The Vilia and Me, a Deadstock Tragedy


I had longed for something like the Vilia for a long time, manual controls,wickedly sharp and contrasty lens and a design that reeks of the long gone regime we all know as the Soviet Union. However, after receiving the camera itself I realized everything isn´t how you picture it to be, and getting there takes effort. Learning to know the camera is half the fun, but this was something else, this was like trying to get to know a deaf Chinese. And I don´t even speak Chinese.

After spending disturbing amounts of time reading up on the Vilia and Smenas, like anyone longing for deadstock love does, and every time arriving at the conclusion that a love like this has to wait for the opportune moment, i.e receiving money that hasn´t a particular purpose except buying ridiculously awesome cameras. I realized that everything Russian usually winds up all over the earth but particularly the old Soviet countries. And as predicted, my camera (or my being able to afford one) was found in Ukraine.

I got the camera cheap. And I do mean cheap. Like really cheap. For a camera, ridiculously cheap. The shipping cost double the camera, that´s how cheap.
After counting the days and hours until my package arrived, the package arrived.
After anxiously wrestling the wrapping and packaging I brought it to the light of it´s new home and loaded it up with cheap ASA 200 colour film. All well and idyllic like a painting of the british country side.

Only days later the tragedy begun. I got the first roll back, and all images was out of focus. And not the handsome “Holga vignette out-of-focus” but a distinct and obvious “the-focus-ring-was-at-the-other-end-of-where-it-should-have-been”. Well, maybe my guesstimation was of. New pack of film rolls. Results back from lab. Horribly out of focus. A few closer pictures made the cut, but only a select few. And I handled the lens with such delicacy, I thought to my self.
After a repetition of this procedure I gave up, it wasn´t me, it was the camera. The camera celebrated for it´s razor sharpness and brilliant colours. Well, the colours was all there in all their glory and splendour giving even the most everyday picture a touch of extraordinaire.

But the sharpness shone like a light house beacon of not existing.
I went to my old upper secondary school where I knew my old photography teacher would know the answer, as I imagine him having such a knowledge for old cameras there is probably nothing I could bring through that door that he wouldn´t be able to take a good picture with.
And as predicted, he solved it. The front lens didn´t hinge on to the focus ring which made the lens either only move a bit every time or stay still at somewhere around four meters.
Joyfully I shot away with the now fixed and therefor superior power which is the Vilia.

But after shooting some three rolls of film (which most of still isn´t developed) the shutter gave up. It still opens and closes, but instead of the precision that is fundamental to the operation the camera shoots at random speeds and not when I press the trigger with my oh-so-privileged trigger finger but when I wind the film forward.

Now my Vilia sits quiet waiting for a second visit to the photographic teacher, while I wait for the films to prove if we fixed the lens or not. In the meantime I will dream away in the lomographic shop for another camera to keep my ,for now, crippled Vilia company.

If it works out I´ll probably post a second review of how brilliant a working Vilia is.

This camera was not purchased from anyone even remotely related to the LSI, and whoever he was he´s not responding to emails.

written by krabbpojken on 2008-09-14 #gear #deadstock #review #vilia #belomo


  1. superlighter
    superlighter ·

    great gallery!

  2. anarchy
    anarchy ·

    Great story and beautiful gallery =) I hope you can get the shutter fixed...

    I bought a Vilia when I was in Ukraine this summer.
    It seemed to be in really really bad shape and the film advance wheel was a bit dodgy, but upon closer inspection the fundamental functions (shutter and apperture) appeared to be in order and the lense looked fine, so I happily gave the seller 5 dollars to try it out. I shot a test roll (asa 100 slide) on location and developed it as soon as I got back home to Göteborg.

    The first thing my lab asked me when I came to pick it up was if I had used expired film... I prepared for the worst and quickly unwrapped the prints. I was surpriced with the results, but not in a bad way.

    Obviously the camera was leaking light, but it produced a very grainy, lo-fi, retro look and it fit perfectly with the monstrous buildings/monuments of the old Soviet era. Click on my user name to view the gallery ;-)


  3. anarchy
    anarchy ·

    Btw, it's the 2nd album, not the triples...

  4. krabbpojken
    krabbpojken ·

    thanks, both of you.
    I hope I can get it fixed but it looks gloom.

    Btw, anarchy, good gallery. It´s shots like yours that made me want a Vilia to start with.
    Such sharpness.

  5. ipdegirl
    ipdegirl ·

    Bummer. I have a similar story about my Smena 2 which I purchased in an antiques shop in my hometown. Worked fine for a few rolls but I noticed the film advance sprockets chewed up my film. Then, decided to ignore the picture counter altogether and advance the film like Holga 35mm. That worked fine until the film advance knob sheared off it's screw. Now it's dead until I figure out how to fix it.

  6. magicpocket
    magicpocket ·

    I had a Vilia and the shutter jammed open regularly and the frame counter didn't advance. I threw it away... No matter where you buy from, be it LSI or Ebay, it makes no different to the shocking quality control of cameras of this era.

    With LSI you get a warranty (big-doo-de-doo), but remember you can buy probably 5 or more vilias off Ebay for the cost of one off LSI, so only a baffoon would shop for a warranty in my opinion.

  7. anarchy
    anarchy ·

    Thanks krabban =) Yeah, that was the first thing to strike me too, the colours and sharpness are awesome in spite of the grain, I love this camera! With a bit of maintenance it's working almost 100% and the core functionallity is nearly intact...

    For 5 bucks this was a bargain for sure and Ukraine is overflowing with deadstock cameras, it's almost worth a trip there just for hunting down items like this, but make sure to come up with a good plan for exporting the goods, the airport security will turn your bags upside down and snatch it from you if they find anything of historical value.

  8. krabbpojken
    krabbpojken ·

    ipdegirl: i´ll mourn with you and i´ll hope for the day our cameras will live once again.

    and magicpocket: i´ll definitely agree with your logic on buying the stuff off ebay.
    Right now i´m considering a Fed five or similar, which is about twenty dollars.

    last but not least, anarchy: yep i´m studying russian so i have planned for camera hunting when i`m through. And i´ll go by train from Russia to Finland since customs are more relaxed about that kind of thing.

    Cheers! And keep the deadstock fire burning!

  9. tom_ashor_bhaan
    tom_ashor_bhaan ·

    amazing cam, wanna buy one

  10. lomodirk
    lomodirk ·

    Sounds interesting, bought one at a local flea-market and just gave a testroll for developing. Hope it will turn out well ;)

  11. mattydk
    mattydk ·

    I just got one for my wife as a present. Love the gallery!

  12. szmery
    szmery ·

    Hi there, i spent all evening reading and i must say it's amazing (in positive way, of course) to see how much you appreciate cameras that here, in Poland are sold for so little money. It is as it was written - shipping cost much more less than camera.

    Check this:…
    30 PLN is about 10$ ;-)

  13. yawny
    yawny ·

    aw, stunning photos anyways)
    I have Vilia too, and I got it rather cheap too, and it failed first couple of rolls. To be honest, one of them was my fault, i was just getting used to it and trying loooong exposures even where not necessary. But the very first roll came out just blank, it was horrible. As it turned out, it was a problem with holding and winding the film while shooting. After i fixed this and learned more about vilia - the results just made me really happy. Also it is the only one of my cameras that works with my lovely tiny unomat top splash.
    (sorry for my bad english)

  14. martin-hantabal
    martin-hantabal ·

    Does anybody know what is the upper dial with strange symbols used for (that is VILIA, the original one)? The lower dial is to remember what film is used, I think, but the upper one is a mystery for me.…

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