The Lubitel-2

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To better understand the Lubitel-2, we first have to examine its lineage. Luckily its lineage is only three models long, if you discard the Rolleiflex and other tangentially related models. There's the Voigtländer Focusing Brilliant, the Komsomolets and the original Lubitel (the one before model 2).

The Voigtländer Brilliant

Though you could conceivably go back even more in time and appoint the Rolleiflex as the Ur-Lubitel, it's more practical to call the Voigtländer Brilliant the place where the retrospective buck stops. Fact is that the Rolleiflex started it all. After its introduction in the late 1920's, it quickly became very popular with professional photographers, because maybe except for the Leica, it was the first camera suited specifically for a journalistic style of photography. It combined good quality pictures with a superb control of the final image through the use of a waist-level finder, and a robust construction that did away with flexible and vulnerable bellows. Its big film format was also an advantage over the Leica, since the emulsions of the era were somewhat unaffording. It's not surprising that the Rollei quickly became a success and spawned many imitations. (The whole Twin Lens Reflex line actually, though that's a bit like saying that all 35mm rangefinders are Leica copies.) The strength of the TLR concept and the faith of its admirers is indicated by the fact that even though Rollei went bankrupt several times and was taken over by all sorts of parent factories, Rolleiflexes are still in production to this day.

After the success of the Rolleiflex and other TLRs in the late 1920's/early 1930's, many manufacturers stepped into the TLR market with more affordable models, models with different specifications, models for different film formats, et cetera. One of the factories to adopt the TLR concept was Voigtländer, in their "Brilliant" model. As Roland Givan further explains, the Brilliant is the Lubitel's real father, though the lineage is a bit indirect.

The first Brilliants looked a great deal like the later Lubitel series, but were much simpler cameras because they lacked the cog interlinkage for focusing. This meant you essentially had two cameras in one: a camera obscura in the top half for composing the image, and a box camera in the lower half for taking the photo. Integration between the two was zero. However, this changed when Voigtländer made a minor but crucial adjustment by adding the familiar cog interlink in 1938, thus spawning the Focusing Brilliant. This, in essence, was a Lubitel waiting to happen. Only it didn't, for the time being.

The Komsomolets

We teletransport ourselves to Leningrad in the year 1945. The Soviet Union had just triumphed in the Great Patriotic War and was licking its wounds. Rebuilding and revitalisation was nowhere more necessary than in Leningrad after 900 days of hardship under German siege. To kickstart the rebuild, the Soviet Union dismantled various German optical factories and shipped them eastward. One of the factories to receive German tooling and expertise was GOMZ, who consequently reappeared in 1946 with their first new camera, the Komsomolets. It's not clear to what extent the factory made use of German labour and capital, but to introduce a consumer camera that soon after the war implies either external help or a great priority status within the USSR, either one being possible.

Adopting the name for a member of the Communist youth organisation Komsomol, the Komsomolets was focused at an amateur audience. The camera itself is a fairly straight copy of the non-focusing Voigtländer Brilliant, although the design is simplified and altered somewhat. (For instance, the filter door doesn't hinge like in the original.) The top and bottom lenses aren't synchronised, even though Voigtländer already corrected that before the war in the Focusing Brilliant. My guess is that maybe GOMZ didn't want to complicate things at this stage of recovery.

The Komsomolets was manufactured from 1946 to 1951 in a quantity of 306.743 (according to LOMO; Princelle mentions a figure of 25.000 and Ryshkov of 28.000 -- more than a factor ten lower). The designer was I. Shapiro. Its body was made of bakelite. Its shutter was a ZT with speeds of B, 1/25s, 1/50s and 1/100s, the viewing lens a 75mm f/4.5, the taking lens a T-21 (Triplet) 80mm f/6.3.

There appear to be a model A and a model B Komsomolets. The model A is sometimes marked "Model A" on the viewfinder hood, and is distinguishable from the Model B by its mechanical frame counter, as opposed to the red window in the B model. Some of the later B models are said to have T-22 75mm f/6.3 lenses, which probably resemble the T-22 75mm f/4.5 lenses on the Lubitels to follow.

