The BelOMO Vilia

The Vilia (Viliya) was made in USSR from 1973 until 1986 at the BelOMO factory in Minsk, Belarus.  BelOMO is Belarussian Optical and Mechanical Association, one of the two most famous "Lomo" factories.  The other is St. Petersburg (Leningrad), Russia.  LOMO comes from Leningradskoye Optiko-Mechanyekoye Ob'yedinyeniye.  I'm not sure if that's even a good transliteration, because I don't really speak Russian. 

The lens is three element, coated glass, 40mm.  For 35mm film, that's a very mild wide-angle lens.  Or not quite.   As such, there's not really any wide-angle distortion.  Well, maybe the slightest bit, but I never noticed any.  Too busy takin' pictures.

There is a small amount of vignetting, but not nearly as much as you get with simple meniscus-lens cameras.  I guess it gives you a bit of that "LOMO" effect, but not usually as much as the LC-A does. (See below... my "newer" old Vilia has large amounts of edge blurring.)

The apertures are f/4, 5.6, 8, 11, and 16.  You select the setting by means of a very small metal lever on the underside of the lens barrel.  

Sometimes the camera overlaps frames.  Sometimes the gear teeth don't grab the film all the way. 

Mine sometimes refuses to advance the film at all.   Well, now it's more than sometimes.  We'll get back to that later.  (I added a couple pics to the article from another Vilia, such as the one at left).

The Vilia, being all-manual, lets you release the shutter at any time.  That means you can sometimes squeeze an extra photograph... or part of a photograph... out of a roll of film.  I like to try, because it's fun.   You can easily open the shutter two, three, or more times on the same frame, leading to interesting effects.  (Just to clarify:  yes, you have to push the little button to disable the film winder, as you do with most cameras... and by the way, be careful it doesn't get stuck there, which it sometimes does).  I haven't really explored this angle yet.

Ilford HP-5 Plus

Being fully-manual, the Vilia has no exposure alarms or interlocks to prevent taking a picture if there's not enough light.   This could be a good thing sometimes.   The Chaika, also made at the BelOMO factory, also has this feature.  Or lack of a feature, if you will.

The camera also works with a hot shoe flash.  I tried it with a big Vivitar.  It worked great, except now I can't remember whether it needed a PC cord connected to it or not (I think it did).   Unlike today's digital cameras, the Vilia has no circuitry to fry.  It's immune to that 600-volt backsurge that comes from your typical 1980's flash.   

Camera collectors don't have much good to say about the Vilia.   Maybe that's because they haven't taken any pictures with it. Or, maybe they ran into the same problem I did.  (We're getting to that.)   A lot of collectors are all about fine mechanisms and tack-sharp Carl Zeiss lenses.  Those are great, but there's something happy about using a mass-produced camera to take a powerful, interesting, or just plain cool picture. 

Ilford HP-5 Plus

The Vilia is not super-rare or expensive.  It has good enough optics for what it is, but not the world's best (and they depend on quality control more than you might be used to...)  It's a basic, no-frills, all-mechanical camera without a light meter.  It doesn't even have a rangefinder.  Just a plain viewfinder that may or may not correspond exactly to what you're going to get in the photograph.   (If you want an external light meter that fits in the flash hotshoe of your camera, get one of these or one of these.)

If you are good at estimating distance in meters, you can bring the "triplet" lens to an acceptably sharp focus on your subject.   I am very glad they put numbers on the ring instead of symbols.  It's part of that technical, manual approach that used to be photography, before someone decided we're all too lazy to learn a few numbers.

Want an exposure reading?  "Today looks like f/11 at a 125th". 

There's your exposure reading, comrade. 

What's significant about the Vilia?  I'll tell you what.  It's an "everyman" kind of camera,  made in the days before "everyman" carried a smartphone and was scared of a manual focus ring. 

Modern cameras try to do everything for you.  In the process, they make it tough to do much of anything.

As a friend says about the modern cameras, "you need a toothpick to push all these little buttons!"   The Vilia has no such buttons.  Everything is 100% mechanical.   It's an antidote to today's techno-magical, short attention-span, gimme-gratification-now world.   And it lets you take nice pictures, if you know what you're doing.

Ilford HP5 Plus

Considering what the Vilia is-- a cheap, everyman kind of camera-- the lens quality is (usually) very good.  That is, unless you got a unit that was put together by a tipsy worker.  The quality control wasn't the greatest, but that's part of what makes this camera so much fun.

Update.... I got a replacement Vilia because my other one quit.  This one gives more of a Holga-like image that blurs out noticeably toward the edges.  Very cool-looking, if you ask me;  this is a classic "LOMO" effect, achieved through camera design rather than Photoshop.  I just have to figure out how to fix the light leak.  It's in every photo on the roll, about the same place.  I wouldn't mind it so much if it were a bit more random.

