The Mysterious Lomo Instant Wide



Lomo Instant Wide Camera

For a few days now, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around how this damned camera chooses just how it’s going to expose. I kept telling myself that this thing is just a machine. It must be predictable based on how it it programmed to function within it’s limitations of shutter speed and aperture. But let me tell you…this has been a real puzzle to try to figure out. I think many people after a few packs of film would rather just get out the 10 pound sledge hammer.

This is what I know:

The film speed is 800.

The camera will choose either of 2 apertures – f8 or f22.

At 1/30s shutter speed, the camera will always choose f8.

The auto setting will expose anywhere from 10s to 1/250s

Right away based on these parameters, we know the camera will overexpose by one stop based on the sunny 16 rule. I always chose to shoot in bright conditions with a cpl screwed on to the lens for that reason. I just wanted something that would block the light coming into the lens by about a stop.


1/125s @ f8 -1 no CPL


1/125s @ f8 -1 CPL used

This is what I didn’t know:

Why do we get so many over exposures with this camera when it doesn’t seem like we should?

How does it select which aperture it’s going to use? Why do we get underexposures of our foreground?

I took a handheld Sekonic light meter with me each time I went out to take some test photos. And we have to remember that the built-in light meter on this camera does not look through the lens at our subject, but it measures the light where the camera is. So if your subject is in grossly different light than our camera, well guess what? You know what will happen.

Bearing this in mind, I always took an incident light reading at the camera’s meter location before I did a test shot. I thought this would be the most accurate way to predict the exposure from the camera’s perspective.

1.) The camera seems to opt for the higher shutter speed if possible. So if the shutter speed measured at f8 (at the camera location) is 1/250s or slower, it will always choose to use f8.

2.) If the shutter speed measured at f8 (at the camera location) is faster than 1/250s, it will choose to use f22 of course.

3.) the dynamic range of the prints are very very narrow. Thus, when you take a photograph you have to decide ahead of time if it’s the foreground or the sky that is the most important. Many times one of those things is going to go. So choose one or the other.

4.) Be prepared to use your exposure compensation switch to adjust for the foreground brightness. Most of the time during the day, I would have to shoot at -1, and if it was quite gloomy out, I may have to use 0 or even +1 to bring the foreground brightness up. And remember, I still have the cpl screwed onto the lens.


1/30s @ f8 CPL used 0 exp. compensation

5.) If you’ve measured the exposure at 1/125s @ f8 or brighter and you are shooting a scene with sky in it or objects near to the sky that are important to see detail in, setting -1 on the exposure compensation often is not enough. You should use a cpl or 1 stop ND on the lens for sure. Otherwise, if you’re shooting a scene with no bright areas in it, you don’t really require a cpl. Just adjust your exposure compensation accordingly often setting it to 0 or +1.


1/60s @ f8 0 exp. compensation


1/60s @ f8 -1 exp. compensation no CPL

6.) When you compose a photo, try to make sure that your subject is in decent light. Shadow areas quite often because of the dynamic range of the prints, will go to black.

7. As far as the flash is concerned, I found that the exposure compensation switch only had an effect on ambient light, not the flash. No big surprise there. But the flash was too bright in most photos I took of people 6 feet or so away. The only way to fix this would be to back up to 10 or 12 feet and try another shot. We know that aperture affects the brightness of the flash, and shutter speed controls the ambient. Therefore, you most need the flash when light levels are low, when the camera is going to choose an aperture of f8. So having the flash being too bright 6 feet from your subject really sucks. You’re probably not going to use the flash if your shooting at f22. Or are you??? Well, the flash when shooting at f22 seems to have very little effect on the photos. It’s just not powerful enough unless you’re very close to your subject. But here’s the weird thing about this flash: it seems just fine if you get in close and set the lens to focus to .6 meters. Maybe the flash sensor works fine at close distances. But it sure seems like if you’re at 6 feet or more, it fires at full power every time.


flash used 12 feet



flash used 3 feet

Bottom Line

Wow. If you’re like me and like to know what your camera is going to do before you take a shot (daaaa), then this can be a really confusing camera to use. I’ve done some tests and have a much better idea of things to look for now when trying to predict the outcome. But even still, it’s more hit and miss than I really care for. Luck will really enter the equation with this camera. The images when they work, I really enjoy. If you like the unpredictable nature of instant photography, then you will enjoy playing around with this camera.

So I’d say that you need to understand that the dynamic range of the prints is very narrow.  Once you’ve gone through a few packs of film, you should be a little better at knowing how to choose your compositions and how to set the camera accordingly, and when and if you need to use a filter on the lens. The flash threw me for a loop, but I now have a better idea of how to use that.

But here’s the thing: are you really going to carry a light meter around with you and measure the exposure at the camera before you take a shot? Probably not! So just get used to using film to zero in your exposures.

I know a lot more about the unpredictable nature of this machine now than I did before, but I still intend to do some more experimenting with it…at least until I run out of film or get too frustrated – whichever comes first haha.

Note: all the horrific shots you see in this post are completely unedited in any way…straight up scans.

Happy Shooting,