I fell for the Lomography hype machine on this one and I knew it when I entered my credit card information. I was excited about the Bel Air though. I'd been shooting my Holga 120PAN for awhile and loved the images it produced, but the body was a bit clunky and awkward to shoot. The Lomography Bel Air design was intriguing with its interchangeable lens and multiple format sizes. So I bought it and my camera arrived earlier this week.
The design looks great, as you would expect from Lomography. The body is the same size as the Holga 120WPC and my Holga 120PAN, though it opens a little differently and there are some updates which makes loading roll film easier. I like the choice of battery size for the auto exposure feature. Two 1.5V LR22 batteries are easily loaded into a covered slot above the lens. The batteries don't add weight to the camera and are easily found at drugstores. Great decision and design. The bellows are made of substantial black rubber which is better than I expected. Extending the lens feels a little cheap as it doesn't open smoothly or lock into the body securely. There were a few times when I collapsed the camera and the lens kept popping back out, but once I found where it clips together, it was fine. The lens and viewfinder attach very simply.
Yesterday I had a chance to shoot the Bel Air for the first time. I chose to shoot 6x12, attached the 90mm lens and loaded a roll of HP5+. Here are a few shots from that roll.
Setting up, loading then shooting the Bel Air was easy. The viewfinder was fairly accurate and the exposures were decent. There is the option to shoot manual by removing the batteries (this would leave the shutter speed at 1/125 according to the manual), or you can play with shutter speeds by adjusting the ISO settings on the exposure meter.
I was relieved to see some images on the film after I pulled it from the spool, but saw some issues when I started to scan these in.
Some of the exposures were off. Of course, I should have known better when I look at the subjects I shot. I was trying to expose the roll quickly and didn't take the time I should have. That being said, if I ever attempt a longer exposure (my comfort zone) I would have to figure out a easy way to attach a cable release or some contraption to the shutter release which is at the front of the Bel Air by the lens. I wouldn't be able to hold that down with my finger for long without shaking the camera.
One of my biggest concerns was the lack of focus. I've played with a lot of funny cameras - holgas, dianas, french fry cameras and the like, and have seen some nice, sharp areas of focus from them. If you've shot a Holga or Diana or other Lomography camera then you're familiar with the 1m -> 1.5m -> 3m -> infinity focus settings. Most of the time I had the lens set to infinity and frustratingly, none of the images were in focus. I did take the time to measure exactly 3 meters from a tree and set the lens at 3m before taking this shot.
Here's a closeup of the tree itself.
The very, very soft focus is very frustrating and I wasn't expecting this. I have gotten lovely, sharp images from my Holga 120PAN like this boat.
I'll continue to play around with this camera, though I don't feel inspired to commit too much time to it yet. If you're shooting the Bel Air and have some tips let me know! I'd love to see what you're shooting and hear about your experiences.