The LOMO LC-A 120 was launched in 2014, a medium format version of the Soviet-era LOMO LC-A compact that had launched a lo-fi photographic craze more than 20 years before.
The LC-A was copied off a Japanese camera called the Cosina CX-2, a zone-focus compact with a wide-angle lens that paired saturated colours with dramatic corner vignetting. LOMOgraphy first made a cult of the LOMO LC-A, then restarted the camera’s production in post-Communist Russia, then helped create a slew of new upgraded models, the most recent of which was the ultra-wide LOMO LC-Wide.
The LC-A 120 came as a complete surprise when it was launched, and got a slew of great reviews for its sharp, contrasty lens. LOMOgraphy UK loaned me one for a few weeks before Christmas, which I took down on a wintry sunny day to Brighton. I was massively impressed with the LC-A 120’s abilities, and arranged to borrow one again for a recent trip to Malta.
Malta comes in high regard as a photographic location; bright Mediterranean sun paired with the faded, crumbling charm of the tiny island nation’s capital, Valletta. The LC-A’s saturated lens suits these conditions, making rich blues out of clear sky and capturing impressive texture. That’s even more evident on the LC-A 120, with extra sharpness and detail to be had on that much bigger negative.
I spent the first few days wandering around Valletta, shooting on the LOMO’s godfather, the Cosina CX-1, and an old Soviet Lubitel TLR. From Valletta I headed down to the island’s southern coast, to the fishing village of Marsaxlokk, famed for a Sunday morning fish market that supplies restaurant and hotel kitchens as well locals.
Marsaxlokk waterfront is a string of cheerful hotels and restaurants aimed and the wining and dining tourist hordes, but the market is anything but a tourist trap; the harbour is where most of the island’s fishing fleet is berthed, and the stalls are packed with a bewildering array of species plucked from Malta’s still-rich waters. There are green black, shining mackerel and crabs crawling with raised pincers aimed at browsing shoppers. There are vampiric moray eels and the miniature shark shapes of dogfish. Barracudas with mouthfuls of needle-sharp grasping teeth. Octopuses slipping tentacles across their tanks, plotting escape. Even the massive bulk of swordfish, glinting brilliant silver in the hard light.
Fish markets are great for photography, not just for the fish arranged and jumbled all over stalls, but for the busying throng of people. I rattled off a couple of rolls in little more than half an hour, old Kodak Ektachrome to be cross-processed in the lab. Print and slide look great on the LC-A 120, but it’s cross-processed slide film that really sings, the black and blues given even more depth.
From Marsaxlokk I headed to Mdina, a medieval city on the north of the island. It’s known as the Silent City; separated from the nearby town of Rabat by thick stone walls and a once-defensive moat turned into manicured lawns. My first day there coincided with a festival celebrating the city’s medieval past, open-air concerts in front of the city’s imposing cathedral, parades of drummers and lords and ladies, and knights from the island’s colourful past.
Mdina is a city of long winding alleyways, the cool shadows interrupted by long shafts of bright sunlight. The LC-A 120 captured superb detail in the textured stone.
Zone focusing can take a little while to get used to, but in bright sunny conditions is not too much of a problem; the camera will usually choose an aperture narrow enough that a lot of the scene will be in clear focus.
All of these shots were on Kodak Ektachrome 100VS slide film then cross-processed by the LOMO Lab. Kodak’s now-defunct slide films were amongst the best for cross-processing, emphasising blues and reds and creating rich black shadows – they’re a lot better than the Fuji slide emulsions which continue to be made.
The LC-A 120 is a fantastic travel camera; it’s light enough that you could chuck it in a small bag and (almost) not know it was there. The plastic shell is light but feels reasonably robust; I’d certainly feel less worried about a short drop on the ground with this than with LOMOgraphy’s much less robust Bel-Air folding camera.
The LC-A 120 isn’t cheap (and there are a lot cheaper compact medium format cameras available second hand) but the camera’s atmospheric eccentricities can help create eye-popping shots. This won’t be the last trip I take one on.
Check out more pics below, or on my LOMO LC-A 120 set on Flickr.
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Partly because of your work and blog, I am turning to film more seriously. I never liked film years ago because of the cost to process, terrible images, and a lack of training. Digital helped me a lot to learn without the guilt of wasted money. Now, I am looking to film for a different aesthetic. Your use of film cameras and reviews of the same, along with using different films, are eye-opening. Add to this, your travel pics are so interesting. Keep up the good work!