Ever since bought, the Lubitel 166B has been a reliable and serious friend and companion. I consider it the Anti-Holga, or even the Anti-Diana — not in a bad way of course. But it’s just everything those cameras are not — a serious camera for people who like to have full control of their shots.
I must admit I’ve only owned the Lubitel since January 2011. That’s quite a short period of time, but I can already say it is one of my favorite medium format cameras! I’ve been using a Holga before that, and have recently acquired a Diana F+ Deluxe Kit, and still the Lubitel remains my favorite. This, of course, is just me and counts for my needs. But all will be told step by step.
My Lubitel came to me after a long journey that started… well, at the factory of course. But it was sold to a German couple in Hungary in 1988. Unfortunately for them and fortunately for me, they did not speak or read Russian, and given that there was no Internet at the time they weren’t able to fully translate the manual. At least not enough to be using this camera.
Fast forward to January 2011: eBay. That is where I found this magnificent piece of Soviet technology.
I have been lucky enough to score a new, basically unused Lubitel 166B for about 70 Euros — which is quite a lot if you think about it, given that flea markets usually carry those for 30-40 Euros. However, it came with everything — the old box, the leather case and even the original receipt. Good bargain, I say.
So what is this camera all about?
Well first of all, it’s a TLR camera (Twin Lens Reflex). This already makes it different from the Diana or Holga, which don’t really have the “through the lens” view. What you see in the Lubitel’s viewfinder is what you get on your negatives.
It has a T-22 75mm glass lens. This is similar to the Diana, which also has a 75mm lens; however, the fact that the lens is made of glass and not plastic makes the images a whole lot sharper. There is also barely any vignetting.
The apertures start at f4.5 and go up to f22; I’ve not found myself using anything lower than f8 though, simply because the film I’m usually shooting requires very wide apertures. The shutter speeds start at 1/250s, go to 1/15s and then to the B-setting. Focusing on this thing is a bit difficult — starts at 1.4m and goes to infinity. The Lubitel also has a self-timer of 10 seconds, a tripod thread and a cable release thread.
There is also a flash-hotshoe; however, plugging your standard Diana F+ Flash with an adaptor won’t work — you need a flash that can be synced up to the camera with a cord (PC cord as far as I remember). I’ve been using an old Bauer flash for this, though I’d love to try Fritz the Blitz flash on this.
The camera is also made out of solid material and weighs like it too — you don’t feel like you’re dealing with a plastic toy, but with a serious piece of equipment.
So why do I love this camera? Quite simple really — for the control it gives me. There are a few reasons for this, but the main one is that the film I use most has a very low ISO value — Kodak Ektachrome 64. I’ve used that same film on my Holga, and the fixed f8 aperture really screwed up the film. I used it with my Diana F+, and again the limited aperture, even on a sunny day, couldn’t make sure the film was exposed properly. Sure, I could’ve pushed the film 2-3 stops, but that’s additional cost and trouble at the lab.
The Lubitel works very well with low ISO films. Even if the maximum aperture is an f4.5, you still can turn the shutter speeds down to 1/30s and have well exposed shots. Unlike with the Holga or Diana, which are more of a “surprise” camera (which is obviously a lot of fun), with the Lubitel, you get controlled shots.
So basically, if you’re looking for an SLR, but want to shoot medium format, the Lubitel 166B is a great choice.
Unfortunately, you don’t get to use 35mm film on this, unless you mod your camera, for which I’m sure there are instructions on the web. Alternatively, you could get the Lomography Lubitel 166+, which has the Lubikin 35mm adaptor set and has better focusing possibilities.
In times of more serious photography (as opposed to random snapshots), the Lubitel has been a great companion and makes sure I don’t get too many blank rolls back from the lab.
See for yourself:
I’m very happy with this purchase. This is the camera I’ll be spending my most sacred film on — 20 years expired Ektachrome 64 and 15 years expired Agfa RSX 220.
And to all those, who want less blank rolls from their labs, look into getting one of these bad boys!