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Seagull 4B-1 Review

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Overview

From the moment I first saw a seagull TLR in a camera shop in Bethesda MD, I was in love. Having used a 35mm SLR all of my life, I was amazed by the features of this camera which felt so foreign in my hands. To begin with I was startled by the waist level view finder which relatively speaking is HUGE compared to the view finder on my Rebel 2000. Being one of the younger generation (I’m a high school Senior) I was also very confused when the salesman told me that the camera didn’t have a built in light meter. If I can remember correctly, my response was “So how do you take a picture?” Nevertheless, after returning to my home in Rochester, I could not get this camera off of my mind. By December of last year I broke down and bought one. Despite having no previous experience in medium format photography and having no idea what roll film was (roll film, thats just another name for 35mm film right? it comes in a roll doesn’t it?) I found learning how to use my Seagull was a snap, in fact not very different in operation from a manual 35mm slr. While I think this is a great camera, I had many unanswered questions even at the time I purchased this camera. There is not a lot of information on this camera out there, I hope that this article will answer any questions you have. If you find this article helpful, please rate it.

Features

The Seagull 4B-1 has the following features:

—–Twin Lens Reflex design (TLR): this means for those who have never seen a TLR before, that the camera has two lenses, one through which the picture is taken, and the other through which the image is viewed. There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to this design. The advantages are that unlike a SLR, when the picture is taken the mirror which reflects the image into the view finder does not move. This means that you will be able to see the image in the view finder the entire time the picture is being taken, even when the shutter is open. This also means that there is no camera shake due to mirror movement, a common problem on SLR’s which don’t have a mirror lock up (like my rebel 2000).

The disadvantage to this design however is the small amount of parallax error that occurs from viewing the image through a lens that is perhaps an inch higher than the taking lens. On higher level Seagulls (the 4A-105,-107 and the new -109) this problem is solved by a mask that moves accordingly to the focus of the lens. The other disadvantage is that there is no depth of field preview on this camera due to the fact that the aperature is on the taking lens, not the viewing lens. While this may be a problem for some, there is a nice diagram on the focusing knob which will tell you what will be in focus at what aperatures. I actually prefer focusing this way rather than holding down a dof button on my Rebel 2000. A common feature on most older cameras, this feature is absent on both the lenses of my Rebel 2000.

—–Medium format film: This is a clear advantage of this camera. The seagull takes 120 format roll film. Here the Seagull 4B-1 has a clear advantage over other cameras in the seagull line, it can take both 6×4.5cm as well as 6x6cm pictures. Seagull provides a film mask so that you are capable of taking both rectangular as well as square pictures. A 6×4.5cm negative has roughly 3 times the area of a 35mm frame, so pictures are splendidly sharp.

—–Haiou SA-85, 75mm f3.5 lens: Interestingly enough, the lens that takes the picture is of the same quality of the lens that is used for the view finder. While this may make it seem like the lens is cheap (usually on other TLR’s like rolleiflex, the taking lens is of better quality than the viewing lens) do not be dismayed. After I enquired “Popular Photography” as to why they had yet to do a review of the Seagull, they published a comprehensive article which included lens tests of both the Seagull 4B-1 as well as the higher level 4A-107. As it is easy to assume, the 4A-107 did considerably better than the 4B-1, however the 4B-1 still had good results. If you plan on taking pictures on wide aperatures, the 4 element 4A-107 is for you. However if you are willing to leave your shutter at f16 or f22, you can achieve excellent results with the three element 4B-1 or 4A-105. At f16 and f22 the center resolution of the image was rated very good by “Popular Photography” with corner sharpness being rated excellent. While this lens is not considered to be relatively fast, a f3.5, this is much better than the f5.6 I get from the zoom lens on my Rebel 2000. Being the novice I once was, when ordering this camera I felt sure that It was coming with a telephoto lens of 75mm. Keep in mind that focal lengths in medium format are different from 35mm, and that the 75mm lens is roughly the same as taking a picture at 50mm in 35mm format.

