Mystery Camera: The Great Wall DF Chinese Medium Format Camera

Today for your Throwback Thursday we will take a ride on the Time Machine and go back to the 1970s & 1980s to retrieve a mysterious camera from the Forbidden Kingdom Of China ๐Ÿ˜Š

In a world where almost every other camera is “Made In China” it’s still relatively uncommon to find a camera from China here in the States, especially a film camera that was actually manufactured in China and made by a Chinese company, for the Chinese homeland market.

Behind the vast Chinese Empire and behind the Great Wall originated a camera they actually called the “Great Wall” or more officially the Great Wall DF camera! ๐Ÿ˜Š

Today, we will try to unlock the mystery of this intriguing Chinese Medium Format camera.

I feel like Leonard Nimoy on “In Search Of” haha! And even though I’m getting older, I’m not that old! So how come it seems like nobody else remembers “In Search Of?” Did the show even exist? ๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿป

INTRODUCTION

The Great Wall DF is a 6×6 medium format film camera produced by the Beijing Camera Factory. Although no information I could find list the exact years, they are stated to have been made during the 1970s and through the 1980s.ย It was marketed as a low budget camera for the masses.

WHAT IS THE GREAT WALL DF?

What is the Great Wall DF specifically? As mentioned it is a medium format camera that shoots 6x6cm images on 120 roll film. But it was also marketed as being able to shoot 6×4.5 via the insertion of a mask.

The camera is a Single Lens Reflex (SLR) in that it uses a reflex mirror for viewing. The difference between this and most SLR’s is that the mirror is part of the shutter mechanism and thus it uses what is called aย guillotine shutter.

This is a similar shutter mechanism to the one used in the German Pilot cameras of which the Great Wall DF is based.

The lens mount is also interesting in that it is said to be a Leica M39 screwmount. Now this sounds good on paper but apparently due to technical issues, you cannot use the lenses the way you might think you could.

First of all those lenses are made for 35mm and this is a 6×6 Medium Format camera. If you could use it as a medium format lens, there would probably be vignetting, an image circle, etc. Secondly you probably won’t get infinity focus.

I can tell you that the few Leica screwmount lenses I have do not actuallyย screwย into the threaded mount of the DF. In other words, to use these lenses you’d have to use a technique called “freelensing” in which you hold the lens to the mount and just take the shot while holding the lens.

I have done this, especially in the good old days when adapters were not readily available. But trying this with a pricey lens, I’m not inclined to do! Don’t want to drop the lens or the camera!

I can alsoย attest that with a lens such as the 28mm f/1.9 “freelensed” in front of the camera, it appears I could get some nice macro shots but it would have to be really close!

YOUTUBE VIDEO

As part of my attempt to integrate video into your experience, here’s my YouTube video for the Great Wall DF. It is close to 15 minutes which it really shouldn’t be! This is a cheap camera that not many know and my “Mystery Camera” segments are usually five minutes tops. But I’m trying to give you guys my all so this might be my new norm. Sorry I haven’t gotten back to some of you guys like I usually do but the edits and reedits kill me! I just want to make sure all my information is correct.

Besides, as a huge Bruce Lee and Martial Arts fan, I’ve always wanted to star in a “Chop Socky” Kung-Fu flick and the intro to this video shows my MMA skills or lack thereof haha ๐Ÿ™‚

MY EXPERIENCES WITH THE GREAT WALL DF

As someone who has stated over and over again that I loveย allย cameras, I’ve always been fascinated with the very few Chinese film cameras that pop up on the used market here in the USA.

My very first China based camera is the Seagull medium format TLR that is much more common on the used market.

It’s strange that even though Communist China has been trading goods with us for decades, especially since President Nixon opened China’s doors in 1972, we still have seen precious little of their photography gear market, or shall I say their film photography market.

The few companies that stand out in my head for film cameras are Seagull, Pearl River, Great Wall and perhaps a couple more that I can’t recall at this time.

Today, we may have a lot more Chinese companies like Yongnuo, 7Artisans, for example, selling digital gear (mostly lenses) but the film stuff from even decades ago, it is harder to come by.

Perhaps it’s because they were intended for the home market? Perhaps the Chinese knew that most of these cameras were not high quality items? Who knows. That’s why it’s a mystery!

IS IT A CULT CAMERA?ย 

It might possibly be, but if it is a cult camera, the “cult” must be very small because there is just so little on this camera. In fact, my YouTube video posted today seems to be the only video I can find on YouTube as of this writing.

