As a photographer, it’s easy to get caught up with the quality of your gear. Are you outfitted with a high-resolution, full-frame sensor? How does the MTF curve of your lens compare to others? Can you record noise-free images at high-ISO levels? How many raw shots can your camera take before the buffer fills?
"Sometimes you just need a fresh shooting experience to allow you to home in on the creativity that photography can allow."
Getting the top-quality shots for clients is important, but obsessing over these details in your professional work may lead to falling into a creative funk when it comes to the artistry of photography. Sometimes you just need a fresh shooting experience to allow you to home in on the creativity that photography can allow.
“Toy” cameras allow you to pay attention to almost none of the technical aspects of a shot. Shooting film in a plastic body with a fixed shutter speed and few other controls means you will be concentrating on composition alone. And, if you’re looking for other creative tools to fuel your artistic fire, have no fear—there are lots of unique, innovative cameras on the market today that allow you to shoot in new and interesting ways.
Lomography, as both a manufacturer and ideology, is one of the leading proponents in the world of toy cameras. Formally developed in 1992 as the Lomographic Society International (LSI), Lomography’s heritage dates back to 1982, when the first Lomography camera, the LC-A, was born. In 1991, a group of Viennese students came across the Lomography LC-A while touring Prague and quickly adapted to the shoot-from-the-hip style of photography fostered by this bare-bones film camera. Over the course of the next year, once the LSI was founded, Lomography as an institution crafted the now famed "10 Golden Rules of Lomography", as well as the "Lomography Manifesto", both of which espouse a tactful rejection of many of the existing “rules” of photography, including everyone's favorite contradiction, “Don't worry about any rules.” Since the founding principles were assembled, more than 20 years ago, Lomography has augmented its mission with numerous online and physical exhibitions around the world; built storefronts and retail outlets across the globe; and developed a slew of lo-fi film cameras and original film types to embrace the lifestyle of Lomography.
The LC-A and its Successors
Looking back at the camera that started it all, the LC-A is still in existence and has evolved into a handful of other forms comprising different film formats and focal lengths. Most true to the original, the LC-A+ is a simple, straightforward 35mm camera featuring the classic Minitar-1 32mm f/2.8 glass lens and durable metal body. For those favoring a wider field of view, the LC-Wide camera is also available, which sports the familiar body shape and construction, yet packs a very wide Minigon-1 Ultra 17mm f/4.5 lens. More recently, the most iconic model of the series has been paired with a dedicated instant film back to produce the LC-A+ Instant Camera, to allow the capability of switching between 35mm and instax mini films. Finally, the LC-A is also available in a large, or rather medium version, dubbed the LC-A 120. Featuring a Minigon XL 38mm f/4.5 lens, this medium format camera accepts 120 format film and shares the familiar zone focusing control and form factor of its smaller, older brother, the LC-A+.
Action and SuperSamplers
Lomography's next entrant into the world of toy cameras debuted during the 1998 Photokina convention—the unique, multi-lens ActionSampler. Featuring four lenses arranged in a quadrant, this camera splits each 35mm frame into a series of four images on one frame. A slightly different approach to combining four exposures into one frame, the SuperSampler also sequentially records four exposures; however, it juxtaposes these exposures laterally across a 35mm frame, rather than staggered in a grid. Not content with just four frames, the ActionSampler eventually evolved into the Oktomat, which utilizes the same four-lens concept, but with eight lenses on the front of the camera.
Progressing chronologically through the Lomography portfolio, 2005 saw the introduction of the Fisheye One 35mm film camera—a compact, simple, plastic point-and-shoot with a 10mm f/8 fisheye lens that affords a huge 170° field of view. Six years later, Lomography tweaked this basic design and added a larger, clearer optical viewfinder, greater exposure control, and a built-in flash to result in the second iteration of the fisheye, aptly named the Fisheye No.2. Embracing then antiquated miniature 110 cartridge film format, Lomography has also produced a scaled-down version of this popular series—the Fisheye Baby 110—which shares the same design as the Fisheye No.2, but in an even more compact form factor.
Originally built in the 1960s, in Hong Kong, the Diana is one of the best known, most historical, and easily recognizable toy cameras around. Similar to Lomography's popularization of the LC-A in the 1990s, 2007 saw Lomography breathe new life into the Diana with the Diana F+. Keeping the same classic profile of the Diana F (the flash-capable version of the first Diana), including the distinct turquoise top plate, proprietary flash plug connection, and center optical finder, Lomography's take on the classic did see some marked distinctions from its half-century-older sibling, including its removable lens that reveals a wide-angle pinhole, and the ability to accept a slew of accessories, such as add-on lenses, an instant film back, or a 35mm roll film back. Without these accessories, however, the Diana F+ stays true to its namesake as a simple, medium format point-and-shoot with a 75mm plastic lens, two shutter-speed options, manual film winding, and the ability to shoot in square or rectangular formats.
Beyond the numerous iterations and limited edition colorways of the Diana F+ produced over the years, Lomography has also down-sized the basic design to create the Diana Mini and Diana Baby variants, which accept 35mm and 110 film formats, respectively, and keep the same pared-down operation and recognizable appearance.
