A Look at the Soviet Lubitel 166B Twin Lens Reflex Camera
The Lubitel 166B is a medium format film camera that uses 120 film and takes 6x6 frames. There are 5 versions of the camera, with the Lubitel 166B being the second to last of the TLR cameras.
The original design was a Soviet copy of the Voigtländer Brillant. All of the Lubitels were manufactured by LOMO. (Leningradskoye Optiko-Mekhanicheskoye Obyedinenie, which translates to ‘Leningrad Optical Mechanical Association’)
Depending on the source the first version of the Lubitel was released in 1949 or 1950 as the Lubitel TLR. Production of the last Lubitel model ended in 1988.
There were large production number of the later models and many can still be found in “new” condition. That is why the Lubitel 166B is a popular Soviet Russian lomography camera. The affordable price often makes it a recommendation when discussing beginner friendly TLR cameras.
A predecessor of the Lubitel was the Komsomolets (“Young Communist”) camera. Lubitel means “Amateur” and that is a good description of who the features on the camera would be a good match for. It’s also why people that enjoy Lomography or toy cameras like the camera.
There are 5 original versions of the camera:
- Lubitel TLR - 1949-1956
- Lubitel-2 1955-1977
- Lubitel-166 1977-1980
- Lubitel-166B 1980-1984
- Lubitel-166 Universal 1984-1988
Additionally, there is a model, the Lubitel-166+, which is not made by LOMO. It was released in 2008 by the Lomographic Society and is still available for sale.
|Lubitel 166B Production||1980-1984|
|Focus Distance, m||1.4 to infinity|
|Shutter Speeds||1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, and bulb|
|Aperture Range||f/4.5 to f/22|
|Viewfinder Lens Aperture||f/2.8|
|Compatible Film||120 Roll Film|
|Frame Size||6x6 (6 cm by 6 cm)|
|Pictures per Roll of Film||12|
|Flash Connection||PC-Flash Sync Port|
|Dimensions mm||127 H x 95 W x 102 D|
Price & Where to Buy
You can’t judge a camera without knowing the price and alternatives. My copy was very inexpensive and purchased in May of 2019. Checking prices again in April, 2021, they haven’t changed or have gone down by a bit.
The price will vary depending on how many used cameras are available, the condition, which version the camera is, and where you purchase from. The best prices will be from sellers in Russia or Ukraine as that’s where the majority of these medium format film cameras are.
If you buy from overseas, check the shipping service that will be used. Standard shipping can cause delivery times to take weeks.
Millions of Lubitels were sold so they are available on many websites. You can usually find them on eBay or Amazon. If you don’t have at least one on hand, make sure one of the items that comes the camera you buy comes with an empty 120 film spool.
The Lubitel Universal 166+ is currently being sold by Lomography for considerably more.
The 120 film that the Lubitel 166B uses is still available, but the variety of film stocks is somewhat limited. Buy new fresh film to get the best image quality from the camera. Even if you can find some, 220 roll film cannot be used in the camera due having a window for the frame counter.
A roll of film will allow you to capture 12 photos. The 6x6 means the camera will capture 6 cm by 6 cm photo frames.
In order to load film into the Lubitel 166B, an empty 120 film spool needs to be in the top film holder. If there isn’t an empty film spool with the camera, and you don’t have one, make sure to purchase one when you buy film. You can find empty 120 film spools on eBay.
The maximum aperture of the Lubitel 166B is f/4.5. That is slow enough to where you will want to use fast film. I would not recommend using anything slower than 400 ISO.
There is ISO 400 Lomography color film, but you really want the fastest film possible. I would also recommending pushing the 400 films below to 800 to make sure you don’t need to rely on the bulb setting to get a long enough exposure time.
|Lomography Color Negative 800||Color||800||Amazon|
|Kodak Portra 400 Professional||Color||400||Amazon|
|Ilford HP5 Plus||Black & White||400||Amazon|
|Kodak Tri-X 400TX||Black & White||400||Amazon|
The Lubitel 166B does not use a battery. It is a fully mechanical camera.
