The Camera the Pentax 17 Needs to Beat – Lomography LC-A Wide Review

Pentax’s imminent film compact has caused a buzz. Offering a camera that has automatic metering, zone focus shooting and comes from an established name. Oh and it shoots frugal half frame too. But hang on another camera ticks those boxes and offers more. Meet the Lomography LC-A Wide.

Underpass. LC-A Wide with XP2. 2024
Although the lens isn’t perfect by any stretch it does an incredible job of delivering on the 0.9m to infinity zone even is relatively low light. Lomography LC-A Wide +XP2. Edinburgh Feb 2024. Click on image for full size on Flickr

Most people were seeing either MiNT’s imminent Rollei AF or Reto’s Kodak Ektar H35N as more obvious rivals to the new Pentax. But the MiNT Rollei is full frame and has AF with a clear manual override spec. The Ektar is arguably the best plastic flash-tastic you can buy but still a lo-fi camera. Then there’s the half frame Alfie Tych which is best seen as a really interesting concept camera which costs the same as a LC-A+ but comes with a fixed focus disposable camera lens

But folk had forgotten about arguably the most advanced compact film camera you can buy today Lomography’s LC-A Wide.

Lamps. LC-A Wide 2024
Half frame image taken on the LC-A Wide with Kentmere Pan 400. Dumfries 2024. Click on image for fuller sized version

But that’s a full frame camera Alan ?

That indeed it is . But the 2011 LC-A Wide offers multiformat with clip in masking for square (24x24mm) as well as half frame. Just flip a switch on the base and the camera gearing moves to half frame (you can also shoot half frame without using mask but using the lens cover to make over lapping images).

The lens and viewfinder cover can stop midway for half frame shooting

The LC-A Wide has a fair few accessories too including an underwater housing. It has a cable tread, tripod point and standard hotshoe.

The image struggles with halation which is an issue with Harman Phoenix not the camera. Half frame shot on LC-A Wide. 2024. Click on image for full size on Flickr

Lomography and the LC-A

Lomography would not exist if it wasn’t for a Russian copy of a Japanese camera. That copy of the Cosina CX1 and CX2 was the original LC-A made by LOMO (ЛОМО) a Soviet Camera manufacturer in St Petersburg. Both the LC-A and lomography are some what legendary and highly mythised in the Lo-Fi community.

LC-A Wide beside a later Lomo LC-A
LC-A Wide beside a later Lomo LC-A

The tL:DR is that LOMO launched the LC-A in 1984 mainly for domestic Soviet markets but also for the Western Dollar. It shifted a fair few but would have remained a relatively obscure camera today if it wasn’t for a group of Austrian Students visiting Prague in 1991. They fell in love with the camera and would go on to found both the Lomography principles and later the company

The LC-A would have died off in 1994. But thanks to the Austrians and a certain Vladimir Putin in his more benevolent days as St Peterburg’s mayor, production relaunched at LOMO in 1995 and would continue to 2005

When LOMO decided they could no longer make the camera, Lomography developed a new version the LC-A+. This would be followed by the LC-A wide and the roll film LC-A 120.

The LC-A Wide Specs

  • 17mm Minigon 1 lens 1:4.5
  • AoV: 109° full frame
  • Programme Auto exposure
  • Shutter ∞ to 1/500
  • Aperture – variable
  • EV range up to 18 (100ISO)
  • ISO 100-1600 ISO full stops, manually set
  • 2 zone focus 0.4-0.9m, 0.9m-∞
  • Power; 3xSR44/LR44
  • Tripod: standard
  • Cable: Standard
  • Hotshoe flash X sync
  • MX switch
  • Gearing switch from FF to HF
  • Cost (lomography UK store) – £349 (mid March ’24)

In box there are masks for half frame and square & and a cable release. It’s likely a rear curtain flash sync mode. There is no accessory rail like the LC-A+. So you can’t use the splitzer which could easily be modded to give you a filter holder. Tape or Blu-tac (other putty like temporary adhesives are available) may be the order of the day if you want to do that.

