Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Rolling With A (Belo)Russian

I went crazy yet again. I chanced upon this interesting plastic gem. While the Minolta I borrowed is superior in every way, I still got enchanted with this Belorussian beauty. Maybe because I really just have a thing for rangefinders. It has a kind of subtlety that calls less attention than the average SLR.

Maybe it's #sentimentalism of older days, but I'm quite attracted to #rangefinders. From Leicas to Olympus to Fujis, there's a charm about them I don't see even in the best of D/SLRs. I've long lusted to get my hands on a #rangefinder camera, but the prices I saw were absurd. Then my path crossed this #russian - it's #cheap but #cheerful... And was at a price that screamed at my common sense that was trying to silence the urge to get me a rangefinder: "cyka blyat idi nahuiii!!!" - alrighty then, comrade... A lotta folks are screaming for Fuji X-Pros, X100s, and X-Ts ... And I got this. It's not a proper rangefinder by any means but at this price, I won't complain. This is one itch scratched. Lovely. Shoutout and appreciation to #sovietcamerastore for this fix for my #vice and to @filmfolk_ for supplying my #film. I'm gonna bother them again soon to send some goodies. But not until after I share some thoughts about the experience in using this sweet thing. Teach your kids to love #film photography- they'll have no money to buy drugs. . . . . . . . . . . #rnifilms #filmfolk #lostwanderingdrifter #sovietcamera #filmisnotdead #filmphotography #buyfilmnotmegapixels #filmcamera #istillshootfilm #filmstill #filmphoto #film35mm #35mm #135film #belomo #vilia #belomovilia
A post shared by Rowe Lee (@lostwanderingdrifter) on

This is the Belomo Vilia. I've recently acquired this beauty and finished shooting a roll with it. So what do I think about this beauty? Well...


Casual yet interesting. It takes a bit of skill to use though it's basically a toy camera. I can bring this around wherever I frequent and it doesn't call too much attention unlike D/SLRs.

For starters, it's interesting to say the least. No, it doesn't have any fancy bells and whistles. This is just plain plastic fantastic. It has a few metal load-bearing parts and some springs, but that's about it. Here's a quick rundown of what it has:


Simple but capable. It has impressive image quality for a toy camera. As of writing I loaded this up with an Acros roll. The shutter lever almost looks invisible here as its texture blended really nicely at this angle.

A fixed 40mm triplet lens - a simple construction of just 3 lens elements. Fancier glasses have way more than that. If you're looking for optical perfection go get yourself a (insert your favorite latest big name brand top of the line camera model and ludicrously expensive lens here) instead.

Low tech, no fuss. The lens is surprisingly a joy to use. Ditto the simple viewfinder with simple framing lines.

On the lens barrel there's a selector dial for shutter speed that goes from 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, and 1/250. There's also a bulb mode, assuming you can hold the camera steady for a long time.

Minimalist appeal. At the bottom there's a film advance counter, the release button for rewinding the film and tripod mount. It has a handstrap that can be screwed into the socket as well. Note the aperture selection lever and the aperture values.

There's a puny lever at the bottom right of the lens that lets you select an aperture of F/4, F/5.6, F/8, F/11, and F/16, your aperture settings are reflected as cute icons in the viewfinder that goes from Sunny at F/16 up until cloudy in F/4.

Simple view. The viewfinder has simple framing lines to help proper subject framing at close distances. Icons at the bottom represent the aperture values from F/16 at the left to F/4 at the rightmost. The circle at the bottom shows that I've set the aperture value at F/4. It also shows the lens barrel blocking part of the view.

There's a film advance lever conveniently within reach of your right thumb when holding the camera forward. Pulling the lever advances the frame and cocks the shutter for the next shot. This thing is all mechanical. No electricity? No problem. It doesn't even have a light meter. This can survive an EMP blast due to lack of electronics. 

There is NO SHUTTER BUTTON. You read that right. No shutter button, So you leave your fancy "half-press to focus" technique in your bag. What it has instead is a shutter lever. To take another shot you'll need to advance the film again. Continuous burst goes at around "as fast as you can wind and shoot" frames per second. This is camera is all about slowing down. There's a flash hot shoe instead where the shutter button would usually be.

