Here's the part two of my lengthy but hopefully extensive review of Lomography's Belair x 6-12.
While the Belair’s Panoramic Format is perfect for shooting sweeping landscapes, its square format is just right for portraits, whether up close or distant, and also for taking snapshots of parts of a whole, like sleeping sea lions in a long shoreline or a sign in an empty street.
I haven’t tried it yet but it might prove great with street photography as well. I’m saying this because one Lomographer – I forget who – took his Belair to some narrow streets in Italy and the results are stunning, to say the least!
With the Belair, I’ve learned to take precautions and a number of compensations. Shooting with its square format is no different. For example, you have to remember that if you get too close to your subject (less than 0.7 meters with the 58mm and less than 0.87 with the 90mm at f/16), that subject WILL be out of focus. When you’re still getting to know this camera, you need to be aware of its limited depth of field. I strongly suggest getting to know the DOF chart that is included in the manual. It’s easy to understand and familiarize than it looks and it’s a life-saver!
Like with the other formats, if you’re at least a meter close close to subjects, as I mentioned before, don’t forget to adjust your framing to compensate of the parallax problem since what you’re seeing in the viewfinder will be slightly different from what the lens is seeing. If you don’t, you’ll have some pretty awkward portraits in your hands.
Natural Lighting, Harsh Light, Soft Light
I’ve tested the Belair indoors without flash and only relying on its light meter, and the results weren’t very good. They were so bad, in fact, that I decided to forgo scanning and go straight to shoving the entire roll frustratingly in my trash bin.
Despite it’s automatic shutter setting feature, the Belair, with all things considered, is just like most Lomography cameras – it needs a generous amount of light, natural light to be specific to get great photos.
But unlike the Diana or the Holga whose dreamy effects can soften the harshest light, I’ve noticed that harsh AND uneven natural lighting can lead to harsh results with the Belair. I’ve taken photos with this camera pointing in the sun’s general direction, only just slightly off to the left or right, which I have done successfully before with other cameras, and many of those shots turned out severe with some details and areas blown out.
And like I’ve mentioned in the first part of my review, the Belair’s lightmeter seems to get really confused when the lighting is uneven.
Since the camera won’t let you adjust the shutter speed and only has two apertures, I’ve gotten into the habit of either setting the ISO 1 stop faster than the film’s ISO or shooting away from the sun instead of close to it or at it in situations like this. (I WANT TO POINT OUT THOUGH THAT SHOOTING AWAY FROM THE MIDDAY SUN, GENERALLY AND WITH ANY CAMERA, IS MORE FLATTERING ANYWAY. THE SKY IS ALWAYS BLUER AND THE SUBJECTS ARE MORE EVENLY LIT!)
While the Belair can’t handle harsh and uneven lighting that well, it is simply terrific with soft lighting. Since I wasn’t pleased with any of the photos I’ve taken under harsh lighting conditions, I was curious to see how it would fare under softer light. So I decided to test it and shoot during sunrise and just before sunset, when the sky is not so high up in the sky.
The results were better than I’d hoped! As expected, there were considerably less overblown highlights and the photos were definitely more flattering. More importantly though, the Belair lenses’ lo-fi effect was enhanced and the results were unexpectedly moody and dreamy!
There is one Belair feature that bothers me more than anything else, I think, and that would be its tripod thread; more specifically, the location of its tripod thread. While I understand that they had to move it because they needed space for the Bellows Release Button, they placed it too far to the side. This wouldn’t be a problem with a heavier or narrower camera but since the Belair is considerably light for its size and it has a wide body that also extends from the front, the location of the tripod thread is proving to be ineffective.
From experience, when this camera is mounted to a tripod, it tilts to the side and to the front when you push down the shutter release. This doesn’t seem like much of an issue but when you’re taking long exposures or double exposures, it’s really easy to mess up shots. All it takes is a slight move of your hand.
In the shots below, I was trying to double expose the frames so that the subjects looked transparent while the landscape remained solid. To achieve this effect, it was very important to keep the camera steady. But because the Belair, like I said, moves slightly to the right and front upon pressing the shutter, the landscape in these did not have the solid effect that I was aiming for.
While the camera has many imperfections, I have found that I could easily compensate or adjust to those imperfections. The reason why this tripod thread issue bothers me so much is the fact that you cannot really easily correct it, unless you’re willing to carry around something like a table to anchor the camera on the other side or superglue an adjustable steady cane on its right side!
The one thing that I do really love about this camera, though, is it’s uncanny ability to take some fantastic multiple exposures! For my Remember series, I was going to use my Mamiya but my replacement Belair arrived the day before the shoot and I was itching to test it. So I decided to take a chance and use the camera for the shoot.
It did not disappoint in the multiple exposure department! In fact, it did a surprisingly great job. The layers were evenly exposed and very well blended. As long as you remember to adjust the ISO setting accordingly, I’m confident that you will get some pretty awesome multiple exposures with the Belair.
As most of us Belair users have realized by now, this new and clearly controversial camera by Lomography won’t be winning the camera of the year award anytime soon. We’ve also realized that it’s not as easy-to-use as the LC-A or the Diana.
Yes, the developers could have spent more time testing and troubleshooting it instead of rushing it out for delivery. A few months ago, I would argue more than anybody here that the camera might have more problems than it has advantages.
But I am slowly realizing that it is NOT like the Diana or the LC-A or even the La Sardina. Let’s not forget that it probably has more features than any of those cameras combined. Naturally, it will have more noticeable imperfections. It comes with the territory.
The thing is while there is so much room for improvement here, one just doesn’t simply point and shoot and be satisfied with the results when it comes to the Belair. It’s not one of those have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too situations. It has a lot of quirks and you have to spend a lot of time with it to get to know its quirks and sometimes, make adjustments.
One might argue that we didn’t pay for our Belairs so we could adjust to its imperfections. While having a perfect camera would be totally fantastic, I don’t completely agree. But I think of it this way: the first time I used my Mamiya, I was at a complete loss and didn’t know what each of the buttons did. I had to get to know the camera, read the manual, and practice a lot before I got used to it. The Belair is just a less fancy and more lo-fi version of my Mamiya; it also just needs a little mastering.