I finally got my hands on a Belair X 6-12 Jetsetter, threw all the film types I have at it, and get, well, something.
Okay, the Lomography Belair x 6-12 Jetsetter may not be the new hotness anymore, but I’ve still got my review to write! I wanted to wait until I got my pictures back before making any kind of a judgement.
Meet my Belair. My first association was with the Fresh Prince of Belair, so I thought of naming the camera Will, but then logic prevailed: Will wasn’t from Belair! Will’s from West Philidelphia (born & raised)! So clearly my Belair’s name had to be Carlton.
I loaded up Carlton’s 58mm lens optic & 6×12 frame, stopped in at Dick Smith for batteries, bought some 120 film of various types & went for a walk in downtown Sydney.
I shot three rolls that day (Xpro Slide 200, Fuji Velvia 50 & 50-200 Redscale, exposed at 50 ISO), a fourth on another day (50-200 Redscale, exposed at 50 ISO).
First thing I noticed was how light the camera was compared to how heavy it looked. It was a breeze to shoot with as well, with the shutter pull being soft & not jarring the rather long profile of the camera. I don’t mind telling you I got quite a few double-takes and admiring looks.
Next thing I noticed was not a positive, however: When I folded the Belair & put it into my camera bag sideways, the film inside slid along from exposure 6 to exposure 7 as I walked. As the Belair has no rewind dial, I had no choice but to shoot & overlap two of my precious six frames. The lack of a rewind knob also meant that I had no way of pulling the 120 film tight against the frame, but more on that later.
When I finished a roll, I had another problem: In the ensuing struggle, I nearly bent back my thumbnail & resorted to using my keys as a lever to free the film. This lead to my finished roll of Velvia bowing out along the edges, causing light leaks. The Lomography films had no such problems bowing out, with their thicker outer layer of cardboard, but still had light leaks. Carlton rolls fat, yo. (sorry)
I waited and wait & finally got my first three rolls back.
I certainly got the most out of the wide-angle, but the aforementioned sliding of film lead to a big overlap. Also, when viewed full-size, the photos look grainy & fuzzy at the edges.
Next, the Velvia 50:
Wait a second, aren’t Velvias supposed to be reddish? Anyway, the blurring was much worse, I assume due to my shooting handheld & the low ISO. And what happened with the framing of the girl listening to the band? She’s out of focus & nearly out of shot! And inside my comic store & the mall escalators were almost completely unrecognisable, despite my holding quite still.
The Redscale X 50-200 (exposed at 50 ISO):
I like the film, but again, grainy & unfocused.
Then later I got back my second roll of Redscale (exposed at 50 ISO):
In front of a true panorama, on a sunny day, there’s hardly any focus on the distant buildings, where I wanted it.
What was going on?! Why are things so fuzzy towards the edge of the photo? Why was my focus off? Was I pushing the automatic aperture & shutter speed further than the low ISO film would allow? Were my hands not holding this big camera steady enough when I took some photos indoors?
In light of these kind-of-disappointing results, I took my little Slik tripod & a faster, more versatile film (Lomography CN 400) & endeavored to keep the camera as still as possible:
This turned out a bit better, and I even felt confident enough to try some double-exposures, and a street portrait of a nearby couple. But still, that foggy focus plagued my shots. The photos were still lacking the sharpness and focus that I had grown to expect from 120 film (which previously I had shot using my Holga120N). I attribute this to the 58mm lens’ wide angle (my Sprocket Rocket has a similar effect close to the frame). I might switch to the 90mm lens & optic to see if it improves. Admittedly, seeing them in a smaller size on the Lomography site, they don’t look as bad as they do full res.
Overall I’m happy with my Belair. It’s a great conversation piece, fun to shoot with, and the 6×12 panoramas are unmatched by any cameras in my collection for size. However, its limitations mean that it’s never going to be the all-around favourite that some of my other cameras are.