When Light Meters Die

flowers outside Eau Claire
#1933. Kodak Max Versatility 400, Lomo LC-A. Unicolor C-41 Powder, 3:30 min @ 39 °C.
This single photo is all that turned out on a 24-exposure roll of expired Kodak Max Versatility 400. It’s too bad because I was looking forward to seeing the photos I had taken while on a photo walk downtown last summer. I believe the other photos were lost, not because the film is expired — I compensated for that by adjusting the ISO — but because my LC-A’s light meter is dying.

At first I thought it might be the batteries. Even though the battery test light said the batteries were fine, I replaced them anyway. Turns out it wasn’t the batteries. So if it wasn’t the batteries, then I figured it must be the light meter — but I wasn’t sure at first. I didn’t know for certain until I switched the camera into Manual mode while trying to troubleshoot the issue.

If you’re not familiar with the Soviet-era Lomo LC-A, it has two modes: Auto and Manual. In Auto mode, the light meter controls both the aperture and shutter speed. The choice is made for you. And in Manual mode, the LC-A defaults to 1/60 sec. shutter speed and allows the user to manually set the aperture from f/2.8 to f/16. The LC-A is meant to be used in Auto, with Manual mode reserved for use with flash. (I should probably mention that when Lomography updated the LC-A and released it as the LC-A+, they did away with Manual mode. You cannot set the aperture manually on a LC-A+.)

To test my LC-A, I set the aperture to f/2.8 and with the camera’s back opened up and the front pointing at a bright window, I triggered the shutter repeatedly. I could see the shutter open and close just fine and the aperture size looked correct. I switched back to Auto and fired the shutter some more. The camera only worked properly about half the time.

It turns out this is a common issue with the Lomo LC-A. As I scanned eBay listings, I noticed that the more reputable sellers (often from Ukraine) will tell you whether or not Auto mode works. Sellers will usually say something like “the camera works in Auto” or it “only works in Manual mode” (I’ve even seen it confusingly translated as “hand” mode), but interestingly enough, I’ve never seen it described as a light meter issue. This is something to be aware of if you’re thinking about buying a Lomo LC-A on eBay.

For now, I think I’ll only use my LC-A in Manual mode while I research possible repairs. A quick Google search looks promising. It seems this issue may be fixed if it’s a loose or faulty wire, but if it’s a broken resistor, it’s best to buy another LC-A.

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