The rip-off that is the Lomo/Diana camera


photo courtesy retrotogo.com

photo courtesy retrotogo.com

You may recall a little while back we talked about the Lomo camera in passing and I promised I would share my own views about it with you; here goes!

So what is a Lomo camera? Well, Lomo is the name of a company that was involved in manufacturing cameras for the average joe bloggs on the street. Lomography, as it’s become to be known, has nothing to do with the Lomo company.

How did Lomography, generally known as LSI (Lomographic Society International) start? First of all, let me say this: LSI is a money-making business; it is also a very clever marketing company trying to differentiate itself from general photography. So much so, that some people are actually claiming that normal film photography is called Lomography, absolutely untrue of course.

Originally, the Lomo LCA cameras that are sold by LSI were produced in the USSR way back in the 70s. The idea behind this was to make a camera that was simple and ideal for anybody to use, the camera bodies were made using cheap plastic. So affordable were the Lomos at the time, that nearly every single Russian family would have a Lomo camera.

There the comparison with normal film cameras ends; Lomo cameras had extremely bad picture qualities!

The Lomo is a rather badly made Soviet camera, now much hyped up and known as the Lomo LCA. It has scale focussing, with a 32mm lens, and that’s about it! The hype that has made LSI into such a high profile business, has been the skill in making such bad photos from the Lomo, appear to be cool!

How did the Lomography business begin? The story goes that a few Austrian students happened to see these cameras in Prague, which they thought looked rather cute. They decided to buy a few and afterwards took some shots, after consuming a fair-to-over-the-limit amount of the local firewater, no doubt!

Back home in Vienna, the shots were processed and looked rather horrid, but to their amazement, all of their friends wanted a Lomo!

That must have been the “lightbulb” idea, so they very cleverly and quickly formed a society, that would require members to buy a Lomo and it’s accessories. Soon, so-called international Lomo events were organised and the Lomography name was born.

How successful is the Lomographic society? Well, current estimates show around 35 000 members, so multiply that with the cost of a Lomo camera (approx $250) which all members must buy, gives you an idea of the money-making story! As if that wasn’t enough, LSI operate like school playground bullies, securing their supplier down with a monoply that guarantees no one else can buy from the supplier direct, as LSI have bought exclusive rights, buying the Lomo camera for $50 and selling it at $250!

The one good point about LSI is that they have seduced a lot of people back into film-based photography, which has to be a good thing. What a huge number of people are not happy about is the absolute false aura that surrounds their operation and the insane prices they charge.

So-called “lomography” is a fad and is a complete rip-off. They charge absolutely outrageous prices for a virtually useless PLASTIC camera. One website is charging £220 for a plastic Diana camera with a few added bits and pieces! How ridiculous is that?

What I find really ironic is that if people are so silly or gullible to pay almost $500 for a plastic camera, with just an iota of thought, they can buy a real camera, like a Yashicamat TLR for around £150, which will give results that will blow the Diana camera off the face of the earth, but if you wanted to, you could easily stick a piece of foil with a pinhole in it, over the lens of the Yashicamat, and you’d get similar results Lomography followers cry about!

So in a sense, Lomography is all about giving you photos that are blurred, vignetted and out of focus. But for crying out loud, I can get that result by shooting with the aperture wide open and a longer than normal exposure — easy! So why spend $500 instead? Just to appear to be “cool” by joining the silly Lomography club?  I’d rather take myself down to a lovely restaurant with my wife or girlfriend (not both at the same time of course!) and enjoy myself with a great night out.

If you wanted a cheap film camera with scale focussing, you’d be better off buying an Olympus XA2, or maybe a Lubitel or Kiev camera if you really wanted to have a Russian item; these cameras can give you teh same results as a silly plastic Lomo or Diana, but the bonus is they will give you excellent results when the time comes for you to take something boring as a “normal” shot!

But seriously, what is really concerning is that some people confuse “lomography” with REAL film photography. They think that ALL film cameras take blurred, out of focus pictures etc., becuase they don’t understand the difference between a lomography camera and a REAL film camera. We, as film users, know full well that we can get pin-sharp photos with something as simple as a Yashicamat TLR, but if someone doesn’t know any better andhas only used a plastic lomography camera, then they would never know that.

A further obvious “play” on existing marketing by the LSI, is the way they portray themselves to be some kind of international photographic body: this is a headline during one of their campaigns — “THE LOMOGRAPHIC SOCIETY INTERNATIONAL PROUDLY PRESENTS THE WORLD PINHOLE DAY”.

So why would the LSI do this? Well,  because it’s a good way to sell more pinhole cameras and cunningly, LSI have a decent selection of horribly overpriced pinholes to choose from. That’s fine, and it’s business, but why take over an existing marketing campaign and make it appear as your own?

