Using a new-to-you camera is always a challenge; this was a specific challenge for me since I had never held a Twin Lens Reflex camera before this one. And, in terms of Seagull TLR’s, this Seagull 4A-109 with its SA-99 75mm f/3.5 lens is also rare. My biggest challenge wasn’t using the TLR itself, it was worrying if the Seagull’s reputation was accurate.
The Chinese camera manufacturer has a history of making copies of cameras that end up being…unreliable. This specific camera is a Rolleiflex/Yashica Mat copy that’s more recent than either of those models, and this specific model is less seen on auction sites, so I pounced on it as an impulse buy.
While the lenses are fine and the usability of their cameras match or even exceed others in their weight class, the cameras eventually lock up and become unusable on a whim, depending on who you ask. This specific camera had its leaf shutter stuck in place when I tried to test it without film in it. Luckily, all the shutter needed was to be opened up and hit with a bit of lighter fluid and it was working well at all speeds as I shot this roll of Portra.
After the camera was working fine, the experience of using a TLR was the second hurdle I had to get over. The weirdest thing was not looking through a reversed finder, because of what I ended up shooting, but dealing with a waist level perspective.
I ended up fidgeting a lot to try and get the composition I wanted as close as I wanted it but doing that with the camera in an unnatural position for me was harder than I expected. It took much longer than shooting with a medium format SLR or Rangefinder.
When it comes to the photos they came out better than I thought they would. All of them show what the camera is capable of when it works as intended; it’s able render color well and gives adequate sharpness for a normal medium format camera. I used it to take photos of buildings and structures in my neighborhood as I’ve been doing throughout the pandemic to test it. Bringing it around everywhere while walking and riding around in my city felt as normal as bringing around a folding rangefinder and it took well to the type of subjects I was shooting.
In this case, the experience of using it just comes with all the other stuff I had to do to make it work this time, but I’m glad I was able to get it to work for me. Being able to say I revived a camera and made cool images with it is a boss thing to say.
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This series is produced in conjunction with Hamish Gill's excellent 35mmc.com. Head on over to read the other half of these stories there.
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