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Lomography Lubitel 166+ Twin Lens Medium Format Film Camera
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- Camera can be converted from 120mm to 35mm film
- The Lubitel's viewfinder glass is perfectly flat ground glass and covers 100% of the image
- Its plastic body, modeled after the original, is light and easy to carry and handle
- Includes solid glass multi-coated lens, full manual controls, exposure guidelines and standard hot shoe
- Standard cable release and tripod threads
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The Lomo Lubitel 166+ is a loving recreation of the Soviet-Era twin lens medium format camera. Featuring two lenses: one for viewing and one for capturing the image. Cast in plastic from original Lubitel molds, the 166+ is lightweight, perfect for an everyday companion. Completely manual controls provide for total control over everything that happens. A top down viewfinder provide a much larger image to compose shots with as well as making the composition process more thoughtful. Plus, much more discreet candid shooting! At the heart of the camera is the infamous multicoated glass lens, recreated to perfection to give those dramatic, soulful effects. Standard are a tripod thread mount and cable release threaded shutter. Get your hands on the 35mm kit and go from medium format to your favorite 35mm film with ease.
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This is my biggest concern with this camera. About 5 years ago, this camera could be purchased from flea markets, online auction sites and even some older camera stores for about a hundred bucks (go back another decade and we're talking the price of a coffee). Since then, The Lomographic Society purchased the "rights" to the sale and exportation of this camera from the former LOMO company. During that time, the price has skyrocketed. Now, I understand economics and business practices, and I understand that what the founders of the Lomographic Society have done is quite smart in these terms. I have to say, however, that paying $300 or so for an average quality TLR is a little exorbitant. Luckily I got mine before the price spike. To further prove what this sort of money can get you, I jumped on an online auction site and checked out last-minute auction prices for the following cameras, all in working condition and way above the 166+ in quality and design:
Mamiya C330S - $335
Minolta Autocord - $149
Yashica D - $94
Yashica Mat124 - $175
I understand the draw of lomo cameras - I once had a collection that included ever lomo camera currently popularized (Smenas, TLRs and of course the LC-A), but the prices are simply too high for me to recommend them.
QUALITY OF IMAGE
The quality of the images that you get with the Lubitel family really depends on your expectations. Many classify it as a "toy" camera, however this is incorrect. It was always intended to be a mainstream TLR, and was the budget option for many in the USSR during production. The triplet lens is quite decent, and while images can come out a little blurry and with some vignette, given the right circumstances, clear and sharp images *can* be made. HOWEVER, as noted above there are cameras in the same price range (and sometimes much cheaper) that will take infinitely better pictures.
It should also be noted that this camera is quite well made. True to Russian manufacturing form, it is heavy, strong and durable. Apart from the glass elements (which are the weak point of every camera) I have rarely seen a Lubitel that was in poor shape, even when scouring flea markets. The viewfinder is quite bright, and framing and focusing is relatively easy (but again, not compared to a Minoltacord or Rolleiflex). The magnifying glass that swings out REALLY makes a difference for fine focusing, and is a welcome feature.
I wouldn't recommend spending this much on an "amateur" TLR. Honestly spoken, this camera is worth about $60 fair market value, the majority of your money will be spent on marketing and packaging, rather than photographic quality. If you can find one of these at a flea market or similar, it is a wonderful camera to add to your collection, and has earned a permanent spot in my collection. If you want to spend this amount of money, check out the Minolta Autocord or even the Yashica Mat and Rolleiflex cameras, they will bring you many years of joy and high quality images.
I'll admit, when this camera first came out four or five years ago, I thought it was all pure marketing hype. I have collected Lubitels for over ten years and I know them very well inside and out. When Lomography took over the Lomo and the Lubitel name, I was excited at first about the prospect of a new Lubitel, until, like most people I saw the price. $350 for what I figured was nothing more than a jazzed up 166U was way too much money. Perusing the Lomography site, it seemed that a lot of Lomography's offerings, were, well mostly a lot of trendy, hipster marketing in order to make cheap leftover film cameras cool. I estimated such high a price to be tantamount to thievery.
Well, once I had it in my hands after paying a sale price of $250, I don't think thievery at all. I think: pretty awesome camera and great value. I also thought that a marketing machine like Lomography could do a better job getting the word out that this camera is legit.
While it may be a hipster accessory, don't let that fool you. This camera has got the chops. It's a real camera packed full of expensive features that your grandpa's TLR only wished it could have had and a few it never even would have dreamed of--like having all those features included in the original (okay, a little steep at $350) sales price.
