Finding my Chinon Bellami: Like many camera hoarders who visit the annual Photography show at the NEC in Birmingham in the UK each year, I find myself irresistibly drawn to the Disabled Photographers Society stand. This year was no exception, and though I had already decided that I wasn’t going to spend a huge amount on dozens of old film cameras, they are a charitable organisation so spending a little would be ok… perhaps even charitable. On the day my usual urge to throw everyone else around the stand out of the way and pillage the analogue treasures before me was to my mind at least commendably restrained, and I eventually only walked away with a couple of purchases (*cough* nine *cough*).
A few of these gems may at some point turn up here on 35mmc for a 5 frames post or review. But for now heres a mini-review of one thats fast becoming my new every day carry camera (since my beloved Konica C35 died). I bought a Bellami… no not that Bellamy, Mr JCH is safe and sound where he should be. This Chinon Bellami is a lovely little 35mm retractable lens compact made by Chinon in the 80’s.
The aesthetic bit
The manual describes the Chinon Bellami as “One of the most advanced ultra compact 35mm cameras with attractive features available today”, and it certainly is to my mind quite a cute little camera. Its also definitely ultra compact being around the size of a pack of playing cards or cigarettes, and therefore of comparable size to a Minox 35.
The technical bit
The lens is an F2.8 35mm (4 elements in 3 groups).
The shutter is a Seiko EE shutter with speeds from 1/8 to 1/1000 sec.
The meter is a Cds EE exposure system that’s automatically turned on and off when the lens is extended and retracted. The meter window is a small circular window above the lens next to the viewfinder window.
It has a minimum focusing distance of 1 metre (3.3 ft).
Power is provided to the Chinon Bellami by two LR44 or SR44 type batteries which power the meter and the low light warning light and battery check light.
With the lens retracted its listed dimensions in the manual are 105mm (L) x 63mm (H) x 33mm (W) (4.13″ x 2.48″x 1.29″) with a weight of 220 grams (8.8 oz.).
The Chinon Bellami also comes with a removable flash unit which screws into the side of the camera body in the same way as the flash on the Olympus XA cameras.
Flash guide number:12 (asa 100, meters), or 39 (asa 100, feet). With selectable options of Off, Auto on (with the iso on the camera set to either 100 or 400 iso) and daylight flash sync.
Using the camera.
For such a small camera, the Chinon Bellami sits well in the hand, the frame advance sits right under your thumb and the shutter release is right where your finger expects it. Carrying it is easy with it being so small and light, and with the lens retracted it slips into just about any bag or pocket without any noticeable weight.
Film is loaded into the Chinon Bellami in the usual way with no gimmicks. just pull up the rewind crank to open the back, drop in the cartridge, slot the leader into the slot on the take up spool close the back and wind/fire until number one shows in the frame counter window on the top (the lens does need to be extended to fire the shutter). ISO is set on a small wheel next to the viewfinder with settings for 25, 50, 100, 200 and 400.
Taking pictures is easy too. To open the barn doors and extend the lens you just use the wind on lever as you would to wind on the film. If at this point the film is already wound on the lever moves a small distance, the lens extends, the lever stops moving and you’re ready to go. If when you extend the lens the film isn’t already wound on you just continue the motion of the lever to wind it on as the lens extends. The wind on is single stroke. With the lens open the lever extends slightly from the back of the camera and to close the lens you just push it back to its original position fully on the top plate.
Focusing the Chinon Bellami is by zone focusing, with distances chosen by turning the lens barrel with settings for 1m (3.5″), 1.5m (5″), 2m (7″), 3m (10″), 5m (20″) and infinity.
Half pressing the Chinon Bellami shutter button activates the meter, if a red led lights up in the viewfinder it means the chosen speed is 1/60 or below – so either use the flash a tripod or hold the camera very steady. If no light shows, you’re good to press all the way and take the shot. Shutter speed and aperture choice is fully automatic the only choices you have to make are ISO, focus distance and whether or not to press the button. For such a small camera the viewfinder is fairly large and easy to use with clear frame lines (though mines a bit dusty inside).
In short, the Chinon Bellami is easy to carry, easy to use and consistent and sharp results. All in all I’m really rather enjoying this little camera.
You can find more of my post on 35mmc here
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15 thoughts on “Chinon Bellami Mini Review – By Dale Willetts”
A great overview of what must be a much overlooked camera. Basic as regards operation, but everything there for no-fuss picture making. I applaud the fact that the low-light exposure warning kicks in at 1/60 and not the near universal 1/30 found in many another fully auto camera. Unless one has the muscle coordination of Olympic pistol target shooters, 1/30 is very borderline.
Yes I thought it was a little strange being 1/60 but I guess it’s good to have that little extra leeway.
I bought a Bellami in 1983 to carry on Paris Brest Paris, the 1200km cycling randonnee in France. The Bellami was so easy to use that I could reach into my handlebar bag, slip my right hand through the strap, pull out the camera, wind and focus it with one hand, aim and shoot, all while riding. This really amused the French riders I had joined up with, and I was able to send them some photos after the ride. One photo, scanned from the slide, is at
I used Ektachrome, I believe ASA400, to permit higher shutter speeds. The Bellami was a good little camera.
I want one! I have two Minor cameras and this looks to be just as fun. I haven’t tried Ilford pan F 50 but am eager to now! Thanks for writing this up!
Also, as a disabled individual, thank you for the link to the Disabled Photographers Society. While it is a British based organization, it has set me to start looking for something similar here in the States or starting one if one does not exist!
And as to the society, I’d imagine there is something similar over there given the size of the states.
Good review. I just bought one of the fancy ones with the logos on the barn doors and red suede leatherette.
I bought one ‘as-is’ several months ago for $5USD from ebay and it’s become my daily partner. Hoping my fancy one is functional.
It’s hard to get a bad picture with it.
Yeah they’re great little cameras, hope your fancy one is working.
Those red and gold ones are a bit nice looking.
Can someone tell me what the other Bellami is the author is referring to? I tried googling it, but there are too many different results.
The other bellamy I was talking about is Bellamy Hunt of “Japan camera hunter” fame.
This is another camera that I just picked up, and love how soft and silent the shutter button is, how it has a single throw film wind lever, how it has the green setting for focus on the lens, how it fits in the palm of your hand. But the thing that really gets me is how surprisingly good the lens is! I was shocked I tell ya, shocked!
So much so after I looked at my scans (via Nikon Z7 and negativelabpro) at 100%, I immediately got back onto ebay and bought a spare before others become aware of this beastie and prices rise!
Yup, I’m seriously thinking about getting another myself.
FYI your pictures in the review is what impressed me and made me buy mine!
I have one of these too! They’re great little cameras although my shutter doesn’t fire all the time/the led doesn’t light up all the time (batteries are always fine). Any idea why this would be? Great review and photos btw
Thanks for the comments. I’ve had a similar issue with other electronic cameras and it’s usually a loose or dry soldered connection on the battery connection.
Great mini review. I feel your pain over the Konica C35. I loved mine too, and it always got positive remarks when others saw it. Those look just like a camera should look. Small, light, silver and black, and a killer Hexanon lens. Ours traveled w/ us all over the country until it finally just sorta fell apart. That’s the one downside, the less than Leica-like construction. But while they work, they’re wonderful.