For your information, there are hundreds of websites offering pinhole cameras these days; I mean, you don’t even have to buy one — just cover your film or digital camera lens with cooking foil, make tiny pinhole in the foil with the tip of a pin, and voila! you have a pinhole camera! At a later date, I’ll show you some pics I took with foil stuck over the lens of some of my film and digital cameras.

If you wanted to buy a pinhole camera, why would anyone in their sane mind spend hundreds of $$ and buy it from LSI? Here’s a list of places, perfectly reputable, who will sell you a pinhole camera, at rock bottom prices compared to the LSI:

PinHolga: $60 from LSI, $21.95 from holgamods

Bulldog Large Format Camera: $325 from LSI, $302.43 from camerabellows.com. And, you can find used, no-assembly-required 4×5 cameras for less. You can try the Buy/Sell board on the Large Format Photography Forum, the Cameras & Lenses classifieds on APUG, or the auction sites.

Zero Image Zero 2000 (“Zero Pinhole 120”): $165 from LSI, $93 from the manufacturer

Zero Image Zero 135 (“Zero Pinhole 35”): $140 from LSI, $93 from the manufacturer

Zero Image Zero 69 Deluxe w/ spirit level & cable release (“Zero Image Deluxe”): $320 from LSI, $222 from the manufacturer

Noon Large Format Pinhole: $225 from LSI, grab the similar-looking and almost certainly identically-functioning (LSI doesn’t list the focal length of the one they sell) Santa Barbara 4×5 75mm pinhole camera for $63.95 from B&H

Sharan DIY Pinhole: $40 from LSI, free if you download and print the plans for the original Dirkon paper pinhole camera, or you can grab the plans for Nick Dvoracek‘s Populist cut-out pinhole camera (PDF link). They’re all paper cameras that you have to put together yourself.

SmileyCam: $25 from LSI, $23 from Justin Quinnell, who makes them. Or just make one yourself, which should be very easy.

To cut a very long story short, in my own opinion, LSI has done a very good job indeed in creating, out of thin air, a market for a 2nd class product that never existed, so all good luck to them for that; a marketing coup. But alas, their tactics are a little scary (consider an alleged threatening letter written by LSI founder Wolfgang Stranzinger to a chap who was pouring out his mind against the Lomo camera; another guy got his Facebook account shut down by pressure from LSI, the list goes on).

In the end, the final choice to purchase a Lomo is yours; if you have money to waste, that’s fine. But to call photos taken with a Lomo camera Lomography, is as non-sensical as saying shots taken by a Yashicamat are called Yashicamatography!!

About filmcamera999

ME & MY PASSION! ok, you probably looked at the length of this "about me" page and thought, god, what's wrong with this guy!....does he have to start telling us his life story or something!!? well, youve come here now anyways, so why not hear what im like as a person, eh? ive been using film cameras for well over 30 years...my first one being the family yashicamat twin lens! over the years, ive both bought sold and collected film cameras...too many to tell the truth! in fact, ive been buying and selling cameras well before the internet came on the scene, so anything you purchase from me is backed by my self-styled moneyback promise.....if you dont like what youve bought, send it back within 14 days and you get all your money back...no arguments!! WHERE I STAND ON THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION! yes, i do use digital as well, but only as a ready-reckoner...i try and take most shots with my simple 2megapixel digicam....if the shot looks good, i pull out my film camera and shoot! i most defintely do not believe in digital manipulation of photographs....that in my eyes is not photography...its cheating! WHERE I USED TO LIVE, WHERE I AM NOW & WHAT I WOULD LIKE TO DO! i used to live in Ontario, Canada, but moved back to the UK a little while ago (its a long story..!)...but now i'm living in the one place i always wanted to be...Vancouver, BC..the next best thing to paradise on earth! as i work as a freelance writer as well as other things, i often find hat my work takes me to europe for short spells, so i get to travel a lot...not a blessing, as i just hate long flights! im a qualified Quality Assurance guy (you know...ISO 9000, auditing, documentation etc) ....99% of my skill-set is transferable so i can handle any admin or documentation-related roles....see you in BC! otherwise, i specialise in ISO 9000 auditing and documentation. my dream? to have my own thriving camera shop in Vancouver BC, whilst living in the mountains somewhere.....the best of both worlds!
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10 Responses to The rip-off that is the Lomo/Diana camera

  1. pixelogist says:

    very interesting post 🙂 i personally love using Lomo cameras – the old Russian made LCA that i got, as well as the Holga and the new Diana+…its probably not for everyone though. i certainly love using other vintage film cameras too – i was interested to read ur first film camera was a yashica TLR…i recently picked one up very cheap on ebay and its been really fun to use. cheers! 🙂

    • hi! tnks for reading the post about the lomo etc.
      dont worry…im not slagging off the camera per se!
      what im against is the marketing ploy that teh company has used.
      the camera itself gives really unique results if used properly.
      and yes, i still have that very first yashicamat tlr of my dad’s…and it still carries on giving superb results….but then again, what do you expect from medium format, aside of fanatastic resulst!