Don't let uninformed internet grumblings collected and passed off as reviews fool you. Don't be tempted, as such grumblings might advise, to buy an older version at a flea market and think you've got the 166+. Look closely. If your Lubitel doesn't have "Lubitel 166+" in brilliant shining silver relief over a black painted field on it, you've got an old dusty Russian-built $5-$30 Former Soviet Union relic in your hands. Not that that's bad, but the old Lubitels and this new one don't compare except for maybe in looks. The 166+ is NEW, completely redesigned, modernized, updated, superbly engineered, well-built and whether you're a hipster or not, this baby is just plain awesome.
FULL OF AWESOME SURPRISES
When prices recently dipped on the Lomography site, curiosity got the better of me and I snagged one. Fully expecting to be at least partly ripped off and disappointed, I opened the package (a review of the surprising quality of the packaging alone could be the subject of three or four descriptive paragraphs--but I didn't buy it for the packaging) and dived in. Besides the camera, the box contains a roll of film, a decent shutter release cable, a hard-bound and inspiring art book of Lubitel photos, a pretty good user manual (but it does leave somethings for you to discover on your own), the Lubikin 35mm adaptor set and masks and adaptors for 6x4.5 and something called endless panoramic, and tons of Lomography-themed wrapping paper.
But getting back to the camera and not the distractions, here is a numerated list of my initial impressions:
1. High Quality. Lomography puts out a lot of, let's face it: gimmicky schlock. I had a Fish Eye 2. Others may disagree, but it was largely junk because of the cheap feel and limited use, and, well, because it's hardly more than a disposeable camera with a cheap goofy lens that retails for $60. Nevermind that I found mine for $14 NIB at Marshall's; it was still a wholly unsatisfying experience to use it and I put it on ebay, twice, and still no one bought it for a measly $20--apparently, the word is out. Not so, the Lubitel 166+. I can say that in terms of quality, it regains the high level of quality of its Russian-made ancestor, the Lubitel 2. It is well-constructed, no loose bits, has a solid feel with smooth, precise-feeling controls, (a particular weakness of its more direct Lubitel 166, 166B and 166U forebears), excellent fit and finish and it looks like it can take a beating;
2. 35mm capability. Using the included Lubikin reel and mask set, this is a very neat and practical feature because, well, medium format film isn't always easy to find and/or get processed. Not that 35mm is so easy to find in the brick and mortar world anymore, for that matter, but in an emergency need for a fix, you can fill it with 35mm film from the drug store or the grocery store, take fun shots that can include the sprocket holes in the prints, and drop the film off to the same drug store for processing; try that with medium format film;
3. Removeable waist finder. It's quick and easy to remove, too. This is another improvement over the old Lubitels and is a handy feature, because the camera comes with overlays that help frame the different formats available and hints at, perhaps, the possibility of a metered finder to be made available in the future;
4. Light and breezy. No other TLR with so many features comes in a package so compact, light and portable. This thing won't weight like a brick on a string around your neck like virtually every other quality TLR like Rolleiflex/cord, Yashica, Flexaret, etc. do, all of which I own and use, so trust me: I know. The Lubitel 166+ is as light and compact as a Kodak Duaflex or an Argus 75, but it's a real TLR;
5. Bright, flat viewfinder. This is, perhaps, one of the biggest improvements over the old Lubitels. As much as I love using my old Lubitels, especially the Lubitel 2, the new viewfinder is such an upgrade in quality that I may never shoot with those old Lubitels again. The old Lubitels had viewfinders that were just, well, not very good. The image would disappear depending on your angle or proximity to the lens, and even when you saw an image, it was largely distorted and curvy. Seriously, this is the brightest, nicest viewfinder I have ever used on any TLR. It's got fresnel glass straight from the factory--not available as an expensive additional accessory screen as is usually the case. The only possible way to bring it to Rollei level would be to fix the reverse left/right orientation, but that doesn't bother me and doesn't earn any negatives;
6. Split-image viewfinder! This is the most surprising feature because, honestly, I didn't know the camera had this feature before I held it in my hands. Peruse the tons of Lomography publicity about this camera's features and I challenge you to find any mention of the split-image finder by Lomography. I was able to find some brief passing mention of it by some owners after looking hard, but, really, how can a feature like this be virtually untrumpeted? It makes focusing so fast and easy! Combine this with the bright, flat finder and you have one of the best waist-level finders on any TLR, ever. Only late Rolleiflexes also offered split-image finders, to my knowledge. This is nothing to sneeze about. Why Lomography keeps this feature a secret, I can only imagine. Perhaps having a camera quite capable of sharp pin-point focus doesn't fit in with the whole "What? Me Focus?" low tech, low fi, aesthetic and mission of Lomography;
