The Lomography Belairgon 90mm f/8 ($199 direct) is one of the first two glass lenses available for use with the Belair X 6-12 panoramic medium format film camera. That body ships with two plastic lenses, both of which are small and light, but neither of which offers the tack-sharp imagery that medium format film is capable of capturing. The Belairgon series of lenses, glass designs with metal barrels, are manufactured in Russia and are much more serious photographic tools than the plastic lenses that Lomo bundles with the Belair.
The Belairgon 90mm f/8 is a hefty lens. It measures 2.8 by 2.2 inches (HD) and at 12 ounces is heavy for its size. I was a bit concerned about its weight when first picking up the lens; I wasn’t sure the rails supporting the Belair’s lensboard would support it. Thankfully the camera held the lens without issue, although I did make sure to collapse it when not in use. You only have the option of shooting at f/8 or f/16. The Belair has a very simple ambient light meter, and a physical switch that matches the meter settings to the current aperture. There are no physical shutter controls on the Belair; you’re limited to automatic speeds, or you can turn the meter off and shoot the camera in bulb mode.
There’s no accessory viewfinder included; the lens matches the field of view of the 90mm included with the Belair, so you can just use that one. The field of view that the lens delivers is roughly equivalent to a 32mm lens on a full-frame camera, but that will vary a bit depending on how wide you’re shooting. The Belair can capture 6-by-6, 6-by-9, or 6- by-12-centimeter images. If you want a lens that isn’t as wide, consider the Belairgon 114mm f/8.
Focusing with any scale focus camera can be tricky. Even with the aperture set to f/16, you’ll have to be reasonably close on estimating the difference between the film plane and your subject in order to get an in-focus image. I’m not great at estimating distances, so I bought an accessory rangefinder on eBay to clip onto the Belair’s hot shoe. It lets you peer through a tiny finder and line up a double image to determine your distance from the your subject. These rangefinders sell for anywhere from $20 to $50 and are readily available. The only challenge you may face is finding one that presents distances in meters rather than feet, and to ensure that the rangefinder is properly calibrated. The markings on the Belairgon’s lens barrel that show the current focus distance are only shown in meters, so I had to do some quick math in my head when focusing. As for calibration, most of these devices can be adjusted using a simple screwdriver and a yardstick. The one I was using is in definitely in need of some adjustment; the shots I took matching the lens scale distance with a Leica rangefinder camera were tack sharp, but those where I relied solely on my eBay add-on rangefinder were just a bit off.
I shot a couple rolls with the 90mm Belairgon; one using Ilford Delta 100 and another using Fujifilm Pro 400H. I was happy with the sharpness that the black-and-white images delivered, and impressed with the colors that the lens captured on a bright August afternoon. Negatives were scanned on an Epson 4490 flatbed using a Better Scanning glass negative holder and VueScan software, and processed in Lightroom. When focus was on point the images were quite sharp, noticeably more so than the plastic lens that ships with the Belair.
If you’re happy with the 90mm field of view on the Belair, but disappointed with the quality of the images that the bundled plastic lens captures, the Belairgon 90mm f/8 is a worthy upgrade. It’s a bit bigger and heavier, but there’s no getting around the fact that metal and glass weigh more than plastic. The build quality is excellent, and the distance scale is accurate. I wouldn’t recommend buying both the 90mm and 114mm Belairgons; they’re a bit too close in focal length to justify having both in the bag. But you’ll be happy with either lens. Fans of ultra-wide angles are still limited to the plastic 58mm lens that ships with the Belair; Lomo hasn’t announced a Belairgon version yet.
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