Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 1998/06/18

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Subject: [Leica] Is a little camera from Leningrad the heir to the Barnack throne?
From: (Alan Sircom)
Date: Thu, 18 Jun 1998 10:31:27 +0000

Here's a little concept to chew over…

I normally use a M6 and a brace of Summicrons and Elmars. But, for
everyday use, this is a bit too bulky and expensive to stow under a
jacket and the like, so I used a run-of-the-mill post-war IIIc with and
equally mundane 5cm Elmar f/3.5 lens. This was small, light and even
(relatively) disposable, although one had to get used to the
instructions of the HP5 box acting as a light-meter. It also made me
feel closer to the master, HCB, in some almost intangiable way. 

This camera is now in the past tense because it died the way all street
cameras should die — it hit the street, dashed to the ground by an
accidental connection between me and a bicycle courier and then run
over by a passing bright red No. 73 London Transport Routemaster bus.
As more than a day without a camera in my hands offers limitless missed
photographs, I decided to buy the cheapest flash-free camera I could
find while the insurance company processed and expedited my claim. I
found a Russian Lomo camera, complete with 31mm f/2.8 lens,
match-needle focussing and aperture-priority automatic exposure system.
It is considerably smaller than my old Leica and the image quality is
nowhere near as good, thanks to almost every distortion in the book,
but it set me thinking…

Back in the 20s and 30s, the Leica was a tool of the photographic avant
garde, and 'real' photographers of the day criticised it as a bit of a
toy compared to big plate cameras. Some of its detractors were won over
by the immediacy of the pictures taken by the likes of HCB. The rest
were silenced by time — its hard to criticise the Leica when you are
dead, after all.

Today, the camera we all know, love and respect is a bit of an
anachronism. It has grown slightly larger over the years, but is
essentially unchanged. The system has expanded and contracted and
rivals have come, gone and come back once more. Now, it is - sadly - as
much a collector's item as it is a photojournalists camera of choice.
This means that while there are many people who use the Leica to create
superb photographs, there is an increasing number of Leica owners who
have never put a film past the shutter curtains for fear of damaging

While Oskar Barnack would be pleased to see that his original design
was so good that it has survived essentially unchanged for decades, I
can't help feeling that the spiritual heir to the avant garde nature of
the original Leica is as much the Lomo as the M6. After all, if you
want to get good pictures from a Lomo you must get as close as possible
to your subject, rid yourself of the rigours of traditional
photographic disciplines, use the camera without any form of flash or
tripod and shoot as many pictures as possible — do these suggestions
sound familiar?

Now, I am in no way suggesting dumping all your hard-earned Leica stuff
for a cheap and nasty little Russian camera. But, I also think that we
should not dismiss the camera out-of-hand simply because it does not
come from the Solms camera. While this is a controvercial comment in a
Leica User Group, but in many respects, I would much rather use a Lomo
than the cheapest Leica compact, as it offers the same pocketability -
and higher creative potential - at a more affordable price (which is
useful when you carry a camera everywhere and you stand a good chance
of losing them out of pockets and the like).

However, after all this Lomo musing, as soon as the insurance company
paid up on my claim, I bought another IIIc and an Elmar, just like the
old ones so fatally damaged. As soon as this nestled into my right
flank, it felt comfortable and natural. The result is that I have
hardly used the Lomo since. But that is because I have been using a
Leica like this for some time and it is a familiar feeling. Regardless,
I have not discounted the Lomo just yet. Try one, and see if you agree.
They cost about as much as a VIDOM.