When I first saw Lomography’s e-mail about the release of the Belair X 6-12, I knew I had to have it. A medium format camera capable of shooting 6×6, 6×9, and a beautifully panoramic 6×12. The 6×12 is what really got me, I had always wanted a camera that could take panoramas without any of that digital stitching crap that takes so much time and effort. I just wanted a single panoramic frame. So I jumped in and pre-ordered the Belair on the same day they released it. Unfortunately, I was not fast enough to get the limited edition Belair Globetrotter with the snake-skin style leather, but I snatched up one of the Jetsetter editions and have been using it for a couple of weeks now. Here’s my review: (If you’re too lazy to read all of this, you can skip down to the overall section at the bottom)
- Film Type: 120 Film
- Film Formats: 6×12, 6×9, 6×6
- Interchangeable Lens Mount: 3 Bayonet Type
- Auto-exposure: Yes, aperture priority
- Auto-Exposure range: EV4 ~ EV15
- Highest Shutter Speed: 1/125
- Lowest Shutter Speed (B Mode): Unlimited
- Film Sensitivity Supports (ASA/ISO): 50-1600 in one-stop increments
- Battery Type: 2 LR44 1.5v
- Multiple Exposure: Yes
- Hot Shoe: Yes
- Tripod Socket: Yes, ¼”
There are two Belair models (ignoring the Globetrotter which is essentially the same as the Jetsetter). The Jetsetter is made of metal and leather. The Cityslicker is made of plastic. I opted for the more expensive Jetsetter version. Despite it’s metal construction, it still feels a bit toyish. It’s very light, which is nice, but it just doesn’t feel like a serious camera. It looks very nice, however. Anyone unfamiliar with this camera might think that it’s a very serious film camera. The design is sleek and simple, a factor that probably played a great deal in my quick decision to buy it.
The bellows are rubber and fold out and collapse easily, but again, seem a bit cheap. A button on the bottom releases the bellows. The button is a decent size, not too small for large fingers, but not big enough to be accidentally pushed by other things, and the amount of pressure it takes to push the button assures that you won’t ever open the bellows by just setting it on a table. To close the bellows, you need to push two small buttons on the top and bottom of the metal scissor arms that keep the bellows open. It takes two hand, but it’s not difficult to do. While I’ve never had the lens board pop out unexpectedly, I’ve noticed that, when closed, if apply a very small amount of pressure to the top of it that it comes unhinged a bit. Not a huge deal, but something to note.
The camera is about the same height as a standard film slr, but several inches wider. It’s size makes it easy to grip. There has been some debate on how best to hold the camera, but most seem to agree the best method is to hold the main frame on the side with your left and hold the lens board underneath with your right, using your thumb to press the shutter release. This seems to provide the most stability and keeps you from covering the meter which is on the left side of the lens board.
The viewfinder is one of the worst features of this camera, and one of the main reasons why I am considering ditching it. It’s very difficult to tell where the edges of you frame are. The viewfinder is designed to show you the full 6×12 view and has small black markers to show you the edges of the 6×9 and 6×6 frames. But when you put your eye up to the viewfinder, the markers blur and you can’t see them. I’ve been trying to figure out how close I should look at the viewfinder to find the actual edges of my frame. Do I look as close as I can? Or pull back until I can actually see the markers? It makes a big difference. Even the top and bottom edges are a guess. I have already cut off some people’s heads. In the bottom of the viewfinder, you can see the top of the lens board which is obviously not going to be in your photo. If you can figure it out though, you’ll be glad to know that you can easily switch out the viewfinder for different lenses. They simply twist and pop out/in.
The lenses that come with the camera are plastic, but Lomography has made some nice glass lenses for it. The Belair comes with 58mm and 90mm which is equivalent to a 21mm lens on 35mm camera in 6×12 format(35mm in 6×6 format) and 32mm in 6×12(52mm in 6×6), respectively. More about the plastic lenses in Quality.
A few other things I should mention: The shutter is a lever, not a button, located on the right side of the lens board(make sure you hold it down until it’s finished or you’ll cut the exposure off prematurely.) A small window on the back allows you to see which frame you’re on, and there’s a plastic tab you can switch to see where to stop for the three different formats. Multiple exposure are easy to do since you have to manually wind the film. Just take another shot before winding. There is a hot shoe so you can use a flash, very important for some people. There is also a tripod socket on the bottom of the camera, cleverly placed on the left side so you can still access the button to open the bellows.
The Belair X 6-12 is a medium format auto-exposure camera, one of very few. It takes two little 1.5V batteries to operate. Without it, you can still use the camera, but you have only have a shutter speed of 1/125th.
