Istanbul on a Lubitel

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The Soviet photography manufacturer Lomo is best known for the famous Lomo Kompakt Automat, the chunky compact camera which kick-started the Lomography trend. But their contribution to analogue photography goes far deeper than that.

For decades, the massive Lomo plant in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) built other cameras – from the simple Smenas to the clock-powered Leningrad rangefinder and 60s design curious like the Voskhod. And after the quirky Lomo, they’re best-remembered for the Lubitel, a cheap and cheerful range of twin-lens medium format cameras that provided many photographers with an affordable way of shooting big. And while they are lumped in with a whole host of plastic fantastic toy cameras, Lubitels are actually capable of quality results.

I recently bought a Lubitel 166U off eBay; it’s one of the ultimate generation of the camera that was made for decades in St Petersburg. Lubitels grew out of a post-war TLR called the Komsomolets, itself a Soviet knock-off of the German Voigtlander Brilliant; as the Lubitel line developed, they used less metal and more plastic. But – unlike the Holgas and Dianas they’ve been lumped in with – the one thing that never changed along the way is the Lomo-built glass lens, capable of producing shots no plastic-lensed camera could.

I took a quick trip to Istanbul last month and brought the Lubitel along. TLRs can be tricky to use; staring down into the viewfinder isn’t so much of a problem, but the fact the image is reversed from left to right can be, especially if something is moving. TLRs take a lot of practice to use, and at first it’s a good idea to try them out on subjects which aren’t going to move too fast.

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Lubitel 166U (Wikimedia Commons)

Istanbul is a good playground for film photographers; on the European side of the city, in the Sirkeci district, there’s a whole block of old camera shops, and there’s loads of labs and places to buy film. One shop had a stack of old Kodak Ektacolor – a print film which was discontinued many years ago. Shooting on expired film can be the dictionary definition of hit and miss, but the shifting colours and tones of expired film suit the vignetting and retro feel of the Lubitel.

I brought the Lubitel along on a Saturday morning strolling around Balat, one of the less-developed neighbourhoods bordering the Golden Horn. It’s where many of the poorer families from rural Anatolia have moved to; many of the houses are care-worn and in need of a lick of paint, but Balat has atmosphere in spades; it’s a great place to wander and take pics. The number of local photographers I saw in the district’s streets during the morning showed me I’m not the only one to realise how photogenic Balat is.

The Lubitel turned out to be the perfect camera to capture Balat’s rustic charms. The Ektacolor was 17 years past its use-by date, but apart from a tendency to turn slightly purple in the shadows held up well – not bad for 70p a roll and going through an airport x-ray (always something to bear in mind when you’re using expired film.

I finished the roll in front of the spires of the New Mosque near Eminonu, with mad spring sunlight bursting through the clouds behind the minarets, and a last candid on the train back to Beyoglu waiting until the girl opposite me was lost in thought and staring out the window. The Lubitel’s shutter is so quiet it’s perfectfor taking candid shots out on the street.

The Lubitel’s now a staple in the camera bag; I can’t wait to see the results from closer to home in the coming weeks.

Check out more of my Istanbul posts here, and more pics below.

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A tram candid on the way back into town
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Outside a vintage shop on the fringes of Balat
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Solo street footballer
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Local wildlife on the Balat streets

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