Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Spotlight: Chinon Bellami


I was at an estate sale this past weekend and this little Chinon Bellami camera caught my eye. Unsure whether it was working or not, I took a chance on it for about $20. After sticking batteries in it back at home, I was pleasantly surprised to find it in 100% working order. First released in 1980, the Bellami (or beautiful friend in French) is a full-frame 35mm compact point-n-shoot camera. Like, this thing is seriously small; it fits in my pants pocket with room to spare, and I wear slim-fits! It's roughly the size of a deck of cards, or a pack of (ew) cigarettes. 

The most distinctive feature of the Bellami has to be the barn doors that swing closed to protect the lens when the camera's not in use. The design is actually pretty brilliant: You pull back on the advance lever to open the doors and pop out the lens. When you're ready to stuff the camera back in your pocket, just push the advance lever back flush with the body. Doing this will cause the lens to quickly retract and the barn doors to close. I found myself constantly opening and closing the doors, just cause it's so fun and satisfying to do. The barn doors do more than just protect the lens from scratches, they also protect your pictures from stray fingers! Without the barn doors present, I think it'd be pretty easy to accidentally block the lens, since the camera is so small. 

Though the camera is teeny-tiny, it's still comfortable to use, and the build quality feels solid. While there is definitely a good amount of plastic in the build, the top and bottom plates seem to be made of metal. The leatherette finish gives the Bellami an almost premium feel.

Operation, as you'd expect with a point-n-shoot, is pretty simple. Exposure is completely automatic. Once you set your ISO (25 - 400) on the top of the camera, the camera will decide the shutter speed and aperture for you. Shutter speeds range from 1/8 - 1/1000, with no option for long exposures. Aperture-wise, the fixed 35mm f/2.8 lens is pretty fast for a camera this small. A little red light next to the viewfinder will turn on when you half-press the shutter if there is insufficient light for a handheld exposure. Focusing is manual, without any aids. You just gotta guess! The lens has a soft stop at ten feet (marked in green), and can focus as close as one meter. The viewfinder is basic, with bright lines and no parallax compensation. Film advance and rewind are done manually. 

Two type 357 button batteries are required for the camera to function. If you half-press the shutter release with the lens extended, a green light will shine to indicate sufficient power. 

In the end, I'm totally glad I picked this camera up. It's fun to use, easy to carry anywhere, and totally cute. My photographs came out well-exposed, and when I hit focus, the lens produced some decently sharp results. Below are some photos I made with my Chinon Bellami, using Tri-X 400 film.