There is actually another video of this camera that has been on the internet for a while. It’s a short clip showing how to work the camera, but it is very short and only hosted on the author’s webpage not on YouTube.

The very little that’s on this camera is scattered through blogs and forum postings. But I give credit where credit is due and those guys who have used this camera before me, their information is GREAT! I’ve tried to put all I’ve learned here and on my video.

PRELIMINARY SAMPLE IMAGES

Here are just a few quick and dirty samples from my first roll. They are not intended to be artistic masterpieces. I was just testing the camera and was actually just happy and relieved that the camera was working properly.

“Saturday Morning” 2019. Great Wall DF, 90mm f/3.5, Ilford FP4 in D76.

“Zen Camera” 2019. Great Wall DF, 90mm f/3.5, Ilford FP4 in D76.

“Sunday Star” 2019. Great Wall DF, 90mm f/3.5, Ilford FP4 in D76. This might have been my best shot in the roll had it not been soft and off focus! Note the tiny bit of overlap from the next frame.

Please do not judge the technical merits of this camera based on these photos. There are in fact much sharper samples from this camera on the internet to look at.

This was a test roll from a first time user of the camera. The photos were every day photos taken around the house just to see if the camera was working and I’m happy to report it works!

I made some mistakes and encountered some issues with this camera. First mistake was using Ilford FP4 which is rated at ISO 125. This was disadvantageous when using a camera with a slowish f/3.5 lens but the reason I used the FP4 was because I had a problem getting film into the film chamber of this camera! This is addressed below in the “Issues” section.

Overall, I’m encouraged enough to try another roll in this camera!

MODEL DIFFERENCES

From all accounts on the internet, there may be as many as five or six different versions. Here’s my observations, not just from the scattered information I’ve read but from observing photos of the camera and comparing them to my copy. Feel free to correct me if any of this is wrong:

DF: Earliest model. No self timer, flash shoe, or PC socket.

DF2: “DF-2” imprinted on front name plate. No self timer, flash shoe, or PC socket.

DF3: Has self-timer, cable release socket, but no flash shoe, no PC socket.

DF4: Has self timer, cable release socket, flash shoe and PC socket.

DF5: ???

DF6: ???

Based on what I can tell, my model might be the DF4! In fact, I took the plunge on it because it was advertised as a DF-2 “Parts” camera and upon looking at the photos and the low price I said why not?! ๐Ÿ™‚

Now if you can’t find a DF-3 or DF-4 don’t sweat it, they’re all basically the same cameras. Unless you really need to use a cable release or need a flash socket, I wouldn’t worry about it.

ISSUES

This camera has all the FUNK you’d want! It starts with getting a roll of film into the film chamber. The main reason I used the Ilford FP4 in it, despite it being a slower film for indoor use, is the fact that it was the only roll of film I could get to fit in it! Even then, I had to slightly bend the edges to get it in.

From what I’ve read, some films fit in there better, easier, like perhaps Fuji films vs Kodak. But the Fuji roll I tried was also stiff to get in.

Next issue is I could not see any of the frame numbers through the window for the “frame counter” so I had to guesstimate the spacing.

Next issue is sometimes when pressing the shutter release, the mirror flips up but I felt as if the shutter was not coming down. Since they are both a part of that guillotine shutter, I felt the shutter should’ve come down. Hard for me to explain but when you’re holding the camera and shooting it, you can tell when the shutter has come down by the feel and the “clunk” and when it is not coming down.

Next issue was frame overlaps. I had expected some of this based on the reviews I had read and to be honest, it was not too bad for most of the shots but on one shot it seemed like I had three exposures on one frame! Perhaps it was me, but I can’t imagine shooting and not advancing the film three times.

Part of the reason I did not take the camera outside for prolonged shooting was I got the impression that I might be wasting my time, fearing nothing was getting exposed but I’m glad I was wrong!

PRICE & AVAILABILITY

The Great Wall DF is somewhat rare on the used market but that doesn’t not mean it should be pricey.

First of all, not many people are looking for this camera. Only someone “special” or weirdos like me haha ๐Ÿ™‚

Secondly, the build quality is not high. It feels solid enough but does not feel like it would take a lot of abuse. The seller even stressed to me it was on the flimsy side.

That said, it feels better in my hands than you would think based on people’s descriptions. Plus it’s one of the smallest and lightest 6×6 SLR’s you could buy.

I got mine for $75 but if you’re seeking one of these, do so carefully. Prices are trending at $60-160 USD. They usually come with the 90mm f/3.5 Great Wall lens. I wouldn’t pay over $150 for one of these.

