A Look at the Soviet Lubitel 166B Twin Reflex Camera

By Nathaniel Stephan
Last Updated: December 14, 2019
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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. 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 Luibtel TLR. Production ended in 1988.

A predecessor of the Lubitel was the Komsomolets camera. Lubitel means "Amateur" and Komsomolets means "Young Communist."

There are 5 original versions.

  • Lubitel TLR - 1949-1956
  • Lubitel-2 1955-1977
  • Lubitel-166 1977-1980
  • Lubitel-166B 1980-1984
  • Lubitel-166 Universal 1984-1988

The Lubitel-166+ is a new design that is not made by LOMO. It was released in 2008 by the Lomographic Society and is still available for sale.

Price & Where to Buy

Lubitel Flash Bracket

You can't judge a camera without knowing the price and alternatives. I paid $35 plus $15 shipping from Russia in May of 2019 for mine.

The price will vary depending on how many used cameras are available, condition, version, and where you purchase from.

Millions of Lubitels were sold so they are available on many websites. You can check current prices on:

The Lubitel Universal 166+ is currently being sold by Lomography for $374.90.

Camera Battery

The Lubitel 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.

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.

Earlier versions of the camera were made from Bakelite. I think the Lubitel 166B is made from injection-molded plastic.

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.

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. The tripod screw would bottom out before providing any clamping pressure.

Instead of being held in place, the Lubitel would just spin in place.

A spacer could be used to make the tripod mount usable. A couple sheets posterboard would probably work.

Lenses

The Lubitel is a twin lens reflex camera, so there is a viewing lens and taking lens which are coupled together.

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 turning the viewing lens, the bottom lens will also turn. They are connected by sprockets.

The taking lens, which is the bottom lens, has 3 glass elements. I am also unsure if there are any optical coatings.

You'll get nice smooth and creamy bokeh with the lens.

Expect to see flare, chromatic aberrations, distortion, and other "undesirable" properties. I say "undesirable," but for people that enjoy Lomography, the traits can be desireable.

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 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 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. You're going to need a hand-held 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 more than the camera. You might want to see if you can find a smartphone light meter app.

Short 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 camera 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.

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.

There are many great medium format cameras available around $200. At

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

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