Compared to ‘proper’ TLRs, specifically designed toy cameras are relative youngsters to the camera market. There are some TLRs that enthusiasts have adopted as toy cameras (the Lubitel 2 and 166U/B, plus a whole heap of plastic bodied/plastic lensed pseduo TLRs from the 60′s and 70′s), however these haven’t been specifically designed as a toy camera, and we’ve decided to leave those out of the toy section(You’ll find the original Lubitels in the next part of this series, and some of the plastic TLRs in our previous TLR article). If you can think of any other toy camera TLRs, leave a comment!
Due to the stringent rules we have forced upon ourselves, this article is relatively small in comparison to others! It’s a precursor for our next mammoth instalment where we’ll cover other TLRs we haven’t talked about yet (and there are absolutely LOADS!).
Here are the four toy camera TLRs on the market at the moment. There isn’t much choice unfortunately!
So why have we listed the Lubitel 166+ here, and not the original Lubitels? It was actually a tough decision (well not exactly tough,it wasn’t like having to chose between an arm or a leg City of God stylee). The 166+ was a ‘reinvention’ of the original 166U by the Lomographic Society (known as LSI henceforth), who got their hands on the plans for the original 166,stripped it down and re-engineered it.
Now, in our eyes, the original Lubitel 166 was not a toy camera. It actually had pretty good optics made by Lomo but housed in a poor plastic case that led to light lights and ‘quirks’. The combination of the ‘Lomo’ brand and the aforementioned crappy construction led to modern day toy camera enthusiasts claiming the Lubitel as their own. Unfortunately this led to many being bitterly disappointed when their camera produces some fantastic shots, without any sign of the usual toy camera ‘quirks’.
The 166+ is a bit different.
It has similar quality optics and plastic shell as the original 166 (it actually looks pretty much the same), but LSI have re-engineered the internals. They have added a few ‘toy camera’ stalwarts to the mix. The first, and major one is the ability to take 35mm film. When purchasing the 166+, you get a small ‘Lubikin’ (a play on the Rolleikin 35mm attachment for the Rolleiflex) attachment that lets you easily put 35mm film through it, allowing for much sprocket-holery. Of course, you could do this with the original Lubitel using some sticky tape, foam inserts and good luck! Another feature is the ‘endless panorama’ switch that lets you shoot without any spacing in the film, plus a ‘rewind’ option allowing you to rewind a half finished roll.
Actually, as I was writing this, I have become more and more sceptical that the Lubitel 166+ is actually any more of a toy camera than the original Lubitel range! It may have a few new features, but looking at the LSI tips page here, it shows ideas and tips that you could use with any camera (X-pro etc), plus the lens is still a very capable lump of glass, which will only occasionally produce toy camera-alike vignetting. In actual fact, due to tighter quality control on the LSI production line, the new 166+ will be constructed to a much higher standard than the original lubitel, thus having less chance of light leaks and similar quirks’ that you may find in an older soviet-made Lubi. Kudos to LSI though for actually improving the Lubitel with the inclusion of a hotshoe, a better screen in the viewfinder and new features such as the 35mm adaptor, but retailing at $350, it’s hard to see past an original Lubitel 166B/U or Lubitel 2 if you want your lubi-fix.
So one toy camera TLR down, and one dismissed as not-actually-a-toy-camera-TLR. That’s 400 words of my life I’ll never get back!
Moving on swiftly to the Blackbird, Fly. A camera we can definitely say is in the ‘Toy Camera’ boundaries.
Produced by those Japanese wacky bods Superhedz, the BBF kicked off the toy camera TLR resurgence (I say ‘resurgence’, that’s possibly a bit strong, what I’m really saying is it probably inspired Holga to make their TLR! Resurgence. ends. there.). Before we delve into anything technical, let’s stand back, rub our chin, and appreciate the BBF’s construction: chunky plastic outer in a variety of wonderful colours, simplistic ‘Duplo’ controls, the varying textures across the face. It truly is a great piece of design. It certainly wins many admirers from not only the photographic world, but the design world too, featuring in manystyle and technology mags such as ‘Wired’. Another great thing about how the BBF looks (and using a TLR in general) is you will find people lower their guard when they can see your face, i.e not with your camera up to your face, meaning you can get much better shots of strangers. This is strengthened even further with the bright colours of the BBF.
Onwards with the techno-babble. The first major talking point is the film format; the BBF takes 35mm film, opposed to 120 used in pretty much most other TLRs. This can be good and bad. First The Bad: the quality isn’t as great as 120 due to negative size and it’s harder to get that’ toy camera look with 35mm. The Good: It’s quick to develop on the highstreet, it can be bought easily from most shops, and you can expose the sprocket holes natively with the BBF. Wait..what? Yep, that’s right, no more fiddling with sticky tape, you can have three options with the BBF: ‘normal’ 35mm, ‘square’ format, or ‘unmasked’ which exposes the sprocket holes. Now this is a good and bad thing. Some photos look brilliant with sprocket holes, and complement the subject wonderfully, but there are many that are totally overused in every photo. Use sparingly, sprocket holes give photos impact, use often and it removes impact from the subject. Another useful thing with the BBF is the ability to perform multiple exposures as the winding knob is not connected to the shutter.