You can shoot using masks, frame setting and with the viewfinder blinds at odd positions. A good example is something called endless panoramic where you set for half frame but leave out the mask. Theo Panagopoulos explains this better with examples in his review of the LC-A Wide on Photo Thinking

But it’s just 2 zones !!

LC-A wide focus lever
That’s pretty much all your control when shooting (bar the shutter button and MX switch on base). Just the 2 zone switch and the ISO dial

You might think “Pah ! only 2 zone for focus“. Well on full frame it really doesn’t need a lot, Lomography could have produced iit as fixed focus and even wide open at f/4.5 that wide 17mm in theory should have shoot everything from 1.08m to infinity with very acceptable (CoC 0.03mm) sharpness according to the the dofmaster.com Calculator.

So by sticking in a slight lens movement of the hyperfocal point they can easily cover the 0.4m to infinity with just 2 zones. And yah know for me the close focus is a nice to have but not be all

Now Serving. LC-A Wide. 2024
Full frame LC-A Wide image taken at night on XP2, Edinburgh 2024. Click on image for full size.

Looks and Build

this is the best built compact on the market. No Lo-fi bendy plastic here. It is reasonably solid although it is more plastic than an original Lomo LC-A.

It is styled authentically to match that an it’s little brother the LC-A+ and the Russian original. Slide the switch beneath the lens to open both the lens and viewfinder cover. Note this slide is notched midway for a half frame setting.

Like the LC-A+ it loses the aperture switch for flash, which uses rear curtain exposure. Both also lacks the focus HUD in viewfinder found in the Russian original

It has a standard loading set up and thumbwheel advance.

One curious point which I think is just a design throw back there remains an access point on base to the winding mechanism. LOMO (ЛОМО) had planned a winder like the cosina. You find a winder point on older LC-A along with control contacts but not later models. The wide lacks the contact points

Bases of older LOMO LC-A (left), later Lomography era LOMO LC-A (centre) and Lomography LC-A wide (right). Both the earlier and the LC-A wide have winder arm slot but the wide lacks the contacts needed

Expectations Tempered

Bar Lomography’s 10mm Fisheye cameras, there is no current compact camera that offers such a wide lens. The nearest are the 22mm VUWS clones like the Reto UWS. Reto use that lens and a hybrid version of the lens in their Kodak Ektar H35 series models. But these are still lo-fi plastic or plastic hybrid.

Kodak Ektar H35N
Reto’s Kodak Ektar H35N has a hybrid 22mm VUWS lens (1 glass 1 plastic elements)

Nikon sell a full frame AF-S 20mm f/1.8G ED for £799. Admittedly this is legendary modern lens and one of the best Nikon has ever made.

That’s a little out of my league but I have used a 18-55mm DX lens on my Nikon F75. It however vignetted massively at 18mm although produced good quality images inside the circular vignette

So expect performance here to be between the VUWS/H35N and my cropped sensor mash up.

Suspension Bridge. LC-A Wide 2024
Half frame image on Kentmere Pan 400. Dumfries 2024. Click on Image for full size

And this review …. ?

I could have reviewed this camera fully but that boat has long sailed by others even. So I’m going to have a look at it in 2 other ways

My shots here are with half frame shooting Ilford’s experiment Phoenix (1st gen) and full frame with good old XP2. The XP2 was processed by AG Photolab but the half frame was sent to Photo Hippo.

Tram. LC-A Wide &XP2. 2024
Full frame with XP2. Edinburgh 2024. Click on image for full version on Flickr

In use

Prepping

You need to make a decision about the film mask in advance. Unlike some cameras that allow you to switch mask mid roll like the Diana Mini, You can’t do that here.. That said you can set the gearing switch to half frame and shoot on the normal frame mask but only open the shutter na viewfinder to the half frame setting, This allows you to do merged shots

The shutter is locked until you open the lens and viewfinder by sliding switch on base. As already mentioned there is a half way point for half frame. On the base you’ll find the full Frame/Square & half frame (FF/S & HF) gearing switch and the multiple exposure (MX) switch.

