A word of caution — this is not a good review. This is me struggling to string together some words of wisdom about Smena 8M after I struggled to finish a roll with it.
Smena 8M is a camera made by LOMO in the soviet union. It was one of the simplest, cheapest on most available cameras around. It doesn't have many bells or whistles. In fact — it doesn't have any bells. Only some quiet whistles. It's a fully manual, fully plastic camera that is fully scale focused. It has a 40mm f4 lens of a Triplet design. It takes 35mm film.
It was cheap back then and it's even cheaper now. Especially if you live in the former soviet union countries where you can get them for next to nothing. If you don't, you can find one between $20 and $40.
It got one because it doesn't look too bad from the pictures and people say good things about the T-43 lens. There are even people ripping it off the Smena and modifying it for M-Mount. Besides — it's cheap. What have I got to lose? It appears that I can lose some of my sanity and more importantly — time. Turns out that I'm not too compatible with Smena 8M. What also didn't help is that I dropped it by accident ( or my subconscious did it on purpose ) and the camera went from bad to worse.
Let's start on a positive note. The camera doesn't look that bad. It's no design marvel that will travel across the most famous museums in the world. But it's quite cool. A very brick-like design.
It looks like all the lines are straight on the brick but that's not 100% true. There are slight curves everywhere. Also on the bottom which means that when you place the camera on a flat surface it doesn't stay flat. You can spin it like a propeller which can bring back some joy into your heart after you've felt the camera.
Smena 8M is built from plastic. Plastic and air. The plastic is not of the nice kind as well. It injects thoughts of fish dying from plastic overdose in the oceans whilst bathing in oil spills. It's not very solid and it squeaks and creeks if you apply force to it. It won't perish in your hands. It will forever annoy you with its presence whilst never actually dying.
It may look like there is some leatherette around the camera. But no — it's plastic. The lens casing might be made from metal but I'm not 100% on that. It's definitely not made from the same plastic as the rest of the camera.. The lens optics are actually made from glass which is nice.
The camera feels light and it is light. It feels a bit too light for the size of the camera. It's not a huge camera but it looks bigger than the weight suggests.
Dropping Smena 8M doesn't improve anything. It was sitting in a bag with some other stuff and I dropped the bag. The bag was around 1 - 1.5 meters above ground and it fell on a very solid ground. It wasn't the lightest of falls but I didn't expect too much to break. In some aspects not too much broke but what broke rendered the camera pretty unusable. One of the two plastic brackets holding the top of the camera in place shattered. The plastic bracket acts as an anchor for a screw. With the screw loose the top was now holding on with one bracket and was about to fall off. The top also plays a part in the film advance process which broke as part of this fall. You could still advance the film but it wouldn't let you know when to stop. So you could advance forever and never take any photos. Which might have been a blessing.
I kept being brave and continued using the camera. I judged the film advance by feel and the rest worked well enough to take photos. The top was still about to fall off but it held on for the rest of the roll.
Functionality & Ease Of Use
I'm no stranger to simple, scale focus cameras. But I wouldn't mind being a stranger to this simple, scale focus camera. You get all the necessities here. Film advance. Manual aperture control from f4 to f16. Manual shutter speed control from 1/15th of a second to 1/250th of a second + bulb. And a viewfinder.
The viewfinder is a simple glass tunnel with no extra information inside. It's like looking through a small window. No framelines. No nothing. Don't expect super accurate framing. It's more of an approximation.
Shutter is controlled from the lens which is common for most leaf shutter cameras. It feels acceptable although the control itself doesn't have well defined clicks for each of the shutter speeds.
Aperture is controlled from the front of the lens in a very awkward position. You need to rotate a small ring around the front optical element. It doesn't feel natural. It also forces you to look at the front of the lens which is not how you typically hold and use cameras. If you're expecting a clicked aperture then you're insane.
Shutter is cocked by a lever on the side of the lens. It's the best feeling control on the whole camera. It has a nice resistance and feels good. It was what kept me from going mad when using this camera. I knew that going to the next frame is worth it because I'll get to experience the cocking of a shutter. Sadly it has a pretty fatal flaw. The lever is not short and it sits exactly where your finger sits when you're holding the camera. With the camera cocked the lever doesn't bother. When you release the shutter, the lever will jump back to its initial position and this is where the problem lies. In its travels the lever will hit your finger. No big deal you might say. It's not like it will break your finger. You are true. But the return speed of the lever is directly linked to shutter speed. If you block the lever with your finger then the shutter remains open ( or half open ) for longer. I knew about this before I used the camera and I still blocked the shutter a couple of times. You have to hold the camera in a very unnatural way when taking a picture to avoid shutter blocking.
