Lomo Fisheye [2005]

Lomo Fisheye

Let's face it, these are the autumn days of film cameras ... cold, late autumn days.

There's no point in a film camera trying to out-sophisticate its digital equivalent. Film diehards may still just win theoretically with arguments on resolution and latitude but these are their last footholds and these too may soon be swept away. So where can film still win? Film is no longer mainstream and it never will be again so it's use is being relegated to niche markets and fun concepts.

Here's a camera that is both niche and fun. Here's a camera strange enough to encourage you to make you visit a lab one more time. It's also a camera I would have never bought for myself. For one, it is the antithesis of the chrome, leather and glass cameras I love to collect. For another it sports the Lomo brand name I love to hate. But, as the old equine cliche goes, you can't look a gift horse in the mouth and so, when my wife bought this for me on a whim whilst out shopping, I was at least intrigued to see what this toy camera equipped with a fisheye lens could do.

On a technical front, forget about photographer's control. Focusing is fixed so there's no control there. This camera relies on the huge depth of field of a fisheye lens. This camera has one aperture and one shutter speed so forget about exposure control beyond the film speed that you choose. Forget compositional control because the viewfinder is useless; the lens barrel intrudes into about a third of the viewfinder but that's OK because the viewfinder in no way represents the fisheye's 170o field of view anyway. You can use the viewfinder to tell you if the camera is level and roughly what it's pointing at but beyond that you're better off guessing what 170o will encompass.

The disparity between the viewfinder and the lens leaves you with the impression that this camera was cobbled together in Frankenstein's lab from an interesting lens and the cheapest plastic camera he could find. The film door release is fiddly. The shutter release is best compared to a disposable camera's as is the built-in flash whose coverage in no way matches the fisheye. The flash is best used for occasional fill-in or to trigger a slaved larger unit.

The cheapest mechanism in the camera seems to be the film transport. At first I could not see how the film attached to the take-up spool. Then I noticed two tiny 'ears' on the spool which I had at first dismissed as plastic flash that hadn't been trimmed away cleanly. The toothed sprocket wheel in the film path is not mechanically linked to the wind on without film in the camera. This means that the camera cannot be dry (test) fired without film very easily. The sprocket wheel controls the film counter and cocking the shutter. It all seems to work, but only just.

Compared to the primitive construction of the camera the packaging and literature that comes with the fisheye is very 'advanced'. I would expect no less from the the hipster orientated Lomo company. The box is more 'ipod' than 'disposable camera'. The writing in the small lomography book that accompanies the camera is so ridiculous it's unreadable. The book's pictures are more interesting and useful as they show the kinds of results to expect from the lens.

From what I've written so far you would be justified in thinking that I hated the Lomo Fisheye, however, the truth is the lens makes this camera fun to play. It's not a camera that you would use very often but it does make for an interesting occasional diversion. It is sometime liberating to have no photographic control, sometimes it's just frustrating. Resulting image quality is sometimes decent for small sized prints but don't try blowing up your negatives too much. Image quality can be compared to one of those cheap pseudo-fisheye auxiliary lens attachments that have been around for years. The advantage of an auxiliary lens on an SLR is that you would have some idea of what you were getting when you looked through the viewfinder.

I can't believe I've written as much as I have about this primitive camera. I view the cult of the Lomo with the same skepticism that I usually reserve for scientologists (run Katie, run). As a photog, to give up photographic control and to rely on accidents goes against everything I spent so long learning and yet the results are sometimes surprising and entertaining. If you already have this camera it is worth playing with once in a while but I wouldn't go out of my way to hunt one down.