The base of the LC-A Wide
The base of the LC-A Wide. From top viewfinder/lens cover switch with setting for half full frame/square and half frame (FF/S & HF). Then Multiple exposure (MX) switch. Followed by gearing for Full frame/Square and Half frame just above rewind button

Although the FF/S & HF moves the gearing to half frame the shutter count moves up in full frames.

Box office . LC-A wide in half frame mode with Harman Phoenix. Dumfries 2024
LC-A wide in half frame mode with Harman Phoenix. Dumfries 2024. Click on link for full size

Shooting the LC-A Wide

Loading is as mentioned standard. The ISO is adjusted by turning a cog on side of lens bezel. It’s worth noting the window above the ISO window is for the light sensor just as with original LC-A

I’d assume like the original you can lock exposure by half depressing the shutter button, But test in lo-light v lightbulb would suggest this isn’t the case. That’s a shame as the the original LC-A does this perfectly. For full frame it did pretty well for a compact for exposure. And of course it can do crazy long exposures.

Pizza Hut. LC-A Wide night shot. 2024
If you can brace well or use a tripod this shares the same legendary long exposure of it’s relatives. Full frame with XP2. Edinburgh 2024. Click on image for full size

And of course like the LC-A+, the wide lacks the LC-A’s manual aperture control for flash. That provided a semi manual mode.

Results

Full Frame

The full frame admittedly is where it’s all at. Different people will tell you different things but for me it just ate up Edinburgh’s streets

Cask 88. LC-A Wide full frame . 2024
There definitely off centre softness on the left here. It’s not major but more noticeable than the weakenss on the right. Full Frame LC-A Wide + XP2. Edinburgh 2024

It is pretty sharp centrally but softens off a bit to the edges. Radial distortion is evident as you’d suspect for such a ultra wide. It’s broadly some barrel distortion but It can get a bit wacky towards frame edges with noticeable pincushion as you can see from the above shot.

I tended to shoot in instinctively landscape and street shots at the 0.9m to infinity but if you have a good serious close object you get a lovely effect but be aware of the distortion of taking a close shot

Bobby. LC-A Wide. 2024
Shot on close (0-4-0.9m). Full Frame LC-A Wide + XP2. Edinburgh 2024. Click on image for full size

It’s not Bokeh but it is a nice soft background effect. This will obviously vary in light conditions as the aperture alters but theta shot above was 400 ISO film on a ~EV 13 day so I think I’ll have been nearer f/8.

Vignetting is present but it is quite a variable beast. You’d have assumed this daylight shot of Greyfriars Bobby would have had it marked but nope but this lower light shot of an Edinburgh close has it. Go figure

The close. Edinburgh 2024. LC-A Wide with XP2
Full frame with XP2. Edinburgh 2024

Half frame results

Graffiti du Jour. LC-A wide half frame shot. 2024
Half frame taken with Harman Phoenix. Dumfries 2024. Click on image for full size. It’s a little soft as it falls in the 1-2m zone

Half frame ain’t bad. But you do notice a weak point around 1 metre. It’s probably there on the full frame but in half frame each shot is effectively a cropped in full frame making those weakness more obvious. Otherwise shots are okay but not in the same league as a vintage classic half frame like my trusty Konica Eye. Compared with the Kodak Ektar H35N, except for 1-2m, it is slightly better optically. And obviously offers auto exposure. But Reto’s Kodak is a camera that you could pick up 7 of for the same money.