No shutter button. What it has instead, is a lever hidden in the shadows here. It took a bit of getting used to but it wasn't problematic to use when you get the hang of it. Before you get to that stage though, you'll press on the flash hot shoe a few times only to see that there's no button there.

Unlike your traditional digital mirrorless cam or D/SLR, what you see in the viewfinder is slightly different from what the lens sees due to parallax error. When shooting distant subjects, that's mostly not a problem. The closer the subject though, one might want to consider using the viewfinder to line the subject up more accurately.

Here are some samples I got from the camera. I got me a C200 roll and loaded it into the Vilia as soon as I got it. I spent the week shooting with it and after I finished the roll I sent it over to the folks at Sunny16labs for processing. What I get in return are digital copies of the rolls after a few days. (I get the option to pick up the negatives too.

Welcome To Starbucks!
Welcome To Starbucks!

Discussions
Discussions

Brewing Deep Thoughts
Brewing Deep Thoughts

Janica and Patricia
Janica and Patricia

Hanging Out In The Afternoon
Hanging Out In The Afternoon

Busy Afternoon
Busy Afternoon

Karen & Roi
Karen & Roi

Walking The Dog
Walking The Dog

You Can Text Under My Umbrella
You Can Text Under My Umbrella

Uh, yes. I am kind of a regular at the Starbucks near the office. The people there are awesome and friendly. There's a kind of outgoing warmth they have I don't find on other places. Smiles and cheers make my morning everyday... And of course, caffeine. Four shots of Americano to wake me up totally everyday.

Evidently, focusing is a bit of a challenge. I have been spoiled by auto-focus for over the past decade or so. Focusing this camera requires a bit of math and guess-timate of distances, the same goes with the aperture and shutter speeds. Sometimes though, the best you can do is 1/30 second shutter speed, F/4 aperture and pray that it doesn't get too underexposed.

Unlike the shutter speeds and apertures where you can get away with using a light meter application on your phone though, there's no cheating on focusing. I've been forced to put into practice everything I've read about zone focusing. The adage "F8 and be there." is really helpful here. It's fortunate that the focus ring is buttery smooth and a joy to use.  The illustrations and the distance markings are immensely helpful as well. Being able to estimate in meters instead of feet is an immense advantage.

Shelf At Satchmi
Shelf At Satchmi


If you nail the values correctly though, it's actually quite rewarding. It facilitates a bit of mental exercise in estimating values to meet the aperture. It's not perfect, but nobody will judge you for it.

My favorite thing about this camera? Its quiet shutter. Like, really quiet. I've used a number of cameras, and D/SLRs are among the loudest. That mirror slapping really makes quite a racket. This has no built in mirror, so it cuts off a lot of noise, sounds almost like a mirrorless camera.

Hands In The Air
Hands In The Air


I did say I enjoyed using the Minolta. But I like carrying this more. This is so light to carry around! It offers almost as much fun as the SLR albeit at compromised features, quality and durability, but it's by no means a bad thing... But having said that, I'd still prefer the Minolta when the sun sets and it gets dark. 

My thoughts about this Belorussian... Well, she's a keeper.  She's far from flashy and impressive, but what she is, is something that's different from the fast paced digital camera or the all too serious SLR. This one's basically a toy camera... That has good image quality. If you just want to relax or leisurely take pictures not worrying too much, this is the camera for it. If you're interested in trying out film photography but are too intimidated with SLRs, you may want to give this toy a try.

Also, follow me Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Flickr, and Instagram. Yes, I'm kind of all over the place. Don't hesitate to share your thoughts on the comments as well. Until then, don't let the fear of getting lost deter you from going out to wander! :)





P.S.

This camera had a defective exposure counter when I got it. Not a big deal, really, but sometimes curiosity, fascination, and obsessive compulsive tendencies can get the better of me...


Should you ever encounter the same temptation, I'd recommend you bring it to the proper technician. I got lucky and managed to put it back in working order with the counter now working, but I wouldn't do it again. Ever. I'll quit while I'm ahead there. You may not get as lucky as I did.


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