When the Lomomod No. 1 was first announced, I had the honor of covering the news for DIYP and I thought to myself: “Man, would I like to try this out!” Fast forward four months, and I’ve had the chance to play with this DIY medium format camera and do a thorough review.
The Lomomod No. 1 is a camera like no other I’ve seen or used. It comes in pre-cut pieces and you’re supposed to build it yourself, which is interesting on its own. It’s paired with a liquid-filled 80mm Sutton lens, which lets you change the tint of your images depending on the liquid you use. Sounds pretty cool, right?
In this article, I’ll share my impressions of the Lomomod No. 1. From initially opening the box to seeing my images for the first time, I’ll write about everything I liked and didn’t like about it. So, without further ado, let’s get started.
What is the Lomomod No. 1 anyway?
As I mentioned in the introduction, the Lomomod No. 1 is a DIY camera that you assemble yourself. It’s shipped in pre-cut parts, and you put them together from scratch without using glue, screws, or duct tape.
This camera uses 120mm film, which is another pretty unusual trait. At least that’s how I see it, considering that 120mm is far less common than 35mm (and in Serbia, also a lot more difficult to find).
Finally, as I also mentioned, you get to add a weird, unique lens to your camera. It has two plastic tubes on the side and you get a syringe in the box so you can insert the liquid of your choice into the lens.
Opening the box
My Lomomod No. 1 was shipped from Vienna, Austria to Novi Sad, Serbia and it arrived in only a few days. Once I opened the DHL cardboard box, there was a cute and relatively small colorful box inside. Don’t let the size fool you – there is so much stuff in that little box:
- 10 main sheets (for the camera body, lens barrel and 120mm film back)
- Critical parts set
- A sheet of colorful parts
- 1 sheet of apertures and focus adjustment rings
- Shutter and lens unit
- Film advancing knobs (you even assemble these on your own)
- A tripod mount
- 120mm film spool
- A syringe for inserting liquid into the lens
- Stickers sheet
- 3 manual booklets
- A Lomomod No. 1 photo book
I love the design and how everything is packed and organized. The Lomomod No. 1 photo book contains photos taken with the camera and various liquids inside the lens. There’s also more information about the camera, the inspiration behind it, and about Lomography in general. Although it doesn’t affect the building of the camera or shooting with it, I think it’s a really nice addition to the kit and to the overall experience.
Once I had unpacked everything and browsed through the book and manuals, it was time for the assembly. My first impression on seeing all the cardboard sheets with pre-cut elements was: “HOW ON EARTH AM I GONNA DO THIS?!” But then I gave it a closer look and realized that there are letters and numbers on each sheet and they’re organized very logically. They are just very discreetly printed.
The folks from Lomography suggest that you put all the pieces on a flat surface and arrange them by number. The only surface large enough in my apartment is the floor, and I love sitting on the floor whenever I do some craft work. So, here’s how it started:
The pieces for the camera are made from thick, sturdy recycled cardboard. Lomography’s idea is to be as sustainable and green as possible, so the camera is almost entirely recyclable. The outer pieces are two-sided, so you can choose whether you want your camera to be plain black or with a pattern. I opted for the latter.
The lens and all its pieces are made from plastic, and so is the film take-up spool. Finally, there’s a metal nut that acts as the tripod mount once your camera is finished (I find that to be a great touch, by the way).
How did it go?
When I first started reading the manual, it reminded me of those little manuals that come with Kinder Egg toys. :) The instructions are simple, but easy to follow and very logical, even though they may not look like it at first glance.
Now, there’s a common joke we have here in Serbia: “A real Serb checks the instructions only to see where (s)he screwed up.” In most cases, and mine too, this isn’t even a joke. Still, I followed the instructions from the beginning until the end, and it took me around 4 hours of effective work to build the camera from scratch. And guess what – I still did it wrong! I successfully put together the lens housing, the lens barrel, and the film back. However, the back wasn’t gonna fit and I couldn’t close the camera.
I found this very frustrating, but hey, not everything was lost. My cousin gave me her Lomomod No. 1 to give it another shot. I invited my boyfriend over to help me build the second camera. It took us around two hours to do it together, it was way more fun, and we actually did it right. As The Beatles would say, I get by with a little help from my friends.