Focus example diptych for half frame. LC-A Wide 2024
This Diptych illustrates the weakness in 1/2 frame focus. the image on the right is taken with the close focus but on the left switch to 0.9m to infinity. The post is about 1.5m and soft whereas the bushes behind are more in focus. LC-A wide and Kentmere Pan 400. 2004. click on image for full size

There’s less of an issue in terms of distortion as you get the central area and vignetting is minimal

I do think it has a tendency to overexpose on some shots on half frame mode which is not something I noticed on full frame. There are a few overlapping frames

Diptych of student halls. LC-A Wide. 2024
Overlapping frames did occur on a few occasions. Edinburgh 2024. LC-A Wide in hlaf frame mode Kentmere Pan 400. Click on image for full size

Final Thought on the Lomography LC-A wide

I’m going to be clear – this is the best camera Lomography have ever made. It’s well built and is currently the best 35mm compact on the market. It’s nearest rivals are it’s progenitor the LC-A+ and the Alfie Tych. It dials up everything from the LC-A+ with a range of shooting frames and the Tych is more a concept camera. The Tych is well designed with a turret lens selector and both auto and limited manual exposure available currently on a 35mm compact. But the stock model comes with a 1 element disposable camera and the glass lensed premium model is fixed focus and just under £500.

The LC-A wide does have some issues though. The ISO setting dial is worse than my LC-A, it lack the exposure lock of the soviet LC-A and the lens is erm.. characterful. You also have no easy way of adding filters although I suspect a couple of blobs of strategically placed blu-tac might work.

But it is a really interesting camera to shoot esp in full frame. It has been the best new compact 35mm on sale for some years and is the best camera Lomography AG makes.

Ryrie's. LC-A Wide 2024
Full frame with XP2. Edinburgh 2024. Click on image for full size

What’s good about the LC-A Wide

  • Insane wide lens
  • Build quality very good
  • Switchable formats
  • Lens has character and isn’t that bad
  • Sharp centrally
  • The insanely long exposures
  • Has a evolutionary history

What’s not so good about the LC-A Wide

  • In half frame there’s a weak zone around 1-2m
  • Distortions at edges may not be your cuppa
  • Can’t lock exposure
  • Mask for frame run risk of being lost
  • ISO dial not the best
  • no easy filter option
Halls. LC-A Wide. Half Frame. 2024
Half frame shot on Kentmere 400. Edinburgh 2024

The LC-A Wide is Top Dog now but will it last ?

But all in it will be interesting to see how new rival measure up. We know the MiNT’s Rollei 35 AF, going high end with a hommage ton the Rollei 35 but with added auto focus. It will be likely between $650-800USD at launch potentially double the US list price for the LC-A Wide of $399. Sample images look promising and this may usurp the LC-A Wide as top compact dog but for a hefty price.

The real stalking horse will be Pentax’s camera. As I’ve been typing this an alleged leaked photo of the Pentax 17 has appeared. The camera has a 25mm 1:3.5 lens with what appears to be metering. Although the Pentax design group had said this was going to be zone focus the lens has scale focus marking underneath. Now that may not mean zone focus is ditched. Many zone focus compacts have full scale markings often on the bottom of the lens. And lets be honest zone focus cameras are scale focus, they’re just geared to get you to stick at 3 to 4 convenient focus points.


Other Reviews/Info on the LC-A Wide

Lomography maintain a microsite for information & hints for this camera.

In addition to Theo’s review mentioned earlier. You can find reviews by Hamish Gill at 35MMC, Stephen Dowling at Kosmo Foto as well as Lomo Kev’s Review which was one the first made on this camera. All are quite postive. You’d be forgiven for the 3 out 5 star review on ePhotozine indicating issues but the only faults they really had were with film (grrr). PC Mag’s 4 out of 5 is much clear in it it’s positivity.

One thought on “The Camera the Pentax 17 Needs to Beat – Lomography LC-A Wide Review”

  1. I use the LC-Wide & find it takes great pictures.

    In effect, Vladimir Putin proved instrumental in helping maintain film photography!

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