Medium Format on a Budget: A Review of a Capable and Inexpensive Medium Format Camera

I would have sworn that "affordable" and "medium format" were mutually exclusive. I would have been wrong. 

In this video, Kyle McDougall sets out with a pretty small budget and tried to find the best camera he could without going into the triple digits in price. He eventually decided on picking up a used copy of a Lomo Lubitel 166B and put a few rolls through it: Kodak Ektar, Kodak Portra 400, and Ilford HP5

As one would expect from a review, Mr. McDougall had things he liked (mainly the price and the fact that it was medium format) and things that he didn't like. I couldn't help but think of my Mamiya RB67 while watching him go through the video. When he mentioned the slow max shutter speed of 1/250th, I thought about the Mamiya's max shutter speed of 1/400th (for most lenses). When he mentioned accidentally shooting multiple exposures, I thought back to all the times I've done that by accident (more than I care to admit!). All in all, I was impressed with the results of such an inexpensive camera and while I don't see myself going out and buying just for the sake of it, I wouldn't shy away from recommending it to someone looking to get into medium format on a budget. 

Do you have any experience shooting with the Lubitel 166B or any other budget medium format film camera? What were your thoughts?

James Madison's picture

Madison is a mathematician turned statistician based out of Columbus, OH. He fell back in love with film years ago while living in Charleston, SC and hasn't looked back since. In early 2019 he started a website about film photography.

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I have 6, a result of living in Moscow for a couple of years where I could pick them up as freebies from Russian friends who wouldn't be seen dead shooting something so old and Soviet.
I absolutely love them, one example below of what they can do, natural light and expired film.
I use them mainly for portrait and automotive work.

I have several different Lubitel models. I don't know if it's the best cheap medium format camera, but it's definitely one of the cheapest decent medium format camera (ie. with a decent lens, unlike the Holga for example). Very fun to use, very bright finder, very light body.

Привет мои друг. Back in 2006 and 2007 I began purchasing as many of the film cameras that I'd always wanted. I got a Hasselblad 500 CM for 115, backs for 54 ea., PME5 for 105 and 3 lenses....80mm for 76, 150mm for 179 and 50mm for 195. I bought 9 Nikons, Mamiya C330 for 75 and even a Leica R8 for 220. I had, for some strange reason, a premenission that one day the prices of analogue cameras would rise again due to increased interests. I didn't know if it actually would though, but purchased these cameras, and more, nonetheless. I even got the Fuji GX680 I so wanted for only 220. Every time I would go to Russia I saw plenty of these cameras that you can get for just smiling at them. I was never interested in these cameras, but I do have a couple of Helios lenses for my Nikons. I go to Russia every year as my assignments took me there and now because my wife is from Russia and I love to visit.
I am glad to see that interest in film has increased through these years and even more glad that I got the equipment I got when I did. Only problem....there's still more equipment I would like to have. Unfortunately though, the boss more cameras. Oh well. At least I can go to Russia whenever. Спасибо болшои.

I recall buying two of these back in the 1990s, one for myself and the other as a gift for a friend.
They were super cheap (I'm sure it was less than $50/each), and kind of fun to use.
I'd figured it would be like a Holga that you could focus, and it was.
I owned a Hasselblad, a Rolleiflex and a Mamiya 6 at the time, so this was not something I thought of as any kind of serious camera.
I like how this video makes the camera look sort of "sexy" memory is that it was clunky in use.

By the way, the listed price for this on the Lomography site seems high. For $375 you could find a used Rolleiflex .

A Yashicamat is as low as i'm wiling to go. It has film handling features these don't have and more consistent lens quality.

I own a Yashicamat. Great little camera, except for the meter.

Ricoh Diacord G

I bought a Lubitel 166 Universal for 15 Euros from the "junk table" at the camera shop. I figured for that price I could try some holgaish fun. The pictures quality surprised me very positively. If you are in there for Lomographic effects, keep looking, you ain't gonna get them here. I pretty much agree with Kyle.Picture quality is pretty good indeed, build quality is so-so at best (the door locking mechanism doesn't hold very well so I have to keep it shut with tape...), and the viewfinder is kind of frustrating. But unlike my Seagull 4A's, it keeps on working just fine in sub-zero temperatures cold, rather than jamming film advance.

I have had 3 lubitels the latest is a 166 Universal, I took a gamble it was untested but it was complete with the 6×4.5 mask. Unfortunately the shutter wasn't working correctly so I had to remove the lens and give the shutter mechanism a clean and re-lubrication. To refocus the lens I made a focusing screen out of some picture glass and some fine grinding paste. The gray jig to hold the camera on the tripod with the film door open was a quick 3D print. The 4 screw holes in the camera body are slotted so the lens focus gear can be disingaged from the viewing lens to set up the focus.

With the motivation it was cheap, I bought one when I lived in the UK in the 80's. It was a toehold in medium format, but I had problems with the images. Possibly it was just my camera, but every image had a heavy vignette on it. I acquired a C220 later.

I have a Mamiya Six k2 and a Mamiya C220 that are both wonderful shooters.

I enjoy the different perspective of the C220 gives me a different view of the world.

While I enjoy the flexibility of a coupled rangefinder and ability to shoot either 6x6 or 6x45 with the Six K2.