Zenit LC-A

A Little Background
I am not sure where to start this article. Should it be a discussion on the merits of Lomography? Should it be about how Soviet camera manufacturing influenced the photography world or simply about the LOMO LC-A which is what I originally intended? (Mine is badged Zenit LC-A). Let’s see how this goes. I promise that I won’t get bogged down in too much history as much of what I want to discuss has already been done by far better people than me. Stand by!

When I first developed my interest in photography, I was about 9 years old. I was encouraged by a junior school teacher and was enthralled by the process of producing images. In fairness I still am as happy developing a film as I am in taking the photograph. I had to wait until I was about fourteen before I acquired my first 35mm camera. It was some years after that I obtained my first SLR – a Zenit ‘E’.

Zenits were something of a joke amongst camera snobs that sported their sexy Leicas, Nikons, Canons and Rolleiflexes. I didn’t care! That camera served me well and the joke is on the snobs because I still have it and it still works! There have been a plethora of Soviet manufactured cameras from all over the old Soviet bloc over the years. Some were copies of Western manufactured cameras. Some were very good. Some were innovative. Some were downright awful!

During my formative years, there was an emphasis in producing well composed, well exposed and sharp images. The idea of presenting an out of focus image or one displaying light leaks was simply ‘not on’! Don’t even mention double exposures! Nobody had ever heard of ‘Lomography’! How times change!

During 1983, amongst all of the serious cameras, a modest camera appeared on the scene – the Lomo LC-A. Some would suggest that its release contributed to ensuring that 35mm continued to be produced beyond 2000. This may be somewhat fanciful but its rise in popularity was amazing. It continued to be manufactured for 10 years and more than a million were sold’ It did not stop there!

The story of the LC-A didn’t end in 1993. The story about a group of Austrian students stumbling upon the LC-A and who thought that its unpredictable results (not to mention light leaks) were so … er … different to what was normally produced is well documented. They sought out the manufacturers and convinced them to restart production. The rest, as they say, is history.

The LC-A became a sensation and Lomography was born. Later models were made in China and prices reached amazing levels. Even now, you can find them for sale on auction site for three figure prices. More often they sell for much less!

It’s Not Just Me!
Personally, I was unable to see the attraction of cameras that produced unpredictable results. On the excellent website, www.sovietcams.com, the author describes the LC-A as “an exact COSINA CX copy, LOMO LC-A is just a crappy little Soviet/Russian compact 35mm camera with scale focusing and automatic exposure control. It also sports a 32mm lens which is slightly wider than most compacts”.
Until recently, I would probably have agreed with that description!

I have had a change of heart for a couple of reasons. Firstly I bought a Holga 120 Panorama camera which I have previously reviewed here. The criticisms levelled at the LC-A apply equally to anything produced by Holga! Then I remembered the quantity of cameras and lenses that I had acquired in the UK for free which included two different LC-As. (You can read about that haul here.) I decided to dig them out. After testing with batteries, I decided that one was dead but the other appeared to work. Time for a road test!

I loaded a reusable cassette with a short length of Fomapan 100 and set off down the road. I finished the film inside an hour without going 500 metres from home! I developed the film in Spur HRX that afternoon and a few of the results appear below. What can I say? Well firstly some results appeared over exposed whilst others were okay. I am beginning to think that the over exposure was down to operator error in that I may have inadvertently partially obscured the CDS metering ‘window’ with my finger. Doh! The lens does show slight vignetting but not unpleasantly so. With very modest post processing, this little 30 year old camera produced acceptable results!

Brief Description and Specifications
The LC-A is a fixed lens, 35mm compact camera with a leaf shutter, automatic exposure and zone focussing.

Looking at the camera from the front, the first thing that you notice is that both the viewfinder and shooting lenses are covered. A lever beneath the shooting lens, when moved to the left, opens both lens covers and also switches on the camera’s electronics.
To the left of the lens housing is a lever for setting the aperture and engaging automatic exposure.
To the right of the lens housing is another lever with four settings for zone focussing.
The film’s speed setting is controlled by a small cog-wheel at the top right, alongside the viewfinder. I found setting this was quite difficult but then I am not the most dextrous person and my eyes are not what they used to be!
Immediately above the window showing the film speed is the exposure meter window which I have already mentioned, can easily be inadvertently covered by the user’s finger!

The top plate is very basic, containing the shutter release, hot shoe, film rewind knob/ camera back release and a window showing the shot number.

The back is also very plain containing the viewfinder window and film advance. The hinged back is opened by lifting the film rewind knob.

The bottom plate has a tripod mount, a button to release the film wind-on drive to allow the film to be rewound when fully exposed. It also contains connections for a motor winder … which was never produced!!!

A wrist strap connects to a lug on the hinge side of the camera back.

Type: Compact, point and shoot
Released: 1983
Lens: Fixed, Minitar 1 32mm f/2.8
Film format: 35mm (135)
Image size: 36mm x 24mm
Film speed: 25-400
Film advance: Manual
Film rewind: Manual
Focus modes: Manual, zone focus (0.8m, 1.5m, 3m, ∞
Exposure modes: Programmed auto, manual with fixed shutter speed
Exposure meter: Cadmium Sulphide light meter
Flash: Hot shoe
Flash: synch 1/60s
Shutter: Electronically controlled
Speeds: 2sec to 1/500s
Battery: Three x LR44
Dimensions: 107 x 68 x 43.5 mm
Weight: 250g

I must confess that, so far, my short excursion with this little camera was a pleasant experience. It is small enough to fit in your jacket pocket, lightweight and quirky! The results were indeed interesting and not what I was expecting. I have seen many photographs displayed in the name of Lomography that, quite frankly, have left me somewhat bewildered but the results from this particular camera were much better than I had anticipated.

If you are looking for something different that still produces acceptable images, you could do far worse than an LC-A. At the end of the day, I found it fun to use and the post processing to my taste was simple. Note to self:- Keep clear of the exposure meter window!

A manual for the LOMO LC-A is available for download here.

Whatever you do, don’t pay too much for a working example. Avoid words like “Rare” on auction sites!

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