As with the Holga TLR, the viewfinder lens is not linked to the ‘real’ lens, i.e you cannot focus using the viewfinder, it’s down to ‘guess’ focussing as with many toy cameras. There are two selectable apertures-f/7 and f/11, with a set shutter speed of 1/125, and bulb. When holding a BBF, it does feel like it has had a quality construction-the wind on knob feels good in your hand, and it generally is pretty nice to work with.
Wow, sounds great…sign me up for one! Well, there are a few downsides unfortunately. As with the Lubitel 166+ above, the BBF is pricey, coming in at a not-inconsiderate $120/£70ish. For, what amounts to a ‘toy’ camera, this seems like quite a lot of dough to fork out, and would probably be your most expensive toy camera. However, given that it’s probably a 1/10th the price of a digital camera lens, it does give you another options to shoot with. So what are the other downsides? Well, the unlinked viewfinder can be annoying if you have used other TLRs and are used to focussing and framing through the viewfinder; you must remember to always focus. Anything else? Well, this is purely subjective, but I personally not too keen on the photos from a BBF. I’ve already mentioned sprocket holes can be good when used sparingly (have they just been ‘overused’ now on flickr?), but the lens doesn’t have as many interesting toy camera nuances as something that uses 120 film. Put it this way: TLR’s are used more often than not to exploit the benefits of 120 film, so why package up a TLR but use 35mm? Judging by my first paragraph about the BBF, it’s down to aesthetic: it is a beautiful camera that has some interesting features. It may tick all the toy camera boxes for you, if so, go for it, you won’t be disappointed!
It sounds like a sitcom, but ‘everybody knows Randy’. Mention Holga and eventually Randy’s name will pop up with modding. Randy has been modding and selling Holgas for years. Want a ‘stealth’ holga all in black? Randy is the guy. Want a standard holga but with everything working (aperture switch, flocking etc), speak to Randy. Many people have bought holgas for years from Randy, he is a certified Holga Legend.
Way before Holga Ltd made their Holga TLR (see below), Randy was making the ‘Holga SWL’ waist level finder holga. Randy cuts into the empty recess on a standard 120N and inserts some magic bits to create a rudimentary viewfinder.
- BUY: Holgamods
The Holga TLR seemed to be Holga’s response to their main toy camera competitor, Superhedz, releasing the ‘Blackbird, Fly’. Released in May 2009 on a test run in Asia only (and further released to other areas in August), the Holga TLR comes in two forms: the Holga TLR and the Holga GTLR. The difference between the two cameras is simply the lens; one is plastic and one is glass. We’ve covered the difference before in a test shoot showing the plastic lens vignetted significantly more, but they both had similar amounts of sharpness at the centre.
Aesthetics wise, the original holga was actually pretty good, in a bulky black utilitarian way (or maybe we have just got used to it by now!). The Holga TLR on the other hand, sadly, isn’t be best looking camera out there. What was an original design with the Holga 120N has be transformed into a slightly-too-tall-and-a-bit-strange-looking beast.
The internals of the Holga TLR have remained the completely the same as the original 120N, this means a real aperture of about f13ish and a shutter speed around 1/125. The aperture switch still remains broken, and the focussing is still exactly the same as with a normal holga. The new viewing lens is unlinked to the focussing lens, so as with the normal holga, it’s guess focussing again. The viewfinder hood pops up nicely to reveal a small circular viewfinder screen which hasn’t been adjusted for parallax. The circular screen is slightly annoying due to its shape; it would be much more accurate if it were square like the photo you would end up producing! The viewfinder on the BBF is much superior, but that’s been designed from the ground-up opposed to having a second lens retro-fitted into a almost standard shell.
So what are the benefits of the TLR over a standard Holga? As the viewfinder is directly above the ‘real’ lens, it means that horizontal parallax has been fixed. You will no longer have to frame your shot through the viewfinder and then move ‘up and left’ a bit (just ‘up’ with the TLR)! Another benefit is that you can get closer to the ground and still frame your shot. The price is approximately $15 more than the Holga CFN (the comparable non-TLR holga with the colour flash), and twice the price as the Holga 120N. At $60, it’s still reasonably cheap, but the internals are exactly the same as the standard Holga, so do the benefits outweigh the negatives?
The Holga TLR is fun to use, no doubt, but many people don’t buy a holga for a accurate viewfinder anyway. The extra bulk and fiddling (it’s a tight squeeze to switch the aperture switch when it inevitably moves on its own to the halfway position) make it just a bit less fun to use than a standard Holga. We recommend getting one if you already have a Holga and want to try something a bit different, but if it’s your first Holga, stick to the original 120N.
The next part of our guide will be taking a look at other TLRs on the market that we haven’t covered so far. It’s probably going to be massive, so may take a month or so to pull it together!