It’s not the camera, it’s the brain behind it. This is the “recurring” epiphany for me. I follow a ton of camera sites and film photography blogs, peruse the ‘bay for unique cameras, and I always buy something thinking it will make amazing photos. But at the end of the day, it just takes average photos like everything else. I learned this lesson again this past week when I went out shooting with a $30 lo fidelity Bakelite leftover from Soviet manufacturing, the Smena Symbol.

Smena Symbol

I took the Smena to the zoo for some shots of the Lego exhibit. After initially taking the camera out last week for some test shots, I thought it would be a comfortable solution for just shooting without too much fuss. I wasn’t disappointed. The sunny day and bright colors made a great environment for some cool photography and the simple controls on the camera made shooting a breeze.

Appropriately named the “Symbol”

This camera is reminding me of something that I oft’ forget while shooting: It’s not the camera. Well, c’mon, it is often the camera. A pro DSLR is going to take sharper, better focused, more colorful images than my Smena, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I shared a good few of these photos from the Smena on Instagram this week. I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, and the scans are nearly untouched, and these photos garnered more likes than any photo I’ve taken with other cameras a hundred times the price of the Smena.

Train Bridge at the Memphis Zoo – Smena Symbol w/ Fujifilm 200.

The shots aren’t bad, the global contrast is meh, but that’s attributed to an uncoated lens that picks up the slightest glare. The colors are muted, but in my experience, that’s a trait of the Fujicolor film. I like it. No, what’s caused me to pause and reflect is that I’ve had more fun in the last week or so using a cheap minimalist camera while I’ve got thousands invested in nicer cameras sitting unused (*cough* eBay *cough*) on shelves.

Reflections – Smena Symbol

Why is this worth talking about ? Well, it’s important to understand something we camera-addicts tend to forget: The less control we have over the camera, the more control we have over composition. We are forced to forget about things like nailing tack-sharp focus or separating the subject from the background. These things are possible, but they’re not in the way of making a good image. In fact, there’s freedom — or a feeling of freedom — knowing that you’re on set-it-and-forget-it mode. Now your mental faculties are devoted to checking every corner of the viewfinder to make sure it’s all part of the desired image, and making sure the picture is generally level. It may occur as an afterthought that your image might have been a little soft on focus, but the fact that you use symbols to gauge your distance and focus, it’s really not worth a second thought. Don’t think, just shoot. It works out pretty well.

Smena Symbol

In the end, whatever camera you have is going to take decent photos, and if you’ve got that M3 with the Summicron or the Canon with the redline lens, more power to you. But the phone , the plastic disposable, the free camera from a raffle will all take photos and will often give you the ability to focus on the image more than the settings. So go grab a plastic camera, or your phone, and make some art (not selfies!)

For more images from the Smena, check out my Lofi Gallery.