—–Leaf shutter: This is perhaps the most delicate part of the camera. The shutter speeds are marked off respectively at 1/300, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1, and Bulb. While the advantages of this shutter are that due to it’s size it creates nearly no camera vibration, it’s disadvantage is that it makes for slow shutter speeds. Even $2000 Rolleiflexes only have a maximum shutter speed of 1/500. While this is fine for me since I use this camera mostly for landscapes, if you need the faster 1/500 I would reccomend the new Seagull 4A-109 which has this faster shutter speed.

On a side note: The leaf shutter on this camera is very delicate, NEVER cock the shutter before adjusting the shutter speed, IT WILL JAM YOUR SHUTTER. Once you cock the shutter, you cannot change the shutter speed without harming your camera. I did it once accidentelly, the leaf shutter jammed overexposing my frame. It can be easily unjammed by recocking your shutter. If this happens once or twice, it is no big deal, as I have never tried this again, I have never had any problems with my shutter again. This is not meant to scare you in any way, its just that when the manual says not to readjust the shutter speed after cocking the shutter, they mean business.

—–Waist level viewfinder: Having used a 35mm all of my life, this feature was a big bonus for me. A feature common on professional medium format cameras, SLR and TLR alike, you will not find one 35mm camera on the market today with a waist level view finder, however Alpa once made one (Alpa’s were very expensive, as much or more than a Leica and have been off production for decades).

The advantages of having a waist level viewfinder are that you get a substantially larger viewfinder than on a prism viewfinder. The seagull’s viewfinder is no exception, measuring roughly 2×2 inches. Included in the viewfinder hood is a pop up low magnification lens which when popped up allows you to finely focus your camera. I think this this one of the neatest features on this camera, and use it almost every shot. I found the viewfinder on my seagull to be suffieciently bright, although the 4a-107 and -109 have faster f2.8 viewing lenses. My main complaint about the viewfinder is the fresnel lens which forms the groundglass. The fact that it is plastic does not bug me much, and when viewing the image normally without the pop up magnifier, the image is perfectly clear. It is only when the pop up magnifier is used that you can tell that the lens could be sharper, however you are perfectly able to focus the image. Keep in mind that it is the plastic groundglass that is not sharp, not your lens. If you have your lens focused properly you should be capable of taking some very sharp pictures.

The main disadvantage of having a waist level viewfinder is that the viewfinder acts like a mirror. Everything that should be on the left of your picture is on the right in your viewfider, and vise versa. The image is only reversed left to right, not up to down, so the image in your viewfinder should be right side up. So when you take a picture is everything reversed left to right on your print? No,the image is only reversed in the viewfinder, your print will be fine.

The other disadvantage of having a waist level viewfinder is that this makes vertical shots very difficult. Of course you will not run into this problem if you are shooting in the 6×6 format for the image is square and it does not matter what angle you hold the camera at. Still it is not impossible to shoot a vertical shot in the 6×4.5 format. I have done this successfully several times, you must simply turn your camera so that the left or right side is horizontal to the ground. I would reccomend a tripod when doing this though I have done it handheld.

Capturing moving action, like panning the camera for a passing car? The front panel of hood flips up to provide a direct viewfinder they call the “sports finder”. I recently used this feature for the first time last weekend on a photo shoot at Letchworth State park, this feature was very handy for taking shots at eye level that would normally have their view’s obscurred at waist level, ex: taking a photo from behind a fence. My only complaint about the so called “sports finder” is that in order to see the whole frame you must have your eye right up to the camera, which is hard to do with my glasses.

—–Film advance knob: This was perhaps the hardest thing to overcome (which says a lot for the camera, because it was pretty easy to get used to). The film advance knob is a seperate knob on the right side of the seagull. The tricky part about using the film advance knob is remembering that even though you have advanced the film, the knob does not cock the shutter for you. This makes it very easy to take double exposures, simply cock the shutter without advancing the film. Sometimes though it is very easy to forget if you have advanced the film or not, I still occasionaly make accidental double exposures because of this, some of which actually turned out pretty good.

