Digital LOMO – Has Hell Frozen Over Again?

In October 2003, Apple proudly announced “Hell Freezes Over” with the launch of the iTunes Music Store for Windows. The unthinkable had happened. Apple was making software for their arch enemy’s operating system and the world was coming to an end. So with the recent announcement by Lomographic Society International that they will move into the digital photography realm, is there a cold front moving through hell once again?

For those that don’t know, Lomographic Society International (LSI) is a company based in Austria that sells photographic equipment and accessories. They started out as a distributor for cameras they bought on the cheap from Russian optics company LOMO but over the years they started to create their own plastic “toy” cameras and even created a replica of the famous LOMO LC-A when the LOMO company stopped producing the camera themselves. The one thing that distinguished LSI from many other camera retailers was that they only sold film based cameras.

Long bashed (hated even) for what some people perceived as inflated prices and alleged aggressive marketing techniques, LSI was often defended in online forums because “they helped in the sale of film.” With the rise in digital photography, many other retailers were pushing their film offerings to the bargain bin in the corner of the store but LSI continued to promote film photography as something trendy and chic and here to stay. Their marketing techniques were quite successful with a whole generation of users who grew up with digital cameras but were now making the switch to film based photography. LSI coined the phrases “Lomography” and “Lomographer” and the Urban Outfitters crowd all wanted to be a part of the scene.

LSI wasn’t the only company focusing on film of course, but they were one of the more succesful companies in enticing young people into film photography for the first time and older photographers back after their switch to digital technologies.

But is all that now about to change? With the recent LSI announcement about the introduction of a new digital camera, it would appear so.

Called the LC-D, this new compact digital camera is based on the iconic LOMO LC-A. In fact, it uses the same body as the LC-A+, the lC-A replica manufactured by Phenix Optical Company. The new camera has a 7.1 megapixel sensor and has built in x-pro, B&W and “enhanced vignette” modes. Unlike regular compact digital cameras, the LC-D still uses the zone focus mechanism of the LC-A and also allows double exposures like it’s film based cousin, the LC-A+.

This isn’t the first time a predominently film based company dipped their toes into the digital pond. In May 2008, another film hold out, Unsaleable.com, sent a newsletter via their Polanoid.net website announcing a new digital printer from Polaroid called the PoGo (see the newsletter here.)  “horrid, horrid from Polanoid.net” stated one post in the Polaroid Flickr group but it was easy to see why Unsaleable were looking at the PoGo printer. When Polaroid announced that they would stop making instant film, the end for Unsaleable’s business was in sight. With only Fuji making instant film for a limited number of cameras, the bulk of the business would have ceased to exist due to lack of supply.

However, rather than heavily investing in digital photography, Unsaleable, now called Polapremium, instead invested in last run lots of various Polaroid film types and have been very successful in keeping analogue Polaroid film alive, at least for now. 

In the LSI case the situation is different. It is difficult to see exactly what the motivation behind the LSI move. There is currently no problem with 35mm or 120 film supply. It is true that some manufacturers are stopping production of specific film products but there are still plenty of brands available. Some new lines have even been introduced in recent months. Perhaps this is a way for LSI to increase their market share again. With a digital option now available for both existing and would be “Lomographers”, there is no longer a reason to buy the more confusing film equipment to be part of the Lomography club. If you can be part of the same tribe and get the same effects without having to send your film off to be developed, why spend the time and money on the older cameras?

Back in October 2003, the world did not end and hell warmed up quite nicely. In fact, iTunes changed the way many people obtain their music, their news and their TV. A positive change in my opinion. But I’m not so sure about this change. Hell freezing over is a long shot. LSI is not Apple in it’s reach but there may be some minor changes in the world of film, and down at the Urban Outfitters store.

Update: OK, so this was an Aprils Fools Joke. Lame? Yes. But could it happen some day…?

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