The Lomo Itch (And How I Scratch It)

Lomo photography is an itch I periodically get and have to scratch. Here’s how I came to it, the allure it has, and how I scratch that itch these days…

Though I was using camera phones to intentionally make photographs from the mid 2000s, my first film camera, in 2012, was about as Lomo as it gets, a Holga 120N.

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My initial disbelief that this simplistic toy hunk of plastic could make any kind of image turned to wonder and delight I had the first roll processed. Then another, and another.

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Finding that shooting medium format 120 film was pretty expensive, I followed this by adapting the Holga to take 35mm film – considerably more affordable to buy and have developed.

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Realising that the Holga exposed 35mm film across its whole width – and that the cost to have this scanned was ridiculous – I invested in my own scanner and modified one of the scanning masks/frames.

I also experimented with some close up filters, and again got some surprisingly pleasing results.

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This in turn was soon followed by the first genuine 35mm film camera I bought, a possibly even more Lomo, er, Lomo Smena 8M.

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Most of my cameras since (and there have been many!) have been less lo-fi, and I eventually expanded into the sedate control of SLRs, and some five years later, DSLRs.

Other notable plastic fantastic cameras I’ve had are the Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim (UWS) clones – I’ve had a Black Slim Devil and an Olive San, both made by Superheadz – the Konica Pop, a Pentax PC-330, and a couple of Miranda and Halina panoramas.

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Though these days I shoot mostly digital with vintage manual lenses, that Lomo urge still periodically reappears.

Why?

Because not having to think about anything but pointing and shooting, and knowing that the final photograph will be high contrast, overly saturated, soft at the edges (if not all over), and have significant vignetting (if it comes out at all), and be a little bit unpredictable, is somehow very attractive and addictive.

But, ironically, the most Lomo images I make these days aren’t on film at all, but with my iPhone, plus the Hipstamatic app.

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After taking a few hundred shots with the iPhone and finding them good enough for snapshots but overall a bit dull, I tried the in built filters, like Noir, Chrome, Instant and, my favourite, Transfer. The latter makes for especially appealing spontaneous portrait shots, in my opinion, and it’s my default setting for family outings.

Keen to explore further (and after stumbling across it via another app I already had to use my iPhone as a lightmeter for my oldest 35mm cameras), I downloaded Hipstamatic.

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The range of options available via changing the “film”, “lens” and “flash” in any combination is quite dizzying. I’ve managed to find a handful of combos I really like, and recently settled on just one.

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Hipstamatic offers seven different aspect ratios, but the one that I use most is the pure 1:1 square. I sometimes use 3:2 as I’m so familiar with it from shooting 35mm film and with my Pentax DSLRs.

And occasionally too I’ve been dabbling the widescreen cinema apsect of 16:9, which can work well for landscapes and adds drama.

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The iPhone plus Hipstamatic pairing gives me results very similar to my favourites I was getting with probably my favourite 35mm plastic fantastic, the Superheadz UWS clone.

As I can do this with no expenditure on film, a way higher hit rate, and the convenience that my iPhone is always with me, it’s pretty much resigned my Holga and Superheadz to a dusty shelf.

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Plus the whole process of scanning was unbelievably time consuming, and for me at least, just not worth the time and frustration. I fairly quickly reverted to having my film developed and scanned to CD again, and let the lab do their best.

The time saving and the relief was a major revelation, not unlike my recent giving up of eBay to gain more time for other aspects of photography.

More often than not I love the control and image quality that SLRs/DSLRs with vintage manual lenses give, not to mention the tactile experience and the immersion of a good viewfinder.

It’s these that get me closer to the majesty and wonder of the world that’s too easily overlooked.

But for when I feel that Lomo itch, and want a quick and dirty image that’s a delicious hyperreal dream take on reality, all I need do now is reach in my pocket, swipe right, open Hipstamatic, point and shoot. And that has a great appeal.

What are your experiences with lomo/lo-fi photography? Let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

6 thoughts on “The Lomo Itch (And How I Scratch It)”

    1. I had mixed feelings about using an iPhone for photos for quite a while!

      If you liked the results, does it matter if it’s a “gimmick”?

      I think it’s as gimmicky as you make it. Just today I decided to create a new favourite combo called “neutral”. You might recall you can choose set the “film”, “lens” and “flash” independently, therefore create any combination of the ones you have (you can purchase almost endless additional ones!).

      So I set each to “none”, ie the physical look of the images is not being altered in any way. (I’m assuming you feel this is what is gimmicky?)

      I can now use the other benefits of Hipstamatic – different aspect ratios, manual control of shutter speed, ISO, exposure, zoom, focus and white balance – without getting any of the “lomo” effects on the final image.

      Re the handling, I’m getting used to it. And considering getting a case with a handgrip one end too, which should make it handle much better.

        1. No, I haven’t tried a grip yet. I don’t want one that is too bulky so I keep it on at all times. I don’t need any connected app, it’s just purely the physical aspect of having a grip. I could make a DIY one by cannibalising an old compact film camera and a standard iPhone case!

  1. I think each technology, hi or lo, has its place. I still love to slow down and shoot with my 35mm SLR (or even slower with my old Voigtlander), and the versatility of my compact digital Nikons is great. But the iPhone is such a capable versatile photgrahic tool! I’ve shot on them for a couple of years (plus some other smartphones) and since upgrading my phone to an iPhone 5 and now SE, they have really come into their own. I think that the SE camera is outstanding. I tend to post process in Google images as that’s where I store all my pictures. Either with the autocorrect function or “Blush” setting. “Eiffel” is pretty good for contrasty B&W shots too. I don’t think it will ever replace my digital cameras, but then I’ve got it with me much more often than an actual camera too. Horses for courses I suppose.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Richard. I agree that I can’t see an iPhone replace a “proper” digital camera like my Pentax K10D in many ways – the handling, lens options, controllability, image quality and more. But yes for portability and something more lo-fi and different looking, the iPhones tick a lot of boxes.

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