Where do I begin talking about film cameras on the Lomography Magazine? Yes, you guessed right. I will begin with a LOMO, of course, a very special one: the Lubitel 166 Universal (Lubitel 166U). It’s a camera that has almost everything you might need from a camera. Plus, it’s a LOMO!
Review of the camera
The Lubitel 166U was produced at the LOMO factory in Leninigrad (now St. Petersburg) as the final evolution of the 166 series, which also includes the 166 and the 166B. Before the 166 series there were two other models: the Lubitel and the Lubitel 2.
The word Lubitel means “amateur” in Russian, and this helps in understanding the character of this camera compared to other TLRs present in the market at that time. It’s a small, light camera that’s capable of taking very decent shots when used with a closed diaphragm (f/11, f/16, and f/22).
First of all, the Lubitel 166U is a twin lens reflex (TLR) camera. This means that it is quite different from a single lens reflex (SLR) camera. The TLR’s body is vertically built and has two lenses (hence, the “twin lens” in the name): the upper one is called the viewing lens and is the one used for composing the photo. The very first time you look through the viewfinder of a TLR, you will notice that the mirror switches left and right. It’s something you will get used to after a while. The lower lens is called the taking lens and is the one that actually takes the photo, having the shutter over it. In fact, in this kind of camera, the shutter is not behind the lens but between the lenses that compose the triplet.
The body is made of plastic but the lenses are made of glass. Meanwhile, the taking lens is the well-known T22 triplet (the one used on the Smena cameras) coupled with the ZT-8 shutter, one of the most advanced copy of the Synchro-Compur shutter made in the USSR.
The 166U is called Universal because it takes pictures in two formats: 6×6 cm and 6×4.5 cm. The 6×6 format has the advantage of being larger and is therefore scanned easily. On the other hand, the 6×4.5 format gives you more images in a roll.
Which size to choose is up to you. If you prefer square format photos, leave the camera as you find it. If you prefer the rectangular photos, you have to snap into the camera the 6×4.5 cm mask that you will (hopefully) get with it. Once you have selected a photo format, you will have to shoot the whole roll in this format. Even rarer than the film mask is the sports finder mask, which allows you to frame the shot from the top of the camera. The standard ground glass finder on top of the camera has marks for both formats.
The viewfinder is bright thanks to the f/2.8 aperture of the viewing lens but suffers from some vignetting on the angles.
The controls are really easy to use: rotate the front ring of the viewing lens to focus, and the focusing is transferred to the taking lens through the gear of each lens. Aperture and speed levers are on the left side of the taking lens. The cocking lever is on the top right side of the taking lens and, as you lower the lever, you will find the shutter lever. It’s as easy as saying “cheese.”
On the top right side of the body is the advance knob. The film advance is checked using two small red windows at the back of the camera, where a wheel can be used to check the numbers on the 120 film both at the center (for the 6×6 format) and on its side (for the 6×4.5).
On the front left side of the body is a cold shoe connector, where you can connect a flash, a range meter, a bubble lever, and accessories.
The Lubitel 166U is a very fun camera to use. You can get nice, sharp pictures with its triplet lens. The shooting sequence is a step different from the film cameras we commonly use: first you have to cock the shutter, push the small lever on the side of the taking lens, then take the photo. I have been in love with this small camera since the very first time I held it in my hands. The best apertures to get sharp photos with are f/11 and f/16.
- Manufacturer: LOMO
- Type: TLR (Twin Lens Reflex)
- Year of production: 1983 – 1996; more than 400,000 units made
- Film: 120
- Frame size: 6×6 (56×56 mm) or 6×4.5 (56×42 mm); equals to 12 or 16 pictures per film
- Viewing lens: 60 mm f2.8
- Taking lens: 75 mm f4.5 – T-22 (triplet), coated
- Filter size: 40.5 mm threaded
- Shutter: ZT-8; leaf, manually cocked
- Shutter speeds: B, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250 sec
- Aperture: f/4.5 – f/22
- Focal range: 1.3m – infinity
- Flash sync: Through PC cord, X at all speeds, M at 1/15 & B
- Self-timer: Mechanical
- Film transport: Manual, through a knob on the right side
- Frame counter: None (two windows at the back for controlling frame numbers of both frame sizes)
- Double exposure allowed: Yes, with no controls
- Tripod socket: 1/4"
- Connections: Accessory shoe (cold shoe) + PC sync connection
- Body dimensions: 126 mm (H) x 98 mm (W) x 95 mm (D)
- Body weight: 550 grams
Are TLRs (still) an option?
In a word, yes.
The way this kind of camera is built requires more attention while taking the shot, allowing for more creativity and control. Only the very first photos will appear weird due to the switched image in the viewfinder, but it’s something you’ll quickly get used to. It’s also really cool to shoot photos with the camera at waist level, rather than raising it to your eye.
It’s a matter of perspective and, in the case of the 6×6 format, of image. In a square format image many of the commonly suggested composition rules simply don’t work so you have to develop your photographic eye and leave your fantasy free from preconceived ideas and assumptions.
As mentioned earlier, the need to pre-cock the camera before shooting lets you be aware of the timing of the shots. This gives you the chance to think before shooting and more space to fill in your art.
TLRs are great for learning film photography and are fun to use. I love shooting with my Lubitel, I love the sound of its shutter, and its dimensions are perfect for my hands. This camera, as is every TLR, is very quiet and, not having a mirror that slaps up at each photo, makes no vibrations while you take the shot. This means that even without using a tripod and shooting at slow speeds, the photographs are of better quality. Furthermore, with the shutter being a leaf shutter, it syncs flash at all speeds.
Additionally, with an easy-to-find adapter you can shoot 35mm film with this camera. Just remember that you will have to mask the frame checking window so light won’t enter the camera (120 film has backing paper that protects the film while 35mm hasn’t). You will also not be able to count your shots so you will have to rely on your intuition to guess if you have advanced your film enough not to have multiple exposures (unless, of course, you’re deliberately trying to get them).
When it comes to deciding which film to shoot with your TLR, you may choose between the common 35mm film and get lovely photos with sprocket holes, or the larger 120 film and shoot either in the rectangular format (6×4.5) or the square one (6×6).
To sum up, the TLR is a great camera for those who love taking time in creating a great photo.