This camera has a wonderful lens, I liken it to the Olympus Trip 35. How does the rest of the camera fare? Overweight tank or heavyweight contender? Find out in this review!
A while ago now I picked up all three of the similar iterations of the Smena, the 8M, Symbol, and 35. I got to know them all equally, and posted a review of my findings, briefly covering my experience with each.
At the time I favored the 35, it was light, easy to use and just worked. However, over time I’ve discovered a few quirks that have shifted it down the stacking order.
My 35 leaks light. Not all the time, but enough to bother if you want to experience just that lovely lens, and less Lomo randomness. It also jams which is the most frustrating thing about it. It’s easy to waste a third of a film.
Which brings me back to the purpose of this article, the review of the Smena Symbol. When I bought it mine needed fixing to get the hot shoe to work, and since the review some intense fiddling to get the film counter to work at the same time — but I’ve done it.
Now I’m happy because the camera is a reliable, easy-to-use tank. It’s biggish and it’s heavy, but not too much to be as wearisome as some older film SLRs can be.
But most importantly, one of the most attractive things about the Smenas is the quality of the lens. The lens gives a marvelously crisp and crunchy result, I put it on the same pedestal as the wonderful Olympus Trip 35.
It’s a very contrasty lens, which creates the ‘crunch’ and produces the same beautiful colours that the LC-A does. The photos it takes are a sort of cross between the LC-A and the Lubitel. Sharp like the Lubitel, crisp like the Lubitel but in a convenient 35mm box.
The scariest thing about the Smenas and the Symbol is setting up a shot. You must guess focus like you do the LC-A, but the range of focus is continuous, there are the usual symbols you can use but they are on a rotatable lens barrel, so there is every variation in between also. These are marked in both feet and meters. So if you are good at guessing, then you’ll get great results.
Unlike the LC-A, guessing the aperture and the shutter speed is also up to you — though this is made quite easy. When you load the film, you set the ISO on the front of the lens (on the Symbol these settings are in a different system, you need to convert). This is actually setting the aperture for you. Once done all you have to do is set the shutter speed, which is again done through the usual symbol set. On the Symbol you can see these symbols on the top of the barrel, the actual speeds are marked underneath.
I use this system for most of my Smena shots. It works and if you have good light and a slow film, the aperture is quite small so you get a good depth of field and everything is in focus.
This breaks down in low light. The cloudier settings are very slow shutter speeds, almost guaranteed to produce camera shake. In these situations or when using flash (BTW the camera is synched at all speeds, not common in any camera!), you need to remember your sunny 16 or start working out the best aperture, shutter speed combo.
In summary, I love this camera. It’s sturdy, easy to use in bright light and produces quite stunning photos. I recommend it to everyone, beginners included – who will learn a lot from comparing the symbols on it with the numbers, it’ll teach you sunny 16!