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Seagull (海鸥 = hǎi ōu = seagull) is the brand name used from 1964 by several camera factories situated in the Shanghai region, simply named Shanghai Camera Factory No.1, No. 2, No. 3, … etc.. In the literature they are collectively referred as Shanghai Camera Factory. Perhaps they are most widely known for their fascinating Shanghai 58 rangefinder camera, based on the Leica IIIa, which evolved with some modifications borrowed from Canon and FED, and more recently the Seagull DF cameras, a manual focus 35mm SLR range. The first ones were simply copies of Minolta SR models since they were the easiest to copy. Later the cameras were produced with licence from Minolta. Some SR mount lenses of Seagull’s own brand Haiou were made too.
The Seagull-4 series of TLR cameras, introduced in 1964 and distributed worldwide, is a continuation of the earlier Shanghai TLR; itself quite possibly produced using outdated Japanese tools and manufacturing equipment. These cameras are usually found with knob wind, but the Seagull 4A has lever wind. There are also a range of Seagull 35mm rangefinder models, as well as a range of Seagull folding roll film cameras typical of the immediate post war European production.
In 1976 three of the Shanghai camera factories moved together into the new factory Shanghai General Camera Factory in Song Jiang County. The 35mm SLR series Seagull DF-… was continued there. The Seagull CL-A light meter was made in the Shanghai No. 2 Photographic Equipment Factory.
In 1999 600.000 units (cameras and lenses) could be produced per year. In 2001 Seagull planned to produce digital cameras for Kodak.
A most thorough research on the Chinese camera production was carried out by resident Douglas St Denny. He travelled across the vast country during the second half of the 1980s interviewing people there and collecting information which otherwise soon would have been lost. His book “Cameras of the People’s Republic of China” is invaluable for anyone studying this topic.
Seagull 203 (6×6 + 4.5×6 rangefinder)
Seagull 203-I (6×6 + 4.5×6 rangefinder)
Seagull 203-H (6×6 + 4.5×6 rangefinder)
Seagull KS Automatic Aperture
Seagull 206 (half-frame 35mm)
Seagull 205 / Phenix 205
The 35mm camera bodies of Seagull were made with Minolta’s SR-lens-bayonet. In addition to the cameras listed below Seagull produced similar products for other camera companies.
Seagull DF-2 ETM
Seagull DF-1 ETM
Beware that the digital Seagull D55 presented in this page is an April fools joke.
Seagull HZX45-IIA 4×5″ view camera
Seagull 4½x6½ inch” view camera
Seagull 3D 120-III camera
Seagull 501 (35mm viewfinder camera)
Seagull DFAB (finderless laboratory cameras)
Seagull 130 MF panorama camera
Seagull ZQ 6-35 (360 degree swing camera)
Pros and Cons
As with any camera, there are both pros and cons associated with this camera:
—–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
—–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.