Tag Archives: Lomography

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

Roman Panoramas – Miniature Platinum Prints

After printing a few of these panoramas from Rome, I was so taken by the intimacy of the miniature format of the 2 1/4″ x 4 1/4″ contact print, I went and made a whole series of them. I’m at fourteen of them now, but that number will fluctuate a little as I finish printing and edit down from there. I’m going to go out shooting this weekend and make some more images in the format and perhaps build a full show’s worth.

Columns, Marble Floor, Trajan's Market
Columns, Marble Floor, Trajan’s Market

I took the portfolio to the Sunday morning critique we have at Glen Echo, and instead of presenting them as raw prints, I matted them with 8-ply mats with oversize margins (11×14 inch mat boards, so roughly 4-6 inch margins around the 2 1/4 x 4 1/4 inch window). I also cut the windows such that all the mats could be viewed in landscape orientation regardless of whether the image was in portrait or landscape orientation.

Trajan's Column, Via Fori Imperiali
Trajan’s Column, Via Fori Imperiali

Presentation is very important when considering your work. It should be the first thought on your mind when planning a show – of course you need to edit the body of work, but how it will look on the wall is just as critical to successful reception as the work itself. Good presentation will focus the viewer’s attention on the work and block out the distractions of everything else going on around it.

Temple of Antoninus and Faustina
Temple of Antoninus and Faustina

Also, if you’re at all concerned with selling your work, makes a huge difference in the sales price – poorly presented, someone would pay a poster price for an original Ansel Adams, if they bought it at all. Properly presented, your work will fetch premium prices even though nobody has really heard of you outside your own city.

Column Fragment, Imperial Forum
Column Fragment, Imperial Forum

This webpage is a prime example of the issue of presentation – showing these images here in this size on this medium is a complete and utter failure to represent the scale, quality and impact of the images. You’re looking at them on your monitor, in a size well beyond their actual physical size in reality. And because they’re scans of the prints, the paper texture is exaggerated as are any minor flaws due to the handmade nature of the prints.

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

Oculus, The Pantheon, Rome

Here’s a shot I took of the oculus of the Pantheon with my Belair X6-12. The camera has its issues, one of which is the relatively low contrast from its plastic lenses. Most of the time. Here’s a circumstance where it works to my advantage- the interior of the Pantheon is so dark, and the main light source being the oculus, it’s very contrasty. The flat lens on the Belair helps bring out shadow detail where there wouldn’t be as much.

Oculus, Pantheon Dome
Oculus, Pantheon Dome

New Toy in the Arsenal

I recently acquired a Lomo Belair X 6-12 City Slicker model. It comes with a 58mm and a 90mm lens and the matching viewfinders. The camera is a weird beast, sort of a neither-fish-nor-fowl thing, in that it has multiple film formats (it has masks for 6×6, 6×9 and 6×12 frames), interchangeable lenses (58 and 90mm plastic lenses, and an optional accessory 112mm all glass lens), auto-exposure in aperture-preferred mode, and a hot-shoe flash. However, it is manual film advance completely separate from shutter cocking, there are only two apertures on each lens (f8 and f16), the only sort-of control you have over the shutter is to set the film speed and/or set it to B for long-time exposures), the shutter has a maximum speed of 1/125th of a second, and focusing is zone focusing with indicator marks on the lens for infinity, 3 meters, 1.5 meters, and 1 meter. Oh, and there’s no cable release provision so you have to be extra careful when using B that you don’t shake the camera. The 58mm lens, especially at the 6×12 configuration, is very lo-fi and has gobs of obvious barrel distortion. However, where else are you going to find a 6×12 panoramic camera with a 58mm lens on it with auto-exposure for $250? Your next cheapest option is to put a 6×12 back on a press camera, which is going to run you at least a cool grand to put together. Even a 6×12 back on the new-but-still-effectively-vaporware Travelwide, plus a 65mm lens will run you a good $700-800.

I put a couple rolls through it to test it out last week and weekend. It is wicked wide with the 58, and sharp enough in the center. My example tends to run a bit to the overexposure side, which I think accentuates some of the weaker characteristics of the lens (like the low contrast from the plastic optics), although I’d rather have it overexpose than underexpose. One thing I haven’t figured out yet is if any of the lenses including the glass lens will accept filters. I’d love to try out the camera with a roll of Infrared and see what it does. It could be a great combination, or it could suck dirty dog toes. This spring, I’ll give it a try and find out.

This shot is of my student Todd Walderman from my Intro to Platinum/Palladium Printing class, and his new puppy, Cookie.

Todd with Cookie
Todd with Cookie

The Glen Echo Park sign, backlit at evening time. This shot as much as anything shows the amount of barrel distortion the 50mm lens has. Used appropriately it can really add to an image. But don’t use it to take pictures of things that need to be plumb and square, because they’ll look terrible. Knowing when to use it and when not is an art form in itself.

Glen Echo Park Sign
Glen Echo Park Sign

The Glen Echo carousel.

Glen Echo Carousel
Glen Echo Carousel

That weekend, they were having an end-of-summer-season festival at Glen Echo, which included a mini antique car show and the final running of the carousel for the year. Among the honored guests was this vintage Ferrari:

1979 Ferrari 308
1979 Ferrari 308

In keeping with the spirit, sort-of anyway, of the whole Lomography lo-fi movement, I was running 10+ year out-of-date Ilford FP4+ through the camera. I don’t think it really made a difference, though, as you’ve seen shots I’ve taken this year using the exact same film through my Rollei, and if I hadn’t told you it was 10 years out of date you’d never know.