Anyways, while you officially don’t need any glue, screws or tape, you may need some additional items while assembling the camera. Lomography even mentions it in the manual:
- You might need an X-Acto knife to take the pieces out of their slots. Honestly, I only used it once or twice; just be careful when taking the pieces out and you should be good to go.
- You may also need some sandpaper if the pieces won’t fit together perfectly. I needed it a couple of times, and I used a rough nail file.
What I liked about the assembly
Clear instructions – I am not used to following instructions (remember the joke above?), so I find it very difficult to navigate them. But as I mentioned, the Lomomod No. 1 instructions are simple and easy to follow. They’re logical and just detailed enough for you not to get lost in all the information. Perfect!
Choice of critical parts – you can tell that the folks from Lomography assembled lots of these cameras before deciding which spare parts to include in the additional sheets. I screwed up a few bits of pieces during the assembly, and all of them were included in the “Critical Parts” sheets. Also, these parts are a bit sturdier than the original ones, which is definitely a plus.
Everything falls into place – once you build all the main parts and start putting them together, it’s wonderful to see how everything falls into place and your camera finally takes shape! If you do everything right, it just “clicks” together and makes it worth all the effort.
Logic – when you start building the camera, you need to follow the instructions and you have no idea what the final product will look like. But as you progress, it becomes clear where certain places go and how they should be turned and fitted. It’s much like assembling a puzzle, and this is when I started enjoying the building process and felt a huge sense of accomplishment after I fitted each new piece with the rest.
What I didn’t like
Black fingers – this is a minor drawback, but perhaps it’s worth noting. Fiddling with the cardboard parts left my fingers black, so make sure to wash your hands before touching your face or any bright furniture in your home.
Painful fingertips – maybe this is just me, but assembling the Lomomod No. 1 brought me back to my guitar-playing days. Pushing those cardboard pieces into their slots caused my fingertips to hurt. But this probably has something to do with the four hours I spent building the camera non-stop. And then another two-hour attempt.
Overall experience [Highly subjective!] – finally, while I enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment after assembling the camera, I learned something about myself in the process. I don’t really like building models. I generally like crafts (I make jewelry, birthday cards, and I do cross-stitching), but I didn’t enjoy building this camera as much as I thought I would. It was more fun doing it with someone else, though.
Keep in mind though that this is highly subjective. I am currently in a mental state the opposite of Zen, plus I have the patience of an average two-year-old. But I am me and you are you. In other words, if I didn’t enjoy assembling the camera, it doesn’t mean you won’t either. In fact, I’m sure that those who enjoy building models will like it!
A warning before you start assembling the camera
If you’re not careful and leave some pieces poorly assembled, the whole thing will be flimsy and won’t fit together in the end. Sadly, I’m telling you this from my own experience. If you’ve ever used AutoCAD, then you know that screwing up just one line will make the whole drawing messed up. Well, building a Lomomod No. 1 is, in a way, similar. So, here’s a tip: from the very first moment you start to build your Lomomod No. 1, be sure to do it with focus, attention, and precision.
Shooting with Lomomod No. 1
How did it go?
Despite some frustration while assembling the camera, I have to admit that shooting with it was pretty fun. With those tubes sticking out of the lens, I think I looked like some sort of a mad scientist from a cartoon.
I experimented a bit beyond the cardboard camera itself. I used the lens from the camera I screwed up, and attached it onto my Zenit 11. I’ll show you the results below.
What I liked about shooting with the Lomomod No. 1
It looks awesome – the camera itself looks cool, a bit ridiculous even (in the best possible way). And I think I looked the same while shooting with it.
Viewfinder/lens cap – when you close the flap on the lens barrel, it acts like a lens cap. When you open it, there’s a “viewfinder” you can look through, which is quite a cool detail.
Creativity – I tried the camera with clean water inside the lens, and also with blue and red food coloring, as well as diluted Coca Cola. You can pour pretty much anything into the lens, just be sure to dilute the liquids.
Possibilities – although this is a camera made from freakin’ cardboard, it allows you to attach a speedlight and to remove it, too. It has a bulb and a normal mode, and you can put it on a tripod. You can add a focus adjustment ring to make your camera focus between 1.5 and 5 m instead of between 2.5 m and infinity. Finally, you can add aperture plates to stop down the lens, or to add various shapes to your bokeh. That’s quite a lot of options for a cardboard camera, isn’t it?
