Analogue camera specialist Lomography recently expanded its classic LC-A lineup when it unveiled the LC-Wide, featuring a new wide angle lens and a choice of picture formats. The original LC-A was first manufactured 27 years ago and was then replaced by the LC-A+ in 2006. Packing a considerable heritage, the LC-Wide may be the most modern snapper to join the lineup, but how does it compare to the LC-A+ and is it worth trading up?
Measuring in at 108 x 68 x 44.5mm, the LC-Wide is pretty much the same size as its older sibling and feels just as sturdy in the hand. It tips the scales at 220g (not including the battery and film) which is more or less the same as the LC-A+. Although a fair bit larger than most modern digital cameras, the pleasingly chunky chassis is palm-sized so it won't take up to too much room in your bag and its relative bulk actually means that it can be held far more comforably than many smaller cameras. The textured finish also means that there's plenty of grip to keep it slipping from your hand and it also comes with a detachable wrist strip for extra safety.
In terms of looks, it boasts the same vintage asthetics as previous LC-A models with a few added touches to make it clear that this is an upgrade. The lens casing on the front of the camera is slightly wider to accomodate the new wide-angle 17mm lens, and the extra protrusion sports a thin red trim. Apart from these differences and a couple of very minor aesthetic additions (such as the text around the lens) the camera looks more or less the same as the LC-A+.
We don't do "unboxings" on Pocket-lint, but if we did, then the LC-Wide would be a perfect candidate. The elaborate packaging comprised a large black crate containing a couple of hardback books packed with photos along with the camera itself and a few accessories - namely two frame guards, the wrist strap and a shutter release cable, all wrapped up in Lomo print tissue paper. Some may consider most of this to be merely filler, but it does help to give the LC-Wide a premium feel.
The LC-Wide packs a maximum shutter speed of 1/500 sec and the max aperture is a 1:4.5, but the most significant stat is the step-up 17mm Minigon wide angle fixed lens (compared to the LC-A+'s 32mm). While still offering the telltale vignetting that that LC-A cameras are known for, the new lens means that you can pack as much into each frame as possible, making for particularly good panormas and extreme close-ups.
If you're a frequent user of autofocus on your digital camera, then the idea of going back to basics and having to tweak the settings for yourself may seem rather daunting. Don't panic - there's really nothing to worry about. There are a few basic elements to get your head around, but they're so simple that you'll get the hang of them in no time. The first thing you need to do is load the film and the good news is that the LC-Wide takes the conventional 35mm format that can be picked in any high-street chemist or camera shop. The more obscure film you use the better (see Cool tips for Lomo users for ideas), but normal colour film will do just fine.
Loading the film is very straightforward - you just pull up the rewind lever to open the back of the camera, pop the film in and drop the rewind lever back down. Then it's simply a case of pulling the film over to the take-up spool and attaching one of the sprocket holes to the teeth on the spool and then winding the film on until it's secure. Before loading the film you need to decide on the picture format that you want to use. Aside from the wide-angle lens, the format flexibility offered by the LC-Wide is what sets it apart from its predecessor as it brings square photos (24 x 24mm) and half-frame shots to the LC-A linup for the first time. You can also choose to take snaps in the normal full frame mode. If you want to stick to one format for the entire roll, then you can use one of the supplied masks for square or half-frame prints. These need to be fitted inside the body of the camera just before loading the film. If you choose a mask then you won't be able to take it out until you switch rolls.
For more flexibility, you can forget about using the masks and switch between frame formats by using the controls on the camera body. A switch on the underside can be flipped between half frame (HF) and full frame/square (ff/s) depending on which mask you're using (or simply set to full frame if you're not using one). Without using the masks, you won't get clear, defined edges at the end of each frame, but you will get a cool effect where each photo blends into the next one. This means that you can easily stitch together shots to make a panoramic picture. The viewfinder can be opened up completely for full frame shots, or just opened half-way to make it easier to line up half-frame photos.
Once you've picked your chosen format (or decided on going freestyle), and loaded your film you need to pick the correct ISO setting. The LC-Wide has an ISO range of 100-1600 and you can pick the setting to match the speed of your film using the tiny dial and display on the side of the viewfinder.
