Chinon Bellami

This is a small, compact camera from the Japanese firm Chinon. Its measures 104 by 35 by 62 mm when closed which makes it very much a pocket camera. When not in use, the lens hides behind two barn doors. To open the camera, you pull the film advance backwards which opens the barn doors and pushes the lens forward. The lens is on fabric bellows which are not visible from the outside but are from inside.

Chinon Bellami1
Chinon Bellami – closed

lens:  Chinonex (Tessar type)
focal length:  35 mm
apertures:  auto
focus range:  1 m to infinity (3.5 feet to infinity)
lens fitting:   fixed
shutter:  Seiko Program EE
speeds:  1/8 to 1/1000 seconds
flash:  proprietary option only – X synch
film size:  35 mm

Chinon Bellami2
Chinon Bellami – open

A brief description (there are not many facilities here so details not required): the camera is basically a black cuboid. On the top, on the right, is the film advance lever. This doubles as the opening mechanism for the lens. It has the letters “C” and “O” on it together with two arrows to remind the user how to open and close the lens. In front of this is the shutter release button. This is chrome plated metal and it is threaded for a standard cable release. Behind the film advance is a (very) small window to the frame counter. As we would expect from the Japanese, this resets to “S” when the back is opened. After the number 1, only even numbers are displayed, odd numbers being represented by dots – both in white. Frames 24 and 36 are in red as these are the usual film lengths in 35 mm film. After frame 36, the numbers advance once more and then stop although both film advance and shutter release continue to function.

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Chino Bellami – back

In the centre of the top is the viewfinder. The eyepiece is 8 by 7 mm. There are bright frame lines for composing but no allowance for parallax correction when shooting portraits. Beside the viewfinder eyepiece is a red LED. This is a slow shutter speed indicator. The camera still operates when this is lit but the shutter speed could be down to 1/8 seconds.

On top of the viewfinder housing are two items. First is the film speed selector. This is set by a thumb-wheel on the side of the housing. Available film speeds are from 25 ASA to 400 ASA (for ASA, read ISO). Behind the window for the film speed is a green LED which is a battery check LED. If this LED does not come on, the shutter will not fire (so this camera cannot be used without batteries).

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Chinon Bellami – top

To the left of the viewfinder is the rewind crank. This is the standard fold-out crank which also doubles as the latch for the camera back.

When not in use, the front of the camera is rather plain. In the centre are the two barn doors enclosing the lens. Above these is the viewfinder. This measures 13 by 9 mm – not massive but plenty large enough. Beside the viewfinder is the light meter window. This is round with a diameter of 4 mm. The light meter is a CdS type and is powered by two LR44 batteries which are still readily available. Right at the far right is the attachment for a wrist strap. This strap is permanently attached.

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Chinon Bellami – inside

When you use the camera, first you need to open the barn doors to reveal the lens. You do this by pulling the film advance lever towards you. If the film has not been advanced, you will need to advance the film before the doors will open. The lens comes forward by 15 mm.

The lens is a Chinonex lens with a focal length or 35 mm. This is slightly wide angle for 35 mm film. Normal is 43 mm (“normal’ means that the lens gives the same angle of view as the human eye).

The lens has a maximum aperture of f/2.8. As there is no aperture control, I cannot tell the minimum aperture. The lens claims to be colour corrected but almost all camera lenses since about 1930 have been as it was essential for black and white photography with panchromatic film.

The lens has a manual focus scale from 1 m to infinity (3.5 feet to infinity). The scale is in white apart from 3 m (10 feet) which is in green. This is the lens’ hyperlocal distance, at least in good light. The focus thread has a definite detent at this position.

Chinon Bellami7
Chinon Bellami – camera plus flash showing connectors and fixing screw

Chinon supplied a flash gun for this camera which fits nicely on the left side. To fit this flash gun, you loosely hold the contacts on the gun and camera together and wind the thumb wheel on the flash gun upwards. This screws a firm screw into the camera and holds the flash gun in place very securely.

This flash gun has three settings. The middle position of the switch on the top is off. Switching the switch to the right sets the flash for use with 400 ASA (ISO) film and gives a flash distance of 2.5 m to 6 m. Switching the switch to the left sets the flash gun for 100 ASA (ISO) film and gives a flash distance of 1 m to 3 m. See my sample pictures below (of the kid’s bike). The flash gun works off one AA battery. This works well with my camera even though the battery chamber was seriously corroded from a leaky battery at some point.

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Chinon Bellami flash gun separate from the camera
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Chinon Bellami with flash gun attached
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Chinon Bellami with flash gun from rear

In use.

I found this a delightful camera to use. The only control you need to adjust is the focus – and if you leave it on the green setting of 3 m, you don’t even need to do that. The camera fits nicely in a coat pocket and is not heavy enough to cause any problems or discomfort.

The flash gun is rather slow to charge, but for a compact gun with just the one AA battery, this is to be expected. I have further comments about the flash gun below.

There are no light leaks, even though the light seal foam is distinctly softer than it should be. There is some vignetting but it is hard to judge how much as all the images are well under-exposed. All photographs were taken in overcast conditions but towards midday which should give plenty of light even in January. This is either a meter problem, shutter problem or an aperture problem. I cannot tell which but the indoor shot below is better exposed than the outside ones – does that tell me anything?

Bellami Witham
bellami Peterborough
bellami indoor

These last three are a test of the flash gun. The first of the three was taken with no flash, relying on the light meter to select a shutter speed/aperture combination to suit the light levels. It is under-exposed but not as badly as the pictures above..

The second photo was taken with the flash set to 400 ASA film (even though I was using 200 ISO film – there is no 200 ASA option available). This is slightly worse exposed.

The third photo was with the flash set for 100 ASA film and the actual bike is pretty much well exposed but would have been under-exposed if I had actually been using 100 ISO film. (I am mixing ASA and ISO here. I am using ASA to refer to the camera and ISO to refer to the film. They are basically interchangeable).

bellami no flash
Bellami flash 100
bellami flash 400

Is this camera a keeper? Yes – I like the camera design and it has a place in my collection. Will I be using it again? I very much doubt it as it is not producing usable images. A pity, as I have enjoyed using it and could see this camera having a use as a carry-around camera.


Author: John Margetts

I am a keen photographer who also collects cameras. I am retired with about 50 years photography experience.

3 thoughts on “Chinon Bellami”

  1. Hallo John, Good review. I have one too, but the first film has got some false light. De camara need new seals, but i don’t know how. Youre picture of the open back is not so clear. Perhaps you have some ideas, because I want to use this little nice camera.


    1. My Ballami has the light seals around the edges of the door, rather than on the camera body. Looking carefully, I think this was done by a previous owner, rather than as new, but it works well.


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