The Lubitel Gets a Makeover
Similar to Lomo's treatment of the LC-A during its founding, in 2008 the company updated another classic Soviet-era film camera: the Lubitel 166+ TLR. Based on the original Lubitel, from 1946, and integrating various features from the several iterations of the camera produced until the 1990s, the Lubitel 166+ was created using a duplicate of the original camera's mold, along with replicated glass to provide the same distinct punchy color quality as the originals. Where Lomography's new version strays from its predecessors is in its ability to handle 35mm and 120 film formats, record endless panoramic images (up to the length of the film), and it features an improved viewfinder and closer-focusing lens. It also has the very unique designation of being able to rewind 120 film for re-shooting the same roll multiple times for creative multiple exposure effects.
Film for the Film Cameras
Also in 2008, Lomography made its entrance into the world of film itself, to complement the ever-expanding lineup of film cameras being produced. The first two films released clearly echo the creative nature of the cameras themselves: X-Pro Slide 200, a color transparency film optimized for cross-processing in C-41 chemistry; and Redscale XR 50-200, a color negative film that has been reverse-rolled so you shoot through the film base to produce dramatic red color casts. Since these first two releases, Lomography has gone on to craft a complete lineup of both obscure and “normal” film types, including the basic 100, 400, and 800 Color Negative Films; Earl Grey 100 and Lady Grey 400 black-and-white negative films; a range of 110-format films; and the surreal purple-hued LomoChrome Purple XR.
Moving ahead to 2010, Lomography announced a pair of panoramic 35mm cameras at Photokina: the Sprocket Rocket and the Spinner 360°. In typical Lomography fashion, both cameras take a unique approach to producing an image with an aspect ratio wider than the conventional 3:2 of most 35mm film cameras.
The Sprocket Rocket tackles this challenge with its ability to record an image twice as long as a standard 24 x 36mm frame, as well as an image that covers the full width of 35mm film, bleeding over the sprockets that are typically masked in other cameras. The unique camera also features a wide-angle 30mm lens, can wind film in both forward and reverse directions for creative multiple exposures, and has a bulb setting for making long exposures.
Featuring an equally obscure method of acquiring a panoramic image, the Spinner 360° is a 35mm camera that physically rotates about the scene by pulling a cord. Similar to a doll that talks by pulling a pull-string, the Spinner 360° is mounted atop a handle and rotates on a horizontal axis while recording the scene around you, up to a full 360°. The amount of rotation and length of exposure is determined by how you manipulate the string, and up to eight panoramas can be recorded per roll of film.
Going back to basics, 2011 saw the introduction of what is now one of the most expansive series in the Lomo catalog, the La Sardina. With a body shape that is inspired by a sardine can, these nautical-themed cameras are simple 35mm cameras with a fixed 22mm f/8 wide-angle plastic lens. A built-in top viewfinder is integrated into the design, multiple and long exposures can be made, and a micro contact is built in to allow the attachment of the proprietary Fritz the Blitz external flash.
Breaking out of the realm of just still images, a new Lomography movie camera was also announced in 2011. The LomoKino 35mm Movie Camera, along with dedicated LomoKinoScope for playback, is a completely manual, low-tech movie camera for producing hand-cranked short films on readily available 35mm photographic film. Recalling the look of early cinema, this camera can record between three and five frames per second, depending on how quickly you crank the film, and up to 144 frames can be recorded on single roll of film.
A More Serious Medium Format Camera
In 2012, Lomography began to get a bit—just a bit—more serious with its next camera release, the Belair X 6-12 medium format camera. Again paying homage to past, beloved film camera designs, the Belair recalls vintage folding cameras with its use of a bellows for focus adjustment, and to maintain a compact profile when not in use. Capable of recording in 6 x 6, 6 x 9, and 6 x 12 formats, the Belair takes 120 film and has an interchangeable lens system for using either 90mm or 58mm focal length lenses. Also distinct from other Lomo cameras, the Belair requires a battery to use the electronic automatic exposure shutter for consistent exposure results.
For the DIY Crowd
Fast-forward to 2013. Lomography launched its first Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of the Smartphone Film Scanner, an ingenious and simple item that permits converting your film originals to digital files with the use of a smartphone. In typical Lomography fashion, this lo-fi device uses just a simple backlight and cradle design to illuminate your film and hold your phone in place to gain clear photos of your film for quickly sharing online via the dedicated Lomoscanner app.
Also appeasing those who aren't content with existing technology, the Konstruktor F Do-It-Yourself 35mm Film SLR Camera is a complete kit, allowing you to build your own fully functioning camera from scratch. An educational and a practical tool, the Konstruktor shows you the ins and outs of camera mechanics with the result being an easy-to-use 35mm SLR, complete with detachable 50mm f/10 lens and waist-level viewfinder.
Finally, a Lomography Camera for the Digital Crowd
More than 20 years after the beginning, and signaling a transition beyond just playful film cameras, Lomography announced its next Kickstarter campaign, in 2013, for the immensely popular Petzval 85mm f/2.2 Lens. Again, not at a loss to gain inspiration from historical designs, this update to a classic lens from 1840 is Lomography's gateway into the digital arena. Available in Canon EF and Nikon F mounts, this SLR lens offers the distinctive swirly bokeh and sharp central focus image quality of the historic optic but is fully compatible with modern DSLRs (as well as EF and F-mount film SLRs). Maintaining a classic appearance, the portrait-length lens is fitted with a polished brass exterior, utilizes a set of seven Waterhouse stops for aperture control, and has manual geared rack focus control.