a staggering 20mm. However it is quite a bulky bit of glass so when attached it makes the LC-A+ a little less easy to carry around. Here's a few examples:
And there is a little piece of plastic called the Splitzer, an adjustable mount that you can use to segment your photos into halves, quarters, eighths, sixteenths or even greater! When coupled with the multiple exposure lever you can get really experimental with your photos!
There's also Fisheye lens and a "Tunnelvision" lens but I don't own either of those and I don't think they are produced any more. I've read that the Fisheye lens was not the best and you are much better suited to just buying a Lomography Fisheye camera... Lomography also produce an "Instant Back" for the LC-A+, a extension that fits on the back of the camera, after removing the camera's back door, that can be loaded with Fujifilm Instax Mini cartridges. I don't own one but I have used one before and they generally work quite well but don't really offer much in the way of benefits outside of owning an Instax Mini camera. If you really want to go for an Instant Back, my advice is go for the Diana+ one instead: more lenses and accessory options. At date of writing I've had my LC-A+ roughly 7 years and I've used it quite a lot. Having such a broad ISO range coupled with an automatic but also adjustable exposure circuit means you can put pretty much any kind of film through it and know that it will expose how you want it to without worrying too much. Having exposure taken care of automatically might not be for everyone though, and I tend to find the light meter on the LC-A+ will always measure the absolute brightest part of the photo and expose at that rate (which I guess is what it's supposed to do...!) so sometimes if there is a singular bright light source in frame you can run the risk of underexposing a photo. But generally speaking 90% of my photos I've found have always been correctly exposed.
The camera is easily pocketable, and despite having a mostly robust build quality, is very light and easily carried around anywhere without feeling intrusive. You can also attach a wrist strap to the side of the body to carry it around but the pre-supplied one is rubbish, buy your own. Another word of advice as well: be very gentle when pulling up the film winder to open the back of the camera when removing and loading films. I've had mine some time and never had a problem, but I've seen a couple where that part of the camera has broken off and without some serious DIY work the camera is useless after that. Also take care should you ever be removing the rear door to fit the Instant back as again, the hinge can get damaged and you won't be able to make it fit snug again. The LC-A+ sits very firmly in the Premium Compact Film Camera market and be that because of it's feature set, or because of the "cool tax" that gets applied to Lomography cameras and the such like, you will have to decide for yourself. Regardless of whether or not you put different funky kinds of film through the camera and shoot artsy segmented images, or multiple exposures, the LC-A+ on it's on is a very powerful and very capable 35mm pseudo-rangefinder. The automatic exposure capability and zonal focusing mechanism might not be for everybody but it's a camera built to take quick on-the-fly photographs, a camera that can capture a decisive moment quite literally at the drop of a hat without having to worry about getting the right settings first, and combining that with a pin sharp semi-wide angle lens incorporating just the right amount of shadowy vignette will cast a dramatic and interesting tone on most if not all of the photos you get out of using the LC-A+. It's not without it's drawbacks and the price might be a sticking point for some people. There are certainly cheaper options out there, see my blog post on the Olympus Trip 500 for example, but that Minitar-1 lens really is a very nice piece of glass and the photos you get with it will outshine those you might get with a much cheaper alternative.