I bought this camera a couple years ago, but for the life of me I can’t remember why. Most likely it was due to browsing sovietcams.com in a fit of boredom. You might be surprised how many interesting cameras came out of the former Soviet Union. My current collection consists of about ten cameras from there and they’re all equally weird, cheaply made, and a sadistic thrill to shoot. Belarus of 1990 called and wants their fragile Bakelite beauty back!
The Elikon was born in the Belarus BeLomo factory around 1990. Experts on the Interwebs claim that it’s the successor to the LOMO LC-A but I doubt it. A competitor, maybe, but not a successor. While the camera certainly shares a similar pocket-able style and Minar lens, it does its own thing. Manufactured completely of third-world plastics loosely resembling Bakelite, the Elikon 535 is frighteningly fragile and extremely light, so giving it a curbside CLA to un-stick the shutter is not in the cards, but a quick review of this little gem is!
The Technical Bits
The camera is as manual as they come for a strange point-and-shoot, with the controls for exposure based on a set of switches that are coupled, granting the unlucky peasant holding it the ability to make a decent exposure. ISO settings are 50-400 and the shutter speeds for the 35mm f/3.8 lens are from 1/90 to 1/512 respectively. Shooting at f/5.6-f/8 had sharp results, while f/3.8 was a tad soft. Icons like the Sailboat are odd, but apparently the Belorussians considered it to be more than full sun. Belarus wins points because I am a huge fan of the symbols on these Russian cameras. They make me smile. Icons adorn the focus wheel, too, and the focal distance is a generous 1.2 meters to infinity.
Result 1: Close Focus
Shooting close subjects is not for the faint of heart with zone focusing, so get used to judging distance in both imperial and metric. I was lucky enough to get a Cloudy-8 day and could move in a tad closer. For this test roll I was shooting Kodak Tri-X 400 at box speed.
Result 2: Medium Focus to Infinity
Briskly walking back from lunch, I managed to stumble across Adrian 007. Graffiti bearing this moniker is found around downtown Memphis. I promise this city can be beautiful in its own way. I had the camera set at the dot between Two People and Tall Buildings.
The Overall Experience
Asked if I would be making this a regular shooter, I replied to a friend “not as long as the Minolta Hi-Matic is in my bag,” and I stand by that sentiment. The Elikon 535 is super-fragile, to the point I wouldn’t dare carry it anywhere without the strap tightened painfully to my wrist. Add to it the total lack of joy of quickly advancing film for the next shot due to a stubborn knurled film advance wheel, and this camera forces you to take slow, deliberate shots. It isn’t a street shooter camera, and was mostly just a pain to use.
Winner or Loser ?
You might be surprised how many interesting cameras came out of the former Soviet Union, but you won’t be surprised by the Elikon 535’s idiosyncrasies. Making this a regular shooter, or even a backup camera, is going to take some serious willpower from me, but I can’t deny its cool visual appeal and interesting history. I will give it one more roll, this time in color, just to give it a fair shot. However, this color roll will be shorter for the sake of my thumb.