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Widescreen Plastic

a field review of the Belair 612

in Product reviews , Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lomography. The painfully hip (although probably not so much these days) trend for making photographs with hopelessly bad cameras, where the whole point is in the flaws and general eccentricities. Or, alternatively, a company in Austria making a nice little sum turning out garishly packaged plastic boxes promising aforementioned hipness.  Either way, the argument seems to be that Lomography is especially creative. I find this somewhat hard to understand, as the artist (the photographer, presumably) has little to no control over the creative process, having a few wildly inaccurate, crude controls, and the random lens, light leak and framing behaviours to deal with. Fun, maybe. Creative, not so much. But what do I know, I’m not hip.

Having said all that, back in November, in a fit of retail therapy I ordered Lomography’s latest creation, the 612 format Belair panoramic camera. I’ve always wanted to work with the 612 format, and while a Linhof 612 would cost around $4000, the Belair costs approximately 1/20th of that. While their first attempt at a panoramic camera, the Sprocket Rocket, in my view verges on the insulting, they seemed to be sort of serious about this one. So what the hell.

So it turned up in January, and to be honest I took one look at it and shoved it in the back of a cupboard. I wasn’t in the mood for it. But last week, I took it for a spin.

The Belair 612 comes in various finishes. Mine is called a “Jetsetter”. It’s plastic with some kind of a metal (I think “tin” best describes it) shell, and boasts a plastic faux-leather wraparound. It looks cute from a way off. It comes with two interchangeable lenses, a 58mm and a 90mm, both with f/8 and f/16 settings (cloudy & sunny‚Ķ). And it has automatic exposure, with settable ISO. Focussing is zone only. Both lenses have dedicated viewfinders. These are truly, truly awful.

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The Belair 612 Jetsetter, fired up and ready to rock

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The Belair 612 Jetsetter flexes its bellows

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The Belair 612 Jetsetter gazes squints into the distance

As far as operation goes, it’s basically a no-frills medium format film camera, which is fine. However the film loading is unnecessarily tricky, as the take up canister has little wiggle room, and you need to be careful to keep tension on the spool. It’s not exactly a Hasselblad A12, let’s put it that way. The shutter release is a bit of angled metal sticking out of the front standard. It is almost impossible to avoid camera shake when triggering it, and there’s neither remote release nor timer.

So, ok, it’s not that impressive out of box. Even if it is a comparatively classy box. And even considering the price.  So how well does it work ?  I loaded it up with some Lomography X Pro Slide Film (Agfa RSX II, apparently) and tried it out, both handheld and on a tripod, with both lenses.  I made a few standard mistakes that can catch you out with any camera of this type, including double exposures, and winding on the film too far. But generally it worked.  Here are some results, scanned at 2400dpi.

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58mm lens, focused at 4m, f/8, tripod

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58mm lens, focused at infinity, f/16, tripod

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The Belair is maybe more suited for this sort of handheld shot

A 100% crop from the centre of the second image shows pretty much what I see through a loupe on the light table: not exactly medium format resolution. Just mush, basically.


So, the results from the plastic lenses are as one could predict. I have got one of Lomography’s Russian-sourced glass lenses on order, but they have been repeatedly delayed.  The camera does not seem to be too prone to light leaks, which will surely come as a big disappointment to the hipsters, and given that I was using slide film, the exposure was in general ok. But it would be safer to use negative film. On the plus side, it is sort of fun to use, and I could immediately confirm that I like the 612 format.

But with those lenses, no pressure plate to keep the film flat in the camera, and adding to that the relative difficulty of scanning 120 format film, sharpness is not a characteristic which is going to be associated with the Belair 612.

It’s got a certain allure, but it doesn’t seem to know if it wants to be a “serious” camera or a Lomo post-modern toy, and given the expense of feeding it 120 roll film, I’m not sure it makes that much sense. You could get far better results simply by cropping an image from pretty much any point and shoot digicam - and then run it through Instagram or whatever if you really must.

In conclusion, I didn’t really get on with the Belair. But that’s just me - it may well work for you and inspire your creativity. There’s certainly no cheaper medium-format, interchangeable lens, panoramic camera on the market. I wish I could recommend the Belair 612, but I can’t. Let’s see what it can do with a real lens. If it ever arrives.



decay in motion

in Photography , Saturday, March 23, 2013

Just a couple of photos from a lunchtime stroll around Bellinzona, capital city of the Republic and Canton of Ticino this week. With just a touch of post-processing using the remarkably powerful Filterstorm Pro for iPad.



and why not ?

in Photography , Thursday, March 21, 2013

Whytake describes itself thus: “ is the first Social Network dedicated exclusively to Nature Photographers - Designed by Nature Photographers, for Nature Photographers”. I discovered the site about a year ago, if I remember correctly following up a link to one of the founders, Rafael Rojas (a really excellent photographer, by the way).

Whytake net  the global community of nature photographers  Inspire Connect Explore

Whytake is really nicely designed, and has a very different ethos to Flickr, 500px and the like. By limiting the number of photographers that members can upload to 48, it encourages a portfolio mindset, rather than the usual “spray and pray”. The Nature theme is strictly enforced. It is also rather light on the social side, which could be seen as a plus or a negative. There is no commenting on photos, no groups, no - thank god - awards.  You can add other member’s photos to your favourites, and that’s it. Members can create fairly extensive profiles, and also add posts to a personal wall.  There are centrally organised “photos of the day” and challenges, and that’s about it. Pretty refreshing really.

The average quality level borders on intimidating.

Whytake seems to be more about discovery than self-promotion at the moment, and providing the essential tools for “discovered” photos to market themselves.  By defining and maintaining tight constraints, it encourages quality. It’s also totally non-commercial. Whytake seems to be something of a well kept secret, I’d say it deserves to be more widely known.


Venice by night

off the beaten track

in Photography , Monday, March 18, 2013

Of all the photos I took over my recent 3 day trip to Venice, this is my favourite, and the one I chose to print.  It’s also the first large (A3+ for now, but I’m going to make an A2 for framing) print I’ve made from a Sigma DP2M file, and the detail is just shockingly good. It’s difficult to settle for less now!

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Ok, so it’s not the classic Venice shot by any stretch, but it’s the sort of atmosphere I was looking for. More Michael Dibdin than Agatha Christie.

I was also pleased to find that you can make long exposure photos with the Sigma with no particular problem. The auto white balance is pretty weird, but that is fairly easily fixed.


Venice, sigmatized

somewhat sidetracked

in Photography , Tuesday, March 12, 2013

After 5 weeks in Patagonia and Antarctica, and a huge editing and processing backlog to get through and even maybe publish, what was the obvious thing to do? Of course!! Go to Venice and take some more photos! Well, I’m not making any excuses. Venice is a magical place, especially in February, and it’s just down the road. So. Here is a small selection of, maybe, a slightly different take on La Serenissima. No gondolas, no bridges, no canals (well, almost). And all captured with the quite unbelievable Sigma DP2 Merrill. Oh, and I’ve also got about 300 Olympus Pen Venice shots to get through before I can get back to the backlog!

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