Luiz’s obsession with Soviet cameras dates back to 1962. As a technical photography buff, the most perfect camera that he could imagine was a synthesis a synthesis of the Contax S and a Leica screwmount rangefinder. While attending a Soviet Exhibition in Rio de Janeiro, he happened upon a Zenit 3 - which pretty much matched the ideal vision in his head! At that moment, Soviet cameras captured his imagination – and they haven’t let go!
Luiz’s obsession with Soviet cameras dates back to 1962. As a technical photography buff, the most perfect camera that he could imagine was a synthesis a synthesis of the Contax S and a Leica screwmount rangefinder. While attending a Soviet Exhibition in Rio de Janeiro, he happened upon a Zenit 3 – which pretty much matched the ideal vision in his head! At that moment, Soviet cameras captured his imagination – and they haven’t let go!
A few years later, he went to work at an import company that brought Soviet cameras into Brazil. His job was to test and evaluate the cameras – so that the company would be comfortable selling them with a warranty. Each day, he broke down, rebuilt, and fully examined Soviet cameras – inside and out – to see what makes them tick and identify any potential problems. His vast experience has given him an intimate knowledge of the technical quirks of Soviet design – and he’s got unique insight into the very special hardware that stands behind their amazing results. The Lubitel was one of the best-selling cameras that he handled, and he’s a bonafide expert in the technical underpinnings of each model.
Name: Luiz Antonio Paracampo Filho
Hometown: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
1. The Lubitel’s design remained largely the same for almost 60 years, and it is one of the most widely produced Russian cameras. Do you feel that it holds a special place in Russian camera history? Why?
I believe so. The Lubitel was a kind of phenomenon, a kind of boom in the photographic world. The first boom was the FED camera before the war – which continued on in a stream of FED and Zorki models. Both were produced in the order of millions of units. Both were copies of German cameras which were much less prolific (smaller production runs).
These booms were due to several factors. First, the Soviet people’s interest in photography was supported by the government – as the Revolution called upon each citizen to become a responsible register of events and history. Second, a lot of money was invested into camera factories and engineering in the Soviet Union. And third – not to be forgotten – is the Socialist structure of the Soviet Union. Before the War, their cameras had lousy quality. But afterwards, their attitude changed. The Lubitel began as the “Komsomolets” (Young Communists) – which offered a “better” product to a “better” class of children. Before the War, this market was filled with Maliutka cameras and Smenas (originating from the Greek “Semen”- New Generation or – Change). The Komsomolets boys were given this idealistic name, and idealistic product – so this camera gained a strong point of acceptance. From my experiences in Brazil, I especially recall the Lubitel 2 camera. It outsold every camera! It was really a phenomenon. At first, I hated the camera – but my attitude quickly changed when I saw its results. Regarded as a copy of the Voigtländer Brilliant it easily bested its predecessor and proved to have much broader appeal. Both amateurs and professionals loved it. Why? Because it was unbeatable for the price. It had just the right amount of technology. Its optical results were astonishing good. Resolution was fantastic and its depth of field was remarkable.
2. What do you think the Russians contributed to the international world of photography and cameras?
In the Soviet era, the Russians contributed their expertise in large mass production of good quality and very acceptable cameras – derived from “high class” foreign cameras – and priced extremely low. This expanded the worldwide market and attracted consumers. The real philosophy of “socialism” applied to this market.
3. You once created a mash-up camera consisting of a Smena 8 body and a Lubitel 2 lens. How did that work?
It was only a joke really. I never used it as a real camera!
4. When you repaired classic Lubitels, what were the most common problems that you found? Any really crazy defects?
Lubitel 2’s (and previous models) are prone to film freezes after the 6th or 8th picture. This is because they had no axle in the feeding spool. The Lubitel 166 and 166B solved this problem, but it reared its ugly head from time to time in the 166 Universal. Happily the Lubitel+ has once again fixed this problem, and done it one better with rewind capability. If you have a Lubitel with this issue then here’s a quick fix: paint the spool rails with a bit of Vaseline. Other common problems are stuck shutters and stuck self-timers. Light can leak through the rear door near the tripod thread or throughout the entire rear door if the top springs that keep it closed get loose. The 166 models came with better shutters and better doors than previous models. Any leakage is really rare with these models – and probably due to the photographer more than the camera.
5. Do you still enjoy shooting film through analog cameras? What kind of photography do you like to do?
I hate cameras that use any kind of batteries. So I stay away from digital – unless it’s absolutely necessary – like for e-mail. Even so, I prefer to shoot film and scan my negatives. I mostly shoot children, people, and macro images.
6. Do you have any funny or crazy stories about the Lubitel or another Soviet camera? Any freaky bits of trivia?
Perhaps my most unforgettable experience happened with a friend. This friend bought a camera from where I worked. It was a magnificent new Kiev 10. He was not all that experienced, so he used Agfa-color CT18 as his first film.
The lab technician developed it wrong and the film became reddish. He probably used a hot bath by accident. My friend received the film and saw. He said – “this is impossible, everything is RED!!” The guy who sold him the camera asked what kind of camera he was using. He said “a Kiev 10.” “Oh,” said the salesman, “that makes sense.” “Russian cameras only take RED pictures!”
7. In your opinion, what makes a Lubitel unique?
First, the attraction of its brilliant and clear viewfinder. Second, its small size which would allow it to fit nicely into your hands – if it wasn’t for its complete lack of ergonomics! Third, the 6×6 image that it creates is nothing less than the OPTIMUM COMBINATION OF LENS RESOLUTION, DEPTH OF FIELD, PICTURE SIZE, and FILM GRAININESS. And finally, the democratic usability of the camera. No automatic settings, no stopping, nothing that prevents you from doing anything. It’s almost like a professional view camera – but not quite.
8. If someone REALLY loves the Lubitel, what are some other Soviet-era cameras that they should hunt down and purchase?
According to the forums in which I participate, FED and Zorki cameras are unbeatable. These cameras really deserve a re-created edition; I have several of them. In particular, the FED 2 is the most sought-after and loved camera in my community.
9. Would you have any words of advice for future Lubitel photographers?
You can’t beat the basics. Keep studying the basics. You’ll learn with them. When you grow, the camera grows with you. Do everything, not just what other people suggest for you to do. Think for yourself about what you can do in the present to best design your future.
Love Lubitel? Get a copy of the book here