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Lubitel, the legend of Leningrad


Before St. Petersburg became Leningrad (to commemorate the father of the revolution, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin), it enjoyed the status of the European capital of high class and culture. Today, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Leningrad is St. Petersburg again. However, no one can deny the fact that when we look at the handsome family of Lubitel, the legend of Leningrad is still very much alive.

After all this is where LOMO (Leningrad Optical-Mechanical Union) was born, the brand name used by so many today, including young Lomographers, who may not even realise they carry a piece of Lenin’s legacy around with them.

It is said the reconstruction of the photographic industry was accelerated thanks to the equipment collected during dismantling German factories by Soviets just as the war was finishing. Some of the elements shipped to the east reached GOMZ that in Cyrillic means State Optical-Mechanical Factory. GOMZ was the oldest Soviet optical company established in 1932. There was a restructure, name changes etc. Finally, in 1965 it ended up being LOMO, responsible for many product brands we know today.

Lubitel is a TLR camera, where TLR stands for the twin lens reflex. 'Twin-lens' means that the lens used for looking through and focusing is separate from the actual lens used to take the shot.

1949 was the beginnings for the Lubitel range. It already came with the link between viewing and shooting lenses and a good range of apertures and shutter speeds. There have been many variants of Lubitel such as Lubitel-TLR (1950), Lubitel-2 (1955) and one we are showing here Lubitel-166B launched in 1980 and produced in the quantity of nearly 1 million.
The range is designed to use medium format film, 120, with frame size of 56x56 mm or 56x42 mm (12 or 16 pictures per film respectively)

Lubitel-166B has T-22 triplet lens, 75 mm f/4.5, with focusing range 1.3 m to infinity.
The focusing lens is set above the shooting lens. There is a simple cog mechanism. When you turn the viewing lens, it turns the shooting lens.
The viewfinder is provided with metal light protective hoods that open simultaneously with raising the cover.

You can take very nice and sharp images although focusing can be a bit of a challenge.  Even though it has a circle in the centre of the viewfinder and a small magnifying glass, sometimes it is best just to make a guess and hope for the best. Many users recommend using a tripod to help handle this camera.

Lubitel will be perfectly fine in cold and hot conditions (-15C to +45C). The camera is made of glass (the lenses), metal of the mechanics and the plastic (body). It is very light too, lighter than similar Japanese cameras, in weight and price, even though they may have better lenses.

It is a fully manual machine that doesn’t require batteries. The shutter speeds are from 1/250 to 1/15 and a bulb setting and aperture from 4.5 to 22.There is a hot shoe on the side of the body, a socket for a shutter release, and a flip down section in the front of the focusing hood that is helpful for framing moving subjects. There is no frame counter but you don’t really need it as you can see the values on light protective paper of the film through the two windows at the back.

Lubitel used Cyrillic and English variations of the design. The logo changed many times too. Today this fact is allowing for precise analysis of appearance and distribution of different models.

Lubitel is roughly translated as ‘Amateur’ which was to signify accessibility. After all it was positioned also as the most exciting, poor man’s camera. It could be easily handled by unskilled workers who would enjoy the experience of holding such a good looking piece of optics in their hands. It is definitely a joy even today although Lubitel is no longer manufactured just as there is no longer Leningrad.





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Here are a few examples of photographs taken with Lubitel by our advocates:



Courtesy of Mariya Ustymenko. You can also read Mariya's great feature on Lubitel-2.



 Courtesy of Margot Gabel



 Courtesy of Margot Gabel



 Courtesy of Antoine Fore