Just some stuff about photography


More Belair stuff

in GAS , Wednesday, April 03, 2013

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)

Bel set1 05

the 90mm lens…

Bel set1 04

… and the 58mm lens

And here’s a couple more showing that the camera actually can step up and deliver a genuine Lomography experience…

Bel set1 07

Bel set1 06


Posted in category "GAS" on Wednesday, April 03, 2013 at 02:44 PM

Widescreen Plastic

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…). And it has automatic exposure, with settable ISO. Focussing is zone only. Both lenses have dedicated viewfinders. These are truly, truly awful.

Drm 2013 03 19 IMG 0926

The Belair 612 Jetsetter, fired up and ready to rock

Drm 2013 03 19 IMG 0927

The Belair 612 Jetsetter flexes its bellows

Drm 2013 03 19 IMG 0929

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.

Bel set1 01

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

Bel set1 02

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

Bel set1 03

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.

Posted in category "Product reviews" on Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 07:56 PM


in Antarctica , Sunday, February 24, 2013

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was inspired by reading Stuart Klipper’s “The Antarctic: From the Circle to the Pole“ to attempt to capture some feeling of Antarctica away from the more usual high drama of high contrast, mirrored, dramatic landscapes. I hope this doesn’t descend into plagiarism - after all it’s hardly the first time I’ve tried this, or something like it - but I can’t deny that I was compelled to get the hell out of the library, and work with this soft, dull light while I still had the opportunity.  Actually, there would be all too much opportunity in the days ahead!

Xpan antarctic01 14

Xpan antarctic02 6

Both photos taken with the Hasselblad XPan, 90mm lens, and Kodak Ektachrome E100G

Posted in category "Antarctica" on Sunday, February 24, 2013 at 12:20 PM

discovering Stuart Klipper

in Photography , Tuesday, February 19, 2013

An unavoidable part of Antarctic Peninsula cruises is crossing the Drake Passage. Apart from the high probability of gut-churning seas, it takes at least 2 full days, more if you’re headed further South. Fortunately one of the compensations onboard OneOcean’s Akademik Vavilov is a well stocked polar library, which included a number of photo books. Most of these books were either historical (Frank Hurley, etc) or recent monographs by well-known photographers. The latter tend to follow the fine art, “National Geographic” school - beautifully crafted representations of the natural beauty of the polar regions, in the style of the particular photographer. There’s nothing at all wrong with that, of course, it’s what pretty much all photographers onboard aspired to, however unrealistically, me included. And OneOcean make sure to have not only a excellent staff photographer on-board, but often as well a professional, known photographer as “artist in residence”, for example Daisy Gilardini, or in our case, Ira Meyer. But the book that grabbed my attention was somewhat different. First of all it stood out by having a stark, subdued cover photo. And second, much to my delight, it appeared to, and indeed did, contain exclsively panoramic photography. I had stumbled across “The Antarctic: From the Circle to the Pole“, by Stuart Klipper, and it turned out to be quite a discovery.

The photography featured in the book came out of a number of visits to the Antarctic as part of the US National Science Foundation’s artist and writers programme. This has given Stuart Klipper extensive and near-exclusive access to areas of the continent well off the tourist trail, and from these he has built up a fantastic body of work. This work is generally more aligned with the “extraordinary in the ordinary” ethos pioneered by Stephen Shore, but with the twist that there is little ordinary in this particular subject matter. It presents a much more reflective and impressionistic view than we usually see. His photographs often dictate no obvious focal point. The subject is the whole frame, and often at first glance it could seem void of interest. There are few “wow” moments. But give it a little time and space, and the otherworldliness of the scene starts to take hold. Far more than another shot of an impossibly blue iceberg against a dramatic sky, Klipper’s vast expanses of ice under soft, subdued light give you a true picture of Antarctica. And it doesn’t hurt that the majority of his work is made using the unattainable, unrealistic camera of my dreams, the Linhof Technorama 617. Which in a short documentary clip, he’s seen using handheld, for heaven’s sake!

Finding further information about Stuart Klipper is not totally straightforward. He has a website, but to say it is inscrutable is putting it mildly. When you do manage to find anything written about or by him, he seems to come across as an erudite, engaging, committed, entertaining and slightly insane character. He’s certainly a million miles away from the standard pro landscape photographer type. He offers no workshops, no gear reviews, he doesn’t sell his work, at least not directly. He doesn’t even sell his book. In fact he doesn’t even mention it on his website. He does have a Facebook page, but that has only photos on it. Which, actually, is more than enough. His non-polar work is equally fascinating, and again mainly 617 panoramic. All in all he seems to pretty much a denizen of the “art” end of the photography world (actually I’ve discovered that he is an associate professor of art at the University of Colorado).

Although it’s a bit glib to say so, I feel just a little bit validated by Stuart Klipper’s work. Although I enjoy “normal” photogaphy and try to do a good job of it, both myself and others have noticed that panoramic format work is where my heart really lies. And I have a lot of shots in my archive which could be taken for attempts at copying Stuart Klipper.

So, as soon as I’d got a little immersed in “The Antarctic: From the Circle to the Pole” for the first time, I couldn’t resist going to grab my XPan, and spending some time outside in the southern reaches of the Drake Passage shooting a whole roll of essentially nothing, with a few chunks of ice floating in it. Totally undistracted by the later, unavoidable lures of penguins, whales, leopard seals and big blue icebergs against dramatic skies (and indeed anybody else on deck), I tried to let the approaching Antarctic speak to me.


Coda - actually, doing a touch more Googling turns up quite a lot of references to Stuart Klipper, even on one of my favourite websites, The Online Photographer.  I obviously haven’t been paying attention. It’s also gratifying to discover that pretty much everything I’ve read about him is more or less aligned with my own reactions.

Oh, and two great quotes from this interview:

Film or digital, why ?
I’m not a Luddite. Film is what
the Linhof uses.

When asked why he prefers the ‘wide-field’ format he simply says ‘because it’s wider’.

Posted in category "Photography" on Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 09:23 PM

Now THIS is interesting!

in Product reviews , Sunday, September 23, 2012

Discovered via Northlight Images - Photography Stuff ...

The Zenit Horizon Panorama D-L3

Zenit panoramic

Apparently it’s a joint venture with Silvestri, whose website has a little more info.

Want. Now.

Posted in category "Product reviews" on Sunday, September 23, 2012 at 11:25 PM

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