Monday, August 17, 2015

The Lomo LC-A: New Adventures in Lo-Fi

In the early 1980’s I bought a little Soviet made camera-The Lomo LC-A. My memories of it are that it had that typical agricultural build quality that was the trademark of all Soviet engineered products, from Cameras to cars. Compared to comparable popular Japanese cameras like the Olympus Trip, it was a rather an ugly duckling. The results were equally quirky. The 35mm prints had a strange darkening around the edges-I hadn’t heard of vignetting at the time. The colours were heavily saturated and compared to photos taken by SLR’s, they were not exactly sharply defined.

It didn’t last that long. Something jammed and I gave it away. Some years later I was reading the arts section of the paper and I was gobsmacked to read of a photography movement called ‘Lomography’ which was based around the very quirky camera which I’d dismissed as being a lump of badly made Soviet tat. It appeared that a group of Austrian art students had happened upon the LC-A in a second hand camera shop. Ran off a few rolls and were knocked  by the results. That weird vignetting, the saturation the definition etc. Those elements which I’d taken to be evidence of a poorly made camera were the very elements which the students found so attractive and appealing.
The Lomo then endured a topsy turvy couple of decades as the St Petersburg company went from crisis to crises before the Lomography company basically bought the rights of manufacture of the LC-A in 2006 and continued production in China. Links at the bottom of the page give a detailed history of the Lomo LC-A.

The recent arrival from Germany.As made in St Petersburg in 1988.
These days, the term ‘Lomo Camera’ is used liberally to describe anything from the cheapest plastic toy camera to an advanced film compact. In truth, there is only one Lomo camera and that is the LC-A, although the Chinese made Holga and the Diana form a holy trinity of Lomo cameras supported by other similar, basic plastic cameras. I had a 1980’s Prinz plastic cameras which took great ‘lomo’ pics just like the Holga.

Thirty years on and I’ve just bought another LC-A. Another eBay buy and like the recently featured Spotmatic, another ‘spares or repair’ job. It was being sold by an analogue camera dealer in Germany for less than eighteen pounds. A giveaway price given that a new LC-A from the Lomography company will set you back £250. That’s ten times what I paid in the 80’s! It appeared that the shutter was jammed. A common problem it seems. Fortunately, there are a few tutorials online on fixing a sticky shutter, although it does involve virtually taking the camera to pieces. Not something I particularly wanted to do. I was hoping that it was poor battery connections. A common reason for shutter failure.

The Austrian Students who rediscovered the LC-A in 1992. Photo-Lomography Company
The camera arrived quickly from Germany and despite the serial number indicating that it had been made in 1988, it was in immaculate condition. I ordered new batteries, popped them in and sure enough, when I pressed the shutter button it clicked but the shutter blades did not open. Opening up the camera I got a teeth flossing stick and gently prised the shutter blades apart and let them spring back. Bingo! Next time I wound on and pressed the shutter button it worked. Unfortunately, the next morning it had seized up again.

One of the problems with all cameras from this era is the fact that the light seals which are a sponge like material, degrade and tiny bits of often gunky material fall into the camera and- as probably is the case with this camera- lodge in the lens blades.

Today, I’ve been carefully using cotton buds and rag lightly dipped in denatured alcohol –that’s Methylated spirits to you- and cleaning around the shutter blades. I’ve also cleaned out the gunky degraded seals and fitted new light seals. The same sponge like material.

At first the shutter remained open. Had I really fcked it up this time! However, after trying it on different apertures and  generally faffing around, it finally freed up and started doing as it was told. 

Thus far, the camera is ‘working’. That is, it winds on and the sticky shutter is opening and closing as it should using different apertures. I’m not getting too excited yet as it may seize up again but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that a drop of meths, some cleaning up and quite a bit of shutter action will keep it working OK.

If it remains in working condition then I’ll run off a film and post the results. To be continued.

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