Johnny Wilson
  • Johnny Wilson

Using a Cosmic 35 for the first time

Back in September last year I had some time to kill in London, whilst Chloe was getting a tattoo, so I went to Camden and in as many camera shops as possible... as you do. Whilst in Nicholas Camera Company, which is an Aladdin's Cave of old camera stuff by the way, I picked up an old classic Soviet Rangefinder; the Cosmic 35. One of the most-produced 35mm cameras of all time according to Kosmo Foto.

If you don't know anything about the Cosmic 35, it's the European export branding of the Smema-8, both produced by the original LOMO company and otherwise identically the same camera, and features a 40mm lens with an aperture range from f4 - f16, shutter speeds from 1/15 to 1/250 (and B) and a focus range from 3ft (just under 1m) to infinity. I didn't really need another Camera... I didn't really need another Soviet Rangefinder... I already have a BeLomo Vilia... but after reading that Kosmo Foto article way back in March and just generally wanting to treat myself I thought investing in a milestone camera like the Cosmic 35 was a good idea! My particular Cosmic 35 was very grubby when I picked it up, and the first thing I did was give it a good clean so far as I could without taking it to pieces, and there was some old glue mark or something on the plastic at the back that took some serious elbow grease to get rid of. It was clear it had seen some heavy usage, but after testing it and inspecting it in the shop all seemed to be still working as it should be so I gave it a chance. Fast forward to December 2020 and I finished working my way through my photographic to-do list to finally get round to giving it a test drive, and what other film to best pair it with than Kosmo Foto Mono of course? Kosmo Foto being half the reason I bought one in the first place!

At first impression I'm really pleased with my first handful of shots. Just that anything has turned out at all is a bonus really! But at infinity focus, where I haven't been able to mess things up by guesstimating the distance wrongly... some of the photos have turned out really sharp and detailed. Although all my shots have a mark on the right hand side which looks to me like a slight light leak and there are instances where the camera has scratched the film, but only slightly, and none of these imperfections have really ruined the photos with the only ones I've scraped being shots incorrectly composed or just rubbish shots that didn't work out properly for me.

Generally, I got on with the Cosmic ok. I really didn't like the viewfinder; being too small and fiddly for me with my big chunky glasses. I tried my best with it to frame my shots and for the most part it went ok, but there were a few shots that I messed up because I hadn't framed them properly. I also found the aperture ring on the lens barrel really stiff and awkward. I thought the digits; 4,5,6,7,8 above the ring were f measurements until about 2/3rds of the way through shooting, but it transpires they correspond to EV values so I potentially underexposed and overexposed over half the film... but it seems to have worked out ok! On that same subject; all the way through shooting my first roll of film I thought the film counter was broke, but it turns out I just needed to turn that circular disc thing on the top until it looks like it's back on zero again... I know what I'm doing, honest...! so I had no idea how much of the film I'd actually shot all the way through until it wouldn't wind on. I also found it really fiddly and difficult to wind back the film after I finished, and that little silver knob you use will really grate on your fingers! I think my index finger is still sore... other than that the camera felt really sturdy and ergonomically designed well enough to prevent blurry shots by way of accidental camera movement, and although I initially found the shutter cocking lever a bit fiddly eventually after getting used to the camera I could trigger it with my fingers whilst still looking through the viewfinder and I'm really pleased with my photos.

Despite not being able to travel, thanks to England currently being in lockdown, and therefore despite being limited with what I could actually shoot with my Cosmic, I enjoyed taking it around and using it. Mine came with (what I think is) the original case and strap, making it easier for me to carry around, and it doesn't feel too heavy and obtrusive so I can see me using it again. Without comparing the 2 too much, it doesn't feel as mechanically solid as the BeLomo Vilia and I wasn't massively convinced the back of the Cosmic wasn't going to leak light like a cullender, even when inside the case, but thankfully, apart from some odd little marks on the right hand side of my shots, and the occassional film scratch, all seems to have gone ok. Although I think I actually like the Vilia over the Cosmic (sorry LOMO) but otherwise I enjoyed using it and was impressed with how sharp and detailed some of my shots turned out. I can see me taking it travelling and giving it some more usage... even if I do have 20 other cameras that make shooting photos much, much easier...!