Review: Lomography Belair X 6×12 + Instant Back

julius motal the phoblographer lomography belair instant back

In the spirit of making things more fun, Lomography has created the Instant Back for its Belair X 6×12 medium format camera. The Instant Back substantially increases the size of the Belair, which makes it feel like a large book against your chest. With a pack of Fujifilm Instax Wide inside, the Belair + Instant Back has a three step shooting process and necessitates a great deal of patience. Shooting with it isn’t easy, but when you get a shot that’s roughly along the lines of what you intended, you do feel a measure of success.

For the full review of the Lomography Belair X 6×12, check out our review.

Pros and Cons

Pros

-Retro chic will make you the talk of the town

-There’s a certain degree of fun in cranking the image out of the top

Cons

-Shooting with the Belair isn’t easy

-The build feels a bit shoddy

-The film is awfully expensive

Gear Used

We used the Lomography Belair X 6×12 with the Instant Back and the 90mm kit lens. Images were scanned in with the Epson Perfection V550 Photo scanner.

Tech Specs

Tech specs for Belair X 6×12 courtesy of B&H Photo Video’s listing:

Belair X 6-12
Camera Type Folding medium format film camera
Image Area 6 x 12: 4.1 x 2″ / 104 x 52 mm
6 x 9: 3.1 x 2′ / 78 x 52 mm
6 x 6: 2 x 2″ / 52 x 52 mm
Film Type 120 roll film
Lens Mount 3 Bayonet type
Auto Exposure Aperture priority mode
Exposure Range EV 4-15
Shutter Speed Range 1/125 sec. and bulb
Film Sensitivity Supports ISO 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
External Flash Connection X-type sync hot shoe
Tripod Socket 1/4″ socket
Power Supply 2x LR44 1.5V batteries
Dimensions Not specified by manufacturer
Weight 1.1 lb / 500 g (without batteries or film)

 

90mm kit lens
Focal Length 90 mm
35mm Equivalent Focal Length 6 x 12: 32 mm
6 x 9: 40 mm
6 x 6: 52 mm
Aperture Range f/8-16
Angle of View 65° (6 x 12)
Focusing Manual zone focusing: 3.3′ / 1 m, 4.9′ / 1.5 m, 9.8′ / 3 m, and infinity
Dimensions Not specified by manufacturer
Weight Not specified by manufacturer

Ergonomics

julius motal the phoblographer lomography belair instant back-2

That’s a big camera. The bellows folds down which would normally make the Belair a thin minnie, but with the Instant Back, the Belair is somewhat bulkier. The contoured edges are nice to the touch, which makes holding the camera comfortable.

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Here’s where instant film resides. There’s a touch of yellow in the small window to the upper right corner of the Instant Back. When the back is open, you align the yellow strip on the instant film cartridge with the yellow strip on the camera. In order to keep the instant film light sealed, there’s a black sheet that needs to be removed which is done by the three-step image making process.

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Here’s you’ll notice a 1 and a 2. The circled 1 is your baseline. Keep the tab there when you’re making an image. The image is made by pulling the metal lever down on the front of the camera where the lens mount is. Upon exposing the image, you slide the tab up to the circled 2.

julius motal the phoblographer lomography belair instant back

To the left of the Belair X 6×12 logo is the metal lever that you pull down to expose the image onto the film. Shutter speed is handled by the camera. You retain the ability to adjust ISO, aperture (f8 and f16 only), and focusing, which is a zone-focus system at 1m, 1.5m, 3m and infinity. The crank at the left of this image is what you turn to make the image come out. You move the tab on the back to the 2 position and hold it there while you turn the crank forward. Be sure to turn it slowly at a constant speed so that the chemicals are evenly spread across the image. Once you finish getting the film out, you need to push the tab back down to 1, so that you can make the next image.

Build Quality

As noted in our review of the Belair, the main body is metal with a leatherette finish. The bellows is a black rubber, and the folding mechanism is metal. The Instant Back is made of plastic. The folding mechanism pops out via a button underneath the unit, and in order to compress it back down, you have to press down on both the top and bottom of the metal bits and shimmy it back down. It takes a bit of elbow grease to get it back down, and there were times when I worried that might have to strong arm it.

Despite its large size, the Belair + Instant Back isn’t all that heavy. It’s just a lot to handle, and it’ll take up a considerable amount of space in whatever bag you’re using.

Focusing

Focusing with the Belair is handled by setting it to a distance: 1m, 1.5m, 3m and infinity. With nothing else to work with, you’ll have to either have a tape measure on hand, or hope you’re spatial awareness is solid enough that you can judge the distance independent of any aid. Focusing to infinity is the easiest of the options. Working any closer than that is a bit of a crapshoot.

Ease of Use

Learning to use this camera was a practice in scratching one’s head repeatedly. An exposure guide was provided with the camera + instant back, which was necessary when assessing various situations. The Fujifilm Instax Wide film has an ISO of 800, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Belair’s ISO will have to match that. On top of navigating the exposure guide, there’s the three-step process to make an image, which proves to be a bit cumbersome in practice. This isn’t a camera that lends itself to spontaneous photography. Each shot has to be carefully considered, and even then, you’re not guaranteed to get the image you envisioned. In most cases, I didn’t.

Metering

The Belair has a light meter that can be gamed by adjusting the ISO dial behind the front of the unit that extends out. The ISO settings are 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 and bulb. The meter’s powered by two cell batteries.

Image Quality

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This where things get a bit muddled. This isn’t a camera that lends itself to straight photography in the way a more conventional camera would, where you could normally rely on it to make the images you want. The Belair + Instant Back is study in hoping you nailed the shot, and more often than not coming away dissatisfied.

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The Instant Back removes the anxiety of having to wait for your roll to be developed at the lab, and it helps you to gauge what went worked and what didn’t work in the image you made, so that the next one will hopefully come out better.

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Despite my best efforts, most of images weren’t sharp, which led to a number of grimaces and gritted teeth as I carefully positioned the camera for the next shot, hoping that, “Maybe this time I’ll get it.” You will fail with this camera, and that’s okay. It forces you to consider each shot, since every frame is money, and instant film isn’t cheap. Hopefully, you’ll get the hang of things fairly quickly.

An accidental double exposure of Union Square.

An accidental double exposure of Union Square.

This is a Lomography camera, which should clue you in to the type of images you’re going to get. Lomography tends to be free and easy with its approach to photography. You can’t hold the Belair + Instant Back to the standards that exist in the current pantheon of cameras out there, and you shouldn’t. This camera takes you back to basics almost entirely. Your images will look quirky. If it’s got what might look like light leaks, let it have them. If the chemicals didn’t spread evenly across the positive, then you’ll get an interesting effect when the image fully develops.

julius motal the phoblographer lomography belair instant back image 02julius motal the phoblographer lomography belair instant back image 08

Conclusion

There’s no denying that instant photography is fun. There’s a certain thrill in taking image and seeing it pop out of the camera, or in this case, cranked out of the camera. Unlike other instant offerings, the Belair + Instant Back commands a deeper understanding of the mechanics and mathematics of photography and a level of patience that digital has a tendency to remove. You’re not always going to get what you want, and sometimes you may find that what you thought you didn’t want, you might kind of want.

Unfortunately, I just can’t get behind this camera. It doesn’t lend itself to the type of work that I do, and the results were often frustrating to the point of wanting to set it aside for a while and shoot with my normal rig. There are quirky merits to what this camera produces, but it isn’t anything I’d necessarily showcase.

This isn’t an easy camera to work with, but if you’ve got some extra cash and want a bit of vintage fun, you can pick up the Instant Back at Lomography.

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