A Look at the Soviet Lubitel 166B Twin Reflex Camera

By Nathaniel Stephan
Last Updated: November 12, 2020
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LOMO Lubitel 166B Medium Format Camera

The Lubitel 166B is a medium format camera that uses 120 film and takes 6x6 frames. There are 5 versions of the camera, with the 166B being the second to last.

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')

Background Info

166B 6x6 Twin Reflex Camera

Depending on the source the first version of the Lubitel was released in 1949 or 1950 as the Lubitel TLR. Production of the cameras ended in 1988.

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:

  1. Lubitel TLR - 1949-1956
  2. Lubitel-2 1955-1977
  3. Lubitel-166 1977-1980
  4. Lubitel-166B 1980-1984
  5. Lubitel-166 Universal 1984-1988

Additionally, there is a Lubitel-166+ which is not made by LOMO. It was released in 2008 by the Lomographic Society and is still available for sale.

Lubitel Price & Where to Buy

Lubitel Flash Bracket

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 the cameras are.

Millions of Lubitels were sold so they are available on many websites. You can usually find them on eBay or Amazon.

The Lubitel Universal 166+ is currently being sold by Lomography for considerably more.

Camera Battery

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.

Build Quality & Handling

Overall quality is what should be expected from an entry-level TLR camera from the 1960s.

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. I believe that all the moving parts are made from metal, but I have not disassembled the camera.

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 telltale odor the Bakelite gives off when rubbed.

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.

The other mechanical parts of the camera worked fine. Those parts are the film advance knob, film holder prongs, and viewfinder.

Accidental Shutter Release

166B 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.

Tripod Mount

Lubitel Tripod Mount

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.

The Twin Reflex Lenses

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 through the top lens. This is the viewing lens, and it is what is used to focus.

By focusing with the viewing lens, the bottom lens will also turn and should also be in focus.

The taking lens, which is the bottom lens, has 3 glass elements. 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

166B Shutter Speeds

Shutter speeds range from 1/15 of a second to 1/250 of a second in whole stops. There is also a bulb mode.

In addition to the shutter release lever, there is a place for a threaded shutter release cable.

Not having 1/2, 1/4, and 1/8 of a second shutter speeds was a problem for me. You can't stop the lens down if the shutter speeds need to fall in that range.

That limitation is also going to affect what film you can use in the camera. ISO 100 and 200 speed films are going to be more difficult to use than slower or faster film.

Viewfinder & Focusing Screen

Waist Level Viewfinder with Loupe

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 that can be used to aid focusing.

I'm not sure of the magnification that the loop provides. I think might be 2x or 3x magnification.

Additionally, part of the waist-level viewfinder can be folded down leaving a small square cutout that can be used to crudely zone focus.

I found both methods of focusing on the 166B to be unreliable. I was never confident that my shot was going to be in focus.

If the Lubitel 166B would have mounted to a tripod, I would have stopped down the aperture and used zone focusing.

Light Metering

There is no built-in light meter. The 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

Eye Level Viewfinder

The Lubitel 166B is small, light, and inexpensive. 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.

  • Hard to focus in the viewfinder.
  • Small shutter speed range.
  • Unusable tripod socket.

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.

I develop my own film. While that cuts down on costs, shooting 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, that can be a good way to have some fun.

Don't have the 166B end up as a display piece on a shelf. There are many great medium format cameras available for around $200.

  • Yashica Mat-124G
  • Mamiya Universal, Mamiya Press
  • Fujifilm Super Fujica 6
  • Kiev 6C, Kiev 88, Kiev 60

4 comments on “A Look at the Soviet Lubitel 166B Twin Reflex Camera”

  1. Two basic skills you need to operate these old cameras are the ability to estimate exposure and distance. Before you drag out the light meter,guess the exposure required.Same with distance-set the distance on the camera,then check it with a tape measure.

    After a fortnight you won't need a meter,or a tape,and you're on your way to being a photographer. You'll also need to know your DOF at any given aperture and distance.

    On my Lubitel,at least the focus screen is so sketchy,It's best to treat it as a scale focus camera!

  2. thanks for the article
    I checked second hand prices around the world and is possible to find the Lubitel for 50 euro shipping included, the better alternatives you mentioned aren't at 200 unfortunately but a lot more, 400/600 euro.

    so definitely non comparable

  3. A very nice representation of the camera. The reason I was looking around was to find the diameter of the filter ring on the main lens.

    1. I think the main lens filter threads are 40mm. It isn't marked anywhere on the camera. I used a cheap pair of calipers to measure. Unfortunately, I don't have any 40mm (or possibly 39mm) filters to test on the camera.

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