By Ivan Bernal Palli
I find the Lomo Voskhod one of the more interesting and best-looking cameras out there. Although there is rather a lot of information available on the internet about it, it seems to be a camera that is mostly unknown or ignored by the film community at large, except for the collectors of Soviet cameras or those who, like me, are a bit of an aesthete.
The Voskhod has certainly slipped by those who buy cameras to take photos, as an online search will reveal a tonne of images of the camera itself but only a handful of examples taken with one of them. I for one like to use my cameras, so hopefully this piece will inspire others to dust off their Voskhod after having sat in the cabinet for a while looking pretty (pretty indeed!).
A bit of history
Of course the name Lomo is rather ubiquitous nowadays thanks to Lomography cameras and films, with the Lomo LC-A being the inspiration behind it all. The LC-A, as well as the Voskhod, was made in the LOMO factory (Leningradskoe Optiko Mechanichesckoe Objedinenie) located in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), which still exists today.
Back in Soviet times, it produced most of the optics for the military and space purposes, kind of paradoxical, considering the lo-fi ethos behind the Lomographic movement. Until 1965 the factory was called GOMZ and for a brief period went by the name of LOOMP as attested by a few early examples of the Voskhod featuring that name. From 1966 onwards it would be known as LOMO.
The Voskhod was manufactured between 1964 and 1968 and just over 59,000 of them were made making it, if not rare, certainly uncommon. Although there were some variations over the years (some have self-timer and flash sync setting around the lens) the design remained mostly unchanged. My example was made in 1965 as attested by the first two digits of the serial number, 6516458.
Design and specs
When it comes to specs, the Voskhod is fairly standard for the time: a viewfinder camera with a fixed 45mm lens, the T-48, a triplet with apertures from f2.8 to f22 and zone focus with a focusing range from 1m to infinity. Shutter speeds go from 1 second to 1/250th plus bulb. It sports a selenium light meter which supports films from ISO 12 to 400. The scales used are DIN and GOST, so I had to search for the equivalent ISO and write it down for future reference.
And that’s it, really. The aperture and shutter rings are linked so once you’ve selected the exposure it allows you to favour depth of field or a faster speed. Pressing the tab on the top of the aperture ring disengages the shutter speeds ring allowing you to select another aperture and a different exposure.
The viewfinder is big and bright and very nice to look through. Looking at it from the front it shows a nice yellow/golden shine. Inside the viewfinder, there are bright frame lines with parallax correction marks. The bottom line shows three gaps, where the lightmeter needle sits. The centre gap corresponds to the correct exposure, the left gap means overexposure and the right, underexposure. I only recently found out that the meter on my example works when I bothered to check it properly. I took my last roll following the meter readings and all the frames look well exposed.
Finally, there’s a cold shoe for flash or other attachments (a rangefinder would come in handy) and the tripod bush is the bigger, older type, whatever its diameter is.
The camera itself
I don’t remember the first time I learnt about the Voskhod but I’m pretty sure it was love at first sight. I bought it in 2017 after a couple of years loosely keeping an eye for one. Prices were generally too high and I knew it wasn’t a camera I was likely to use often. At the time I was mostly shooting medium format and my 35mm needs were covered by my Yashica SLR, a Voigtlander Vito B and a couple of point-and-shoot cameras. But then, an auction came along for a Voskhod in good shape with the original case and strap, and, most importantly, advertised as working. For a reasonable £40 ($55) plus postage, GAS took the better of me and I took the plunge.
Once it arrived, everything seemed to be working as it should and the cosmetic condition was really good. Even the light meter reacted to light, although at the time I didn’t check for accuracy. The camera is very well finished although the rewind crank and the door could do with a bit more polish and cannot compare with, say, my Voigtlander Vito B.
The Voskhod features a few unusual design choices. The shutter release is located at the front, not the first camera to do that, but one of the few that did. The short, sloping right side of the camera body makes the front shutter easy to access and rather comfortable to use. Another unusual feature and, I’d say, one of its calls to fame, is the shark-fin-shaped film advance lever. Again, this is not unique to the Voskhod, as a few other cameras share this solution to advance the film as well as to cock the shutter (the Zeiss Ikon Tenax/ Taxona, which I owned once, or the Adox 300, which I hope to own one day).
The difference with those cameras is that the lever runs over the top of the lens barrel, not down its side. I was a bit surprised as to how smooth the advance lever works, with a very pleasant clockwork mechanism sound. It’s very easy to advance the film with the right index finger while keeping the camera to the eye, or with the right thumb if you take the camera down.
It seems to me the Voskhod is an exercise in design. It has several details that, to my eyes, make it stand out among other cameras of the period. The stylised icons for the distance markings, the shape around the frame counter, the advance lever, the unusual elongated form f, the play between the bare metal areas and the leatherette (plastic?) covered ones.
The Voskhod logo too, which can be read with the camera being both vertical or horizontal, screams to me “intention”: so basic a camera didn’t have to look so pretty. Even the name, meaning sunrise or ascent, could be interpreted as a reference to the purposefully designed machine, elevating it to higher levels.
I took a roll of Kodak Portra 400 shortly after getting the camera and I must admit I wasn’t impressed by the results. We left the UK shortly after, so things were busy for a while and I didn’t find the right occasion to try the Voskhod again until mid-2019. I used another roll of colour film and though I got better results than the first time, still I wasn’t totally convinced about it. I really like the camera and wanted to like the photos it takes, so after considering for a while getting rid of it (Marie Kondo‘s spectre is always half present in the back of my mind) I decided to shoot a few rolls of black-and-white film which is, after all, my preferred view of the world.
I ran five rolls of film through the Voskhod on a few Sunday outings with my wife and daughter over the summer. Except for the mostly unusable results of one of those rolls (my fault entirely), I was very pleased with the photos I took with it. Sure, the lens has its quirks. It seems to produce a certain glow in highlight areas, and though it can be very sharp when stopped down and in closer distances, there’s an overall softness to it, which I personally don’t mind.
In some frames there’s a distinct lack of sharpness on one side of the frame for reasons I can’t figure out, while the majority of them look ok across the negative. Having the two strap lugs on the same side of the camera can make bringing it to the eye a bit awkward too, especially if you, like me, carry it hanging from your right shoulder. Other than this, I really enjoyed using the Voskhod and I got to create a few memories, and is this not what cameras are for?
In the sometimes overwhelming amount of camera related content that populates the Internet, mostly regarding the same 15 or 20 models most talked about, I wanted to say something about the relevance of the Lomo Voskhod as a photographic tool, as opposed to it being just a cabinet beauty.
With that said though, in my opinion, you won’t find many better-looking photographic tools than the Voskhod and I think it deserves more attention than it currently gets. There are so many interesting vintage cameras out there worth talking about and, more importantly, using for what they were made and the Lomo Voskhod it’s certainly one of them.
The Voskhod is staying in my collection, minimalist living be damned.