Tag Archives: Belair X6-12

The Belair and its Russian Lens

For those curious what the heck I’ve been talking about when I mention my Lomo Belair X/6-12, and the Russian glass lens for it, here you go. The Belair is an odd little beast – collapsible folding strut camera, takes 6×6, 6×9 or 6×12 centimeter negatives depending on which insert you use, is manual focus, scale focusing (you guess the distance and set it on the lens, and compose through an un-coupled viewfinder), has only two aperture options – f/8 or f/16, has manual film advance via red window, yet has an automatic shutter over which the only control you have is changing the ISO dial. Bulb exposures are an option.

The camera out of the box comes with some plastic fantastic lenses (a 90mm and a 58mm). The 90 has perceptible but not egregious distortion, reasonable contrast, and acceptable sharpness. The 58 is, well, not so good. The viewfinder for the 58 has less distortion than the lens does! After the Belair had been out for maybe 6 months or a year, they introduced a limited run of Russian-made all-glass optics for it – a 90mm and a 114mm. I got into the Belair game too late to be able to buy the glass lenses from Lomography, as they were sold out. The lenses were also quite expensive from Lomography, the Belair vendor. I believe they were something on the order of $300 apiece.

The Belair with the 114mm lens
The Belair with the 114mm lens

After having used the Belair with the plastic lens for a while, I got the itch to try and find the glass lenses. That’s when I discovered that they had all been sold, and nobody had any old stock sitting around. They didn’t show up with any frequency on Ebay either. I had particularly wanted to find the 90mm, but no dice. Then along came someone selling their 114mm. The price was good, so I jumped on it rather than take a chance on missing out.

Front view, the Belair with the 114mm lens
Front view, the Belair with the 114mm lens

In addition to the primary reason for getting the glass lens – the glass in the lens with its exceptional sharpness and flare resistance – the ability to precisely control focus is another benefit. The plastic lenses have four distances marked on the barrel – infinity, 3 meters, 1.5 meters and 1 meter (infinity, 9 feet, 4.5 feet and 3 feet for the metrically challenged). If you wanted to focus in between, you had to guess at the distance and hope the depth of field would carry the day. The Zenit-made 114mm and 90mm lenses have many intermediate distances marked on the focusing ring, which is silky smooth without being loose. The ability to much more precisely place your focus means that you can intentionally place objects in or out of focus. This is a major artistic control and a very welcome addition.

The Zenit Belairgon 114mm, and its controls
The Zenit Belairgon 114mm, and its controls

I’m including this scan of a negative made by the 114 so you can see the sharpness and particularly the flare resistance – I’ve had more flare on my Rolleiflex with the lens hood attached with the sun NOT in the picture. While Russian camera bodies may have been shall we say quality-control challenged (particularly in the Soviet era), their optics are truly outstanding. This should be proof enough to put doubt to rest that Russian lenses are up to par with their German and Japanese peers.

Hampton House, Towson, Maryland
Hampton House, Towson, Maryland

The image was shot on ten year out of date Ilford FP4+, and developed in Pyrocat HD.

Playing with Triptychs

I’ve been having so much fun lately with my photography. As it should be – it should never be WORK – it should be fun. And the Lomo Belair X/6-12 is part of the reason. Yeah, it’s lo-fi, it has a plastic fantastic lens, it’s auto-exposure with virtually no feedback (you never have any idea what shutter speed you’re using). But you’re shooting medium format panoramics! And for $250!! Where are you going to find a (useable) Brooks Veriwide or a Horseman 6×12 for $250? Even a 6×12 roll back for a 4×5 will set you back $400. So there’s a lot to like about it for the money.

And although the negatives themselves are, shall we say, less than razor-sharp, they do make awesome contact prints (witness my Roman panoramics and my recent Sinister Idyll series). This triptych was inspired by a vertical panorama series I saw someone else do. Theirs was a landscape, but I thought this office/apartment/retail complex in Washington DC would make a good urban subject to try it out on.

Columbia Plaza
Columbia Plaza

Another fun experiment with my Lomo. This time a vertical panoramic triptych. I intentionally skewed the middle panel to give what is otherwise a very static subject some visual movement and dynamism.

Columbia Plaza
Columbia Plaza

Beginning of a new series – tiny contact prints

When I was in Rome last year… (no jokes please!) I shot a bunch of panoramic images with my new-to-me Lomo Belair X6-12. My just completed session of the Intro to Platinum/Palladium Printing class I teach inspired me to dig them out and see how they would fare in the medium. I’m really loving these tiny prints – 2 1/4 by 4 1/4 inches! They make you get up close and intimate with the print. I’m matting them in 11×14 inch 8-ply mats for extra measure.

ColosseumPanoPtPd

ColosseumVertPanoPtPd

TiberPanoramaPtPd

Sometimes you have to walk away from a process or a practice for a while, which happened to me with platinum/palladium. I was on a kick of doing other stuff, shooting my travels with the Rolleiflex. Then it was the Fuji rabbit hole with digital and the X-T1. Then this class came along and I needed something to jumpstart my printing. These images were just the ticket. Photographers in general have an obsession with how big they can make their prints, and even the general public too. But there’s something to be said for tiny prints. I still remember the Andre Kertesz show at the National Gallery where they had a lot of his early work on display – in his youth, he could only make contact prints off of small negatives from roll film cameras because he was poor and didn’t have space for a dedicated darkroom. Getting up close and personal with his images, like “Underwater Swimmer”, which is all of 1 1/2 by 2 1/4 inches, really makes you think about the image itself instead of being awed by its size. Not that I have several million dollars to spare, but I’d much rather spend that kind of money on a print of “Underwater Swimmer” than on Andreas Gursky’s “Rhein II”. Fortunately, the Kertesz would be a lot cheaper to buy than the Gursky anyway.

