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The story behind the Lubitel

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Okay then - this is how it is:

As a Russian camera collector - one piece of information which I often heard/read is that the
Lubitel is a copy of the Voigtlander Brilliant. Whilst there is an element of truth in this, it is far from the whole story. To understand further - we have to go back to the 1930s and look at the most famous TLR, the Rolleiflex. This camera, released in 1928 shaped the whole future for the TLR and was such a success that other manufacturers started to make cameras inspired by it.

One of these manufacturers was Voigtlander, and in about 1932 it produced the first Voigtlander Brilliant TLR camera. This was a metal bodied camera, the bottom half of which was like a box camera, but with a proper shutter and lens. The top half was an enormous viewfinder - which was only used for composing the picture.

By about 1937 - Voigtlander had redesigned this camera to use Bakelite instead of metal for the body. These new cameras were known as the Voigtlander Brilliant V6 and were advertised in the UK from about the late summer of 1937.

V6 advert from 8th September 1937

This advert is from “The Amateur Photographer” dated September 8, 1937. The company advertising is “Sheffield Photo Co. Ltd” who incidentally also sold the actual Voigtlander Focussing Brilliant we own.

Then in about 1938 the Brilliant was improved to have a proper focusing viewfinder by the use of a cog system between the viewing and taking lenses. This camera, also made of Bakelite was known as the Voigtlander Focussing Brilliant. This name is slightly confusing as the V6 was a focussing camera, but only by estimation/guessing the distance. With the Focussing Brilliant - focussing was performed with a ground glass 'dot' in the viewfinder. The Focussing Brilliant also had a new improved viewfinder hood, complete with a lens in the 'sports' viewfinder.

Both the V6 and Focusing models of the Brilliant were made with a variety of lenses and shutters, giving many differently specified cameras.

After WWII, the GOMZ factory in Leningrad started to make copies of the Voigtlander Brilliant V6. This was known as the
Komsomolets TLR. I first came across the Komsomolets in the book best known as Princelle. They were apparently made between 1946 and 1950, and although Princelle suggests the Komsomolets is an exact copy of a 1937 Brilliant I have yet to see a Brilliant identical to any of the Komsomolets I am aware of. The rotating filter door which I initially thought was a Russian innovation can be found on some models of the Brilliant though the hinged door (which the Russians never copied) is much more common.

To complicate matters, whereas Princelle only lists one type of Komsomolets, there must be at least 2 versions. The main difference being in the lens/shutter fitted. The one I have has a shutter almost identical to that on the Lubitel. The Komsomolets that Princelle lists has a simple 3 speed shutter of a similar appearance to that of a Voigtlander Brilliant V6 shutter.

Quite why the Russians chose to copy the V6 rather than the Focussing Brilliant I don't know. However by 1949 they had rectified this. Instead of directly copying the Focussing Brilliant they added the major new feature, (the  cog focussing) to the Komsomolets. This new model was known as the
Lubitel. Superficially the Lubitel looks like a Focussing Brilliant - but is basically a V6 (minus the frame counter) onto which has been added cog focussing similar, but not quite the same design as the Focussing Brilliant. The opportunity to add the improved Voigtlander Brilliant viewfinder hood was not taken, and the Lubitel, like the Komsomolets has the simpler V6 style hood.

Photo of Komsomolets filters in compartment

Photo of Voigtlander Focussing Brilliant

Photo of Komsomolets with filters in compartment.

Photo of Focussing Brilliant showing the filter compartment with the extinction meter and yellow "cloud" filter.

Photo of original Lubitel TLR

1939 Advert for the the V6 and Focussing Brilliant

Photo of original Lubitel TLR taken with a Minolta 7000i camera.

A 1939 Advert for the Voigtlander Brilliant range

All other photos were taken with an Epson PhotoPC 650 digital camera.

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