Specialists in film photography, Lomography has always sought to make photography fun again, rather than developing the sharpest lenses or providing the most detailed images. In other words, it’s almost the exact opposite of most other camera manufacturers, eager to push the envelope and get photographers to spend more on their new, improved and more capable products.
It’s safe to say that ‘Lomo’ cameras relied on lo-fi, Heath Robinson-style, plastic cog-powered charm as a selling tool, rather than the very latest technology. So what if the resulting images are a little fuzzy or the colors look a little weird, when it comes to the overall “experience”?
Taking this decidedly analog approach one step further, or perhaps a little higher, is the Lomography Konstrukor. This is a 35mm film SLR, the brand’s first. There is only one problem, or “challenge”; it arrives as a plastic kit. Yes, just like those model airplanes and those robots we bonded together in our youth. Luckily, there’s no need to glue this one, as the disparate parts snap together or are assembled using the included screws and tightly wound springs. So, are you ready for the challenge?
We have to say that the packaging of the Lomography Konstructor F looks great for the affordable asking price, and will appeal to an audience that enjoys crafting, as well as model making and photography. The initial idea and inspiration, at least, seems solid. Like a piece of origami, the interlocking, interlocking cardboard box design unfolds to reveal the neatly compartmentalized components before us. We can imagine huge gift potential for the photo enthusiast or treehouse enthusiast in your life – even if it’s you, yourself.
So we tried building. Lomography says it can take an hour or two, “usually.” We quickly discovered that the instructions in its glossy booklet did not match 100% with the parts presented in front of us. Some had been pre-assembled, and therefore lacked the plastic frame on which they were expected to be found. We easily lost five to ten minutes to figure this out.
Fortunately, a metal screwdriver is supplied ready to use for applying the tiny screws provided for assembly, eliminating the need for glue, which would have made certain construction steps impossible to undo and redo with finesse. And yet, trying to tell a tiny black metal screw a few millimeters long from another equally tiny black metal screw proved tricky, if not impossible – and in the end, we hoped it wouldn’t do much difference anyway.
For unclear reasons, one plastic frame of camera parts is labeled with the A prefix, while the second frame has parts labeled with the P prefix. All parts referenced with the “B” prefix in the instruction manuals are not on any frame, however, and are loose in the box. This is initially unexplained and requires some detective work on the part of the assembler, trying to match the disparate parts as best they can with the small pictures shown in the manual. Again, this lengthens the process while also stretching the assembler’s patience – especially if you’re eager to do it in a particular amount of time you’ve set aside.
While the box claims the Lomography Konstruktor F can be assembled as a working SLR example in two hours, we spent more than double that to build the camera. The ability to rush things came down to us being aware at every step that we were trying to build a camera that eventually would be needed to work. This meant making sure we followed the instructions as closely as possible – to avoid having to redo certain steps. Even then, we found ourselves having to loosen and re-tighten the screws a few times, as some plastic parts didn’t gel as well as we would have liked. It’s safe to say that a lot of patience is required, with various parts so small and delicate that working within a set timeframe just isn’t an option.
A particular kick is that once the camera is finished, one realizes that no film rolls are included in the box with the Konstruktor. It would have been a good idea for Lomography to include a roll or two, although that did bump up the original price a bit. It’s like getting a toy when you were a kid and couldn’t play with it or test it right away because batteries aren’t included. Or maybe the manufacturer suspects that the build is such a challenge that ending up with a fully functional camera will prove impossible for many.
Interestingly, the sample we were given to build from scratch came with a pre-fitted PC socket for theoretical pairing with an accessory flash. Unsurprisingly, the Flash isn’t included in the deal, but it does at least show some ambition.
Generally, to date, we’ve appreciated the low-tech approach and affordability of Lomography’s products, which helps alleviate occasional handling frustrations and random results from the sometimes toy-like gear. Our first thoughts after finishing building the Konstruktor though were that we didn’t want to have to rush this again – and that we’ll go for a ready-made Lomo next time. If we could afford it, most of us would pay for someone from Ikea to come over and build our furniture flat too.
Although we made every effort to follow chapter and verse instructions, we didn’t expect performance to match an out-of-the-box SLR from one of the biggest home brands. Cocking the shutter to reset the mirror, which on our camera took multiple tries each time for some reason and seemed to respond better to a nudge rather than a definite press, followed by a press the shutter button to take a photo, we found the shutter “action” to be a little smoother than we would have liked.
During construction, we were forced to procure a set of cosmetic tweezers to be able to stretch the tiny spring – the length of our smallest fingernail – that anchors the shutter release mechanism and allows it to move up and down. We suspect that, like other reviews we’ve read of this online build project, we may have overstretched it. But not having a properly functioning sample next to ours, we can’t be sure. This is probably why Lomo provides two of these particular springs, along with half a dozen extra screws, in case any parts are lost or damaged during construction.
When our patience returns or we have a free hour, we can try undoing the final stages of our build and try replacing it with our spare spring to see if that makes a difference, although we suspect it won’t. is not the case.
Aligning and framing each shot involves looking through the viewfinder from top to bottom, with a pop-up magnifier provided to aid the process. We found it worked best in bright sunlight – no less and found the image through the viewfinder to be blurry and indistinct, as if we were seeing it through frosted glass. The focal length is indicated on the lens ring itself to aid focusing.
We’ve found it’s best to hold the lens firmly in place with one hand while making adjustments with the other; otherwise, it’s too easy to accidentally unscrew the lens, as it’s not precision equipment we work with. If we are charitable, we might suggest that such limitations can sometimes turn into strengths. However, it’s certainly not a cheap substitute for a proper factory-built SLR. Pay the price of money, don’t go in with high expectations, and your level of satisfaction may be reasonable. At worst, it can be colorfully decorated with the supplied sticker sheet and, as we have done in the past with Lomo products, stuck to the shelf as a photographic curiosity.
Lomography Konstruktor: Verdict
While the process of building your own all-plastic camera, rather than getting Lomo’s usual off-the-shelf alternative, is unique and interesting – and your respect for the factory workers who do this at day by day – day by day, with magnifying glasses attached to their eyeballs, rises immeasurably as a result – it requires a great deal of time and patience and is not an experience we will rush to repeat, despite the satisfaction of have completed the construction at the end of it.
As an overview of the camera assembly and components that make up a film SLR, as well as a way to spend a few hours, the Lomography Konstruktor works well. As a camera per se, however, we’re not so sure. This one is best considered a project for those who like to tinker and for anyone who doesn’t mind a process of trial and error to come up with usable results.
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