Lomography Belair x 6-12

TransientEye-Lomography-Belair-Review-1556-

I am gradually working through the stock of unusual film cameras here, today arriving at the Lomography Belair X 6-12 “City Slicker”. This is a contemporary medium format camera, which on paper at least should be able to offer some amazing photographic opportunities without a huge expense. Unusually, this is a folding camera with rubber bellows and an external viewfinder, making it very much a modern version of early 120 format Kodak folding cameras.

What is interesting about the Belair is its use of 120 film, together with the ability to shoot in 6×6, 6×9 and a massive 6×12 format. Theoretically, that should allow some amazing image quality as well as some very wide-angle views. The camera is supplied with 58mm and 90mm lenses, which with 6×12 negatives are roughly equivalent to 21mm and 35mm on a traditional SLR. Each lens comes with a matching viewfinder, which you attach on top of the camera. The viewfinders are extremely bright and easy to use, but lack clear markings for the different frame sizes.

The lenses have only two apertures: f8 and f16, selected by a switch. Unfortunately optics are made from relatively poor quality moulded plastic, resulting in blurry edges and “onion-ring” style flare and bokeh. This greatly limits their flexibility and also means that the camera can not deliver anything like the image quality that the film size might imply. Despite this, there is something special about medium format negatives, even when used with suboptimal glass.

Focusing is set from a ring around the lens barrel and is largely a matter of guess work. You have to estimate the distance to the subject and adjust the lens accordingly. While this might sound difficult, in practice the lenses are sufficiently slow that the depth of field is large enough to be forgiving of most errors.

In contrast, exposure on this camera is entirely automatic, and the only adjustment is a small dial which allows the film speed to be set. The shutter mechanism is, like the lenses, made from plastic and quite crude – with a maximum speed of only 1/125th of a second. This fully automatic design was a serious mistake that greatly diminishes the creative flexibility of the camera – and even if you might be happy with auto-only exposure, you have no way to understand what the circuitry has chosen and so frequently images are inadvertently blurred due to camera shake, or over exposed due to the limited maximum shutter speed. The is compounded by the shutter release, that with one press both primes and triggers the shutter – and which as a result is difficult to use without increasing the camera shake (most older 120 cameras use separate levels to prime and release the shutter, avoiding this problem).

Here are a few images taken with the camera and the 58mm lens. The colour images were badly processed by Fotoprix (probably using as C41 chemistry instead of E6) and recovered via post-processing, while the black-and-white were processed at home in HC110:

While the Belair normally takes 120 format film, there are alternate backs that allow the use of standard 35mm or Fuji Instax (instant) film types. I think that these make a lot of sense, as the image quality does not really justify the expense and difficulty in handling 120 film.

Unfortunately, it is very very hard to recommend this camera. The lack of any manual exposure control and the poor lens quality makes this a very unsatisfying camera to use. It is an interesting contrast to the Lubitel 166, which although much more basic is also very much more a enjoyable camera thanks to its full manual controls and better lens. Second-hand, it also costs a lot less too.

Landscape and clouds, shot with the Belair and 58mm lens.

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