What could be more exciting to an avid photographer than the chance to create your own piece of kit, from scratch?! I’ve had my eye on a Lomography Konstrucktor kit for a while, so took the plunge and not only got one for myself, but one for a friend who shares my passion in all things film photography.
With supposedly everything you would ever need to construct a camera in the box, I initially realised that some added tweezers would have been extremely beneficial! With absolutely minute screws, ensuring they line up with the holes is, in itself, a bit of a challenge. Come to think of it, so is differentiating the sizes – the kit comes with 4 sizes of screw included, though the difference between two of them is nominal.
Having first constructed the lens and viewfinder separately, you’re well on the way to the camera body. And here’s where I got confused. My prior knowledge of film cameras means I’m fairly adept to knowing what I’m looking at, what should go where, and what it should do. The gears, I assumed, needed to sit level so that the cogs locked into one another; though what I found was that on tightening the screw, the gear would go from level to slanted. This was caused by the take-up spool being unable to sit in the circular base – the part is simply too short. To counteract this, squeeze the sides together with enough force to reduce the circumference, but not to break it! I did this a couple of times, as without doing so you’ll find when it comes to clicking the four main sections of the body together, the gears simply don’t sit low enough to allow it to fit.
Just as I thought I’d sussed this section, I found that the film did not advance when turning the take-up spool, as it should. Instead, it was jamming, making a clicking noise. Now, I should mention here that nothing states in the instruction manual that this is a manual advance camera, nor how far it need be advanced to the next frame (there are no batteries, but wiring within the viewfinder), so those new to film photography would likely find this confusing. The frame counter in turn moves the sprocket gear – which should advance the film along via the teeth – but both sections of this system work separately. The take-up spool knob at the top of the frame counter should, I would have thought, have moved both in unison. Perseverance alone un-jams the take-up spool so that it glides smoothly.
Once the rest of the camera is assembled, the best way to test if all things are working is, of course, to shoot a test film. The actual process of framing and using the viewfinder is unusual in itself, and as a sucker for a straight line, I found framing one to be harder than I thought! I tested my hard work with some Ilford HP5 film, and was disappointed to find that it came back completely blank! I’d intentionally exposed some areas whilst trying to get the frame to advance, had intentionally taken some multiple exposures, but also taken single frame shots, making sure to fully advance the film. I was given a big hint however when it came to rewinding the film; typically you can feel the tension, and feel the slack as you’ve released the last piece from the take-up spool, but this time it felt no different at all. There was that clicking noise again…
Turns out that this isn’t an uncommon problem, that Lomography are aware of it, but yet still makes them without a suitable way of fixing the error – lots more people online are asking the same question. I emailed Lomography for some advice on the gear and spool issue, only to be told that they should both work fine, and that it’s fully manual. I’ve seen other people recommend removing certain screws and parts to get this to work, but really, you shouldn’t have to.
My absolute verdict therefore, is unfortunately – don’t buy a Lomography Konstruktor if you actually want to use it. Buy it for the fun of building something, sure, but don’t buy it thinking you’re adding another camera to your arsenal…you’ve no guarantees it’ll work!