The Lomography Fisheye 2: A review

Lomography is such a confusing morsel of language. It refers to a photographic genre ("experimental snapshot" is a more neutral term), to an aesthetic movement towards lo-fi and film, often screwed up (redscale is backwards, xpro uses wrong chemicals) or expired aaaaand it refers to an austrian company who made its name as the sole distributor of the lovely Lomo LC-A and has since compiled an impressive catalog. In the lowercase "lomographic" community, it inspires a mixture of love and hate, in large measure because they're packaging a "movement" that was already burbling and sells it to what's-the-next-thing hipsters with a generous mark-up.

Also, most of Lomography's products suck. Most of the competition's (Superheadz, Redcamera, Eximus, etc.) suck as well, and are much less creative than Lomography, but it still has a poor track record regarding quality, truth in advertising and originality. Most of Lomography's catalog are clones -- the venerable Leningrad Optical and Mechanical Workers Union (LOMO) dropped its camera business to focus on high-end optics (think military/medical applications) and Lomography got the blueprints to get "+" versions done in China. And even then, the LC-A+ is crippled, the Lubitel 166U+ looks strange to my eyes (though my Lubitel is an 166B) and the Diana+ is an attempt to make a full system camera without actual design work besides making sure the kit lenses have the correct focal length.

But then there's the Fisheye 2.

I bought my girlfriend a Fisheye 2 when she wanted to start playing with this lomography thing. It was the natural choice -- either I got her a LC-A+, parted with one of my beloved soviet LC-As (which she wouldn't know how to focus anyway) or got the Fisheye, which is as focus-free as you get aside from pinhole photography.

When I saw her results, I wanted to do similar things. I dug out the fisheye lens for my Diana kit, but it only really worked with 120 film, and even then the barrel distortion exaggerated the diffraction lens aberrations that come with plastic lenses. Then I searched eBay for fisheye lenses either for the Olympus OM-2 or the Kiev 60 (my 35mm and 120 SLRs), which were exceedingly expensive. I was tempted to go the way some people from the Flickr groups I read went and stack wide angle adapter over wide angle adapter, but then my girlfriend started getting the results from her fisheye adventures.

Not one to trust my eyes, I had her lend me the negatives and scanned them at high resolution. The thing has superb optics, and probably is the best product in the whole Lomography catalog. Sturdy construction -- unlike the Diana system and the multi-lens line -- and a powerful enough built-in flash to make something appear in night-time pictures.

And to think of it, is there any better camera concept to fit the lomographic/x-snap ideal? Focus free, composition free, just think fast and don't lose any action. For every Diana owner with underexposed negatives, there's a LC-A(+) owner with out-of-focus images, sp. when it gets dark. (Why do you think they emphasize small prints and walls of color?) The Fisheye sidesteps that, and it has that unique signature in the round format of the final images.

Veredict: it's an excellent buy for the price, particularly if you already have satisfactory equipment for digital photography and want to do some film on the side. It's also the best bet for "your first lomo camera", after you've read their literature and are sold on x-snap as a lifestyle.

For night-fun photography, you'll want to buy their color flash (any would do, but color splashing is fun); set to B mode, and the hotshoe-attached flash will fire, and when you think enough light from the environment has seeped in (ah, the joys of B-mode photography), release the button and the built-in flash will fire. Nothing like two images of one person in the same background to convey happy times.

I just wish they either bolted the LC-A's automatic exposure time control, or at least had some sort of exposure controls. f/8 1/100s is a weird place to be unless you have the just-right film. Right now, I have more film than I can justify having, but have no ISO 400 color film, so I'm stuck with either dancing around with Portra 160 (which is the film I keep going back when I think of it, because of the creamy colors in the mid-tones) or NPZ-800, which surprisingly survived well my gf's beach photographs and looks good in prints, but feels grainy on a computer screen.

But hey, that's possibly how they're going to make me buy a Fisheye 3. Anyway, don't wait. Get a pack of Lucky-brand film (or Portra 400, if you're feeling optimistic about the economy), your Fisheye 2 and get shooting.