By Conor Corkrum
The Belair is one of the most unloved and oft-forgotten cameras in Lomography’s product lineup.
The Belair’s concept is very compelling, a camera that can move between 6×6, 6×9 and 6×12 format and has modest price for a medium format camera.
But in implementation the concept somewhat falls apart. The modest price point falls to the wayside when the nearer comparable to the Belair is a Holga. Design decisions to reduce cost further hold the Belair back. Is the Belair redeemable?
The negatives have to be listed first before the positives can be better understood. Here they are in no particular order:
- The plastic lenses that come with the camera are not that great. The vignetting is very visible at 6×12 as is the distortion. As with any plastic lens the sharpness is just not there.
- The Belair has a bulb mode but a shutter release mechanism that makes the bulb mode pointless. There is no option for a cable release.
- The camera lacks a tension plate in for the film. This is nearly a fatal flaw for the Belair.
- Shooting in the 6×6 or even 6×9 format seems pointless. There are many other better and cheaper options for these formats in 120 film – from Holgas to used folder cameras from the 1950s or 60s.
- Shooting in the 6×6 or even 6×9 format seems pointless. There are many other better and cheaper options for these formats in 120 film. From Holgas to used folder cameras from the 1950’s or 60’s.
- The Belair fundamentally breaks the Lomography ethos of “shoot fast”. This camera was not made to be shot fast, from the fact that the film advancement process is slow to the issue that you must remember to the set the camera up correctly by extending the bellows and removing the lens cap (nothing stops you from taking shots when these two things haven’t been done).
- Film labs can charge more to process/scan 6×12 shots. If you develop and scan on your own, scanning 6×12 negatives can be cumbersome unless you have the right software.
The Belair’s one selling point is the ability to shoot in 6×12 on medium format film. If you get the Belair throw the 6×6 and 6×9 film masks in the back of a drawer. To make 6×12 worthwhile the plastic lenses that come standard with the camera must be ditched as well.
Amazingly, Lomography commissioned Zenit to make two glass lenses for the Belair; a 114mm lens and a 90mm lens. Both lenses have a fantastic build quality and go under the name “Belairagon”.
The 90mm lens is the one best suited for the 6×12 format. The 114mm can be used in the 6×12 format but will have slight vignetting.
The downside with these lenses, just like the plastic ones, you can only select f stops of 8 or 16. The light meter for the camera that selects shutter speeds is not a “thru the lens” meter but external. The fastest shutter speed that can be chosen is only 1/125.
Meanwhile, ISO speeds are 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 and then the aforementioned bulb mode.
With only have f stops of 8 and 16 available, and the camera working on the zone focusing system that starts to really limit the type and styles of photography that the Belair can be used for.
The obvious use for the Belair is in landscape photography. Shooting in such a wide format is a fun challenge. Unlike using a wide angle lens the distortion, when using the glass Zenit Belairagon lenses, is much less pronounced.
Some of the photos you will take with the camera will be antithetical to how you might have learned photography, the negative space can be immense. Shooting 6×12 will let you use that negative space to show scale.
I would not use the Belair regularly, it’s function is limited but when you need it not much else will suffice at the price (to go beyond the Belair, there is the Widelux 120 or the Fuji G617 which are pricey to say the least).
The Belair is a challenge to use, both from a practical standpoint and from a more artistic one aswell, but the ability to shoot in such a different way to the average camera is worth the effort.