Part one of my lengthy but hopefully extensive review of Lomography's Belair x 6-12
I now have taken quite a few shots with my Belair x 6-12 CitySlicker – a total of 10 albums, in fact – since I’ve gotten it in the mail last December. While I am nowhere near the Belair expert, I have definitely made known what I thought of this surprisingly temperamental camera – if you have seen any of my Belair albums at all, you’ve probably read my ramblings in the description section – so I figured it’s high time to come out and write a proper review for it.
I have to be honest. Since the beginning, my relationship with this camera has always been of the love-and-hate kind. In fact, I didn’t really know what to think of it the minute I took it out of its box. For some reason, I just didn’t get that elated, sparkly, feeling that I usually get when I get a new camera, especially one that I’ve been wanting for a long time. And it didn’t help that a couple of hours later, it just randomly fell apart on me – the push button popped out and the lens platform didn’t want to lock back in place so it was kind of hanging off the rest of the camera. I was already wishing that the camera was made of sturdier stuff.
Still, I was determined to change my mind about it for several reasons – its format versatility, its interchangeable lenses, its automatic shutter settings, the different ISO settings, and the fact that it does look cool. So the next day, before I headed to my mom’s place where I was going to stay for the holidays, I decided to take the camera out for a test drive.
Focusing and Framing
That didn’t go as well as I’d hope. Since I chose to be on the safe side and used a black-and-white film, I didn’t have exposure problems – even if I did shoot on a partly cloudy day – but the focus and the framing in a lot of the photos were completely off! Needless to say, I was disappointed with the first results.
I was disheartened but definitely not discouraged. I knew from experience that with plastic cameras, you get the unexpected and to get the results you really want, you’d have to really get to know their personalities and quirks. And to be fair, I should have read the manual thoroughly before I used the camera.
Two days later, I headed out to a nearby park test the camera again. There were heavy clouds in the sky that day, but there were also patches of blue and the sun often peaked out from above the clouds so that the landscape was often illuminated. I figured that it was the best weather to see how well the Belair’s light meter worked.
I had already learned my lesson from my first roll so I made adjustments and allowances accordingly. For example, I started getting into the habit of measuring the distance of my subject first before shooting. (TIP: LEAVE YOUR MEASURING TAPES AT HOME. MAKE USE OF YOUR LIMBS. ONE METER FOR ME IS THE DISTANCE FROM THE TIP OF MY LEFT FINGER TO THE EDGE OF MY RIGHT SHOULDER. FIND OUT YOURS!) That paid off as all of the framing in my second batch were perfect and there were only two shots that were unfocused.
Unfortunately, the exposures in this batch were off – not too much that I got severely underexposed shots but bad enough that the photos were totally unflattering! And that’s saying a lot considering I used the Lomography X-Pro 200, which in my opinion is one of the best and most flattering films out there.
By that time, I was already aware of its light meter problems from reading other Lomographers’ comments and reviews so while I was, yet again, disappointed, I wasn’t really surprised. I made a note in my mind to test the camera on evenly lit scenes and on brightly lit scenes for comparison.
The Belair was proving to be such a challenge to me and it was slowly unveiling to be anything but the point-and-shoot that people were expecting it to be yet I wasn’t about to give up. If anything, I was more determined than ever to really master it! Because in the back of my mind, I knew that if used right, this camera had a lot of potentials.
Because my Belair already had several physical defects, I knew I had to ship it back to Lomography USA and get a replacement. But like I said, I was more determined than ever to master it. So I took it first to Big Sur, CA where I was celebrating my 30th birthday. I wanted to test the other formats and to see how it fared when shooting landscapes. After all, landscapes are really why people invented the panoramic format and where better to shoot California’s landscapes than in that beautiful and majestic place a few hours south of San Francisco.
Before I even developed the Big Sur rolls, I already encountered another problem – fat rolls! And we all know what fat rolls mean – light leaks! I guess light leaks aren’t really a problem to a lot of Lomographers, most of the time they do make our shots more interesting.
But too much light leaks isn’t flattering either, and that’s exactly what you get with fat rolls. Not only will you get light leaks but your shots will often come out overexposed.
For some reason, the people who designed the Belair decided to put the foams for holding down the film on the LEFT film chamber instead of the right where they would have served better purpose – this part of the design really baffles me. So I decided to take matters into my own hands and stick a foam on the bottom of the RIGHT film chamber to remedy the problem.
Aside from the light leaks, I guess you can say that I was satisfied with the results from the Big Sur rolls. The 6×12 format proved very exciting, like having Horizon Kompakt shots without really owning one.
I’ve learned though that when shooting a beautiful landscape with the Belair, using the panoramic 6×12 frame would be optimal. Hopefully, they’ll come out with a wide-angle lens in the near future. But for now, the 6×9 format proves to run a bit short with landscapes because the available lenses right now just aren’t wide enough for it. At least, in my opinion.
This is the end of the first part of my review. Stay tuned for the second part.