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.