Chinon Belami AF Point-and-Shoot Camera Review5 min read by
Chinon Belami AF is an early pocketable point-and-shoot camera by a Japanese company currently owned and operated by Kodak. It features a zone-based autofocus system, DX-code film reader*, and motorized film transport with a 𝒇3.9 35mm lens.
Being made by the same company that created an excellent barn-door Chinon Bellami (two Ls), this camera’s nomenclature is confusing, to say the least. The two cameras have little in common other than that they’re both pocketable and shoot 35mm film. So what does a “modernized” Belami bring to the table?
✱ — The DX-code reader, which determines the correct film speed for accurate light measurements on this camera, can only recognize ISO 200 and ISO 400 films; everything else will default to ISO 100 on the camera, except ISOs 400-1000, which will remain registered at ISO 400.
Chinon Belami AF controls and ergonomics.
This camera feels really nice in hand. It flips open gracefully, with the lens block popping out instantly, followed by the flash. The action of activating Chinon Belami AF is animated and a lot of fun.
Some articles refer to the camera’s lens door design as the “barn door,” which I believe is misrepresentative. Though it flips open as a door may, the barn door label belongs to the mid-century Voigtländer Vitessas and the earlier Chinon Bellami cameras with two doors that swing open in sync. Their design is unique and recognizable, whereas Belami AF’s is nice but much more common in the world of foldable film cameras.
The camera is shelled inside black plastic chassis; it feels solid, and the lens is made of glass (three elements in three groups).
The viewfinder is decent: it has bright lines but no parallax markings and no other useful indicators. It covers 85% of the frame and can be used with glasses relatively comfortably.
Loading film into Chinon Belami is easy — insert the roll and feed a bit of the tip into the take-up spool side. The camera will also leave a tip of the film out of the canister after rewinding so that it’s easier to load into reels if you develop film at home.
The flash seems to have a decent range (guide number 8, up to 4.6m/15’ with an ISO 400 film), and you can “disable” it by holding it down while taking a picture.
The shutter button on this camera isn’t very good. It’s hard to tell when it’ll trigger the shutter, and it does not feel solid. Triggering the shutter sounds like something a toy camera would produce, which isn’t too far from the truth as it has only two speeds: 1/125s (that it fires at the widest lens aperture of 𝒇3.9) and 1/60s.
The camera will not inform you in any way where it’s focusing. This is not uncommon, but paired with the clunky shutter sounds, I could not tell if my Belami AF worked until I developed the images.
The autofocus on this camera appears to work in zones, i.e., near/mid/far, which shouldn’t be a problem with a 𝒇3.9 35mm lens that has a large depth of field. However, it’s not very good at close focus (1m/3’) — although it does come with a focus lock.
To work, Chinon Belami requires an easy-to-find CR123 battery.
Chinon 𝒇3.9 35mm lens and image quality.
I could not get good results with this lens in low light. Either the focus was off, or the flash was insufficient/too bright. And when there was some light shining through the forest canopies (where I tested this camera), it’d miss the focus yet again or display a massive lens flare. The image posted above is an anomaly; even then, the light was more than any other camera would need, and the focus was slightly off.
For the most part, the chromatic aberrations and various distortions aren’t noticeable — especially in bright light, where this camera excels. The lens is reasonably sharp — better than that of a toy camera, but not by much.
You’ll likely get the best results with this camera in bright light but not against the sun (to avoid flaring). And since its max shutter speed is 1/60s at f/16, this is likely what you’ll be shooting in sunlight, so the best film to use would be an ISO 100 or 200 emulsion. I used Kodak Gold and would also recommend Pro Image 100 for colour and Ilford FP4 Plus for black and white.
Chinon Bellami has a much better lens (though it doesn’t have motorized film transform, built-in flash, or autofocus).
How much does Chinon Belami AF cost, and where to find one.
Chinon Belami AF sells between $30-$150 on eBay and a few other online retailers. You may also find one in a local shop. They aren’t particularly expensive; nevertheless, to avoid wasting time and money, ask the seller if they’ve tested theirs (better yet, tested with film) — especially when you’re getting one at the lowest end of the price spectrum.
❤ By the way: Please consider making your Chinon Belami AF camera purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!