7. Closer focusing than old Lubitels. You can focus to at least 0.8 meters. The old Lubitels only allowed you to get as close as 1.4 meters without using some kind of close up lens. This is a real practical improvement for taking portraits and just about anything;
8. Detent stops. This is also handy for zone focusing. The 166+ has detents at 0.8, 1.5, 3.0 meters and infinity. This was not a feature found on predecessors, and, while not a huge deal to be included, it certainly adds to the high level feel of quality and finish and makes an positive impression that this really isn't some cheap junk toy camera, and it certainly helps along with everything else to ward off buyer's remorse. I appreciate it;
9.Removeable back. Yes, this could be a good feature at some future point in time. Worth mentioning, but not really useful at the moment--however, it also shows thoughtfulness of design and promises the prospect of cool future accessories;
10. Ability to rewind your medium format film. Sure, this seems like it would be necessary when allowing for 35mm film and isn't big news to those who are used to 35mm, but in the medium format world the ability to rewind film as easily as this is completely nonexistent to my knowledge on cameras costing even thousands of dollars. It's a great feature and one that I wish I had on other MF cameras. On those, if you pass up a frame, which is easy to do, you have to wind the film to the end, find a dark room, remove the film, rewind backwards and then reload from the beginning back to the frame you passed. What a pain! No more, with the 166+. Try rewinding medium format film in your 35mm capable Rollei, Flexaret or Yashica! Can't do it;
11. Hot shoe. Yes, touting this as a feature is a bit like saying, "Hey it not only shoots color print film, but it also shoots black and white and slides!" or maybe that it includes a lens cap for free because everyone expects it. But it wasn't always that way. It bears mentioning only because those older TLR's that people advise to get over this one as being a better investment of your time and money often don't have a hot shoe (and sometimes, not even a cold shoe--you need a flash bracket and a pc socket--the Lubitel 2, most Rolleis, and almost every other TLR is set up this way because that's how it was back in the day) and they sometimes don't even have a pc; they can have no flash capability at all, no electronic flash ability, some proprietary connection for electronic or flashbulb (Argus, Japanese household for example) or some old standard connection that's no longer in use (Kodak, Ciro), and good luck finding an adapter so that you can hook up your modern electronic flash;
The 166+ has a hot shoe, and with an adaptor, you can use a flash bracket. For me, personally, while the hot shoe is nice, to come at the expense of a pc socket is a bit disappointing because you can't bounce flash without a few tricks up your sleeve since the hot shoe is mounted sideways.
12. Fully baffled and matted exposure chamber. Anyone who used an old Lubitel or a Sputnik knows that the exposure chambers can be reflective which causes contrast and bounced-light problems. No one who has used an old Lubitel, unless they have a rare late model "Made in Russia" version has ever seen factory light baffles inside a truly matte black exposure chamber. The 166+ has a beautiful, flat black baffled exposure chamber. This is another feature that is not even mentioned anywhere and I believe I'm the first person to reveal this in any review. Just get out that old Rollei, Yashica or other "better" TLR you have lying around and show me some baffles. If you do find them, you probably won't find them like these. You can leave your flocking paper in the mod box. This is high quality stuff meant to bring high quality photos, which leads to:
13. Serious photos. Maybe this should be the number one feature, but it's no surprise. All Lubitels take excellent, highly detailed, legitimate medium format shots and lenswise are capable of studio work for sure. I mean, there are the well-known Lubitel artifacts that are attendant with any triplet lens--it's not a six element Zeiss Planar, and, if it's like all other Lubitels, it's vignetted and soft wide open (I'll let you know when my pictures come back from Dwayne's). But this is a new lens design, as far as I know, and it might not leave all of the well-known and often desired characteristic Lubitel photographic artifacts behind on images produced with it;
14. Warranted for TWO YEARS against manufacturer's defects. Sort of like the hot shoe comment above. Everyone expects it. Doesn't seem like a big deal, but you're not going to get any warranty beyond DOA if you buy that old antique instead, unless you buy it with a refurbisher's guarantee and that's probably not going to come with a $350 Rollei. Even with a $600 refurbed Rollei, you'll probably get a ninety day warranty at best;
15. Huge user community. There are a lot of people who have decided to buy and use the 166+. I think there are those who may have been sheepish to admit it at first, but this camera is being accepted for what it is, a high quality, user friendly, versatile and fun "real," "legit," and serious camera, definitely not the usual Lomography toy.
