Just a quick note, as I don’t have a lot of time right now, but I have now received and made quick scans of the first films I shot using the mighty Belair Belairgon 114mm lens hand-welded in Russia from genuine ex-Soyuz engine nozzles.
The results are sort of heading in the direction of encouraging, at least in the sense that they indicate it my be possible to consider the Belair 6x12 as a valid photographic tool in ideal circumstances. There are hints that something like acceptable sharpness can be obtained, but the total lack of any real control over shutter speed (apart from being certain it’s never going over 1/125th, which is fairly tragic for a 114mm lens on a medium format camera) means that it’s not going to work terribly well hand held.
I also had “fat film” problems which each of the 5 rolls of Velvia 100 I put through it. I had better luck - perhaps helped by the camera modifications I made - with a subsequent batch of Lomo negative film, but I haven’t seen that yet. And, well, Lomo negative film… hmm. I also used a tripod. We shall see.
Anyway, the Belairgon 114mm does actually seem worth at least a little perseverance. The scans here are absolutely not optimised, just quick default scans on a flatbed Canoscan 9000F at 2400dpi. When I have time I’ll see if they’re worth film scanner time.
Many, many years ago, the first camera I ever owned - leaving aside an Agfa Instamatic I had as a child, which I barely remember - was an Olympus XA1, which I bought in Oxford St, London, when I was a University student. According to current internet lore, the XA1 was rubbish, but apart from the fact that it was all I could afford, it was good enough for me at the time. This set me off on the path towards becoming what I believe is called a full-blown Olympus fanboy - although there was to be a decade long Canon diversion in my future. Later, I bought an XA3 (slightly less crap) to take to the Antarctic, and it was the ideal camera to have at hand in the cockpit of the Twin Otter I spent most of my working hours in. Indeed, my team mate and pilot had an XA, which I coveted, although I probably was better off with the zone focussing XA3.
Anyway, both my XA1 and XA3 have long since vanished, but a few weeks ago in the local antique / junk Saturday market, which I very rarely visit, I noticed a pretty clean looking XA complete with flash. It was going for 37 Swiss Francs (about $40), which I was quite prepared to hand over, but in true Monty Python style the stall holder insisted on haggling me down to CHF 25, which was even better.
So, I bought a roll of Fuji Superia 200, which is all I could find at the time, and here are a few shots. I took a few frames for me to get used to the rangefinder and the exposure meter, but the camera doesn’t seem to have an y light leaks or other faults. Not bad for the price.
I’m not that keen on Superia 200 - I think Kodak Portra 160, or Ektar 100, would be better, but I have to order those. The real shock is that at least at 1-hour photo lab prices, processing a 24 Exposure roll of colour print film costs CHF 35 - more than the camera!
I scanned the negatives using Silverfast’s Superia 200 Negafix preset, but the results were very much on the cool side and nothing like the lab’s interpretation. The Fuji Press 400 preset, on the other, was almost spot-on. That’s one of the problems with scanning colour negative rather than positive (slide) - there’s no real reference point, and it’s all down to interpretation.
It’s fun using the Olympus XA, and the results are pretty good. But I’m not sure how relevant it remains in the digital age.
A few reviews around the web, especially a very thorough four-part epic on Gary Seronik’s Film Advance blog, seem to confirm my own thoughts on the Belair 612 and its plastic lenses. Basically it seems to be being marketed to, and appeals to, more “serious” photographers, but its Lomography DNA is just all too obvious. And it’s probably too much trouble to appeal to the tradition Lomo crowd. It’s a pity, because with a little more investment you could have a useful if very basic camera. As it is it’s pretty much a waste of time. Possibly the “real” lenses which are now very late coming might improve matters, but I’m not convinced. There are plenty of tips on how to achieve longer exposure than 1/125th, how to lock exposure, and other esoterica, but it’s all very fiddly and haphazard.
Anyway here are a couple of photos showing the field of view of the two lenses (and also that nominal auto-exposure is a bit approximate for slide film - or perhaps the Lomo Pro-X film is more like ISO 160 than 200 - and that neither plastic lens seems to focus at infinity)
And here’s a couple more showing that the camera actually can step up and deliver a genuine Lomography experience…
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…). And it has automatic exposure, with settable ISO. Focussing is zone only. Both lenses have dedicated viewfinders. These are truly, truly awful.
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.
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.
This is something I’ve been dithering about since the dawn of time: the camera, and film in particular, does not see always light the way that we do, or rather the way that our brain interprets it. With normal open air daytime light, this isn’t usually so obvious, but in shaded light, in morning and evening, and of course in mixed and artificial light, it’s a completely different story. The question is, should it be corrected ? There isn’t a “correct” answer to this - it is down to circumstance, taste, intent, perception and even ability. For mixed artificial and natural light it’s a real dilemma, but since I don’t really do that sort of thing, not for me. But it strikes in landscape a lot too. Take this shot:
This is pretty much the scene as-is on film. The shadow areas show a strong blue tint, because the light is mainly coming from reflected a cloudless blue sky. In the background, there’s an area lit by the sun, and that looks “normal”. However, if you were actually there, your brain, knowing what colour the rocks and water are “supposed” to be, would tell you it looks roughly like this:
So, which one to go with ? In the past I’ve tended more to go with the re-balanced version, but that can look pretty artificial if you’re not very careful, especially in the shadows. One photographer I have considerable time for, Bruce Percy, does not appear to correct his transparencies at all - and sometimes to me this seems to go too far.
I’ve just added three XPan shots from the nearby Gole della Breggia (including the one above) to my Recent Work gallery. In this case I’ve decided to leave the colour as it came off film, or rather as the scanner interpreted it, which is more or less the same thing.
But I’m really not sure…