LOMOgraphy restarted the production of the the little-known LOMO LC-A compact from St Petersburg in the 1990s, turning what had been a Cold War curio into a bona fide photographic craze.
In the intervening years, the humble LOMO was modified to create two new cameras; the updated LOMO LC-A+ with a few extra, useful features, and the wide-angle LOMO LC-Wide. While both excellent updates, neither could really be described as revolutionary. But last year LOMOgraphy announced something that was – the LC-A 120.
The LC-A 120 looks like a LOMO on steroids. Instead of using 35mm, it shoots on 120 film, but apart from being a lot taller, thicker and heavier, it’s not that much different to the normal LOMO. LOMOgraphy already have a brace of medium format models on their books, many of them re-engineered version of old cameras such as the toy camera Dianas or the Soviet-era Lubitel. A few years back the Belair, a new folding camera model, was unveiled, but it seemed not as robust as any number of old folders from days past, and too expensive to take a punt on.
The LC-A 120, though, looked to be a different beast; the pics looked bold and dramatic, mirroring the vignetting, ‘tunnel-effect’ look of the old LOMO. But it wasn’t until my friend Toby Mason – a superbly talented LOMOgrapher who goes by the name of Fotobes – borrowed one that I really saw what it might be capable of. I’m a long-time fan of Toby’s work and appreciate his sensibility. Some of the shots he got from the LC-A 120 in Brighton, where he lives, looked amazing. The dramatic vignetting was there, but also incredible colour rendition and depth of field. The LOMOgraphy UK knew I was keen to test one out, and in November a package arrived at the office with an LC-A 120 to shoot with for a few weeks.
The LC-A 120 is much squarer than the LC-A, by virtue of having to shoot the square format 120 film. It’s solid in size, but still a lot smaller than many medium format cameras – it’s similar to the old folding cameras that were designed to be able to slipped into a large coat pocket.
The lens panel slides down to open both the lens and the viewfinder; at rest, the LC-A 120 looks like some kind of powered-down battle robot. It’s solid-feeling and robust; it doesn’t quite have the heft of an old all-metal camera, but it does feel like something that’s made of more than just cheap plastic. The LC-A 120 opens with a hinged back, just like a normal LOMO, and has two special tabs that keep the film and the take-up spool firmly in place; clicking these open makes it possible to pull them out. The camera is a lot easier to load than many medium format cameras – a good design feature, as many people coming to film these days don’t have any experience with older cameras, and there’s nothing more frustrating than a camera that’s difficult to load.
Like the LOMO LC-A, the LC-A 120 has zone focusing on the left hand side of the cameras, and has the same simplified auto-speed and aperture as the Like the LC-A+ and L-Wide, with the camera working out which combination to use. It means you lack a degree of creative control, but means you’re not fiddling about with the controls. This allows you to concentrate instead of shooting – and considering that you have only get 12 shots a roll with the LC-A 120, that’s not a bad thing.
The 38/4.5 Minitar lens has many of the LC-A’s winning qualities, though it’s not as fast. Some of the drawbacks of only having a lens that only opens up to f4.5 are also negated by the fact the ISO can be set to 1600. that means the LC-A 120 could be used in really dim light used pushed black and white film. I only had time to shoot one roll of black and white, but there’s no denying the richness of the blacks. In low-light, with pushed Tri-X or Ilford HP5, the LC-A 120 could be capable of amazing results.
But it’s colour that I really wanted to test the LC-A 120 with. My analogue photography bug was caught back in 2000, when I bought an old Praktica 35mm SLR and a Soviet-era LC-A; the trippy light trails and saturated colours I got from the LC-A made me an instant convert to LOMOgraphy.
I took a daytrip to Brighton with a few rolls of colour film to take advantage of some bright winter sun; Brighton looks fantastic off-season, when the light is rich with reds and golds, and the beaches that are packed in the summer sun are deserted. On print film the scans look fantastic, while a roll of old Fuji Provia is perfectly exposed. Blues are bold and dark, and the sharpness and depth of field is fantastic.
The best results, however, come from a couple of rolls of old Kodak Ektachrome I’d picked up last year on a visit to Istanbul. Part of the charm of LOMOgraphy is the dramatic results from cross-processed slide; Ektachrome cross-processed beautifully, with blacks, blues and yellows boosted to almost impossibly saturated levels.
Another roll of Ektachrome was rattled off during a pantomime horse race in Greenwich back in London; the grainy, saturated colours are off the scale.
There’s no denying that at over £300 in the UK, the LC-A 120 isn’t a cheap camera. It’s also true that you should be able to buy a perfectly useable second—hand medium format camera for less. But you couldn’t be sure that you would get quite the same level of dramatic vignetting, or such eye-popping colour. The LC-A 120 is LOMOgraphy’s best camera since the LC-A which started things off in the first place, and its at the top of my 2015 shopping list.
Check out more pics, below, or in the Flickr set.
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I enjoy the saturated colors more than the light leaks and vignetting. Nice review of this camera.
Thanks Jim – I know the vignetting isn’t to everyone’s taste, but I think it adds real drama…
I don’t see any lightleaks…?
but aye, nice review. I might get me one of these when the wallet allows for it 🙂
I just edited the German version of your article over on lomography.de, which brought me here. Nice review (I so want to test the medium version of the LC-A as well!!) and VEry nice blog with beautiful lomographs – glad I found it 🙂
Thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed it and glad the German readers are getting to read it too… what kind of LOMO stuff do you shoot with?
Reblogged this on Johnny Shoots and commented:
Nice review of the LCA 120, some new 120 goodness.
thanks for the review. I got one and i plan to use it for portraiture. Here are some of my images. https://marcuslowphotos.wordpress.com/2016/03/09/kim-film-portraiture-lc-a-120-leica-m7/
Love this camera, I have got two of them, and they are very nice to shoot with
Hi Stephen, have you had any issues with the number of exposures per roll? I’m averaging 9 for each 120 roll when I should get 12. I don’t think I’m loading the film wrong, but perhaps I am? Have you heard anything about this being a problem for some? Thanks!