Oxford School of Photography

insights into photography

Did the Lomo camera save film photography?

Lomo Cameras were part of a retro craze when film was still the only way to make photographs. This article on the BBC website By Stephen Dowling gives some of the history and reasons why the little Lomo camera became so popular. I have one of the original LC-A Lomo cameras, sadly it almost never gets an outing these days.

It was a nervous time for film photography when digital cameras took off in the 1990s, and seemed set to take over entirely. But with some help from Vladimir Putin – then deputy mayor of St Petersburg – the little Lomo camera became a retro cult classic, and showed film had a bright future.

In 1991, a group of Austrian art students on a trip to nearby Prague found, in a photographic shop, a curious little camera.

Black, compact and heavy, the camera was rudimentary. The lens was protected by a sliding cover. Loading, focusing and rewinding were all done by hand.

After developing the shots, the students found it produced pictures unlike anything they had seen before.

The colours were rich and saturated, an effect heightened by the lens’s tendency to darken the corners of the frame to create a tunnel-like vignetting effect, and there were dramatic contrasts between light and dark. The Austrians were hooked, and so were their friends when they showed them the results back home in Vienna. READ MORE HERE

There is a huge Lomo movement and the production of odd fun cameras with time lapse, or multiple lenses helped to spread the interest, in almost an ironic way what started as a niche or specialist home spun interest camera has spawned a flash website with galleries and a global community, here is a link to the Lomo site

Characteristics of the camera that appealed to those seeking something different were

  • Vignettes – the Lomo’s shots show a characteristic vignette at the edges, like tunnel vision
  • Bold colours – a Lomo hallmark, especially with cross-processed slide film
  • Long shutter speed – the Lomo LC-A’s shutter stays open for as long as it needs to expose a photo, which can lead to interesting light trails
  • Expired film – the LC-A’s lens suits the warped coloured shifts found on cheap, expired film
  • Small size – the best camera is the one you have with you, and the LC-A fits in a jacket pocket
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