You’re going to need a handheld light meter to get exposure values so you can set the shutter speed and aperture. If you don’t have one you can check out this list of the best light meters so that you can get the exposure of your photographs right.
LOMO Build Quality & Handling
It is a Soviet Russian camera so don’t expect the build quality to be great. Considering the price and availability, in terms of a twin lens reflex medium format camera, it is usable with a few “quirks.”
Some people will describe the Lubitel as having a toy camera build. I would disagree with that as the build quality is better than any toy camera I have used.
The Soviet cameras I have used are better than current toy cameras being produced in China. For example, I believe that all the moving parts in the Lomo Lubitel models are made from metal, but I have not disassembled the cameras to check.
Earlier versions of the Lubitel were made from Bakelite. I believe the Lubitel 166B is made from injection-molded plastic. I did not notice the odor that Bakelite gives off when rubbed, so I do not think the body is made from it.
The levers to cock the shutter, select shutter speed, and set aperture, do not feel durable. They are made of thin metal that could easily be bent. Care definitely needs to be given to the camera.
Getting the back film door open is a pain. There is a small latch that takes a good amount of force to open.
I am not sure if the camera had a light leak or the film I was using got partially exposed during loading or unloading film. The film did not roll onto the spool very well. I’m not sure if that is an error on my part, due to the camera design, or the most likely situation where it was a bit of both.
The other mechanical parts of the camera worked fine. Those parts are the film rewinding knob, film holder prongs, and viewfinder.
Accidental Shutter Release
Cocking the shutter requires you to push a small lever on the side of the lens down from 12 o’clock to 9 o’clock. That puts the lever, and your finger, right next to the shutter release lever.
This design makes it easy to accidentally fire the shutter when you go to cock the shutter. The result will be a ruined frame.
I only made the mistake once in the 2 rolls I put through the camera. It was only once because I used a cable release with my 2nd roll of film.
Another issue I ran into was that I was unable to attach any of my tripod plates to the camera. The threading on the tripod mount is not deep enough for the screws for any of my Manfrotto tripods.
The tripod screw would bottom out before providing any clamping pressure. Instead of being held in place, the Lubitel was free to wobble and spin.
A spacer could be used to make the tripod mount usable. A couple of sheets poster board would probably work. However, my thoughts were that I’m only willing to put in so much effort for a cheap camera.
Twin Lens Reflex
The Lubitel is a twin-lens reflex camera, so there is a viewing lens and taking lens which are coupled together through sprockets. You can see the sprockets around both lenses.
When you look through the viewfinder, you are seeing an image projected from the top lens onto the ground glass screen used to focus. The top lens is referred to as the viewing lens.
The Lubitel 166B has a focal length of 75mm and aperture range of f/4.5 to f/22. Figuring out what the equivalent focal length would be for a 35mm film camera is a bit difficult because the images captured have different image frame dimensions. So the equivalent 35mm film focal length would be around 50mm.
The focal length of the lens fall into the “standard” lens category and will give natural looking images relatively free of distortion.
By focusing with the viewing lens, the bottom lens will also turn and should be focusing at the same distance.
The taking lens, which is the bottom of the two lenses, is an optically coated three-element anastigmatic T-22 lens. I do not know if either lens has any optical coatings.
You’ll get nice smooth and creamy bokeh with the lens. Similar 3 element optical formulas have been used in and are used in all kinds of inexpensive cameras.
Expect to see flare, chromatic aberrations, distortion, and other “undesirable” properties. I say “undesirable,” but for people that enjoy Lomography, the traits can be desirable. They can also offer a challenge to work around.
Shutter speeds range from 1/15 of a second to 1/250 of a second in whole stops. There is also a bulb mode and self timer. The selected aperture can be seen on the side of the lens barrel.
