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. There are also some cameras with slight variations on the graphics displayed on the “barn doors.”
☝︎ Further reading: “Compact Full-Frame 35mm Film Cameras Under $200.”
Bellami is a small (but not the smallest), pocketable camera with a unique look, decent glass and everything-auto, except focus, with fantastic ergonomics. It sports a 35mm 𝒇2.8 lens with zone focusing from one metre/3’ 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, without any 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 when 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 also comes with some heft: a considerable amount of its chassis is made of metal.
Using this camera is relatively easy, with all of its controls behaving as expected on film bodies.
The only exception is 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 once the lens is fully extended. If you’re yet to advance to your next frame, the winder will let you revolve further to advance the film and cock the shutter. This is arguably the fastest way to get ready on a camera with a retractable lens.
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 your excellent candidate for daily snapshots.
Bellami performs above expectations. No crucial details escape the final rendering, and enlargements are a pleasure to work with, especially when the aperture is stopped down in bright scenes. The lens is very sharp, with only a slight fall-off in the corners. There’s little to no vignetting.
I Bellami’s Chinonex Color lens does not flare excessively and it shows no visibly distracting aberrations in daylight.
The lens and the camera’s shake-free shutter, balanced grip and 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 (zone) focus.
Pocketability, reliability, and serendipity.
Bellami is a fantastic little camera that deserves a “premium” samp and pricing. Thankfully for some of us, however, it isn’t very well known and is often priced cheaply.
Should Chinon have used a slightly more refined design and, perhaps, a lens that performs a little better when shot wide-open, it could’ve easily cost triple.
Other than the premium German Voigtländer Vitessa, Bellami is the only 35mm film camera with the “barn door.” This alone sets it firmly on the path to the incredible. Together with its pocketability, it had the potential to be one of the best photo gadgets ever made.
Alas, it stops a little short of the mark due to its slightly uncomfortable viewfinder window, a lack of top-notch machined refinement in construction, and a lens that has some slight troubles at its widest apertures.
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 free 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.
Where to buy your Chinon Bellami.
If you’re looking to buy a Bellami, know that the pricing can vary wildly. They go anywhere between $30 and $400. Right now, I feel that a fair price for a unit in good condition is around $150.
Note that Bellami’s flash units tend to have problems — mine doesn’t work at all. Not a big loss, as they add weight and don’t provide that much additional versatility. Other than that, they are quite sturdy.
As with any other camera bought online, you should take your time examining photos and ask questions about things that aren’t pictured: the viewfinder, whether the camera makes any odd noises, and its overall functionality. Best copies are sold as “tested with film.” I found a few copies of those cameras here.
❤ By the way: Please consider making your Chinon Bellami camera purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!