Are you the kind of person who would easily forget to do something like this? Try any other of the seagull TLR’s, they all come equipped with a crank instead of a knob and both cock the shutter as well as advance the film in the same movement. Keep in mind that only the 4B-1 shoots different formats of film. On the back of the seagull there is a slide with two red tinted transparent circles, as you wind your film, the paper on the back of your film (which prevents your film from being exposed when you open the slide) has numbers which indicate what frame you are on and when to stop cranking. The holes are respectively labeled 12 and 16 for the amount of exposures you will get depending upon which format you shoot (12 is for the 6×6 and 16 is for the 6×4.5). There are no locks to keep you from cranking through the whole roll of film, so don’t needlessly crank on this knob. Such a film advance was popular on low end rolleiflexes in the 50’s, and many of the older gereration like my dad know how to operate this.

—–No internal Light metering: Thats right, this camera does not come with a light meter! For the first several months, I used metering off of my Rebel 2000 to properly expose shots. Two months ago I purchased an old (but never before used ) argus flash shoe mounted light meter with disasterous results. I went on a two week cruise to NYC on a local tall ship cruising down the Erie Canal and Hudson River. The old meter was very inaccurate when I came back and tested it in comparison to my rebel 2000, and the color shots I took were ruined, while some of the black and whites were salvageable. I am back to metering off of my rebel for the time being until I get $60 to buy a new meter.

Metering off of another camera is fairly easy to do, I simply set the zoom lens on my rebel to 50mm, compose, properly expose and then set the shutter speed and aperature displayed on my rebel onto the seagull, a tedious process but I get much sharper enlargements from the seagull. I know if you are using Kodak film, you can also guess at the exposure settings off of the chart displayed in the box your film came in. While I have never tried this, I don’t think I’d reccomend this unless you dont’ own another camera or lightmeter or are already a highly skilled photographer.

—–flash shoe: Standard flash shoe, nothing special here.

—–PC Sync: Standard socket. When using type “X” flash all speeds can be used synchronously, when using type “M” flash, use a shutter speed of 1/30 or slower. I am not familiar with the operation of a flash unit on this camera as I do not own an external flash.

—–Self timer: works nicely, I use it for landscapes and long exposures because I dont’ have a remote shutter release.

—–Shutter release button: takes standard remote shutter release, not an expensive electronic one like the one made for my Rebel 2000.

Operation

Operation:
Click Here to see Seagull’s Pamphlet on Loading your Seagull
—–Film Loading: The film loading procedure is perhaps a little slow compared to my rebel 2000, but still fairly simple. Put the spool of fresh film onto the bottom of the seagull, and then feed the threading paper into the spool at the top and wind until a set of arrows lines up with the bottom of the film frame. Before you load your film, you should decide wether or not you want to take 6×4.5 or 6×6 pictures, if taking 6×4.5 you should set the film mask in the frame. The latch that closes the camera is very common on TLR design, and you will find this on many rolleiflexes. Unfortunately as the price decreases from a $2000 rolleiflex, to a $125 seagull, the quality of manufacturing also decreases. This simply means that you have to put gentle pressure on the latch at the bottom of the camera to line the latch up with the hole as you turn the round knob at the bottom of the camera to lock the back, no problem for me. When the lock is set, flip the metal slide on the back of the camera to view the two red circles. Crank the film advance knob until the first frame appears in the appropriate circle (for the 6×4.5 format use circle 16, for the 6×6 format use the circle 12). You are now ready to take your first photograph!

—–Picture taking: You are now ready to take picture, I will assume that most of you by now know how to operate a manual camera, and have some sense of what shutter speed and aperature mean. Compose your shot using either the waist level viewfinder or the “sports finder,” keeping in mind that there will be some parallax error with the “sports finder” and that it only provides a 6×6 frame. The two horizontal lines on the top an bottom of the waist level finder mark the edges of 6×4.5 format, if shooting this format, compose your picture within these lines.