The shutters have been known to fail so useย gently.ย I’m not trying to scare you. It’s possibly that yours could last years, but it’s also possible it could fail tomorrow. That’s one great thing about cheap cameras. If they fail, you’re not out for much. But if this was a $1000 plus camera, I’d worry about it!

BOTTOM LINE

The Great Wall DF may never be a Camera Legend. Perhaps it is in China, I don’t know, but in the overall annals of history I don’t think it is or ever will be.

That said, it’s one of the more interesting cameras I have tried in a long time! There’s something addictive about “Cheap Plus Results” as I say. If it’s a cheap camera that gives me decent results, and it seems like it could do even better than the results I got? I’m in!

In closing, I know there’s just a small group of people fanatic enough about cameras to be interested in this camera but I hope that I have helped to demystify the Great Wall DF a bit for you if you are one of those uncommon people!

Thanks for reading and feel free to drop me a line if you have this camera!

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Flashback Friday: “Two For Two” Cameras & Kids

“Two For Two” 2015. Pentax 6×7, 105mm f/2.4 Pentax lens on Fuji FP-3000B.

From 2015, your Brother here with a Pentax 6×7 and my eldest Zoe with her CVS camera…we start ’em young in this family! ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜˜

My elder daughter today enjoys shooting with her iPhone but for some reason both my girls have grown to hate me taking their photos. Actually “hate” might be too strong of a word.

What they really don’t like is if I take too long playing around with the camera settings or focusing etc, which is to be expected when shooting with older manual focus gear, ie, rangefinders, TLRs, medium format, large format etc.

And when they complain my response is usually something like…you gotta have patience!!

And if I want to make a stronger point, I might say…you’re a photographer’s kid and you can’t sit still for a photo?! ๐Ÿ˜€

How about you folks with kids or even significant others like wives, girlfriends, boyfriends? Are they into photography? Are they willing to sit or stand still as you test your new gear on them? I’d love to know how you deal with it!

My philosophy has always been, if I can get a good shot of the kids using whatever gear I’m using, I can get a good shot of anything!

Happy Friday and have a great weekend folks! ๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ™๐Ÿป๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿป

“Two For Two” 2016. Playing around with the Fuji Insax Mini 90 Neo Classic while trying to give Baby Zay her milk. Cameras and kids can be fun until they start hating it! ๐Ÿ™‚

Photo Of The Day: “Ship Out” Ricoh GR-1

I was going to title this photo “Ships” like two ships that pass in the night. However, as there is only one ship I gave it another title ๐Ÿ™‚

This was shot back in the summer of 2018 with a Ricoh GR1 and Kentmere 400 film. The place was Manila Bay. A beautiful area in Manila with some of the most beautiful sunsets in the Philippines. Though I should have had color film in here, I’m a black and white fan and I like how all the lines are nicely resolved. I feel the GR1’s lens is really only limited by the film I’m using.

It’s best viewed large and by setting this as the featured (and only) image, I hope you can see that.

I really should update this site, pay the piper to WordPress so that I can start posting large photos again but my feeling is…Hey if CBS, Page Six, and other big time players are still using the free WordPress platform, who am I to want to pay for it ๐Ÿ™‚

Anyway, thanks WordPress for this platform!

Happy Monday folks!

 

How To Scan Film Using Your Phone & Tablet Plus Low Budget Phone Scanning vs Low Budget Flatbed Scan

Just like many of you, I scan my film as a labor of love. It started as something I enjoyed to something that became more like work. Just natural when you have time constraints due to family and job. It can be time consuming but when the results are good, they’re definitely worth it. And sometimes when I get a really good scan I’m reminded of just good film can still be in terms of resolution and detail.

However those of us familiar with using a flatbed scanner for scanning negatives know that sometimes it really can take a lot of time going through even one roll of film if you want or need to make the necessary corrections to get the best out of the images.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with “alternative” scanning methods, primarily as a way of saving time. I’ve tried all the things people try, from DSLR to Mirrorless to Phone camera.

ContaxBuddha

“Big Buddha” 2005. Contax G1, 28mm f/2.8 Zeiss Biogon. The image was “scanned” with an Olympus E-1 and 90mm f/2 Zuiko Macro lens via adapter.

Above is an early attempt at “alternative” scanning. The original photo was taken with a Contax G1, and 28mm f/2.8 Biogon taken on Fuji Velvia film in 2005. I “scanned” this image in 2005 using an Olympus E-1 5mp camera with 90mm f/2 Zuiko Macro lens via adapter. The vibrancy and detail were amazing but setting up the tripod and getting the light right was somewhat cumbersome so I didn’t use this method much.