By the way, all this taken from Roland Givan's Komsomolets page, since I own neither a Komsomolets or a Brilliant.

The Lubitel

Gradually or not, in 1949 (according to factory data, although this would mean a two-year overlap with the Komsomolets, which I think is unlikely), the Lubitel saw the light. According to LOMO, this camera was produced from 1949 to 1956 in a quantity of 1.361.110. It's best seen as a mature Komsomolets: it added focusing capability by means of an interlink between the viewing and taking lenses (just like Voigtländer had done before the war, only using cogs with a different size and pitch), its ZT-5 shutter had a larger range of shutter speeds than the Komsomolets (B, 1/10s-1/200s), its viewing lens was a speedy 60mm f/2.8, and its taking lens a T-22 75mm f/4.5, both faster and more wideangular than on the Komsomolets.

Lubitel means "Amateur". Incidentally there's a version of the Lubitel labeled "Amatör" for the East German market. It's interesting that GOMZ didn't name their general Western export version the "Amateur" -- I think maybe because anyone not familiar with socialist naming philosophy would be put down by such a catch-all uncompetitive name.

The Lubitel-2

After one million three hundred thousand Lubitels produced, GOMZ re-evaluated the design and decided to add a self-timer and a flash sync. This redesign was done by G. Barkovski, according to Princelle, thus creating the Lubitel-2.

The literature claims that the Lubitel-2 came in two shutters: a ZT-5 with speeds of 1/10s to 1/200s, and a ZT-8 with 1/15s to 1/250s. I don't know what to make of this: I think the difference in speeds is probably an artefact of labeling rather than anything technical, and is the result of the postwar introduction of the new power-of-two shutter speed system: 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16 (noted as 1/15), 1/32 (noted as 1/30), 1/64 (noted as 1/60), 1/128 (noted as 1/125), 1/256 (noted as 1/250), 1/512 (noted as 1/500), 1/1024 (noted as 1/1000), and so on, that took the place of the earlier decimal system that counted 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/200, et cetera. Converting to the newer system simply means writing 1/60 instead of 1/50, and assuming the difference to be within your margin of error.

Different markings would be a silly thing to change a shutter type name for. Maybe the difference between ZT-5 and ZT-8 is less virtual — I think the ZT-8 is the ZT-5 with added self-timer and X sync. And since the shutter capabilities are the only discerning features between the Lubitel and the Lubitel-2, I think there are no Lubitel-2's with ZT-5's — people just got that impression because certain early Lubitel-2's still had the Lubitel's old shutter speed range. But that's just my hypothesis.

The Lubitel-2 was manufactured from 1955 to 1980 in a quantity of 2.232.245 (again factory data). It was superceded in 1976 by the Lubitel-166 (and later the 166B and -U), which shares its concept with the Lubitel-2 (cheap 6x6 TLR) but is really a whole different camera. See my Lubitel-166U page for more info.

Variations

If you look closer, there are a lot of variations between seemingly similar Lubitel-2's. Since I only own two examples and both are from the pre-1965 GOMZ era, I don't have a lot of comparison. However, with the help of Roland Givan and from looking at Lubitel-2 pictures on the Internet, a picture of constant change emerges. This has to be, because moulds, casts and stamps are subject to rapid pressure and heat erosion and need to be regenerated every 50.000 units or so.

If you line up Lubitel-2's of different vintage, maybe the most obvious difference are the subtle changes in the logo. Though superficially all Lubitel-2's have the same scripted logo, there are quite some differences between an early and a later one. For instance, the logo on the top of this page occurs in a sharper, more geometric form on newer cameras, and there's also a version with a very wide loop on the L. I'm inclined to believe that there are many more variations, since they apparently engraved new stamps manually each time an old one wore out. Lubitel-2's were supplied with both latin and cyrillic logos.

Cyrillic logo

Another difference, but more subtle, is the changing texture in the bakelite. Each time the body molds wore out, they created new ones with new random leather textures. These variations in structure could conceivably be used as forensic data to date and group cameras. (I would have loved to set up a fingerprint database to scrutinize the world's Lubitels, but unfortunately I don't have the dozens of cameras necessary for a project like that.)

