This little clump of cypress trees, on the main road towards Rome, just south of San Quirico d’Orcia in Tuscany, Italy, must be a very strong candidate for the most photographed trees in the world. They even have their own group on Flickr - Boschetto del Cipressi - which also conveniently gives you the exact GPS coordinates. Apart from that, there aren’t all that many good angles, so pretty much all the good shots are done. And I’ve been going there for well over 10 years. A few years ago, as often as not you’d have the place to yourself, but of course now it is a regular stop on the the dreaded Photo Workshop Circuit.
Nevertheless, a few weeks back, when doing a quick “highlights” tour in those parts for some friends, we did pass, and of course I had to stop. And what the hell, I pulled out the XPan, stuck the 90mm lens on it, wandered over to the edge of the field, and took a few frames. Couldn’t be bothered with the tripod. Afterwards I was fairly sure I’d screwed something up, I don’t remember what, but it turns out that if indeed I did it was a good thing. Because I think I’ve ended up with my all-time personal favourite of the boschetto.
For the few people who have asked, here are a few more Belair 6x12 / Belairgon 114mm shots. Just to summarise what I’ve said before, without very careful technique, and some degree of luck, there is no way you’re going to get the sort of results which justify the use of 120 roll film, at least not from a “straight” point of view.
Obviously you can’t really see that from these tiny JPGs, but what you can see is good evenness of exposure across the frame, little distortion, and general quite pleasant rendering.
However at 100% camera shake blur is very obvious.
and finally, a “serious” scan:
So my conclusion remains. It’s not a complete dead loss, the lens seems pretty good, but the body remains the (very) weak point. Metering / auto exposure is actually pretty good, but focussing is hit and (usually) miss. There remains a question mark over infinity focus, but with such a shaky platform it is very difficult to tell if the issue is with focus blur or motion blur.
I guess one day I might take it off the shelf and try again.
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…