My least favourite camera ever

(or “why I threw my Lubitel 166B in the bin !”)

The Lubitel 166B is a Russian twin lens reflex camera taking 120 medium format film, which is sometimes suggested as a first try for someone thinking about getting into medium format. In this post I describe the problems I had with my Lubitel, but also show some results which have surprisingly good image quality.

I think I paid £23 for my second-hand Lubitel. Looking at eBay today, I see examples which sold in the £25-£50 range, with some Buy It Now sellers trying to reach £150 – £200 …..

Here we see some of the practical problems in using, and particularly focussing, the Lubitel. First, the panel that is sloping down about 30 degrees with “Lomo” on the front, should be upright. Just as picked up the camera to take these photos, I noticed it sloping down, which obscures the viewfinder and prevents the user from getting a straight-in view of the image.

The “straight-on” view is particularly important because, if you don’t look at the screen at exactly 90 degrees, the image distorts so that you get black areas on the edge of the screen, which you can see above. If you move your head too far away from a 90 degrees angle, the screen will become completely black.

You can also see a smaller circle in the middle of the viewfinder, which is comparatively clear. In fact that’s the ONLY portion of the viewfinder which reacts as you rotate the focus wheel – the other parts stay just the same. In comparison, my other TLR, a Yashicamat 124G, uses the whole screen area to show focus.

There’s some white crud at the area where the back of the camera joins up to the body. That’s the residue from duct tape which I applied to avoid the back from slipping open and ruining the film. Anyone who has a Holga will be well used to taping up their cameras and I wouldn’t mind too much if that was the only probem.

The last problem was the loss of a tiny spigot which holds the film roll tight. You can see the spigot on the right hand side of the body, below:

But it’s missing on the left hand side:

The spigot fell out while I was changing the film, somewhere on a street in London, and disappeared from sight. Without this item, the film will not be held tight which might result in a lack of sharpness.

It’s a shame that these mechanical problems made the camera practically unusable, because the three rolls that I took before the spigot fell out did show that the image quality was not bad at all.

I have really thrown this camera in the bin after taking the photos at the top of this post; as I thought it was so unlikely that I would use it again and it’s not particularly attractive as a display item either. I’ve kept the 40.5mm lens hood, which I purchased separately, in case I find another use for it.

I can’t honestly recommend anyone to buy a Lubitel, even for £23, unless they are prepared for potential disappointment. It’s as likely to put a new medium format user off as it is to encourage them. Indeed I remember borrowing one from my father about 30 years ago and I don’t think I managed to get any useable images from it.

One comment

  1. I bought a Lubitel 166B as my first medium format. Likewise I now have a Yashica MAt 124G.

    Apart from not losing the spigot on mine, my experiences match yours pretty much exactly. Decent image quality but a complete faff to use, particularly the focusing. My biggest slip-up was for one full roll of film that I decided to shoot while focused to infinity, but where the focus ring was turned to close-focus – something it’s easy to miss as the infinity symbol aligns closely with both settings – resulting in twelve perfectly out of focus images.

    The Yashica Mat is a quantum leap away in terms of quality.

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