The Smena-8M (Смена-8M) was the photographic icon of 1980s in Eastern Europe. It belonged to the category of uncomplicated, cheap cameras, popular among amateurs. In fact, for many of today’s experienced photographers this was the camera that exposed their first film when they were beginners. It was used by young and old. Although, we are unimpressed by its quality (it has been described as a ‘frame waster’), it is definitely a piece of kit representing great sentimental value for the middle aged generation of today. Recently, the Smena has enjoyed a comeback among the younger generation and it has even become a fashion item.
Production of Smena-8M started on 1970, when the Soviet leaders decided to give their hard working people a foolproof, inexpensive and accessible tool to express creativity. Manufactured by LOMO’ in St. Petersburg (Leningrad at that time) the word ‘Смена’ means ‘Change’ in direct translation, but at the time of the launch the idea behind the name was more about new, young generation.
The camera uses 35mm film. It is very simple to operate. It incorporates a hard coated 40 mm f/4 T-43 triplet lens, life-size one-to-one ratio viewfinder, distance symbol scale, shutter with X flash synchronized at all speeds. Unfortunately there is nothing to help with focusing so you need to have a good sense of distance. Shutter cocking and film advance are separated, allowing to superimpose pictures, which is great news for those who like experimenting with multiple exposure. The frame counter is set manually. One has to be careful with a finger not getting in the way of the cocking lever trajectory stopping the shutter release. Also the film rewind mechanism is not the most comfortable. The little knob can easily slip out of hand and you need to rewind the film all over again. On the positive side, weather condition symbols for sunny, overcast and cloudy, the distance for portrait, group and landscape as well as film sensitivity scales help take reasonably good photographs even by an unskilled amateur.
Apart from the aluminum lens, the camera is made of plastic and so it is very light. The film rewind mechanism makes it possible to use one cassette but the design ensures the camera can be used with two cassettes as well. One thing that is intriguing about this camera is that it continues looking modern. It looks like from this perspective, Soviet designers achieved the impossible, i.e. winning the battle with time. For how long?....we don’t know.
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Here is a selection of photographs taken with Smena 8M by Alex Abian to show the potential of this simple camera.