In my experience, I have not had very good results with the auto-exposure feature. All of my outdoors photos are perfectly exposed, but any that I’ve taken inside, even in a well-lit area like the mall, have been very underexposed. I know I have all the right settings, and I even hold down the shutter release until the exposure is finished(which you have to do or you’ll cut the exposure short, just like on a Hasselblad.) But the majority of my shots have been unsalvagable. Maybe there’s something faulty, I don’t know. I’ll get a roll of film back and there will be two or three shots that are perfect and the rest are almost too dark to even tell what the image is. But like I say, I haven’t heard complaints from any others (although it is a fairly new camera) so don’t take my experience to be typical. And as I also said, all my outdoor shots have been perfect.
Lomography claims that the auto-exposure will work in conditions from EV4~EV15. There is a Bulb mode too for long exposures, but no cable release socket which is weird. I should also note that there is no manual override for shutter speed. You have to use the AE. I suppose you could fine tune your exposures to some degree using the ISO dial, but they are in one-stop increments.
The Belair comes with two lenses, a 58mm and a 90mm. Both have two apertures, f/8 and f/16. The lenses are plastic and therefore not the best of quality. Some of the photos I’ve seen look blurry when really they’re just not very sharp. However, I have seen some very good looking photos from the Belair, some that I mistook for using the glass lens. In a few other photographers’ opinions, using f/8 on the 58mm and 90mm results in some fairly low quality photos. F/16 on the 58mm, a little better. F/16 on the 90mm pretty good, with only the edges being soft. I usually use f/8 on the 90mm, and I can agree that the photos are alright, but could be much better.
I don’t know why this is in the Quality section. I just wasn’t really sure where to put it. It really goes along with the lenses, but I wanted everyone to see it because it’s important as the Belair uses zone focusing. These is no auto-focus on this camera, it’s all manual. But unlike an SLR, you’re not looking through the lens so you can’t even focusing using one of those…focusing circle things. Instead you just have to guess. There are 4 focusing zones on the lens: 1m, 1.5m, 3m, and infinity. And for those of you in the U.S.(‘Merica!) that would roughly correlate to: 3ft, 5ft, 10ft, and infinity. The focusing ring turns easily and smoothly, no notches or clicks. You can set the focus anywhere in between any of these zones. It takes a little getting used to if you’ve never used it before. For my first shots, I used a tape measure. For later shots, I used another camera to measure the distance. Whatever you do, I suggest focusing a little bit closer to yourself to avoid blurring whatever subject you have in the foreground.
I have recently heard of a few problems with the plastic lenses focusing past infinity. I’ve not shot in a situation where I can confirm this, and since the camera is relatively new there is little information about it. But it might be something to look into before purchasing this camera.
After shooting with the Belair X 6-12 for a couple weeks, I’m just not convinced it’s worth keeping. I was stoked about the 6×12 format, and the auto-exposure feature sounded pretty good too. But two major flaws have found me leaving my Belair at home more and more.
The first is the viewfinder. It’s very difficult to tell where the edges of your frame are for any of the three different formats. The lens board appears in the bottom of the viewfinder and the markers that denote the 6×9 and 6×6 formats are impossible to see if you’re too close, but change drastically if you back up to where you can see them. As a guy who likes to get his framing as perfect as possible, this is big deal to me.
The second issue is the plastic lenses. There is a lack of sharpness that one is used to in a glass lens. Only at f/16 on the 90mm lens does the image start to look good. I should note, however, that Lomography has recently introduced some new glass lenses for the Belair which I expect will be much better. So if you’re put off by the low image quality of the plastic lenses, an investment into the Russian glass may make this camera completely work it(if you’re willing to spend the extra money.)
Besides those things, I like the Belair. It’s big and easy to grip. It looks spectacular. The film loads and winds easily. The bellows open and close easily. You’ve got a hot shoe and a tripod socket(no cable release though.) The plastic frames for the different formats are easy to change out, and I love the look of the 6×12.
As I mentioned above, I did have some issues with the auto-exposure in indoor settings, but I haven’t heard anything about it from other so I wouldn’t call this typical. As far as durability, well, it’s still pretty much a toy camera(though trying really hard not to be.) The metal version might survive a short fall, but I’m not so optimistic for the plastic one. The rubber bellows are fine, but one small hole could be a real pain to fix, and I’m not sure how well they’ll hold up in a few decades.
So there’s my review of the Lomography Belair X 6-12. I hope I’ve covered everything. Personally, I think I will be selling mine and looking at getting a TLR(even though I’d like to set my Belair on a shelf and just stare at its sleek beauty.) But this is simply because this camera does not meet my needs. Everyone has different needs, and I know a lot of people are enjoying this camera. If you think I’ve left anything out of this review or you want to yell at me for something, leave a comment below.