It’s funny that back in 2005, DSLR “scanning” didn’t really catch on but it’s very popular today, especially with today’s high resolution cameras. But in my opinion, 5mp was perfectly acceptable and I made a nice 8×10 print from the above photo!

CLZoeP

“Time Out” 2009. Leica CL, 40mm f/2 Leitz Summicron. Also “scanned” using the Olympus E-1 5mp and 90mm f/2 Zuiko Macro Lens.

Recently I tried a low budget scanning method using my iPad as a light box and using my iPhone to “scan” the images. You can find a few tutorials on YouTube on how to do this. It seems everyone does it a little differently.

Here’s what I did:

1) Use white background on iPad as a lightbox.

2) Use one roll of tape as a spacer so the film is not too close to the iPad. Too close and the brightness of the iPad or tablet may wash out details or show its pixels.

3) Put film on top of the first tape roll. I use the negative holder from my Epson scanner to keep the film flat. If you don’t have a holder you should find another way of keeping the film flat. Thin glass might help.

4) Put other roll of tape on top of the film and position the image you want to scan. This might require some moving around as most of the cameras on our phones are not placed in the center of the phone itself. The tape roll also acts as support to keep the phone steady.

5) Tap the image on your phone to focus and take a few shots to ensure that at least one is sharp

5) Import into editing program on your phone.

Below is a step by step photo show and comparison. The original image was taken with a Mamiya AF-D and 80mm f/2.8 Mamiya AF lens on Tri-X 400 in 2016! Yet another camera I’ve used but never profiled. It was a great camera system if you need to know!

My flatbed scanner is a now very old Epson V500. I reckon it must be at least eight or nine years old!

My low budget iPad/iPhone scanner! See details in the article on how to do it.

A closer view of a possible Medium Format scan.

An image scanned using the iPad/iPhone method then opened in the Adobe Photoshop Express app.

The final image using the iPad/iPhone scanner. The negative needs to be inverted to reveal the positive image. I then processed the image using the sliders and controls in PS Express.

A close up of the above image. This might be fine for a lot of people, and certainly for a quick preview. But as you’ll see below, it’s no comparison to a flatbed scanner.

Same image scanned using an Epson V500 Flatbed Scanner.

Close up of the Epson V500 scan. Note the details in the fabric of the ski hat, the eyes, the teeth. There’s really no comparison!

WHY DO THIS?

Why use your phone to scan you might ask? I can think of a few reasons but probably most important is that it’s incredibly faster. If you just want to get an idea if the image is worth scanning on your flatbed scanner this will do it. It takes literally seconds to scan using the phone camera vs minutes using the flatbed. If you’re pressed for time this adds up!

Also using this method and a photo editing app such as Adobe’s Photoshop Express or Lightroom, you can do it all on your phone and not need to turn on your computer.

CONCLUSIONS?

Well, based on my initial testing the iPhone scans are surprisingly usable as a quick preview. Heck some might even be able to use these scans for posting to social media etc.

However, as expected, the scans from a “real” scanner such as my old Epson V500 are still infinity better. I’ve included crops from both the phone scan and the Epson for you to see.

Check for details in the fabric of the ski hat, and in the face and teeth. There’s no comparison really! But if you want to see images in a pinch, this works!

Now some of you might say, oh well, an optical scanner is evenย betterย than the flatbed and yes, I agree cause I had that covered too! Had an optical scanner in 2003 or 2004 and the scans were superior to the flatbed. To this day, I regrettably sold it but the flatbed is a good compromise. For the record, I’ve never used a drum scan so I leave it up to YOU to tell me about it! ๐Ÿ™‚

Next step is for me to do a comparison with the Epson flatbed scanner vs using a modern high resolution DSLR or Mirrorless with a macro lens. This should be closer!

Till next time happy Sunday good peeps!

“Happy Sunday!” 2016. Mamiya AF-D, 80mm f/2.8 AF, Tri-X in D76. Zayda doesn’t want to be left out! She wishes everyone a happy Sunday morning good peeps! ๐Ÿ™‚

Photo Of The Day: “Cold Cold Morning” Agfa Ambi Silette & 55mm f/2 Solagon Lens Plus New YouTube Video

imgAgfaSolaKentRyeP189

The above photo was taken on a cold overcast day in 2018 using a vintage Agfa Ambi Silette 35mm camera and the mythical Agfa 55mm f/2 Solagon lens. The film was Kentmere 400 developed in D76 developer.

