Chinon Bellami

A Tiny 35mm “Barn Door” Point-and-Shoot

7 min read by Dmitri.

Chinon was a Japanese camera manufacturer, bought by Kodak in 2004 during its “painful shift toward digital products.” Though not nearly as famous as Kodak, Chinon has been in business since 1948, building discount K-Mount cameras.

This particular camera, Chinon Bellami, can also be found as Revue 35CC with a slightly-altered design and precisely the same construction. Bellami’s Anniversary Edition in red is somewhat rare but not too expensive, plus, there are some variants on the graphics displayed on the “barn doors” of these cameras.

 ☝︎Further viewing: Evidently, this camera has just been video-reviewed by Bellamy Hunt of Japan Camera Hunter, who (almost) shares its name.

Chinon Bellami is practically as small Revue XE and Minolta TC-1.

Bellami is a small, pocketable camera, with a unique look, decent lens and everything-auto, except focus, with fantastic ergonomics. It sports a 35mm 𝒇2.8 lens with zone-focusing from 1m to infinity, and a remarkably-fast shutter that can fire anywhere between 1/8 — 1/1000s. Its auto-exposure system can work with ISO25-400 film. The camera takes two LR44 batteries, weighs 220g, and accepts its own flash unit as an attachment.

This Japanese point-and-shoot has a decent-sized viewfinder though it shows no information other than the bright lines w/o parallax correction. A tiny red bulb lights up if the camera thinks there isn’t enough light for hand-held action, and another tiny green bulb next to the ISO speed window glows when you half-press the shutter button. Its top plate is completed by a foldable rewind crank, a shutter button with cable thread, and a film counter window just under the film advance lever. A tripod hole next to a silver film release button (which you’ll have to press to rewind film after shooting) along with the battery door can be found at the bottom plate.

Handling, ergonomics, and build quality.

Chinon Bellami was released around the time Olympus XA started making its waves as the smallest rangefinder ever built. Though some say that Bellami is a “shitty” camera, its build quality is not far off from Olympus and much better than that of Diana Mini. The camera comes with heft: a considerable amount of its chassis is made of metal. My copy has a slightly fogged-up viewfinder, sticky lens focus dial, and occasional “overbite” when the barn doors are shut closed due to its advanced age.

Using this camera is relatively easy, with all of its controls behaving as-expected on film bodies.

The only exception being the barn doors, which open when you attempt to use the film advance winder:

If the next frame is set and the shutter is cocked, the winder will stop short after protruding the lens out. If you’re yet to advance to your next frame, the winder will advance the film, cock the shutter, and move the lens out of the body in one succession but with a wider arc. This is arguably the fastest way to get ready on a camera with a retractable lens.

Holding Bellami isn’t awkward at all, despite its size. To my medium-sized palms, it feels better than Rollei 35, Minolta TC-1, and Revue XE. But it’s a little tough to open with one hand.

Bellami has a very quiet shutter and a normal-sounding winder with light clicking noises. The loudest sound comes from opening and closing the doors — comparable to an SLR mirror slap.

If you don’t mind your camera making all of your decisions, aside from setting the focus, and you enjoy compact design, Bellami may be an excellent candidate for daily snapshots.

Lomochrome Metropolis @100.

Image quality.

Bellami performs slightly above expectations. Though the glass may not be a top-tier in sharpness, no crucial details escape the final rendering, and enlargements are quite reasonable to work with, especially when the aperture is stopped down in bright scenes.

Some artifacts on the bottom-left here, however, they don’t seem to repeat in any of the other photos. Rollei RPX [email protected]

I haven’t found much flaring with Bellami’s Chinonex Color lens other than what one would expect from a typical glass.

The reflection of a car’s window. Lomochrome Metropolis @200.

The lens and the camera’s shake-free shutter, balanced grip and a reasonably-fast lens will let you shoot in subdued light without much trouble. The out-of-focus regions (bokeh) are quite pleasing when the aperture is wide-open. The rendering does lose some contrast in those settings, but again, not too bad. The trickiest part is nailing the focus.

Lomochrome [email protected] My focus is slightly off, but I’m able to grab the scene that’s about nine stops darker than daylight sun illumination.

Pocketability, reliability, and serendipity.

Bellami is a fantastic little camera, though I kind of wish it was slightly better. What can I say, I am a spoiled brat.

From a technical perspective, I’m not entirely happy with what’s going on in the highlights at the very top; there’s also noticeable camera shake. Yet this is one of my favourite photographs of the 2020 summer. The light and the mood here create a narrative I feel a strong connection to.

I would love for Chinon to have put more effort into precision manufacturing: Bellami is the only other barn door variant in the world, that I know of, yet it does not feel nearly as “premium” as the Voigtländer Vitessa. I also want this camera to have a better viewfinder. Perhaps more character, along with sharpness in the glass, would help as well.

Still, those opinionated shortcomings aside, Bellami is an excellent performer. It is undeniably more comfortable to carry than most 35mm film cameras ever produced, super-quick to get ready, and easy enough to operate, leaving the photographer to pay attention to the scene instead of fumbling with the controls.

The only real reason I don’t have my Bellami in my pocket at all times is that I’m addicted to my TC-1. Though this may change as the tiny Minolta, though it has a much better lens, is quite noisy, has a slower max shutter speed (1/350s), and doesn’t seem as quick and reliable.

What a lucky shot! I doubt I would be able to react quickly enough with any other camera, with a possible exception of Pentax PC35AF.
Another serendipitous moment. A small group of park visitors spent minutes snapping and taping on their mobile devices; my Bellami allowed me this exposure with one click and zero retries. I really appreciate how much confidence it allows.

If you’re looking to buy a Bellami, know that the pricing can vary wildly. They go anywhere between $30 and $250. Flash units tend to have problems — mine doesn’t work at all. Other than that, they are quite sturdy.