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There are cameras that are awkward to use, but worth it for the results. I’m not sure that I have any of these – I have tended to get rid of stuff that is difficult in favour of things that work and don’t get in the way (are you listening, Nikonos?).

Back when the world was young, I bought a Lubitel TLR as my entry into medium format. I had been using an old folding Kodak before that, but this was going to have proper settings and controls.

It was a right pain in use. There is no focussing screen as such, so it lacks the main feature of a ‘proper’ TLR: the large composing screen. The viewfinder is the bright type, like the Ensign Ful Vue, but with a small ground-glass spot in the middle. There is a little fold-up magnifier to be able to see the spot. So focusing means picking where the point of sharpness will be, popping up the magnifier, finding the subject spot, doing your best to focus, then composing the main scene and attempting to get the verticals aligned with the frame edges.

You can take a Lubitel climbing, if your partner doesn’t mind you letting go of the rope.

Yes, it can be zone focused and yes, the focusing procedure can be done quickly. But the Yashicamat TLR I bought later could be focused and framed much more easily.

The camera is also held shut with spring catches, so be careful not to bump it. Saying that, the Yashicamat had a better catch for the back, but a surprise in the hinge. The entire back could be removed for loading, which I first discovered accidentally.

The lens is also quite slow, at f4.5. It helps that you are not focusing through it, but it does need to be stopped down for best sharpness. You are likely to be stopped down anyway, as the fastest shutter speed is 1/250. Oh, and the shutter needs to cocked with a little lever on the side. Later models came with a mask to shoot 6×4.5 as well as 6×6, so you could get more shots on a film and also crop less if you were printing the negatives.

It was capable of good results, given effort. The picture of the motorbike here was taken with it. The slow lens meant resting the camera on the ground, but that actually helped the composition.

Anyway, it did work and I coped with its shortcomings until a second-hand Yashicamat turned up. I eventually sold the Yashica after several years of not using it, but I have never regretted moving-on the Lubitel.

The Lubitel wasn’t completely user hostile, but it was never friendly. When you see how much is being asked for them, you have to think there are better solutions. For me, the Yashica was a far better TLR, but at a higher price. My old Balda folding camera is equally fiddly, but has the advantage of folding to pocket sized. I picked up a 6×6 camera with a collapsible lens that works as well as the Lubitel did and is easier to carry around. Eventually I bought a Kiev 60 and some lenses, which was a much better set-up at the expense of being a lot bigger and heavier (pulling a Kiev with Sonnar 180mm out of a rucksack is a real Crocodile Dundee moment).

I would rate the Lubitel as a potential entry to medium format, if you already know how to use a manual camera and can cope with the process of adjusting all the settings. I certainly don’t think it’s good for a beginner – there is too much to remember to do and the focusing is too difficult. But it can still be cheaper than most other medium format cameras (that are not toys).


Author: fupduckphoto

Still wishing I knew what was going on.

One thought on “Lubitel”

  1. I bought a Lubitel when I already had a Yashicamat so the shortcomings were painfully apparent. After three rolls, it fell apart. The small number of resulting images were fine quality-wise, though.

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