This was a camera which was produced for quite a long period of time, between 1954 and 1980. It was intended to be a cheap and affordable camera for the “masses”, not unlike the Kodak’s concept when they came out with the concept of the Kodak Box: a camera that can reach everyone and everywhere, so anyone can take photographs. Not a bad thinking, I would say. Other cameras to address the large population of the Soviet empire were produced before the Lubitel, and many others will follow, but a special place is held by the Lubitel.
Produced in the GOMZ factory in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). GOMZ acronym stands for Gosudarstvennyi Optiko-Mekhanicheskii Zavod (State Optical-Mechanical Factory), one of the oldest optical factories in Russia. It has changed its name to LOMO in 1965, and it is the home of some of the well known Russian cameras, the Smena being one of them. It also produced selenium light meters, like this Leningrad 4 which I have and use. This model of Lubitel has been known to be produced between 1955 to 1977.
Allegedly a copy of the Voigtländer Brilliant camera, the Lubitel is a TLR camera, with decent optics, the viewfinder screen not exceedingly bright, but manageable. Made by bakelite (early models). thermoplastics (later models). There is no lens focusing with this camera. A triplet T-22 lens of 4.5/75 is able to get really interesting images, on 120 film negative (60×60 frame), in a 6×6 format. Shutter speeds range from 1/15 to 1/250 of a second, plus B.
The camera is completely mechanical, no batteries needed. It is also meterless, so one will have to guess the proper aperture and shutter speed. No focusing through the lens, therefore a good appreciation of distance and zones is expected when using the Lubitel.
The aperture ranges from f/4.5 to f/22, best results with the lens stopped down. Film advance is made by turning a knob on the side of the camera, frame position and proper frame advance seen on the red window on the back plate. A self timer, cable thread port and flash sync socket are present, and are in working order on this camera.
This is one of the cheap Russian cameras I have owned and used since my high school student years, back in the early 80’s. An easy to work with camera, if you observe a few rules: do not rush when you wind the film up, make cure the aperture dial is clean and free (dust and other larger bits can enter the dial recess), the back plate hinge holds on, and above all, take care when choosing the distance to the subject. As said, the best result I had with this camera was with the lens stopped down. Other than that, it’s just a camera, just enjoy it.
One more thing: the negative comes out a bit soft, with mild vignetting at times. Soft images they may be, in comparison with the today’s images provided by the modern lenses, but they have a certain charm. If you are into that strange and unexpected results given by some Russian cheap cameras, you cannot go wrong with this one here. Lomography, for whatever it stands for, is at home with this Lubitel.
This photograph here was taken some 16-17 yrs ago, on Ilford FP125 negative, no flash, handheld.