After composing your shot, focus the image in the waist level viewfinder with the help of the pop up magnifier, or simply use the depth of field scale on the focusing knob to focus your picture without using the waist level view finder. Now you need to meter your shot, so either using a hand held light meter, or another camera (using this method is explained under the features section) meter the light and adjust your aperature and shutter speed dials on the front of your seagull.

Cock the shutter on the front of your camera and then snap the picture. The next thing to do is to advance to the next frame, I do this immediately after I take any picture with this camera, I would rather have the knob accidentelly bumped in the future and waste a frame of film rather than have an accidental double exposure.

—–After finishing the roll of film, take the film out of the camera and seal the roll with the the paper sticker. (the paper sticker for those who have not shot medium fomat before is like a postage stamp, lick the underside to make the glue sticky and then wrap the paper around the roll to seal)

Pros and Cons

As with any camera, there are both pros and cons associated with this camera:

Pros:

—–inexpensive: I got mine for $125 new from a merchant on ebay

—–medium format: Larger negative size, much better resolution that a 35mm camera

—–multiple fomats: shoot either rectangular or square images in 6×4.5 or 6×6 format

—–twin lens reflex design: no camera shake from a spring action mirror like on SLR’s

—–fixed focal length lens: the Haiou SA 85 75mm f3.5 has greater resolution and is faster than many zoom lenses

—–all metal body construction: the only plastic parts on the camera are the focus knob, film advance knob and the back locking knob, the rest is solid metal.

—–no batteries: your camera will never run out of juice, only film

Cons:

—–seperate shutter cocking and film advancing levers: it can sometimes be easy to forget to advance the film before taking an exposure, resulting in double exposure

—–no built in light meter: for some this adds an extra piece of equiptment, a handheld light meter, to their camera outfit

—–leaf shutter: relatively slow shutter speeds, plus you cannot adjust the shutter speed once you have cocked the shutter

—–parallax error: although this is more uncommon unless you take very close up shots with your waist level viewfinder, or shots closer than 10ft with the “sports finder” this is a realistic concern

—–only takes 120 format film, not 220: 220 film gets twice as many pictures as 120, but the roll is roughly the same size mainly because of an absence of paper backing on the film. The most picures you can get from a roll of 120 film is 16 exposures.

—–medium format film processing: if you are the person who will only take your film to the pharmacy to be developed (you know who you are, I was once one of you) you will not like developing this film. Only specialty photolabs will develop medium format (even living in the image capitol of the world it took me a little time to find a lab that would develop my film) for those living in rural areas often times mailers are the best ideas. Processing medium format black and white film in the home darkroom is no harder than processing 35mm film, and may enlargers are medium format capable. You may need a different negative carrier or enlarger lens to do so.

—–quality control in manufacturing: for the price this camera is an excellent investment as a first step into medium format photography, however because the cost of the camera is relatively very low to other medium format cameras keep in mind that the quality control is not on the same levels as brands like mamiya, canon or nikon. If you search the web I’m sure you can find horror stories of consumers who purchased a defective seagull, but you can find such stories for any camera, a friend of mine had a brand new rebel 2000 die in his arms. In the same way, keep in mind that you are purchasing a camera from a foreign company, and that returning a defective seagull for repair will certainly not be as easy as going to canon to get your camera repaired.

Conclusion

I hope this article has been helpful as well as infomation for those of you interested in purchasing a new seagull. I feel very strongly that this is a great entry level medium format camera. This article answered many of the questions that I had before purchasing my seagull, but if you still are unsure if the seagull is for you, I would suggest going to your local camera shop and looking at a rolleiflex or similiar twin lens reflex camera (I would seriously doubt if they would have a seagull in stock). Having a camera in your hands for real can be a lot more convincing than reading my article. In saying that I hope you have enjoyed reading my article and hope you will take time to rate my article.

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One response

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