Other changes include the mould for the filter door: on older cameras it's engraved in Russian only, but newer cameras have bilingual English/Russian markings. Also, the wind knob is clearly manufactured from different moulds throughout the model's life. The design of the spring plate to hold the lower film roll also differs among cameras. And so on. A very obvious difference between GOMZ and LOMO Lubitels is the presence of the GOMZ logo in the hood of the former; this dates the camera to before 1965, the year when GOMZ became LOMO.

One puzzling facet of Lubitel-2's is their serial number scheme. Generally, Soviet-Russian cameras have serial numbers that reflect the year of manufacture in the two first digits, so that for instance 69xxx indicates 1969. However, older Lubitel-2's don't adhere to this scheme. The serial numbers of my two pre-1965 cameras are 005118 and 098333, which reveals nothing about the year of manufacture. It could be that these numbers are sequential and I own the 5.118th and 98.333rd Lubitel-2 respectively, but with more than two million cameras manufactured, six digits aren't enough to address them all. However, later cameras have seven-digit serial numbers and obey the date coding system. The confusing thing is that the original Lubitel does seem to have a date-coded serial number.

The Lubitel-2 was marketed under a variety of brands. The most common is the plain Lubitel-2, either with latin or cyrillic cartridge, but you can also find the Kalimar TLR100, the Global 676, and possibly other variants for different markets.

A closer look

With the historical and genealogical details out of the way, let's take a closer look at the Lubitel-2. First, the case. I own two: both are made of a laminated material, probably vinyl, that was punched into a pattern and sewn together to form a three-dimensional construct. The older GOMZ case is a reddish, leatherlike brown with the GOMZ logo on the lens bulge, whereas the newer LOMO case is glossy black with the LOMO logo on the bulge. Both cases are exactly similar, except for the fact that the LOMO case has a (newer) 1/4" thread brush and the older one 3/8".

I don't like these cases. They're too inflexible and too loosely fitting to actually be an asset, and the top flap is hell to position correctly on the camera because of two loose "ears" on the side that get hooked up in thousands of different ways with the strap lugs and the rewind knob. The best thing is to leave it off, or use the Lubitel-2 without a case entirely. Fortunately the strap lugs are attached to the camera and not to the case, as with the Zenit-E.

Next, the camera itself. I own two Lubitels, both of them GOMZ models (per the imprint on the viewfinder hood) with 3/8" tripod thread, and all my experience is taken from those two models. Later Lubitels may differ slightly.

Overview

The general scheme of the Lubitel-2 is easy to give. There's a viewfinder on the top with a magnifying glass, of which the lens is coupled to the taking lens, there's a shutter with some easily understood functions, there's a red window on the back with a little knob to rotate a protective plate in place, there's an extractable rewind knob, there are strap lugs, there's a tripod brush, and there is the back door lock. On the inside, there's a pressure plate, the film gate, the film rollers, some metal plating to keep the rolls of film in place, and that's it. The Lubitel-2 is so simple that it doesn't surprise me that all parts are numbered: that way the camera could be pieced together by the lowliest of uneducated workers.

Filter compartment

My first rub is the filter compartment. Apparently the Lubitel-2 was sold without filters, even though the camera had a built-in filter compartment. Not that it's very impressive. Firstly, the screw that locks the door is spring-loaded by a rather stiff spring, meaning that when you unscrew it, both spring and screw explode in your face. I've actually lost one of the locking screws this way. Secondly, because of the stiff spring and the brittle plastic, the thread in the camera tends to snap and strip under load, making it impossible to seal the compartment off tightly. Both my cameras have this problem. The door is still held in place, but there is so much slack that it can rotate around the screw, exposing any filter to the outside environment and nullifying the protectional value of the chamber. But this is only a minor point since you would usually keep the Lubitel in its case anyway, sealing off the compartment.

Viewfinder

The waist-level viewfinder is fairly conventional as TLRs go, and consists of the usual lens, mirror, matte glass and folding hood with magnifying glass. Flipping open the viewfinder hood, we have the choice between using it as a sports viewfinder or using the matte glass. We invoke the sports viewfinder by flipping down the center part of the hood (with the GOMZ logo) and clicking it behind a small notch on the rear wall. This creates a crude frame. The advantage is being able to look at the scene with both eyes, and not seeing everything left-right inverted. The disadvantage is not being able to check your focus.

