I don’t know what drove me to it, but surfing on eBay, I found Lomography Bellair, a medium format panoramic camera at a starting bid price of under £100. I never imagined I would win it for such a price given that it was like new and the seller said it hadn’t even had a film through it, so I set my maximum bid to slightly over the £100. 5 days of so later, I got the welcome email from eBay stating my bid was successful and I was a winner. I promptly paid the seller, and awaited delivery. A few days later a package arrived containing the boxed, and complete ‘Bellair’. I had had no thoughts about what I would try using this for, but at that money I could run a few films through it and sell it on. Having seen a few Lomography cameras, I didn’t hold up for much in terms of quality but I was pleasantly surprised. This is no ordinary Lomography camera though, it features interchangeable lenses, an electronic meter with auto exposure and also, interchangeable masks allowing either 6×6, 6×9 or 6×12 formats.
Operation of the Bellair
Before starting, the film mask to determine the size of the frame, either 6×6, 6×9 or 6×12 needs to be fitted. I was interested in the panoramic (?) 6×12 format, so simply fitted this mask. Loading the film was straight forward, expired Kodak E100VS was my chosen emulsion as I had high hopes, and I set the ASA setting on the camera at the film speed. The film advance is manual, simply turning a crank on the top of the spool the required number of frames depending on the format mask. The shutter is also straight forward and is self arming making multiple exposures as simple as they can get. The bellair comes with a 58mm lens and a 90mm lens, but it was the turn of the 58mm for the first outing.
I knew I was to have fun focusing of the Bellair. I regularly use an Olympus Trip 35 and I am constantly forgetting to change the focus with it not being a through the lens viewfinder. Like the Olympus the viewfinder is a direct optical type with no focus aid, so I would have to rely entirely on my judgement of the four makings on the 58mm lens of 1m, 1.5m, 3m, and Infinity. It’s also worth pointing out that there are only two apertures available too, F8 and F16! so it was going to need loads of light. Unfortunately, by the time I got to where I was going, Leeds in this instance the weather was poor and overcast killing the quality of light. The simple use of the camera did not mean it would be simple to get great pictures. As creative as the camera is, there is definitely the need to understand light more. If like me you have relied on exposure meters for years, then it will take some getting used to. The camera might be automatic, but there is absolutely no way of knowing the shutter speed.
Results from the Bellair
My results from the Bellair are questionable. There are a number of factors that may contribute to these, so take your pick from the focusing, framing because of the viewfinder type and underexposed shots caused by poor light. Next time I use the camera I will be sure to use faster film, but also only use the camera when there is good quality of light. Here are a couple of the frames, the remainder of the frames from the first film are just too bad to share anywhere, other than the trash can on my mac …