The Season of Orange and Blue

CVS Color 400 film

If light leaks are not to your liking, no problem... electrical tape!

The Vilia is a good glove-compartment camera.  There's no light meter to go bad;  no capacitors to dry out.  

Elite Chrome 100

A lot of people like to cross-process their slide film.  I've done this once in a while, but I greatly prefer E6.   Nothing else on earth can approach the color of a good slide.  With the Vilia, it's fun and a bit of a challenge, since there's no light meter. (I'd get a Sekonic Twin Mate to keep that "traditional" look... this camera is from the Eighties, not the 2010's.)

Here's a curious spectator who approached me one day while I was testing the Vilia.

A New Friend

Ilford HP-5 Plus

Maybe we'll never see this great camera roll off the assembly lines again, but they are still on the used market.  There were about two million of them made, so the odds of finding one for sale (mostly from Russian and Eastern European sellers) are pretty good.  Just make sure all the shutter speeds work and nothing is broken.

This is not a Leica we're talking about.  You should be able to get a Vilia on the 'bay for $10 to $20 plus shipping, which from Russia or Ukraine seems to run about $20 to $30.  Total price for a perfectly working Vilia, including shipping from Eastern Europe, should be no more than, say, $50   A few of them go for more, but they are "as new" with the original box. 

(As we'll see, the camera does have a drawback in its design.  Don't pay too much for what could end up as a fancy paperweight. )

There was a Vilia Auto ("Avto") camera as well.  The Auto had a light meter (selenium cell, I think), but I am guessing the camera might not work manually if the light meter is bad.  (In other words, skip the Vilia Auto.)   The regular Vilia has no light meter.  So no problem there.  

I love the Vilia.  I love its reasonably-sharp focus when it's set properly.  I love the mild hints of vignetting.  I love the sound it makes when advancing film.  I love the fact that it has no batteries, no transistors, no menus, no LCD's.  I (sometimes) love having to estimate the distance to the subject.

This, my friends, is photography! 

Kodak BW400CN

I would have to say the Vilia is my favorite camera, at least when the film advance is working.   That's really the only major problem with the whole design.  I saved this topic for last because, after I took a few rolls of pictures with mine, the film finally wouldn't advance anymore.  The camera lasted long enough to write an article.   It quit before I even got a full roll of color film through it, so I ended up having to buy another one!  Actually, though, I think my first unit was just especially worn.  So far the new (used) one has been working well.

What happened is the take-up spool slips too easily on the winder shaft.  It doesn't apply enough tension to the film.   Yes, I checked the rewind button.  It was fine.  I even pushed it back out from the inside.  No change.

Basically, on a bad unit, the take-up spool starts to act like a worn-out clutch;  the film advance lever will turn the shaft, but the shaft will turn without moving the spool with it.   The film advance sprocket is also too thin and its teeth a bit too small.  And there's only one, whereas most cameras have two.   It gets to the point that if you want to advance the film, you have to go into a darkroom between each shot and open the back of the camera.  That gets to be a little much.  I guess if you really wanted to, you could use a darkroom bag.

It's a flaw in the design that shows up when the mechanism wears badly.  When it's working, it's a great camera (and you may not encounter the problem for a long time).  When it stops working, this isn't the kind of camera you can take apart and fix.   Almost everything is molded together, no screws.  (Okay, yes you can get the top plate off, but no guarantees you'll be able to fix what's inside.)  Earlier, I said "don't pay too much for a Vilia", and this is part of the reason.   The other reason is... it's an all mechanical camera with a non-removable lens, a cheap viewfinder, and no lightmeter.  But you knew that.

100% of the photos on this page were taken with a Vilia.  Yes, even the logo pic across the top of this page.  It actually came from the last roll of film taken with the first Vilia, just before it quit.  It was Fuji Superia Xtra 400 film (purchase some through this link and you can help me keep this site going).  I guess if it had to be the last roll through the camera, there could have been worse results than partial doubling and a cool purple sky. 
Here's one from a roll of slide film, taken with the Vilia that replaced my old one:

I really enjoy the BelOMO Vilia and its no-frills approach to photography.  It may or may not last you a lifetime, but it's inexpensive and you can have a lot of fun with it.  You can buy one through this link (Ebay) and see what I mean.   If you like film photography the old-school way, I think you'll really enjoy this camera.  

When you use any of the links to buy your cameras and gear, it really helps me keep this site going. 
I hope you enjoyed this page.  Thanks for reading!


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