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!!