This is what Camerapedia says about the Smena 8M:

“The LOMO Smena 8m is an entry-level camera from the 1970s Soviet Union, now mostly regarded as a toy camera. It is an extremely low-tech, fully manual, no-frills plastic box capable of shooting surprisingly decent photos on 35mm film. There is no focus aid – focus is set by guessing the distance to your subject and setting that distance on the lens. The frame counter is considered by many to be worthless. “

I couldn’t have put it better myself! The word Smena (Cmeha) roughly translates to Young Generation, and the camera really does feel like a happy snapper for hordes of Soviet youth.

Yesterday, I loaded some film into it. It’s a process that can be a little tricky if you want to load it  like most other 35mm cameras without spooling it cassette to cassette, so here’s how it’s done:

Smena 8M camera
Smena 8M – inside

Once you open the film back you should see a plastic film cassette to the right. You can remove it and actually take off the plastic top to pull out a film spool inside. I didn’t realise this at first and actually opened up a new Kodak film cassette with cutters and pliers to get at the film spool. You can see this mess to the left in the photo! If you didn’t get your Smena with the official spool included, just take the top off one of your film cassettes and use the spool inside instead.

Smena 8M - film cannister
Smena 8M – film cannister

In the photo above, you can see that the top does come off the included Smena film cannister, where you can find the grooved spool. Take this out and insert it in the right hand side of the camera, being careful to slot it into the knob at the top. As mentioned before, if you don’t have this included spool, just use one from another film cassette. Now you’re ready to load your film!

Smena 8M - cutting the film leader
Smena 8M – cutting the film leader

You’ll need to cut the bottom edge of your film leader to fit it into the narrow groove. Just to make a bit of cranky plastic even crankier, the included official Smena spool is not quite as practical as it could be for this purpose! You could even use a little tape to stick the film leader to the spool.

Smena 8M - loading film
Smena 8M – loading film

As you can see in the above photo, the film is finally loaded onto the spool. Turn the flaky plastic winding wheel to make sure the film is firmly wound over the spool before closing the back door. You’re supposed to reset the frame counter to zero at this point, but it’s so innacurate that many Smena users simply ignore it. Yes, you’ll end up with multiple exposures and overlapping frames, but if you already have this camera, you’re likely already comfortable with that.

A precision tool the Smena is NOT! It’s a cheap plastic camera manufactured in the millions (21 million, I believe) in a central command economy that may or may not wind through a whole roll. The film might even rip and crinkle, but that’s all part of the fun right? This is exactly why the lomographers love it, and why can charge rip-off prices for it.

The Smena 8M is an unassuming chunk of industrial plastic. It’s very light, and the glass lens has a decent reputation for strange images. I’ll let you know more once I’ve used up my film roll. It shouldn’t be too long because I have little idea of where one frame ends and another begins! Indeed, I can’t even remember if I wound the frame on after the last photo I made! (another reason why loves these things is because they are engineered to burn through film, thus compelling you to buy more expired film from their store).

Edit: I have since discovered that my Smena film winder does eventually stop at the next frame if I persevere with my thumb. The plastic gears just get a little flaky at times.

The Smena 8M - film loaded and ready
The Smena 8M – film loaded and ready
Cranky plastic : loading film into a Smena 8M
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2 thoughts on “Cranky plastic : loading film into a Smena 8M

  • March 16, 2015 at 10:33 pm

    Very cool! These days you can do a whole photo study using one particular Instagram filter if you like. So very interesting when limitations imposed by time dictate the art instead. Love it!

    • March 17, 2015 at 12:17 am

      Hi @maesha-shannon 🙂 As much as I enjoy old cameras and film, it would be fair to say that without digital, I would likely not appreciate the limitations and benefits of these old boxes.


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