After that, you're ready to start snapping and all you need to think about is the focus. The LC-Wide has a focusing range of 0.4m to infinity and while the LC-A+ has four separate focus settings, the new camera makes things far simpler by sticking to two (0.4-0.9m and 0.9-infinity). The fact that there are only two settings to choose from makes it far easier to change between them quickly, without having to look (all you need to remember is to keep the lever down for mid-range to faraway shots and pull it up for close-ups). It really couldn't be simpler.
Like previous incarnations of the LC-A, the new model has a multiple exposure (mx) switch on the underside of the camera body. After taking a snap (and not winding the film on), you can flick this switch to capture a double or multiple exposure (i.e., two or more snaps on the same frame). You can keep flicking the switch and taking as many pictures as you like before winding on, however, if you take too many pictures on one frame then you risk overexposing the film - sticking to two or three snaps per frame ususally produces the best results.
When taking the LC-Wide out and about the first point that we noticed was how nice it was to have a mechanical lens cover. Not only does this mean that there's no chance of misplacing a pesky lens cap but it also means that there's no danger of taking any snaps with the lens cover still on, as the camera won't let you. That's not the case on some of Lomo's cheaper cameras such as the Diana+, which will happily let you snap away an entire film even if you've forgotten to remove the lens cover, resulting in nothing but blank shots.
The winding dial for advancing the film between frames was painfully stiff on our review model and we found that we hadn't always wound it on completely, even though we thought we had. However, it did seem to loosen up by the time we were on our second roll. Although not especially light when compared to most digital compacts, the LC-Wide is still a great deal lighter than a DSLR or a bridge camera (not that we're suggesting that the picture quality is comparable) and we found it to be perfectly managable even after carrying it around all day.
We tried out two types of film on the camera - ISO 200 Kodak colour film and some ISO 200 Lomography slide film. For the colour film, we used the square mask for some shooting on what turned out to be a very sunny day. The pictures are packed with colour with a suitably retro grainy effect, while the double exposures worked particularly well.
Switching to silde film, we removed the mask for some freestyle shooting. Using the full frame mode really showed off the wide angle lens, along with the textbook LC-A vignetting. This also looks especially good when taking half-frame and square snaps without the masks. We stitched together a panorama with the vignetting corners blending one frame into the next. We could have produced a more exact panorama by matching up the overlaps exactly, but the black spaces in between give it comic-book frame style effect.
It's also worth noting that this was taken without a flash from a rooftop at dusk, when there was almost no sun in the sky. Like it's predecessors, the LC-Wide is very forgiving in low light conditions. In true night time darkness or inside, you'll probably need a flash, but in brightly lit rooms or outside at dusk it copes perfectly well on its own. The LC-Wide includes a standard hotshoe adaptor on the top to which we hooked up a Lomo Diana flash. It worked well, although we did find that the flash's hotshoe adaptor meant that it stuck out and obscured the shutter release button slightly, making it that bit harder to get a clear shot at the button without moving the camera. A standard tripod mount on the underside means that you could add a tripod to help keep things steady if you choose.
At £350, the LC-Wide costs £120 more than its predecessor, the LC-A+. The question is - does it bring enough to the table to justify an upgrade? The new wide angle lens, along with the ability to shoot square and half-formats photos, along with full frame shots are all compelling reasons to buy, as is the flexibility for switching between formats. However, the steep price may well be a stumbling block for some.
If you're trying out film photography for the first time (or going back to it after a lenghty break) then you might be better off trying out one of the brand's cheaper cameras first, such as the Diana Mini - yours for £45. If you're already a lomo fan that hasn't yet invested in an LC-A then we think that its worth trying to cobble the extra £120 to buy the LC-Wide over it's older sibling. For LC-A+ owners - it's up to you. If you're happy with what you've got and the idea of wide-angle snaps and format flexibility doesn't appeal then stick with what you've got. However, if you like the sound of the new features and you can spare the cash then we can highly recommend the new model.