Medium format panoramic cameras are a pretty unique species, as there are only a couple of manufacturers who have made or are currently making such devices. The Lomography Belair X 6-12 is one such camera, and the fact that it comes with auto-exposure makes it even more unique. Shortly after the Belair was originally announced, Lomography came up with a peculiar add-on for the camera: a 35mm back. With it, the Belair X 6-12 can expose 135 format panoramic images with an approximate 4.3:1 aspect ratio. Here’s our review of it.
Pros and Cons
- Easy to install
- Easy to operate
- Takes incredibly wide panoramic images on standard 35mm film
- Framing is very difficult due to massive parallax
- The finish doesn’t really fit with the rest of the camera
For this review, we used the Lomography Belair X 6-12 Jetsetter Edition (thanks to the Lomography Store Berlin!) with the Lomography Belair 35mm back. The product shots were taken with a Panasonic G1, Lumix G 20mm f1.7 lens and a Rokinon D900AFZ flash.
In terms of technical specifications, there isn’t really much to say about the Belair 35mm back except that it takes standard type 135 35mm film cartridges. One roll of 35mm film takes about 11-12 images in 4.3:1 aspect ratio.
The 35mm back completely replaces the rear assembly of the Belair X 6-12. To install it, the original back plate as well as the 120 format take-up spools and the 120 film mask need to be removed. When that’s done, the 35mm back clicks in place where the film mask and back plate would go when shooting 120 film.
Instead of the advance lever on the top, the little knurled dial on the bottom right is used to advance the film. The great thing about this is that it stops turning once the frame is fully advanced. On the protruding lower part of the 35mm back, there’s a frame indicator with a release button for rewinding the film next to it.
On the left, a little plastic window lets you check what kind of film you have inserted, in case you forget. That’s a good thing, as you’ll be using the ISO dial a lot in order to manually adjust the exposure, and for that you need to have your film ISO in mind.
On the right hand side of the 35mm back, there’s a little release switch to open up the film compartment.
This is what the Belair 35mm back looks like from the inside. On the left, the film cartridge is inserted. In the middle, you can see the parts that mask off the area that is to be exposed. And on the right, there’s the take-up spool for the 35mm film.
And finally, on the bottom there’s the rewind lever, which can be operated as soon as the release button on the back has been pressed.
The build quality of the 35mm back is roughly on par with the rest of the Belair X 6-12, which means it’s not stellar but just good enough so it doesn’t fall apart after two days of use. Since it’s made of plastic, it might be a little more prone to wear as compared to the metal body of the camera itself. During our time with the 35mm back though, we encountered no issues whatsoever.
The quality of the images you’ll get out of the 35mm back-equipped Belair is roughly the same as that of images taken with 120 film. That is to say, it largely depends on two factors: the lens(es) used and the proficiency of the user. As we mentioned in our original review of the Belair X 6-12 as well as in our review of the Belairgon lenses, the camera needs a lot of practice in order to come up with usable images. Exposure, framing and sharpness can easily be off, which is what happened to us a lot.
So while theoretically the camera is as good as any other, it often comes down to whether the exposure is correct (or correctly compensated by the user), whether framing is off due to parallax or not, and whether the focus was guessed correctly or set by measuring the distance. For the review of the 35mm back, we used the Belairgon lenses, which provide better overall image quality than the original plastic lenses. However, since the negatives weren’t scanned professionally, we weren’t able to squeeze the last bit of detail out of them.
Additional Image Samples
When you already own and enjoy the Belair X 6-12, and also regularly shoot 35mm film, then adding the 35mm back really is a no-brainer. It makes using the camera a completely new experience, and adds a lot of fun to it. Also, 4.3:1 aspect ratio panoramic images. Where else do you get that? However, the 35mm back by itself isn’t really any reason to get the camera in the first place, because where the Belair really shines is when it’s used to take 6×12 medium format images.
The 35mm back is easy to use and provides the same image quality as when using the Belair with medium format film, which, as we mentioned, depends on quite a lot of factors. Once you’ve mastered the camera, it will spoil you with quite unique photographs. For a beginner, though, the 35mm back can’t be recommended, as it’s even more difficult to use than the Belair with medium format film, due to the much stronger parallax.
So here’s our verdict: the 35mm back is fun when you already own the Belair and have mastered it to a certain degree. However, we wouldn’t recommend buying the Belair for the sole purpose of using it with 35mm film.
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