Smena Symbol

Smena Symbol

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Luuuuuuucy! You got some ‘splainin’ to do! Er, um, OK. I’ll admit, I used a self-portrait contest as an excuse to buy this one — the only criteria for the contest was that the camera must be of Soviet origin, and it occurred to me to try going ‘low tech’ for a change. And this one was so inexpensive (before shipping) and in such great shape (it seemed in the picture) and was just versatile enough…for me to convince myself I HAD to have it. And so I did. Turns out I like it!

There were several models of Smena (CMEHA) before the Symbol, aka ‘Cosmic Symbol’ when sold for export. The original Smena was an interestingly angular bakelite-bodied camera in the tradition of cameras like the Blindé. By the time the Symbol rolled around it was fairly well-refined and another animal altogether. This surprisingly solid metal and plastic cutie is manufactured by LOMO – formerly GOMZ, famous now for it’s overpopular Kompact Automat (LC-A). I’d been tempted in the past by the early Smenas but was turned off them altogether when I saw the laughably junky Smena 35 at a local thrift store. Then a couple of people recommended the 8M to me and I took another look, and decided to get the 8M’s successor, the Symbol instead.

It’s called the Symbol because of the symbol scale on top of the lens mount that allows you to select the shutter speed based on light levels (symbolized by degrees of cloudiness). The distance scale on the manually focused lens includes symbols indicating head-and-shoulder portraits, full-length people, and mountains. The aperture is selected by changing the film speed ring in the front of the lens (limited to GOST 16-250, but functionally equivalent to f4 to f16). The upshot — while it seems to be a generic point and shoot, it is actually a fully manual viewfinder compact camera!

Main differences between the 8M and the Symbol: 8M has a top-mounted shutter release button that accepts a cable release; Symbol has a lens-mounted shutter release lever and no cable release socket. Symbol has a hot shoe; 8M has a PC sync port. Both have coated triplet lenses that are sharp stopped down and vignette slightly wide open, but are nice and contrasty with good color correction.


Frankly I didn’t even clean it, just blew the dust off the back of the lens with the shutter open on B. Nice shape!

Tips & Tricks

Some people like to paint the inside near the lens flat black to reduce possible glare, and also have been known to fashion slip-on lens hoods for it.

Funny thing, it took me a few minutes to figure out what to do with the film leader when I first loaded it up. I turned the takeup spool around and around and just couldn’t see the slot. To paraphrase “The Matrix”, there is no slot. You just hook a sprocket hole onto the takeup spool’s hook, wind on and go.

No self-timer? No cable release? Well, what did I want for $8 anyway. It’s a no frills scale focus shooter, but a surprisingly fun one to use. I’ll tell you, I didn’t expect to like it as much as I do!

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