On a separate note, I’d like to give a shout-out to Carol Boss at Hahnemuhle papers. All three images above were printed on the new Hahnemuhle Platinum Rag paper. She has very generously become a sponsoring partner of my Intro to Platinum/Palladium class at Glen Echo Photoworks, and is supplying us with our paper. It is a wonderful new paper- very easy to coat and print on. It may well displace my old standard Bergger COT 320.

Panoramas of the Colosseum, Rome

Photographing the Colosseum was one of the primary reasons I brought the Belair X/6-12. I knew already that I wanted to take panoramic shots of the building, as just about anything else aspect ratio-wise was not going to do the place justice. I think (I hope, anyway) that these give you somewhat of a sense of the scale of the building – it sits in a large open plaza and is every bit as large as a modern American Football stadium, seating somewhere in excess of 50,000 people. A testament to its architectural genius is that the entire stadium could be emptied in a matter of minutes.

Colosseum Panorama
Colosseum Panorama

These views depict the outer curtain wall, of which only a fraction remains. In fact, almost 2/3 of the original stadium and its decorations are gone – the columns, marble seats, wooden flooring and doors and bronze and gold decorations are all lost to the ravages of earthquakes, vandals, fires, and architectural re-purposing.

Colosseum Panorama
Colosseum Panorama

An astounding fact about the outer curtain wall – there is NO mortar used in its construction. The entire edifice was assembled and held together by iron bow-tie shaped clamps interconnecting each block.

Colosseum Panorama
Colosseum Panorama

Roman Panoramas – Pines of Rome

So I was busy and didn’t get around to developing the last few rolls from my Italian adventure until a couple days ago. I’m working through them now – they’re all panoramic shots taken with my Lomo Belair X/6-12. I’m still on the fence about whether and how much I like it.

Umbrella Pine, Via Fori Imperiali
Umbrella Pine, Via Fori Imperiali

In this case, it worked. Quite well in fact. This is one of the famous “Pines of Rome” – the umbrella pine – that are ubiquitous throughout the city and the region. They’re the source of the pine nuts used in making pesto. The umbrella pine is such a signature emblem of Rome I needed to take a photo of it by itself because now having been there, I can’t think of the city without thinking of the pines.

The Palazzo Pitti, Revisited

Here are a few more individual photos of the Palazzo Pitti.

The first one is another version of the rear view of the Palazzo, from the Boboli Gardens. There’s a vast difference in quality between this one and the one I took with the Belair X6-12. The Belair has its charms, but I still prefer the sharpness and contrast of the Rollei version.

Fountain, Palazzo Pitti
Fountain, Palazzo Pitti

Here is the panoramic version from the Belair for direct comparison.

Pitti Palace, from the Boboli Gardens
Pitti Palace, from the Boboli Gardens

Out front of the palace there are these massive granite bollards, carved with the Medici coat of arms. While they’re kinda-sorta the equivalent of a traffic cone, they don’t really qualify for my “portraits of ordinary objects” series, do you think?

Granite Bollard, Medici Coat of Arms, Palazzo Pitti
Granite Bollard, Medici Coat of Arms, Palazzo Pitti

A marble bust of a man in a stylized Greek helmet. This would be a 16th or 17th century piece, so the ancient Greek style helmet would have been done to make him appear heroic and classical, an idealized noble warrior type.

Marble Bust, Courtyard, Palazzo Pitti
Marble Bust, Courtyard, Palazzo Pitti

My Friend TC, at the Boboli Gardens, Florence

TC is a friend I’ve known for gosh, probably 10 years now. When we met he was a grad student working on his PhD at MIT. He’s now a full-fledged Doctor in Physical Chemistry, and working in Zurich. When I told him I was coming to Florence, he offered to pop down and hang out for a day or two. He was a real godsend, as I was still in the throes of a really bad allergy attack triggered by down pillows on the bed of my apartment in Rome, and he stopped at a pharmacy and got me some European Benadryl.

TC in the Boboli Gardens
TC in the Boboli Gardens

We went to the Uffizi the first day I was in Florence, then grabbed dinner at a restaurant he found on Yelp. The food was quite good, but what shocked me was the size of the portions. I was used to these small portion sizes per course that I had been getting in Rome, so I had a pasta course, a salad, and an entree. The pasta wasn’t too much bigger than I was expecting, but the salad was entree- sized! I had only had maybe 1/3 of the salad when the waitress stopped by and asked about it. I told her it was very good but just too big. She offered to cancel my entree, which I was glad to accept. Half and hour later, we’re sitting chatting and the entree arrives after all!

The next day, we met up again and walked over to the Palazzo Pitti via the Ponte Vecchio. The Palazzo Pitti is gargantuan – it was the Medici family’s main residence in the 16th and 17th centuries, and everything about it was designed to overawe. The Vasari corridor connects it with the Uffizi over the Ponte Vecchio to provide a secure passage should the Medicis need to escape an angry mob, or just not want to mingle with the hoi polloi on their way to and from their private box seats at the Santa Felicita church.

Cyclist, Palazzo Pitti
Cyclist, Palazzo Pitti

The Boboli Gardens back onto the Palazzo Pitti. They were once the private playground of the Medici family, but now are open to the public. This is the garden facade of the Palazzo Pitti.

Pitti Palace, from the Boboli Gardens
Pitti Palace, from the Boboli Gardens

After touring through the Pitti and hiking up and down the Boboli gardens (which are on the face of a fairly steep hill), TC and I grabbed lunch at a little cafe across from the Palazzo Pitti’s main entrance. I had my first ever cappuccino there. I’m now a devotee, provided there’s enough sugar.

So thank you, TC, for the Benadryl, the companionship, and for the swiss chocolates – they were delicious!