OTHER SURPRISES THAT ARE NOT SO AWESOME
1. No self-timer. This falls under the surprising disappointments. Yes, I know the bh photo website says "Yes" under the self-timer spec, but it's not there. Apparently, in an effort to reduce costs and make the shutter a bit more user friendly and uncluttered, Lomography dropped the self-timer. The original Lomo did the same thing with the 166 Olympic which gave you a self-cocking shutter with film advance and a real frame counter and lock as well as a hot shoe. But it also took away the shutter release socket, so there was no reliable way to take slow speed photos with either a self-timer or a shutter release cable. At least the 166+ gives you the option, since it included a shutter release socket, of using a cable or your own accessory self timer;
2. Ever-ready case not included and in short supply. I really want a case for this camera in order to protect it. My vintage cameras often come in beat up cases that have protected a perfectly mint condition camera inside for decades and in some cases (no pun intended), over a century. There is a case available, but it's been out of stock for a while now. Every other Lubitel came with a case, even if on the post Lubitel 2 models it wasn't ever-ready and was, well, totally useless except for storage at home;
3. Service? This is the big question, but it's always the big question with almost any camera. If it breaks and you can get it repaird, it's going to cost you. This is not really a surprise. But, if Lomography has been true to the original idea of the Lubitel, it shouldn't be that tough to repair on your own. I've had my share of the old Lubitels arrive to me in the mail with a stuck shutter or, at the very least, out of adjustment and in need of a CLA. These have always been pretty intuitive and uncomplicated cameras to repair when necessary;
4. No light meter functions--hell, no light meter. A light meter or even a light sensor like on Lomography's recent release, the Bel-Air, would elevate this camera to the realm of spectacular. Still, I can't fault it for not having it--it's a different camera. But there is room for improvement;
5. No slow speed escapement. This is not a surprise, but for a selling price of $350, you could almost expect some kind of improvment in the shutter. I know that most people end up not even using the slow speeds. I know that I hardly use them. But having them there is nice in case you do. My Voigtländer R3m body cost about $500 and it has a rangefinder, slow speed escapement and a self-timer. Lomography could have included more features for this price.
6. No pc socket. A hot shoe is nice, but it's sideways. This makes it almost impossible to bounce flash with the camera in a normal position unless you have some kind of super fancy swivel or maybe some kind of diffused or something. To use a flash bracket, you'll need a $10 hot shoe pc adapter. Not a big deal, bit this solution requires another piece of kit when it should just be there on your shutter.
7. Could have had more features for the same money. See the above comment. Sure, there is no TLR that has all of the Lubitel 166+'s features in one compact, lightweight and portable camera. In that way, though, the 166+ reveals that it still is basically improving on old designs rather than bringing us something really new and feature-packed as they could have given us for $350. Still, all of these extras can also bring in a finickiness that detracts from the original Lubitel's no nonsense platform. It's a tough call. But for $350 retail, can't you throw in a parallax correction line on the viewfinder at least? Come on, that's a gimme.
In the end, I am very delighted with my purchase. I am even more delighted with this camera. It's in a new and completely different league than older Lubitels and contains a complement of features in one package never seen before in any TLR to my knowledge, and I have plenty of old school TLR's in my collection. You just don't get all of these features, including two medium formats and two 35mm formats, all included, with this bright split-image finder in such a small, portable body. The portability means a much higher likelihood that you will take this camera with you everywhere and use it for it's intended purpose, taking photos.
One of the biggest criticisms, or should I say, grumbles about this camera is price. You will see over and over again in chat rooms on photog sites how you can get so much more camera for the same price by buying old stuff off from internet auction sites. But inherent in all of those purchases is a level of risk. I have certainly gotten my share of cameras from those sources that needed work, almost invariably a stuck shutter or lenses out of focus or worse. Once a camera in that condition arrives on your doorstep, you've got a hassle on your hands. You have to confront the prospect of returning it to the seller (in Eastern Europe for Lubitels when it took over six weeks for the thing to get to you in the first place), contacting a repair shop (unless it's a Rollei or a Leica, the answer is probably "no dice," even if it's Japanese), or learning to fix it yourself (can be done surprisingly easily with the internet how-to's but, and this is a big but, proper camera tools are expen$ive). And, even if you do land that Rolleicord, Yashica-Mat or Mamiya 330 (this one always comes up as a comparison of what you can get for some reason) for $350, it's still an unwieldy tank and it still won't have a split-image finder, easy 35mm capability included, or a warranty at that price.
Go ahead and get a 166+. It's not at all the piece of junk the haters would have you believe it is. It's an awesome little camera from a company that is still bringing us new film cameras to have fun with. I unabashedly and unsheepishly love mine. You'll love yours.
The biggest surprise for me, after grabbing one for myself is, "How can a huge marketing machine like Lomography be so silent as to all the great real-world, real-camera features this camera has packed into it?"
CAVEAT: If you are used to digital and expect this camera to compare to a modern digital camera in any way, you will be disappointed. Yes, to the average person, this camera isn't worth a plugged nickel. It doesn't do anything electronic, it costs money to buy film and to process it, and it's completely dependent upon you to use it and, worst of all, you have to know what you are doing. It's not a point and shoot. If you want to share your photos on line, you will have to have your negatives scanned, which costs time if you have a scanner or money and time if you don't. Getting your photos on CD is a great way to get them digitalized for sharing online.