Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Smena Symbol


Retro Camera Retro Bike - Smena Symbol with Unknown Film
Just when I thought  I was going to shut this site down because I'd run out of things to talk about... an amazing little camera comes into my life!

As promised, two days ago, I would introduce you to my latest $4 yard sale find - a Russian Smena-Symbol camera. (Poor kid in this video - paid $100 bucks for his, and he's lamenting how he coulda had it for $60!!)

Now, keep in mind that I was using a very very expired "no-name" film for my first trial run - said film I had no idea even where it came from. Anyway it was ASA (ISO) 200, and it did indeed work. Here are eight shots off the roll which I posted to Flickr.

First, I'd like to start with some comparison shots I made during the same evening walkabout with both the Smena and my trusty Digital Compact - the DMC-LX5. This will help us see what's really going on here. All of the Digital pics were shot RAW and processed with DxO optics Pro; the Smena shots were developed at Walmart and scanned by me with my Epson V500 - so here we go:

DMC-LX5 My Car, My Driveway
Smena Symbol - My Car, My Driveway
The digital shot, as you'd expect, looks perfect. But doesn't the Smena shot look so yummy you could just eat it? In this first comparison, you can see how "bad" the Smena's viewfinder is - it only covers 65%, so it makes the view look closer than where you really are standing. I'll talk about this, and all the other idiosyncrasies in another Post - tomorrow.

DMC-LX5  The Thing in the Park That Never Moves
Smena-Symbol  The Thing in the Park That Never Moves
This (above) is the closest comparison pair I managed to get. I'm surprised at how much the digital camera over-exposed; oh wait - I was using it in Manual Mode so as to get light meter readings so I'd know how to adjust the Smena's shutter speed and aperture! Somehow I mis-read things and both pictures overexposed by about one EV. But I am glad this happened - notice how much better the Smena handled the over-exposure? This is typical of negative film - it over-exposes much more gracefully than digital - especially a compact digicam like the DMC-LX5; and don't forget, this was very long expired film, but it still took it on the chin. My verdict on this pair? Digital - "a bit disappointing" in sharpness and color;  Smena - "soft and dreamy" with surprisingly good detail.


DMC-LX5  Swan
Smena Symbol  Swan
Tthe Swan (above) - Why is the Digital Camera making the grass so green in all these shots? Even though the expired film is really muting the colors here, I find it looks far more natural. Again, you can see how I'm struggling with the Smena's viewfinder coverage, making me stand back too far. They say you shouldn't get too close to a Swan anyway.


DMC-LX5  Campus Building
Smena Symbol  Campus Building
Here's a great pair for comparison (above). Once again, I can only describe the digital shot as "perfect" - no other words come to mind, but I'm beginning to realize why digital photography is considered by some to be boring. Now, with the Smena, I must say there is no way anyone could possibly emulate the overall look I'm getting here with software from a digital camera. It is very natural, but soft and surreal at the same time. I'm all for Film Emulation, and use it with just about every shot, but now I can see how it means "emulation" with an elaborate and expensive lens using a film SLR, in much the same way as when I was comparing my EOS 5D (digital) with the EOS Elan-7 (film), using good film and the same lens on both cameras - I really wasn't seeing a whole lot of difference, other than a marked color variation. But there's no way of emulating film in a funky plastic Russian camera! You actually have to use the funky camera if you want pictures that look like this.


DMC-LX5  "Things" on Campus

Smena Symbol  "Things" on Campus
Time for just one more (above). I purposely shot directly into the sun with both of these, and in so doing, I finally got something great happening with the digital camera. Detail is stunning, textures are fabulous, and the light got diffused in a very lovely way. Nothing boring about this one. With the Smena on the other hand, we still see the extreme greying out of the color I assume to be caused by the expired film - also, I'm still struggling with that viewfinder - this time with bad parallax error which is always far worse with a vertical shot. The light from the direct sun didn't behave nearly as spectacularly as it did with the DMC-LX5, and there is simply too much loss of texture. So for this pair, I have to give top marks to the digital shot. With all the others, I really prefer what the old Russian Smena Symbol film camera was giving me.

Tomorrow, I'll talk more about actually using the Smena, and how it's just a little bit weird enough to be super cool. Stay tuned! Oh, I should add - Mike, it's great to be back!


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