Camera review: Me and my Lomography LCA 120 by Lorraine Healy
The LCA 120 camera is part of the LCA family of cameras, but I believe it is the only one which is a creation of the Lomography Society and not a reworking of the old U.S.S.R . Lomo cameras—which, as far as I know, were all 35mm.
I spent a long time wondering whether to get this camera or not. At $430 it seemed very pricey (I still think it is) but I was really loving the images by other photographers which I saw posted on the Lomography site.
A month after I bought it, having shot only maybe 5 rolls through it, I went on a 3-week road trip though 18 states. Before long, I realized I had the LCA slung over my shoulder even as I drove, and I was shooting from the car windows, shooting outside in very bright light, shooting interiors, all with this one camera. By the end of the trip, I had shot 25 rolls of film with the LCA, about 5 times more than I shot with any of the other cameras I was carrying.
I love medium format square images.
Since 2002, I have used a Yashica 124 Mat G (which now feels too heavy for me to carry around), and a whole series of Holgas, the plain basic model.
Part of the reason I have always carried around so many Holgas is to have the flexibility of having different speed rolls loaded into each of them. The fact that the LCA 120 can handle all sorts of situations (interiors, exteriors, bright light, overcast or rainy day) with a 100 ISO roll of film was a big selling point for me. In this sense, it made the LCA a real alternative to my beloved Yashica TLR as a portable travel camera.
Loading film is finicky.
The loading system is similar to the one on the Fuji 645 cameras. Being a plastic camera, the LCA does not work as smoothly. Occasionally, I can spend 10 minutes trying to push a new roll into the slot, until it decides to go in. This leads to a considerable amount of frustration. For a camera this expensive and one touted as “the best street photography camera: film or digital” by the Phoblographer in 2014, this is a major con. I have not done any street photography with it yet, but it would drive me insane to miss shots because I was trying to load up the camera and the roll would not go in. I now carry a large paper clip with me and slide it under the roll to depress the plastic pin and let the roll slide in.
The shutter occasionally jams, as if you had wanted to do a multiple exposure—in which case, your only recourse is to press the shutter again and hope that your non-intended double exposure comes out okay. If you want to do a double exposure, you move the MX pin (top of the camera, by the shutter) towards you and as long as you keep it there, you can do as many multiple exposures as you think the film can take.
The ISO is controlled by a little star-shaped control by the side of the viewfinder. I found it to be a little unstable, in that it would not stay at the assigned ISO value. If I put the camera away in a bag and then took it out, the wheel could have moved to a different value.
This was not a problem during my road trip, because I knew I was shooting Fuji 100 slide film unless I was shooting interiors, in which case I would have been using Fuji 400 NPH. But I just shot a half of roll exposed at 400 because the control moved after I put the camera away for a couple of weeks. I wasn’t sure what speed I had been using, and decided to go with the value it was showing me (400). By the time I finished the roll and took it out, I realized it was a Fuji Velvia 100… So now I get to decide: do I ask the lab to process it as 100 and lose the 2nd half of the roll or vice versa?
Solution from now on: a square of gaffer’s tape that keeps the star-shaped control in place. I know, not very elegant, but it keeps the darn thing in place.
The zone focusing works perfectly.
With the wide 21mm (equivalent) lens, shooting from the hip is easy. The camera comes with a long thin leather strap that feels very secure. Have the camera resting on the hip, choose the right zone focusing distance, hand to the shutter: done!
Another plus: outstanding portability! Like I shared, I spent three weeks with the LCA 120 slung over on my hip. I love the fact that the glass lens is covered by an integrated, curtain-like cover. Done for the day? You slide the cover over the lens, and not only does it protect it, but it also stops using the batteries.
The LCA 120 can capture an impressive amount of dynamic range in interior shots. Here are a couple of examples:
The variable aperture system is operated by three 1.5V button batteries (designated as LR44 or A76). If the scene you are shooting has enough light, you will see one red light above the viewfinder. If there is not enough light, or it’s questionable, you will see two red lights.
Here is one example of when I got a double red light, and still decided to take the shot. It’s a tad soft, but no worse than a Holga shot, so I was happy with it.
I still have to learn the subtleties of this camera. I find the highlights are a tad too hot sometimes (the shadows always seem to be exposed perfectly), but since it’s the camera which decides the aperture based on what you are focusing on, I don’t know that there’s any way around it.
The center of the lens is extremely bright with noticeable light fallout towards the edges, which vignette nicely.
The LCA 120 has a flash hotshoe, a tripod socket and a threaded shutter to which you can attach a cable release. There is no Bulb setting per se, so to do long exposures, you set the camera on a tripod and cover the light meter window to “fool” the camera.
As I am not a fan of flash photography, I doubt that I will ever attach a flash to the LCA. I would love to try shooting the Aurora Borealis with it; by my calculations, 1-minute exposures (and upwards) with 800 film should do it. But here are a couple of shots I took at night, using Fuji 800—I assume with wide open exposure and 1/30sec speed, maybe a little less?
So what’s the verdict?
For a color fanatic such as myself, the strong, punchy colors I get with the LCA 120, no matter which brand or speed of film I use, are part of the seduction.
I have not put any B&W film through it yet (I will, I will!) but I have seen gorgeous results online. The lightness of the camera, its portability, ease of use, make it the perfect medium format travel camera. Its looks are pleasing but this camera does not call attention to itself, making it safe to carry anywhere.
It’s fast and versatile, essentially a “medium format point and shoot.” For me, the LCA 120 is a keeper.
Is it for you? For the price of a new LCA 120, you can get a top-notch used Fuji 645, for example, a camera with full manual choices, exposure compensation, and a remarkable lens. It is heavier, though, and it does not give you a square-shaped image. If you love the Holga and Diana look but if are looking for a sharper result while not having to juggle around two or three plastic wonders loaded
with different speeds of film, the LCA 120 is the answer to your prayers.
Here are Lomo’s Technical Specifications and Features for the LCA-120:
~ Lorraine Healy
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