There is no double-exposure prevention method. That makes it very easy to do double exposures. And it makes it easy to do accidental double exposures as well. My recommendation is to always advance the film after taking a photo. That way you'll know that you're safe to take another shot. Or if you're interested in double exposures then shoot away. Smena 8M will give you 100 exposures on a single frame without any worries.
Film is advanced with a wheel. The wheel will block after it's been advanced enough. Unless you've dropped and broken your camera. Even with an unbroken camera the frame spacing is not super consistent but I didn't have any overlapping frames. Just uneven spacing.
There is also an exposure counter wheel but it also broke as I dropped the camera because it's linked to the film advance mechanism.
Film rewind also confused me as I had to look up how to rewind the film. At first I thought that this feature broke when the camera fell. I couldn't see any obvious way to rewind film. Turns out you have to press the shutter release button and keep it pressed whilst you rewind. It's not the most ergonomic action but it's doable. I've never seen this in other cameras. After taking the camera apart I can see how it works but it's still weird.
Smena 8M is frustrating to use. Aperture control is awkward. Shutter release is awkward because you have to hold the camera awkwardly to not block the shutter. Film rewind is awkward. Viewfinder is not awkward but it's no joy either. Focussing is acceptable but not super consistent in resistance across its travel. The distance scale can be read easily enough. The only saving grace is the shutter cocking lever to bring you joy 36 times. Or more if you're into double exposures. I can see myself doing double exposures with Smena 8M just to get to cock the shutter more times.
T-43 40mm f4 Lens
Some people say that soviet triplet design lenses are quite good. T-43 is my first soviet triplet and with great regret I have to inform you that I don't love this lens. Although it might be my own fault this time.
I've only shot one roll of film through Smena 8M. And I only got 25 exposures out of the 36 exposure roll because of me dropping the camera. I also didn't enjoy using the camera so it was super difficult to get me to take any pictures with it. Instead I took random photos that are no good and do not represent the lens in a useful manner.
What I have gleaned is that the lens has a nice contrast. It can be sharp but often isn't for unknown reasons. Many of the shots are quite blurred. Some blurs look like motion blur and I don't know how I achieved that. I didn't go below 1/60th of a second and that shouldn't cause issues for me, especially with a 40mm lens. Other blurs look more like out of focus blurs but I often shot quite closed down. Around f8 or f11 and at that point most things should be in focus. Either I completely forgot how to focus or there is some other issue.
The photos without blurs are OK. Closed down the lens is plenty sharp but it doesn't blow any minds.
Have a look at the pictures below to see what results I got. The pictures are not good. I have warned you.
If you've read this whole review then you'll know that I don't like this camera. It's light but too big to be pocketable. I did fit it in my coat pocket but it wasn't easy to get it in or out.
To enjoy it you have to like using crappy cameras. I thought I did but this was too annoying for me to enjoy. I struggled to finish the roll, even with my generous film advancement to ensure that I don't overlap frames. I did take the camera with me many times but I didn't want to take it as the only camera as I didn't trust it. Problem with that is that I didn't want to use it when I had it with me because I had better cameras at my disposal.
I can't recommend this camera. If you want a simple, scale focus camera then there are other options out there that offer the same thing in a much better package. Like Agfa Silette for example. And they cost around the same unless you're in a country that was part of soviet union.
I can only see some use in this camera if you like double exposures and a particular look in your photos. It's also a good camera to learn to take apart and then together again. It's very simple in its construction and you can learn how it works which could come in handy for future repairs in more complicated cameras. For example you can take the fixed lens off by removing 2 screws that you access by opening the back door.
That's me done with Smena 8M. I could get another Smena 8M without much trouble but I don't want to. What I want is to explore the T-43 lens more. I've already taken it off and removed the shutter blades and will try to stick an M-mount on it. That will allow me to put it on much better cameras. Analog or digital. I will write an update on this some time in the future.
If you like this camera then that's all good. We have different views and that's OK. Just because I dislike Smena 8M doesn't mean that you should feel bad for using one.