My Love-and-Hate Affair With the Belair: A Review, Part 1

2013-02-26 17

Part one of my lengthy but hopefully extensive review of Lomography’s Belair x 6-12

Credits: blueskyandhardrock

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.

Physical Problems

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.

Great Features

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.

Credits: blueskyandhardrock
The focus and the framing were completely off in a lot of the photos in my first Belair roll.

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.

Credits: blueskyandhardrock

Light Meter

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.

The Belair’s light meter was a little off when used on a mostly cloudy day.

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.

Fat Rolls

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.

Credits: blueskyandhardrock

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.

Credits: blueskyandhardrock

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.

Panoramic Format

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.

Credits: blueskyandhardrock

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.

Credits: blueskyandhardrock

This is the end of the first part of my review. Stay tuned for the second part.

written by blueskyandhardrock on 2013-02-26 #gear #review #requested-post #belair-x-6-12 #love-and-hate

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  1. lokified
    lokified ·

    This is uncanny! I'm writing my Belair review & have a lot of the same concerns.

  2. tracyvmoore
    tracyvmoore ·

    Excellent review. Love all your shots too ;)

  3. blueskyandhardrock
    blueskyandhardrock ·

    @lokified most of us has... looking forward to your review!
    @tracyvmoore thanks Tracy!

  4. raylemon
    raylemon ·

    The Belair is so (can't think of a proper vocab for this) that I don't even know whether mine is faulty or it is supposed to be like that.

  5. raylemon
    raylemon ·

    is the top part of the lens platform supposed to be not able to lock back in place? or is mine faulty?

  6. blueskyandhardrock
    blueskyandhardrock ·

    @raylemon it seems that many have been having problems with the platform NOT locking back in place. not your fault, definitely. it's a design flaw, i guess. :(

  7. raylemon
    raylemon ·

    I mean, are all the Belairs like that? Is yours lockable after you exchanged for a new piece? haha
    Anyways, I also feel annoyed reading your article. Not that your article is annoying, but I can totally feel how you felt! I was so excited about the Belair until I received it and started using it.

  8. djramsay
    djramsay ·

    I'm sending mine back today. Hotshoe doesn't work and light meter is awful :(

  9. blueskyandhardrock
    blueskyandhardrock ·

    @raylemon I can't tell you if all the units are like that but I can tell you that the new one they sent me has the same problem. I can understand and i was very frustrated with it too but this is only part one of my review, stay tuned for the second part?

    @djramsay sorry to hear, hope you get a better one!

  10. raylemon
    raylemon ·

    I think the lightmeter doesn't work well under low light conditions. It's best to use a tripod and use bulb mode instead. I am now waiting for my colour negatives to be back. I have not given up on this camera yet haha. Will write a review soon too.

  11. deepfried_goodness
    deepfried_goodness ·

    A very thorough review. I think the Belair was rushed during it's development and as a result it has some design flaws and quality control issues (the metal bodied ones seem to be constructed a bit more solidly than the all plastic Cityslicker). I'm hoping the new glass lenses will fix the spotty infinity focus issue I have with the current plastic lenses. While a bit disappointed that the new glass lenses won't be ready before my trip in two weeks as they were originally supposed to be, I'm actually happy that they are postponing their roll-out because of some developmental concerns that they want to get right. I've not tried the hot shoe yet.

  12. herbert-4
    herbert-4 ·

    I have a Belair now and will soon be trying it. I have concerns about design detail overall, but I got a metal one, and it does seem a bit stiffer, like a real cheap 50's folder, like a Corona. I had one of those when I was 8. It took OK photos, as long as sun was behind you. 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 negs 5" f/16 meniscus, 1/25 or B, wire frame viewfinder, painted tin with rubberized cloth bellows, everything sort of in focus, from 5'. The drug store gave you individual contact prints you looked at with magnifying glass, 8 per roll, a roll of Pan-X was 59 cents (EXPENSIVE!), developing 89 cents (also EXPENSIVE!), and Dad loaned it to his Boss for job photos, and I never saw it again. I have no idea why I remember all this!

  13. kneehigh85
    kneehigh85 ·

    I haven't had my first rolls developed yet, but if they are even half as good as your photos then I will be happy! You have a good model there. The Belair was such a good idea but it's like they ran out of time and just left it. I did like using it but the bellows kept popping out and I got a fat roll and I wasn't sure how to hold it right and I found it hard to get the new spool onto the right. I am glad I got mine with piggies because if it had cost me that much real money, I think I would be sad!

  14. dida
    dida ·

    well it seems everyone have problems with Belair :(
    I was so excited about the Belair until I received it!
    but as @raylemon said I have not given up on this camera yet!

  15. tunnybird
    tunnybird ·

    Good review, very measured. I agree the 6x12 is very exciting! Love your seascape pic with the seaweed in foreground. I find the camera a little tricky to hold and use, but the excitement of it far outweighs any negatives. Its a whole new frontier for me!

  16. istionojr
    istionojr ·

    detailed sentences, such a great point-of-view review. I do learn some from this. :)

  17. yankeemiss
    yankeemiss ·

    I returned mine after 3 rolls when the shutter wouldn't close and the hot shoe didn't work. very disappointed in the camera and the customer service. It was 3 months before I got my refund. I guess that was one month for every roll I shot. I had high hopes for this camera and it didn't live up to the hype.

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