A 1980’s 35mm Compact Camera

Yashica T2 testing the autofocus in Wisbech Park. Ilford HP5+ film. Developed in Ilford LC29. Scanned on Epson V500.

I don’t often get an urge for a camera, but just lately, I’ve had some kind of nostalgic desire to get hold of a half decent 1980’s 35mm film compact camera, and yesterday, I got one.

Back in the early 1980’s, I couldn’t afford a decent SLR camera.  My brother bought this knock out Canon AE1 35mm SLR.  I was bowled over by it, but there was no way that I could go without beer long enough in order to buy one.  My Bro recommended that I bought a “35mm compact camera”.  Until then, other than a brief flirtation with a Yashica TLR, I’d only ever owned 126 film Kodak Instamatics, a Polaroid, and God awful 110 pocket cameras.  So a half decent 35mm compact would be a step up!  A visit to a Norwich camera shop, and I purchased one.  I can’t remember which one!  It may have been a Canon AF35M.  Anyway, I remember a salesman trying to explain to me about lens quality.  As they usually did.  I do remember that this 35mm compact camera had state of the art gadgets, including a newfangled space age auto focus, and motorised film advance.  Wow.  I remember reading the user manual about this head screwing technology.

I continued to use 35mm AF compact cameras (with a brief flirtation with Kodak disc film) all the way until I discovered digital around 2003.  Digital came in, 35mm film compact cameras went the way of the dinosaur.  They cram boxes in charity shops and in car boot sales.  Yesterday’s technology.  Most of these 35mm film compact cameras were not anything special.  However, a small number of them were something a bit special.  The Yashica and Contax T series of compacts, were manufactured with highly reputable 35mm f/3.5 Carl Zeiss T* Tessar lenses.  Collectors and those in the know, stalk car boots looking for these treasures.  A VGC Yashica T4 or T5 fetches three figures from the collectors and hipsters on Ebay.  I kid you not, a good GBP £120 – £220 for a compact film camera.  These are not rubbish cameras.

My relatively old and lower status T2 (manufactured c1986) cost me considerably less than that, but just hearing that motorised film advance and rewind sends me back thirty years ago.  I only received it yesterday, I want to use up some Poundland C-41 film in it.  A fun camera to carry around.  I ran a test film through it yesterday, a spare 35mm cassette of Ilford HP5+ that I could quickly develop, then dry overnight.  It works (unlike the last T2 that I bought – see a few posts back).

The above photo is nothing special, except that it demonstrates the daylight flash function, the auto focus works (although this is not an action AF), and the lens does give good shallow DOF when required.


A sudden yearning

Yashica T2 35mm compact camera. AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film from Poundland. A bit of post scanned neg. post process on Gimp 2.8 software.

I have this sudden yearning to use a Yashica T series compact camera with a bit of colour film.  I did buy a Yashica T2 three years ago – and used it to take the above photo.  The camera that I bought though was sick.  After one test film, I put it back down.  Not long after, I discovered the 50p camera – my Olympus XA2, then moved onto home developed b/w film.

It has been said that a truly creative photographer can use any camera to make good photography.  However, gear is still important.  We do become attached to our cameras.  I’m interested in photographs that portray this, that show people with their cameras.  Are cameras like pets?  Do their owners resemble them?  I love seeing young film photographers on Flickr and Tumblr, flaunting their vintage cameras.  There is something personal about a camera.  It is not just about function.  If it is, then I suggest that you buy whatever the latest magazine bench mark tells you to, no doubt some Canikon DSLR.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s I couldn’t afford a “proper” camera.  No classic SLRs for me back then.  However, I did graduate from some pretty awful Polaroids, 126 Kodaks, and 110 pocket cameras to owning a series of 35mm compact cameras.  Autofocus and motor film wind were amongst the cool features of this breed.  Some of them, including the Yashica T series, even sported posh lens.  There were 35mm compact cameras, then there were 35mm compact cameras with Carl Zeiss.

As above.

I think my yearning now may be based on a nostalgia for those cameras.  I want to hear the motor winding the film on and then back.  I want to manipulate that auto focus.  I want to see if people on the street recognise that I’m using an artefact from 1980s culture, if they look around when they hear the motor.  Will young people wonder what that was?

Yes, you’ve guessed it, a T2 is already on it’s way to me.  I’ve finally given up looking for one at the car boot sales.  I’ve even decided on the first test film – an unloved 35mm Kodak Color film sitting on a bedroom shelf, that was given to me.  Fingers crossed that this one isn’t sick.

Lubitel 166B, Uncategorized

The Lubitel 166B Soviet Russian TLR Camera

Photography – putty in a kid’s hands. Taken with Sony DSLR A200 camera, and Sony AF DT 50mm F1.8 SAM lens. B&W conversion via UFRaw open source software.

What a camera!  This one cost me GBP £2.00 (around three US dollars) at a car boot sale with case and lens cover in immaculate condition.  Here is what I’ve learned about the Lubitel 166B so far:

It can trace it’s heritage back to the Pre-war Geman made Voitglander Brilliant camera.  Originally the Voitglander TLR (twin lens reflex) did not couple the two lenses, but introduced a coupled version in 1938. World War II (or if you prefer, the Great Patriotic War) ensued shortly after.  At the end of the War, the Soviets took the plans, factory plant, and perhaps people from Germany, back to Leningrad in the USSR, to be used at their optics factory, the GOMZ plant.  They then launched the line of TLR cameras that was to become known later as the Lubitel, Russian for Amateur.  GOMZ was later replaced by the LOMO brand (The British did a very similar thing with a German motorcycle.  They took the manufacture of a pre-war lightweight two stroke motorcycle from the captured DKW plant in Germany, and shipped it to the BSA plant in England – where they tinkered with the design to produce the BSA Bantam motorcycle lineage, right up until the early 1970s.).

Lubitel TLRs were in production at the Russian factory from between 1949 and 1990.  More recently, manufacture of a new version has been commissioned by the Lomography company.

The 166B was in manufacture throughout the 1980s – 1980 to 1989.  According to Lomo records, almost a million were produced.

Now, that’s an outline of the history behind my Lubitel.  It’s a history of 20th Century central and Eastern Europe.  While in the West, Capitalism produced 35mm SLR cameras with microchips controlling the exposure, the USSR produced a very different kind of technology.  It simply, very slowly, tampered with a design that had worked for many years.  Fine adjustments to the shutter mechanism, a lightweight plastic body – that surprisingly works.  Flash light fittings, and yet somethings they simply didn’t change – the absence of a light meter for example.  The 166B represents the end of the Soviet era.  The USSR was in decay, it had failed to deliver the goods that Capitalism was now delivering in the West.  Afghanistan was a thorn in their side.  Can you imagine a meeting in the 1980s, between an East European, with a plastic TLR, fully manual without even a light meter, using a design going back to 1938, meeting a Westerner with his or her sparkling new Japanese Canon AE1 automatic SLR?  This was not the original intention of Russian Marxism-Leninism, that sought to propel the USSR ahead of Capitalist economies, and provide their proletarians with a better standard of living.  The Revolution had failed in the face of Japanese solid state technologies.  The system was not providing the new demands of consumption.  The Lubitel symbolizes the collapse of Leninism-Marxism.  The economic fall of the brave new world of Lenin’s dreams.

And yet there’s something beautiful about the Lomo Lubitel, something worthwhile.

Fen Killa. Lubitel 166B TLR Camera. Ilford FP4+ 125 film.

Click on either of the above images to enter my young but growing Lubitel photography gallery.

Lubitel Resources