in Cameras

Smena Cosmic Symbol

At some point I will probably do a post just listing the small collection of cameras that I currently have – which will hopefully not grow at the same rate as the fountain one did – but this post is about a cheap camera that I recently picked up on eBay for around six quid, mostly because of the name and the look of the lens.

It is, fairly obviously, called a Cosmic Symbol, and it is some variety of Russian Smena camera. It is suggested that it is the UK export version of the USSR Smena Symbol, manufactured potentially between 1971 and 1991, though from the look of it it has been around quite a while. I think I will try to match the colour of the front panels and tidy up the scratches on the silverish parts.

I have taken it out with me a couple of times and even developed one roll of film, so clearly am qualified to write a comprehensive review.

Good things

  • I think it looks good overall – it is very boxy and brutalist, clearly, but it works in this context, and I love the look of the lens from the front with the aperture dial.
  • Not too large or heavy. It fits into a biggish coat pocket, just.
  • Usable range of shutter speeds and apertures, at least in reasonable light and/or with a flash. The hotshoe seems to work OK.
  • Nice big shutter lever, which is easy to press without having to feel around for it like some cameras I could mention.
  • Similarly, nice satisfying film advance lever, easy to pull and makes a good “crrrunch” noise. (See below, however.)

Less good things

(Not, I suspect, from the design, but rather, from the fact that it is an old beaten-up camera from eBay.)

  • Film counter did not wind on properly initially for the second roll.
  • Film advance jammed at one point, though not fatally and cleared itself up.
  • Very suspicious film-loading mechanism, that doesn’t even have a slot to put the end of the film in – just a little tag that you are supposed to hook a sprocket hole on. I have, on both films I’ve loaded into it, been suspicious that it isn’t winding, opened the camera back, and discovered that actually it was winding and that I just ruined half a dozen frames. Oh well.

It hasn’t actually ruined any pictures by itself.

Things which might be good or bad

It seems to have an individual attitude to how much space it is going to take per frame, and where it is going to put them on the film. This may be related to something I am doing while winding it on, or it may not be. There is no vignetting and often the frames seem to go right to the edge of the film vertically – they are also of varying width, and quite often they overlap each other at the ends.

This has pros and cons – one has to cut and scan the film manually, certainly, and if you had thought to capture important details at the edge of frames that might not work, but it isn’t really that serious and it generated a rather nice accidental result on the first roll I took with it.

Most of the pictures I have taken with it so far are a bit rubbish, though, grainy things in poor light on 400 HP5+. If I find any good ones later on I will post them.

Exposure settings

While the apertures and shutter speeds are marked on the camera, it is designed to be used a bit more simply. There is a dial on the front that you are supposed to line up with your film speed, which selects the aperture. The options – which say they are “ГОСТ-ASA” but I’m not sure whether that means the original GOST or GOST aligned with normal ASA, the DIN numbers seem to maybe mean the latter – are 250, 130, 65, 32 and 16, which correspond to the aperture settings of ƒ16, 11, 8, 5.6 and 4.

You are then meant to select the lighting conditions impressionistically from the top of the lens by turning a wheel. A little white square shows where you currently are. These correspond to shutter speeds 15, 30, 60, 125 and 250 – if you turn it all the way to the left so that the white square disappears, you go to B mode, but that is not an official part of the cloudiness scale it seems.

I may not be the world’s most expert photographer but on looking at the numbers that it selects, I suspect that they would be a bit on the under-exposing side. Given that the numbers don’t align properly with film speeds anyway, if I were thinking of using the guidance system here I would pick the closest speed below the ASA rating I was using.

I also found it interesting that the system encourages you to modify shutter speed based on light levels, down to 1/15s, rather than change the aperture. This is opposite to my instincts. I suppose, given that it is designed to be a point and shoot camera and doesn’t have precision focussing, they wanted people to have as large a depth of field as practical.

What might I use it for?

Its main benefit in use is the ease of changing shutter speed and the nice big shutter release. The lens is fine and it’s lighter than my Praktica SLR. On the other hand it clearly won’t focus as well, it has no lightmeter, and it’s still quite big so not a casual pocket camera. I don’t know. I’ll keep it around and see whether I ever take it off the shelf in a year’s time.

  • “B” is usually “Bulb” – on English cameras at least!  It’s manual shutter release, for long exposures – the shutter will remain open as long as you hold the release.  (In the very old days, this would be done by squeezing an air bulb, the pressure holding the shutter open until the bulb was released, hence the anachronistic terminology).

    Another Russian camera to consider is the Kiev rangefinder ( ) Russian knockoffs of ’40s Contax cameras. They’re rather fun, in an agricultural sort of way.

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