I guess we could say that the following is more of an ode than a review because, let's face it, you can't honestly review such a cult camera without being completely biased. You either love the Lomo LC-A+ RL or hate it. I obviously LOVE it!
I will spare you the legendary history of the original LC-A (which you can read here ), but I will tell you something about my own LC-A+ RL and my experience with it.
As you can see browsing the Online Shop, there are many LC-A+s. Among these there are some sporting the name LC-A+ RL. The “RL” doesn’t actually stand for “Real Love” (so they say); it stands for “Russian Lens”, because they boast the famous Minitar 1, Russia-made lens. Among these, I decided to get myself the Russia Day (small confession: I have a thing for red cameras). The Russia Day is just like any other LC-A+ RL, just dressed in daring red leather.
Speaking of the lens, this fixed lens has a 35mm focal length equivalent of 32mm, which in “photography 101” terms means that it is not a wide-angle lens, but it will let you get in your photo most of the things your eye sees around you. This comes in handy when you want to capture a panorama, but it gets absolutely fundamental when you want to shoot subjects at a close distance. There are four different focus settings: 0.8m, 1.5, 3, and ∞, so if you set it on 0.8m this is what you get when you take a picture of your friend sitting right in front of you:
This is also essential if you are half as self-centred as I am and LOVE mirror-shots!
Beware — It’s contagious!
Or, if you feel like trying a self-portrait at arm’s length:
You can also play with the distance setting in order to get bokehs shots!
The original LC-A and, therefore, the LC-A+ RL, which shares its Minitar 1 lens, is famous for yielding a crazy amount of saturation (i.e. the colors pop) and vignetting (the black corners), which leads to amazing results when paired with slide film.
You can still achieve soft tones using high speed negative film, of course.
Sometimes, especially when shooting subjects with visibly straight lines, you will notice a certain amount of distortion. Don’t panic, though, its not a deforming mirror!
This lens has an aperture range from f/2.8 to f/16 (if you have no idea what I’m talking about take a look here). The shutter speed ranges from 1/500 to “B”. You cannot set the aperture and/or the shutter speed manually, the camera will do that for you, and this is a plus if you are an absolute beginner or if you use the camera for candid shots and can’t “waste your time” on deciding the right settings. It is a con if you’re into experimental kind of things or if you’re a control freak.
Due to my very basic skills I’m quite happy with the un-democratic nature of this camera when it comes to taking technical decisions, as especially at the beginning I used to forget to change the distance setting more often than not, so just think what could have appened if I had TWO more settings to worry about!
I trust this little beauty’s choices on exposure. They usually suit my needs, even when the scene I’m shooting is quite dark:
I’m a fan of available light always and forever, even indoors:
Okay, maybe not literally always:
When it really gets too dark, it’s time to use a flash. I own a few flash units, but they’re all quite bulky, so I decided to buy a Colorsplash Flash, but there’s quite a wide selection of flashes available at the Lomography Shop. What I love the most about the Colorsplash Flash is that it comes with many color gels that let you literally splash your subjects with color!
The ISO (or ASA) range of this camera goes from 100 to 1600. You should set it accordingly to the speed of the film you use, but you can play with it, setting it differently to overexpose or underexpose your shot. For example, here I was shooting a Fuji Provia 400x at 400 ISO:
And here’s what happens setting a lower ISO (in my case, 100 ISO):
There are a number of occasions in which my trusty LC-A+ RL failed me, even when using a very high ISO film (1600), and most of the times it was at concerts, but this is just because of my aversion to flash, tripods, and the B mode.
Most of the time, though, this camera is fast enough to keep up with my crazy doggies, so I really can’t complain.
So, the LC-A+ RL is a pretty basic camera with just a few settings (namely, the distance focus and the ISO). Apart from the shutter button (which has a tiny hole to screw the cable-release in) and the tiny lever on the bottom to open/close the lens and viewfinder’s windows. There is another tiny switch on the bottom which reads “MX” and which allows you to take multiple exposures. I know Lomographers get really amazing results with that tiny little switch, but I rarely use it and never came out with anything worth anyway.
Though Lomography is all about “expect the unexpected” and “be experimental,” I like the fact that you can’t get multiple exposures unless you use the switch. I know about serendipity and stuff, but nothing even slightly artsy or cool ever happened to me with other cameras when forgetting to advance the film, so I’m a huge fan of this switch (well, I’m a fan of avoiding it, but you got me, I guess), and hopefully it will prevent me from accidentally “stabbing” my friends (at least in pictures).
While we’re at it, my right thumb was not that happy with my brand new LC-A+ RL the first days as the advance wheel was kinda hard to turn. Then I showed Mr. Thumb the pictures coming from this amazing camera and he stopped complaining: the sacrifice was truly worth it (and the advance wheel got a little less stiff after a while). I actually remember thinking the film got stuck once, so I opened the camera back, but the film wasn’t stuck at all. I did this in my bag. No, not a changing bag, just my own girlie-girl bag, without thinking too much about the risk of burning the whole roll (it was a test roll, you know). I was super lucky, as not only I didn’t burn the whole roll, but I got some amazing light leaks. I wouldn’t recommend you do this with the roll you used at your best friend’s wedding, but light leaks are so cool, you should definitely give it a try in case you haven’t yet.
Speaking of the camera back, it has a small window that lets you see if there is a roll inside and, in case, what kind of film it is. If you’re any like me, i.e. if you’re absent-minded and it takes you ages to finish a roll, this teeny tiny window will save your life (metaphorically speaking).
One thing that I really like about the LC-A+ RL is its size. It is so small you can carry it around at all times. It is sturdy enough that you can leave it in your bag, but it is also light enough that you can fit it in you pocket. This makes it an excellent travel companion which will never disappoint your tourist-y pictures of famous landmarks.
You don’t even have to be that original when composing your photo, as the magic lens with its shiny hyper-saturation will make your pictures stand out in the crowd!
But, it will also work wonders for everyday street photography, as no one will notice that little black thing in your hands, especially if you shoot from the hip! (Well, maybe that little red attention seeker of the “Russia Day” is not that anonymous!)
Not even your friends will notice!
You can even finally take tons of pics at Ikea’s without annoying the people who work there!
In a world full of bulky dSLR cameras, which can look a little intimidating, another advantage of shooting with an LC-A+ RL is that people don’t take it seriously, and will overall be more willing to pose for you. Also, as there is no LCD screen on the back they cannot ask you to delete the picture you’re just taken, so you can have loads of pictures of your friends yawning or with silly expressions. You could even use these pictures to blackmail them and make some real money!
“Wait, wait, wait. What did you just say?”
Relax man, I was just kiddin’!
I didn’t actually really mean that! You gotta be nice to your friends, and not just because extortion is a crime, but also because you might run out of friends, and as much as you love them, it gets boring to always just take pictures of your pets! So BE NICE to your friends and they’ll be happy to pose for you!
So, this is it. As I mentioned at the very beginning, this is more of an ode than a proper review, but hey, I love this camera and can’t see any reasons why you wouldn’t love it too, so grab one and try it for yourself!