The matte glass is a bit of a joke. Normal TLRs have fresnel lenses or at least a conventional matte glass, but the Lubitel-2 only has a globular lens with a circular matte spot in the center. On normal TLRs you're able to see the whole frame more or less as it would look on film, only left-right inverted, but on the Lubitel-2 you just see a blob of light directly as it comes from the lens. It works, to be sure, as long as you keep your eye steady above the center of the image to not see the circular frill of the viewing lens. To focus, you use the matte spot in the center. You either focus on sight or you use the magnifying glass, and pray that both your lenses are calibrated right.

Shutter

The shutter is the most complex part of the camera, or better put, the least simple part. It contains these items, numbered 1 to 9:

Lens/shutter assembly
  1. Before you can trip the shutter, you need to cock it with this lever, shown here in cocked position.
  2. The shutter release lever. Move downwards to trip.
  3. The cable release hub.
  4. The aperture changing grip. Readout is through indicating needle #8.
  5. The shutter speed lever. Read-out is through #9, the notch on the side of the ring.
  6. The self-timer lever.
  7. The X flash hub.
  8. The aperture indicating needle.
  9. The notch in the shutter speed ring that points to the set speed.

Film compartment

Opening the back of the camera by simultaneously prying loose the two latches, you gain access to the film compartment. There's nothing of note really: there's the gate, the film rollers, the extractable wind knob and the two bays for the 120-film spools, but nothing dramatically spectacular or spectacularly dramatic. It's both necessary and sufficient, like so much on this camera.

Lenses and image quality

The viewing lens is a 60mm f/2.8, the taking lens a coated T-22 (Triplet) 75mm f/4.5. The difference in focal length is because the size of the viewfinder isn't 6×6 but only around 4×4, so scaled accordingly. I haven't really shot a lot of film with my Lubitels, but if one thing is obvious from the few pictures I made, it's that this camera deserves its reputation as being lower class. The images are not very sharp and do not have very good contrast. They actually reminded me of toy camera images, although this camera is no toy camera in the strict sense of the word.

But how much quality do you need? People have long since conceded that bad image quality can be a good thing, and that LOMO's worse attempts at making cameras are profitable shlock. So what if the taking lens has more of a "lesser unsharpness" than actual sharpness to shift around with, and so what that depth-of-view takes over at intermedium distance and apertures to bollix your carefully planned DOF images — when the Lubitel-2 is a fun camera to use, a bit dinky in times, but rugged, interesting, old-fashioned and charming?

From the book

Excerpt from the 1971 book/brochure "Discover Rewarding Photography" by Ronald Spillman A.I.I.P:

Lubitel-2

An extremely versatile 6×6cm twin-lens focusing reflex taking twelve pictures on 120 roll film. Although this camera is priced at the lower end of the scale, it incorporates most features required by the keen beginner and yet has a performance that will satisfy the critical user.

The lens is a 75mm coated f/4.5, which focuses down to 4'. The leaf shutter is behind the lens, has five speeds from 1/15th to 1/250th second, and is synchronized for flash.

The Lubitel-2 is a camera without frills. You wind on the film by means of an ordinary knob and there is a window to show you the frame numbering on the back paper. There is a clever helical screw mount to the taking lens. As this is rotated it turns the upper, viewing lens to similar focus. Viewing is by means of an always-in-focus convex lens giving a brilliant image. A circular ground-glass spot at the centre is used for focusing. There is a folding magnifier and a flip-up direct vision viewfinder incorporated in the folding hood. The camera contains a filter compartment, has a delayed action device built into the shutter, and is supplied with ever-ready case.

Resynchronising the lenses

It's not too uncommon for the Lubitel-2's two lenses to lose their intermeshing and go out of sync. Usually taking out the slack in the system is easy, but restoring the proper correspondence between the lenses is a problem. To do an exact job, open the rear of the camera and tape a strip of blank film onto the film gate, making sure that it's in the same position as normally the film would be. Then set the top lens to infinity and use the film as a ground glass to calibrate the bottom lens on infinity.

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