Cosina is not a well-known trademark among camera manufacturers, at least I have never heard of it before I got this camera. The fact is, this is an existing company which has produced over its history many truly nice cameras under their own name and surprisingly for many mainstream manufacturers like Rollei, Canon, Nikon, Yashica, Olympus, Epson etc.
They are manufacturing the Zeiss Ikon camera bodies and many Leica mount Zeiss lenses today. Also, Cosina is the owner of the brand and the company behind Voigtländer which represents a high standard of quality cameras and lenses indeed. All in all the name Cosina might not ring a bell, but it is almost 100% that they have built one of your favorites and they know how to design and build solid photographic tools by tradition.
- Produced 1978 (?)
- Film type 135 (35mm)
- Weight 540g (without lens)
- Dimensions 136.5 x 83.2 (h) x51 (d)
- Standard Lens Cosinon 55mm f/2.1
- Lens mount M42 screw mount
- Shutter cloth curtain (traveling horizontally), electronically controlled
- Shutter speeds 4s, 2s, 1s, 1/2s, 1/4s, 1/8s, 1/15, 1/30s, 1/60s, 1/125s, 1/250s, 1/500s,1/100s, M, B
- Sync speed 1/60
- Viewfinder SLR w/coated window, micro-raster ring with split image aid
- Exposure meter stop-down CdS TTL w/3 led lights, activated by the half-pressed shutter
- Batteries 2x SR/LR44 or similar (AG13, A76)
- Hot shoe, PC sync connection
- Optional auto-exposure motor
This camera is very small and light especially with the kit lens. Not as small as the Olympus OM, but close to it (540g vs 510g). This is one of the main reasons I own one.
The body is well built, but it is plastic at the top plate and definitely not as solid as a professional camera. In fact, this is all right for me because I use it for amateur purposes with great care. This is a really cheap camera and I suppose it was never a prestige product.
The shutter is controlled electronically, but it is working without batteries with the shutter speed of 1/60 of a second. The light-meter is center weighted, using 3 little LEDs in the viewfinder for readout and I have no complains so far.
The batteries are small, cheap and lasting for years (for me) and as I said you are not completely left on the side of the road if they ran out of power. The camera will work on a level (no metering, no self-timer, only 1 shutter speed).
The craziest thing about this camera is that it had an external auto exposure unit. It had to be mounted into the accessory shoe and wire it to the camera with some cables and plugs. It contained a motor which turned the shutter speed dial according to the values came from the light meter. Thus it featured aperture priority auto mode. Because the lens was not coupled with this device it had to be stopped down for metering.
It sounds very awkward to me, but it worked. I haven’t got this module but thanks to Jake Howe who was kind enough to allow me to use his photo, I can finally show the camera with the full-featured auto exposure unit.
Cosina CSM with auto shutter mechanism by Jake Howe
My Cosina CSM
Nowadays everybody is obsessed by the small size great capabilities cameras (thinking of the mirror-less madness) and it was not really different at any point of the time. Miniaturization was always a trend.
People from the country of the rising sun has created many very compact, yet capable SLR legends mainly in the 70s like the Olympus OM series. Actually these cameras are not much bigger than some mirror-less digital camera of the modern era, even though they use “full frame” size film and having a full mirror mechanism and usually, a huge and bright viewfinder especially compare to entry-level DSLRs.
As I love the design and style of these film cameras, I would rather get excited by a conventional mirror-based DSLR with a “full frame” sensor, but in a compact body than anything else.
I know there are technical issues and probably it would be damn expensive, yet I hope someone will eventually come up with such a device.
If it was possible to squeeze the mirror, prism and in addition a roll of film into such a small camera, it seems unreasonable to not being able to do it with a digital sensor just like Leica did with the M9.
How did I get it
Back to my story, I always wanted a compact size SLR with a nice viewfinder and with an M42 screw lens-mount.
I have many nice M42 lenses and it is always good to have a lighter alternative to the serious workhorse for casual shooting. But I had no idea which camera would be the best. Until one day, I have found a little shop of an old camera repairman in a small village, where among many cool classics I have seen a camera called Porst Compact-reflex. As I took it from the shelf and looked through the viewfinder I knew it was an exact match to my requirements.
I have found it a bit too expensive (at least according to my possibilities at the time, as I was a student) so I did not buy it.
After some research, I have figured out, that it was actually a COSINA CSM branded as Porst (a German photographic equipment distributor and retailer company). The next day I have purchased an instance on e-bay for a little less money and with an extra ever-ready-case.
The truth is, I could have gone for the PROST as my camera had some mechanical troubles and the repairing dismissed the price difference eventually.
Since then I had many great times with this little Cosina and it is certain that I will load some film into it time to time.
The way it looks
I have to say, it is not an easy task to take a good photo of such a black object with white and shiny chrome parts.
This setup includes a window (key light), a cheap lantern from Ikea with an economical light-bulb (fill-light and color) and a sheet of black paper (background). Oh, and I tried to use a silver reflector which was used in a windshield of the car against overheating issues in its previous life. But this reflector does not work very well.
The button below the self-timer is used to re-open the aperture blades after you stopped down the lens to meter. It could be needed when you change your mind and need to re-focus or frame, so the viewfinder brights up again.
The two plugs on the other side are for the optional auto-exposure unit.
You can lock the shutter release button. This is great to prevent accidental shoots and mark that you have actually cocked the camera, on the other hand, it can be a problem when you can’t fire it in the big moment…
Film advance mechanism
When I have received the package form the UK, I had to realize that the film advance mechanism was not quite working. I got it fixed quickly and I received the instruction I need to advance the film with care. I do and I had no problems with it during the last couple of years.
The light-seals needed to be replaced as it is normal for a camera this age. It has to be said however that even without this fix there were no issues of light-leaks.
- Small and light
- M42 mount (huge variety of cheap high-quality lenses)
- Works without batteries
- Nice viewfinder with the effective focusing aid
- Extremely cheap
- Bit plastic (but still feels right)
- It needs batteries
- No mirror lookup (it is not a pro camera though)
The Cosina CSM or it’s siblings can be a good choice to anyone who is looking for a compact film SLR with manual focus and having nice M42 mount lenses. It is cheap, it is easy to focus with and won’t break your neck carrying around all times.
- Cosina official website
- Voigtlander website
- Cosina Camerapedia page
- Cosina Wikipedia page
- Time-line of Cosina/Vivitar cameras (not complete)
- Cosina CSM page (Polish)
It has been over repeated that the lens and the film are much more important factors than the camera body itself, but this is now a tradition to post some shots taken with the reviewed camera (3rd post already).
You can find some shoots with the unique f2.1 kit lens, which might be interesting. Personally, I think this is a nice optics in a very compact package. My other 50mm lenses are much bigger.