The Cosmic 35 is the unusual UK release of the Soviet made Smena 8 (Смена-8) that was manufactured in the 1960’s to early 1970’s. There can be many copies found today with little to no effort required and are worth the rather low asking price in my honest opinion. If all you need to know is if you ask me “should I buy one?” I would say: “Yes, you should buy one” Pay no attention to the rest of the review until yours arrives in the post. Come back if you can’t work it out. I simply fell in love with this camera as it functions as a fully manual extension of your creative self. You can basically choose whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it, and it’s really easy as there’s almost nothing to the camera! Also, it just works all day due to its rugged simplicity. This is why I call it the soviet choice for pocket artistic freedom.
The camera itself is a 35mm manual focus, manual wind, manual shutter cock, manual aperture, manual shutter speed, viewfinder compact camera. Every bit of the process is at your fingertips. I didn’t think much at all of this camera when it came into my possession in 2015. I bought it on eBay for around £5 accidentally by bidding the minimum bid to increase the priority of the eBay notifications so I didn’t miss it and it just sold for that. £5. Free P&P. Great.
It arrived. I took some photographs and went for a walk around and thought nothing of the seemingly average results until I had to pack a bag for a photography trip to Amsterdam in June with my good friend Sean. I popped a roll of the then-popular Agfa Vista 200 sold through the bargain chain Poundland for, you guessed it, £1 for a 36exp roll. Good times! I gave the camera to Sean to shoot some photographs when we were around Jordaan. I missed out a vital part of the mix when relaying how to operate the camera, you need to wind the camera on after you’ve taken a shot. The below result is the first photograph on the roll of film, taken around five times from two different angles before we realised what was going on. This was the moment the camera became my weapon of choice for abstract work and creative freedom. Plus it’s a great way to practice shooting with light metered by the naked eye.
The first accident that started the love affair with the Cosmic 35
I love the dreamy look of the multiple exposure, and planned to pull this technique off far more often in the future. The reason that this is so easily done is that there’s no double exposure prevention implemented in the cameras design. You can cock, fire, cock, fire and there’s nothing to stop you from doing so. The shutter mechanism is a leaf type built into the lens, and the wind on wheel and shutter release buttons are all pretty much their own entity, any of which can be triggered at pretty much any order you like.
The shutter speed is set on a wheel surrounding the lens assembly and offers speeds of 1/250 - 1/15 plus bulb. The shutter button is threaded for a standard shutter release cable and works perfectly for long exposures and as a trigger removed from the body. The aperture is set via a fiddly little bastard of a ring just before you get to the front optics of the tiny 40mm f/4 lens (max. ap. f/16) and easily results in a smeared lens or incorrect settings but sports a pleasing 8 curved aperture blades that make for pleasing bokeh across the range. The lens itself is plenty sharp enough and makes for pleasing images with a medium to high contrast.
The viewfinder of the camera is completely uncoupled to the focusing ring of the lens itself and shows more like a 55mm field of view due to its high magnification. I choose to just use it as rough guideline and hope for the best. I find it pretty easy to guess distances with this camera pretty consistently due to the 350 degree rotation of the focus ring, more so than with the F2.8 Minotar lens of the Minox GT with a tiny 95 degree focusing throw in comparison. When you can see what’s going on, this isn’t a problem, I love the 90 degree throw of the Summicron 50 V4, but I have visual confirmation! It’s rare to miss a shot on the Cosmic 35 as you can be precise. One issue I do find is that the shutter button often doesn’t trigger the shutter release the first time you use it after a few hours. I have had to fire a blank shot into my hand (not the first time) to get it “unstuck” and can then fire away as normal with no issue. It’s so frequent that I know it’s going to happen and plan for it. I’m not sure this is the same for every model but three that I’ve seen seem to have had a similar quirk. It’s crudely made out of plastic primarily so go figure.
The best part of this camera is by far the fact that you can just work it out by eye and go for it. Maybe this technique isn’t for all of the beginners out there, but practice makes perfect. Take note of your exposure settings and what kind of look they give you. If you like it, do more of it. If you don’t, work out why and try and fix it. If in doubt, set it to F/16 and fire off a shit load of frames, changing the frame ever so slightly to create weird dreamy scenes of weirdness.
For the most part I use this camera for experimental work but it can also take a great photograph in its own right. I love the lens, I love the rustic image look, I love the ruggedness and the fact that you can throw it about knowing it’ll be ‘reet. Buy one, love it, set your artistic side free. This camera is definitely worth owning and is a great low-fi option for great 35mm film photography, especially on a budget. If you’re looking for Leica quality images, this isn’t that. It’s lens is adequate for most abstract and general photography but wouldn’t meet my personal standards for large ultra-crisp prints. I have uploaded a number of my favourite images from the camera, I hope you like them.