  2. Llewelyn says:

    I see what you’re saying about Lomo marketing. However, I’m reluctant to single Lomo out for criticism because I’m sure their corporate practices are no different to those of most other corporations. What Lomo has done is to introduce an analogue experience to many people who perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise had one, and that has helped keep film alive (even made it “cool” to some) when its survival is threatened. I’m also not sure about the rip-off; if people are willing to pay that, and they enjoy using them, then all power to them – its value is a subjective and a relative judgement for the individual based on their own criteria of value and use. What may seem good value to me might to another person seem a rip off etc. Anyway, it was an inteesting post – thanks.

  3. I have a Lomo LC-A which I bought on a market stall in Romania in 1994 for the equivalent of £1. I enjoyed using it as a pocketable alternative to my SLR (Olympus OM1) and it did take quite decent pictures, for as long as it worked; but it’s been in a drawer for more than 15 years and I just decided to try and fix it, for fun. The only other Lomo I’ve ever considered is the LC super wide but there you really are talking about ridiculous prices and as soon as I saw them I forgot it. I was at a car boot sale this morning; I could have bought more than 20 quite decent film cameras for the current price of an LC-A, three or four times that number for the super wide. Like you, when I can get an Olympus XA in excellent nick for no more then half the cost of an LC-A I’m at a loss to know why the LC-A sells.
    Thanks for the like and comment on my blog – http://www.grumpytyke.com. I’m just trying to get back into film and, what is more, to rangefinder rather than SLR. I hadn’t realised quite what a challenge it would be. So I’ve just created another WordPress blog – grumptykepix (and I think because I’m logged into it this comment will come from it) – just to document this. I’ve been out today with an XA (with Tmax400) in one pocket, an XA4 (with Astia 100) in another and, just to see how the speeds etc are after a few years idle, a Vitessa L (with XP2) in my bag (bit heavy for the pocket.

    • a what? an XA4? those are as rare as hens teeth! i had one a long time ago and had to get rid of it to make money for another purchase….needless to say…ive never had the chance..nor the money to buy another one ever since…that was way back in ’78! the vitessa is a fantastic camera….so solid and beautiful lens, too.

    • a what? an XA4? those are as rare as hens teeth! i had one a long time ago and had to get rid of it to make money for another purchase….needless to say…ive never had the chance..nor the money to buy another one ever since…that was way back in ’78! the vitessa is a fantastic camera….so solid and beautiful lens, too. by the way, the lomo ive been saying is a rip off is not a particular model…just the hype about a flimsy plastic thing that costs no more than 50p to make….and the prices they charge…pure, unadulterated marketing ploys…and theyve made the people very rich indeed….by hoodwinking the naive public…

  4. Well, I’m a ‘marketing man’ and I agree with you, but ‘let the buyer beware’. I can think of many other examples of the general public being completely duped by the marketing departments of ‘large’ organisations – three of my favourite hobby horses are ‘margarine’, a very expensive way to buy water, “organic” foods (all foods are, of course, organic), and those tiny plastic packages which probably cost more than the minute amount of yoghurt inside.
    Back to photography, yes I just love the Vitessa for its unique, and high quality, engineering; after today I think the shutter might need a bit of TLC. You may have gathered, my photographic interests go in two directions: first photography (producing images) itself, then the remarkable engineering solutions applied to equipment which can help produce those images. I think both the Vitessa and the XAs fall into this category.

  5. Was just at the art store and I saw a $55 fisheye 110 camera, all plastic. I couldn’t believe it. Especially since 110 film is almost obsolete. I purchased 10 keychain 110 cameras as gifts for about $20 a few years ago, and then spent a ridiculous amount of money on the film. This Lomo thing is out of control. The prices are out of control and, frankly, the photos are largely terrible. (I’m a Holga user, and have a number of plastic cameras, to be fair. But an over-priced plastic camera won’t make me a photographer anymore than owning a Ford Taurus will make me a race car driver.) Thanks for the post!

    • well, chris….you are one of a growing number of readers who agree with what im saying here….theer are those who say that im just an angry old fool trying to put down a great movement..but there are equal numbers of those who say it IS a rip off…a very, very carefully manipulated marketing programme, designed to pull in the crowds and make max cash for the owners….as you rightly say, similar plastic cameras are availble for a few $…if you dont mind, im going to use your comment as part of another post here…dont worry, i wont use your ID or name…hope you dont mind!

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