For Christmas last year I was given a Lomo Konstruktor. It’s a plastic airfix-style kit with all the parts you need to build a simple SLR camera.
I’m pleased with the results. I won’t get any prizes for technical excellence (plastic lens yuk) but it’s serviceable and teaches you the basics of photography. You’ll look like a hipster using it in public but in a digital-everything world there’s joy in knowing exactly how something works. A used camera from eBay would produce better images but can’t be as satisfying as a device you made with your own hands.
That said [obligatory disclaimer] it’s a toy camera with a plastic lens and it can’t work miracles. You’ll screw up plenty of shots and might inadvertently blank the whole film. Be ready for the odd disappointment.
So who’s it for? I’d say the Konstruktor is a fascinating present for anybody with the patience to build one. A great present for nerds and precocious 13 year olds. It’s rekindled my love of 35mm photography: the flat stinks of Ilfosol 3 and there are rolls of wet film hanging everywhere and goddamit I am smiling because the magic is so much fun.
If you decide to build one of your own here are a few tips. Don’t make the same mistakes I did…
- Use tweezers for small parts and work somewhere with plenty of light. Find a padded surface (put a sheet down?) so tiny parts can’t roll away.
- The really hard bit – the shutter – comes prebuilt for you. That’ll suit most people but it would be nice if Lomo did an insane-difficulty-level version where you have to assemble that as well.
- I had spare screws left over and worried I’d missed a few. I hadn’t: it appears Lomo expect you to lose some and include a few spares.
- You’re putting screws into soft plastic. Too little force and the screwdriver slips but too much will thread the hole and your camera will fall apart halfway through the first film. Be careful.
- If you weren’t careful enough try filling the hole with plastic cement, waiting for it to set and trying again. Ask your local model shop for advice – they’re used to people breaking plastic kits.
- Lomo predict you can build the Konstructor in 1-2 hours. That’s optimistic: I needed 3-4. Some parts are fiddly and the assembly for the lens is not intuitive. Have a tea break when you get frustrated, otherwise you’ll end up forcing something and breaking it.
- The spring for the ‘B’ lever was the hardest part. After ten minutes of fiddling and swearing it pinged off somewhere never to be seen again. Lomo probably expect this because my kit came with a spare.
And a few tips for shooting:
- It has a fixed shutter speed and aperture: 1/80th of a second at f/10. Okay for use in daylight but you won’t get good results indoors. For your first few rolls stick to 400 ISO B&W film (I used Ilford HP5) since it’s very forgiving with bad exposure.
- The upside-down ground glass viewfinder is a pain to start with but you’ll get used to it.
- Easy mistake #1: forgetting to wind on the film. Lomography’s page says “possibility of multiple exposures” but I’d say more “danger”. Great if you want to fake evidence of ghosts, not so great otherwise.
- Easy mistake #2: the back springing open in your bag. The Konstruktor’s door catch is chunky and easy to drag on something. You could lose a whole film to this so stick a bit of tape over it.
- Mine doesn’t but it’s not unusual for toy cameras to ‘leak’ light. Look out for fogging around the edge of your pictures. To improve the odds I I kept mine in a bag when I wasn’t using it. If you’re feeling paranoid you can seal the back with electrical tape once you’ve loaded the film.
So once you’ve shot that first film what do you do with it? 35mm is archaic but you’re bound to find some company you can mail it to for processing. For the full hipster retro experience you can pay them for prints, but if you’re planning to do more than a couple of films and post the images online (what else would you do with them?) try investing in a cheap negative scanner. If you’re a freak like me you can even buy the equipment & chemicals (cost me about £70) and develop the film in your home.
And here are my Konstruktor masterpieces…