In addition to the shutter release lever, there is a place for a threaded shutter release cable. If you intend to use the bulb setting, get a shutter release cable that can be locked. That way you won’t have to stand there holding the cable release down.
Not having 1/2, 1/4, and 1/8 of a second shutter speeds was a problem for me. It makes it difficult to stop the lens down because I’d often fall into needing those shutter speeds to get the required exposure time. I don’t think I could use the bulb mode to accurately get a shutter speed of 1/4 or 1/8 of a second.
That limitation is also going to affect what film you can use in the camera. ISO 100 and 200 speed films are going to need an exposure time that is too long to hand-hold the camera without getting blurry images.
I did not use the self timer to take any photos. I was not sure if the self timer was accurate in countdown length. The manual only gives a range of 7 to 12 seconds.
You can take as many exposures per frame that you want. There is nothing preventing you from taking a double exposure, whether you intended to or not.
The frame counter on the Lomo Lubitel 166B is a red window which will allow you to read the frame number on the back of the film protective paper on the roll of film.
Viewfinder & Focusing Screen
The waist-level viewfinder on the Lubitel is a square piece of ground glass with a center focusing circle. There is a pop-up loop as a focusing magnifier to make it easier to see the ground glass focus screen.
I’m not sure of the magnification that the loop provides. I think it might be 2x or 3x magnification. While it was helpful, I still found myself zone focusing because the TLR focusing screen is not particularly bright.
Additionally, part of the waist-level viewfinder can be folded down leaving a small square cutout that can be used to roughly frame an image while relying on zone focusing.
I found both methods of focusing on the Lomo Lubitel 166B to be unreliable. I was never confident that my shot was going to be in focus.
If the Lubitel 166B would have been easier to a mount on a tripod, I would have stopped down the aperture and used zone focusing.
There is no built-in light meter. The Lomo Lubitel 166B is a completely analog camera. You’re going to need a hand-held photography light meter in order to set your exposure.
I used my Minolta Flash Meter VF. It is close to 20-years-old and worth over twice as much as the Lubitel 166B.
If you don’t already have a light meter, check out our list of the best light meters.
Keep in mind that any new light meter is going to cost far more than the Lubitel. You might want to see if you can find a smartphone light meter app or use the meter on a digital camera.
Short Lubitel 166B Review
The Lubitel 166B is small, light, and inexpensive medium format TLR camera. That is getting harder and harder to find for a medium format camera that shoots 120 film.
I didn’t enjoy using the 166B due to its limitations. The small size isn’t useful when you need to have a tripod, cable release, light meter, film holder, etc, because those features are not included in the camera. I do not want to carry around tons of gear for what is supposed to be a fun camera.
- Hard to focus in the viewfinder.
- Small shutter speed range.
- Unusable tripod socket without needing a shim/riser.
All of those problems have solutions, but I didn’t see a payoff in fixing them. Analog photography takes up more time than digital, so I’m not going to invest that time in a camera I don’t care for.
If you’re into lomography or want to give it a try, the lack of features may be a nice way to add some difficulty in shooting. Many photographers find this to be a good way to help creativity by imposing limitations and not worrying about the results.
I develop my own film. While that cuts down on costs, shooting medium format 120 film is still expensive.
After factoring in my time to develop and scan, I would rather have a camera with greater functionality. If you only plan to own the 166B for long enough to shoot a few rolls of film through or want to try medium format photography, it is a fun camera for that.
Medium Format Film Camera Alternatives
Don’t have the 166B end up as a display piece on a shelf. There are many great vintage medium format cameras available. Here are some of the best twin lens reflex cameras that can be found in good condition for around $200.
What nice is that several of the medium format TLR cameras below are able to use interchangeable lenses.
- Yashica Mat-124G
- Mamiya Universal, Mamiya Press
- Fujifilm Super Fujica 6
- Kiev 6C, Kiev 88, Kiev 60