Tuesday, June 20, 2006

History of Seagull TLR camera

History of Seagull TLR camera

The SHANGHAI GENERAL Camera Factory is located in Song Jiang County, about 50 kilometres from Shanghai itself. This factory was formed in 1978, when the Shanghai Camera Factories numbers 1, 2 and 5 moved out from the city to the countryside location. Tha factory has 130,000 square meters of manufacturing area, with a like amount of space as housing for a portion of its workers. Those who don't live at the factory ride one hour each way on a company-provided bus.

One of the most interesting cameras made at this factory is the Red Flag 20, a copy of the Leica M4. It was made on the orders of Chiang Ching, the last wife of Mao Tze Dong. During the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s (officially 1966-76, also known as the 'ten years of unrest', in Chinese). At that time, Chinese firms were trying to show the outside world that they could produce first class quality goods. Camera factories were no exception.

The Shanghai Camera Factory's line of twin lens reflexes began in 1959, at about the same time as the 58-II camera was being produced. Called the 58-III in the early stages of development, it was marketed as Shanghai. Based on the Rolleiflex, it even has some parts that are interchangeable.

The Shanghai TLR has an f/2.8, 75mm viewing lens labelled only with the company logo and a serial number. The taking lens is an f/3.5, 75mm labelled with the Shanghai logo, and a completely different serial number from the viewing lens. It also has some other markings on it. The series S13-111-1 is in front of the serial number. The camera serial number is located on top of the body casting, just above the name plate. All Shanghai TLR's numbers begin with 63XXXXX.

In 1964, when it was decided to enter the export market, the Seagull name was chosen as the registered trade mark of the Shanghai Camera Factory, and all cameras then in production had their names changed to reflect this.

Therefore the Shanghai TLR became the Seagull-4 TLR. No physical changes were made in the camera, only the names are different. A new serial number configuration was also used, serial numbers for the Seagull-4 now began 4-63XXXXX to indicate the model.

Since both the Shanghai TLR and the Seagull-4 have automatic film advance, (though the shutter isn't connected, and must be reset manually), they lack the ruby windows found on most Chinese 120 cameras. The frame number appears in the center of a window in the film advance knob. Later, a film advance crank was added and the model designation changed to 4A. The depth of field scale for both the Shanghai and Seagull-4 is found in a clear window in the focussing knob. The latest version of these cameras is called the 4A-103. It incorporates a single action focussing hood. A 4A-1 with old style focussing hood, a fresnel focussing screen, and a four element three group taking lens instead of three element three group Cooke type lens used on all other Seagull TLRs was produced. It was made for the up scale market, and had limited success.

The 4B camera was designed, on the other hand, to sell on the down scale market. It uses ruby windows, and the three element Cooke type lens of the 4A. The good part of this is that with two ruby windows, you can choose between 6 x 6cm, or 6 x 4.5cm negative format. The 4B comes with a slip-in metal mask for the 6 x 4.5cm negative size. The 4B-1 has two ruby windows, and the same three element lens as the 4A-103 and 4B, but comes with an accessory hotshoe and fresnel focussing screen. All these TLRs have in common a manually set between-the-lens shutter with speeds of 1 to 1/300 second and bulb.

The chart below shows 9 Seagull TLR models.


  1. Dear Mr. Martin Liew,

    I am writing you as I found your blog on the internet, while searching more information about my camera, which is a Seagull 4A-20296643. The top viewing lens is 1:2,8/75 serial no.31451871 and the bottom taking lens is 1:3,5/75, serial no.SA32624227-Haiou-31. Film winding is by crank and the front plate has two Chinese characters which mean “Seagull” as far as I know. The camera is black color with shiny trims and it’s body is metall, not plastic. The lensed are coated and I never had flare or other QC issues that everyone on the forums complain about when they refer to Seagull.

    This camera type was marketed in Romania since the ’80-ies and I bought it brand new from a camera shop in 1984. I used various types of films films and I am glad to say that until present time I had no problem of any kind with this camera which is still functioning correcly and takes nice photos.

    What I do not know exactly(I lost the camera manual) is if this camera has the Tessar type lens or not. I am just curious and hope that you can find the right answer and let me know by writing on your blog. Otherwise, I am completely satisfied about this camera.

    I wonder if you know where can I get a repair/CLA manual or information about such camera, as I want to be prepared for the moment when the camera or the shutter will need a repair/CLA. I hope that this moment will never come, but who knows…

    Thank you for your nice blog and for your kind attention to my message.



  2. Dear George,

    First of all, my sincere apology for the late reply and thank you for your kind interest in reading my blog.

    I must say you have certainly taken real good care of your Seagull TLR camera since you had bought it in the 80s. It's a pity to lose the manual but howsoever you can still view it on the internet in PDF file format and you probably can download/save it in your computer. Here's the URL link:

    According to my knowledge, I don't think Seagull produced Tessar lens at all. You can refer to the manual's second page which explains about its optical specification data.

    As for repair information, I have no ideas on where you can get it fixed if mechanism problems occur. In Singapore, we have a couple of local stores that repair old vintage cameras professionally, subject to the availability of components and spare parts. Repair fee is charged according to the complexity of the mechanism problems. Unless you have your local repair stores that know how to fix a Seagull TLR, otherwise there's nothing I can do. For overseeas camera repair services, shipping and repair cost can be quite steep and it's risky for the camera to be shipped around which you never know what will happen to it.

    Hope you have find the answers here. Thank you.

    Martin Liew

  3. Dear George,
    dear Martin,

    your (Georges) Seagull might have a 3 lense-type objective. If I'm not wrong the number 31 stands for three lenses - one group. (at least that was how i interpreted it) The Tessar-type would be 4 lenses in 3 (?)groups.
    I cannot remember how these objectives were called.
    Repair, i don't know, if these cameras were common in Romania may be you have good chances to find someone around there who is able to repair it.
    greetings to Romania and Singapore!

  4. manual mentioned by Martin, page 3:
    -> Haiou 31: 3-element 3-group
    Haiou 43: 4-element 3-group
    best regards

  5. Hey! Thanks for all this info, really useful! Especially for understanding how old the Shanghai I bought today really is. Again, thank you very much!

  6. you was doing a great job here ... really useful for me. thanks.