Disclaimer: I do not attempt to champion a particular type of camera for street photography, or any form of photography for that matter, since the camera is merely a tool for photo-taking and a bigger part of producing quality images lies in your mastery of that tool. A photo is just as good as the artist behind the camera.
During my photo walks, more often than not, I’ll encounter other photographers roaming the streets for some shoot therapy. Typically, my natural instinct is to lower my gaze to that piece of equipment he cradles in his hands. From my observations, a DSLR is standard and if it’s a film camera, it’s most likely a rangefinder. On one occasion, I passed by a girl with a Diana F+ but the only thing she seemed to do with it was let it hang pretty from her neck. Sure, Lomography cameras are continuously celebrated for their flamboyance and flair, but can they hold their own against the big boys in the streets? I believe they can. I’ve round up the Lomography cameras I know, and the following four are able street fighters in their own right.
1. Lomography Spinner 360°
I wasn’t certain to include the Spinner in the list, much less put it first (although the order is arbitrary, of course), but this camera is so one-of-a-kind that it deserves a spot just because of its unique qualities.
The Spinner takes unconventional panoramic photos so simply, it almost comes of as a joke. To take a photo, just hold the camera in one hand and pull the attached cord with the other. In one split second, the camera spins 360 degrees on its own axis, capturing every detail around you on 35mm film. And just like that, you’ve captured everything around you at that exact moment in time. Sure beats the arduous task of stitching sequential photos in post-processing.
If you’re thinking “this works better for landscape photography”, you’re not wrong. For street photography, I see the Spinner working best in “busy” environments such as a bus terminal during peak hour, or outdoor festivals like Songkran in Thailand and Tomatina in Spain.
However the downside to using the Spinner for street photography is that it is relatively clunky (though not necessarily heavy), and may look intimidating to the average person. Stealth shots with the Spinner may be counter-productive once a subject notices it and puts his guard up, ruining any chance of a natural photo. Furthermore due to the fact that the Spinner uses up to 4 frames per spin, a 35mm roll will only produce about 8 photos which makes it a costly risk if not all photos turn out nicely.
Heralded as the king of Lomography cameras, the LC-A+ is a flexible piece of equipment which suits whatever purpose it is used for. It’s hereditary Minitar 1 32/2.8 lens still remains the reason for most of the Lomo’s magical and famous effects including mad colour saturation, mysterious vignetting, temperamental zone focusing and a plethora of other quirks only Lomo wizardry can do.
Ok fine, I’m partially bias to this camera. I especially love its small, unassuming frame which allows me to blend into my surroundings easily as opposed to carrying a larger DSLR. Clearly, despite its small shell, this Russian is a definite powerhouse given the many amazing photos I’ve seen on the Lomography website alone.
As the + in its name suggests, this version of the widely popular LC-A features more pluses than its predecessor, one of which is the Multiple Exposure (MX) switch. I doubt serious streettogs will be impressed by this feature, but when done sparingly, I think overlaying images sometimes add character to an otherwise bland photo.
3. La Sardina
Last year, I had the opportunity to shoot with the first edition La Sardina, thanks to Lomography Singapore which loaned me the wide angle sardine can camera for two weeks. The La Sardina is blessed with a wide-angle lens, enabling users to capture more of a scene. Shy street shooters and especially those who prefer a wider composition will benefit from this feature. This 35mm camera also seems to produce heavier vignetting. Depending on whether you like those dark corners popularised by Lomography cameras, the vignetting can make or break your photos.
Each La Sardina also has a punchy exterior, with later editions (and there are many!) sporting unconventional fabrics and textures - great conversation starters before you politely ask someone for a photo.
Taking photos with a La Sardina, however, is not without its problems. Firstly, its film winder is quite nasty. My first time using it, winding to the next frame was so hard I thought I was doing it wrong. In extreme cases, some users had also reported bruised or cut thumbs. I dismissed this as a teething problem, but I’d recommend playing with the winder so that it becomes seasoned first before taking it to the streets. Its fixed f/8 aperture may also render shooting at night or under low lighting disappointing results, but as Danny Santos shows here, sometimes using flash may not be so bad after all.
4. Lomo Lubitel 166+
Lomography has a decent collection of medium format cameras that many street photographers can use for shooting in the street. These cameras boast sharper image quality as its primary advantage as well as more manual settings for that full-bodied shooting experience I know street photographers yearn for. A reinvention of its forefathers, the Lubitel 166+ meets its predecessors’ heralded benchmarks and then some. With its top-down glass viewfinder and Triplet-22 f/4.5 75mm lens, the Lubitel 166+ is an analogue dream. Shutter speed and aperture are all fully manual, pacifying ardent gearheads who demand full control of their equipment.
While its manual settings may appeal to some photographers, amateur shooters like myself may find it tricky to handle. The same manual settings that form the pride of this Russian masterpiece may make it difficult to capture moving people without getting them blurred out if not adjusted properly.
What do you think? Are there other Lomography cameras that should be in this list?