What I didn’t like about shooting with Lomomod No. 1
Flimsy parts – even though the camera is pretty sturdy when you assemble it, some parts started to fall apart after a while of using. The left film advance knob broke, but fortunately, that happened straight after I took the last shot on the color film roll. After I replaced it and inserted black & white film, the right knob broke after six exposures. Some other bits and pieces started falling apart too, and they’re not easy to replace (such as the little cover on the back).
On the plus side, Lomomod has already announced plans to make the pieces sturdier in future. I suggest that they definitely make them more durable, especially the film advance knobs.
Viewfinder – although the viewfinder is a good idea, it’s not too helpful. It’s not exactly precise, so I still had no idea what I was shooting. But hey, at least I was surprised by the photos I got. And that leads us to the next part of this review.
After doing some serious research on where I can develop 120mm film in Serbia, I traveled to Belgrade and left my films in one of the very few labs that do it. “You can pick them up tomorrow after 6 pm,” the lady told me, and I couldn’t freakin’ wait!
I was both positively and negatively surprised by the photos I got. It’s worth noting that everything I photographed was far away from me. Still, some photos I made with Kodak Portra 400 were blurry, even though the camera was supposed to focus between 2.5 m and infinity. There were still a few sharp photos, even though I didn’t move the lens or the film in any way. Take a look:
After taking out the color film, I replaced the broken left knob and inserted a roll of Ilford HP5 400. I inserted only water into the lens. After six exposures, the right knob broke, which means I didn’t use the entire roll of film. I took it out and ended up with four photos. But they are four photos I totally love, even though they’re not perfect. Here they are:
Finally, as I mentioned above, I tried using the Sutton lens with my Zenit camera. It had Ilford PAN400 inside, clear water in the lens, and here’s what I ended up with:
Do I like them?
I was pretty sad to see most of the color photos were blurry. However, I find the sharp ones to be pretty cool and unique, with those little light leaks and all. It doesn’t seem that the tinted water and Coke had too much of an impact, but I think I can see a hint of colors at least. And as I said, I absolutely love the black and white ones! This isn’t the camera I’d use to replace my DSLR, of course, but the photos definitely have their charm.
As for the photos taken with my Zenit 11 and the Sutton lens, at first I didn’t think they were anything special. But then I thought: they were taken with something that’s basically a tiny plastic container filled with water. And that changed my perspective.
I looked at the experiences some other photographers had with the Lomomod No. 1 and realized that I’m not the only one who had some issues with it. For example, Sweet Lou Photography also had trouble assembling the camera, like I did. On the other hand, Casual Photophile nailed it and did it in only an hour and a half. I feel a bit ashamed for doing it in four hours and still doing it wrong, but oh well.
Interestingly enough, Mathieu Stern had a very similar experience to mine. He also found it difficult to assemble the camera and he had the same problem as me: the back wouldn’t fit. Fortunately, his partner was also willing to help and they made the second camera together. Like me, Mathieu also ended up with a broken film advance knob, but for him, it happened after only a few exposures.
I would say that building a Lomomod No. 1 can be a great way to spend an afternoon, or it can be the most frustrating afternoon of your life. It pretty much depends on you: what you expect, how you approach it, and if you even like building models.
When it comes to shooting with it, I found it to be a fun experience overall. The only problem is that the knobs broke, which ruined the fun a bit, so I sure hope Lomography will make them sturdier in the future.
And finally, as far as photos are concerned – in my case, they made me forget all the frustration I had while assembling the camera. I was disappointed that some of them were blurry, but the sharp ones, both color and black and white, made all the pain worthwhile. In fact, I think that I’ll replace the broken knob and try again.
All in all, I have mixed feelings about the Lomomod No. 1. The idea is brilliant, as it brings together different kinds of creativity. But the camera itself still needs some improvements, particularly in terms of sturdiness. And it’s not made for impatient people.
I found this entire experience more emotional than rational, and more artistic than technical. In fact, that’s pretty much how I can be described myself. For me, everything about my Lomomod No. 1 was a mix of frustration and excitement: from building it to seeing the photos I took with it. And yet, despite the frustration part – seeing the photos taken with a camera I built from scratch… It made me feel proud and made me want to try again!