I got the camera outfit primarily for the lens which is like a scarce cult favorite not known by many. There’s just very little on the web about it and I would like to add to that knowledge base if I could.

The internet has a way of distorting reality and since there’s so little on this lens, I was well prepared to shoot down all the praise I read online as maybe “over enthusiastic” love from a handful of people. Not that I didn’t believe them but there’s just not enough of them.

But now that I’ve seen the results for myself, I’m inclined to say they might be right! Even in the above photo, the lens shows excellent sharpness and very little distortion. Considering it’s an older vintage lens, I think it’s performance is quite exceptional!

Now I haven’t shot enough rolls to make a full judgement but for now I think it’s safe to say, it’s a great lens!

NEW YOUTUBE VIDEO

As I mentioned here before, the slowdown in my postings here has a lot to do with me making it a priority to provide new content to our Camera Legend YouTube channel.

Today I posted a video on one of my favorite cameras of all time, the Rolleiflex 2.8C with the Schneider Xenotar lens. Consider it a complement to our 2017 review of the camera.

You’ll see some additional photos including one I took while having dinner in 2009 with famous photographer Manuel Libres Librodo, aka Manny Librodo. Great guy!

Eventually, I hope to have most of the cameras I’ve reviewed here on YouTube as well.

Making these videos AND writing a blog while also managing work and family can certainly burn you out and I discuss that as well in this video. This is why I’m seemingly only online when I post something ๐Ÿ™‚

I do apologize for that! Do not run too many projects, it’ll burn you out!

It’s a one man operation but I’m determined to give you the best I got. Thanks for your support!!

 

Photo Of The Day: โ€œCold Cold Worldโ€ Part II Sony A7r & Contax 35mm f/2.8 Biogon

In anticipation or celebration of the complex snow storm that’s hitting the Northeast here’s a shot from my latest test lens. According to the weather report, it’s going to be much colder than this in the next couple days!

It’s the 35mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss Biogon. No it’s not one of the new modern day iterations. It’s the old lens made for the Contax rangefinder cameras.

The Sony A7r was one of my last major purchases when it came to modern day digital cameras. I bought it in 2014. I mainly use it to test out vintage lenses. It gives me an idea what I might expect when I use the lenses on film bodies.

As I said many times here, I’ve always found the 35mm f/2.8 a rather “boring” lens in the sense that a 35mm f/2 is much more interesting to me. There were so many generic 35mm f/2.8 lenses back in the film era that I’m convinced it’s not that hard for a decent optical manufacturer to build a good one and thus it shouldn’t be expensive.

That’s why, as I explained in my Contax T2 video, even the 38mm f/2.8 on the T2 is quite a general lens which was only made special due to the Zeiss design and T* coatings. However, for the old Contax rangefinder this is about as wide as I’m going to get without spending a fortune so it completes my set for the Contax RF, ie, 35mm/50mm/135mm ๐Ÿ˜Š

There’s more to this lens and its history, including several different versions of the same lens and compatibility issues with some Contax bodies, of which I’ll get to in a future posting.

For now what I will say is that it’s a very good lens, surprisingly good on the A7r. A bit boring on digital which tells me it’ll be GREAT on the Contax film bodies I’m currently shooting it with!

Till next time, stay safe and have a great day!

Monday Mystery Camera…Solved! ๐Ÿ˜€

If you’ve been through as many cameras as I have, chances are you’re going to forget some of them! I know some of you folks have been through this!

Here’s a shot from a few years back. Iโ€™m going to say maybe 2010 or 2011?

Because it was out of focus, I never posted it and in a moment of brain fog I had a hard time figuring out which camera it was.

I originally thought it was a Yashica GSN or Olympus SP or maybe even a Nikon S series rangefinder, but I quickly figured it wasn’t one of those.

I posted this a couple of months ago on my Instagram account to see if other camera lovers would chime in and help me figure it out.

I think everyone who chimed in made an educated guess and I was impressed with their answers. I came to the conclusion that it was probably a Leica M3 based on a guess of what I was shooting with at the time.

So what is this “Mystery Camera” in the blurry photo? As it turns it really is the Leica M3! The M3 and 50mm f/2 Summicron-M.

As it turns out, I had another frame that I scanned and hadn’t seen in years. I cannot locate the original negative but I’m willing to bet this photo was sequential to the above photo. The hair might look different but sometimes I part my hair out of my eyes ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m not sure if you can see it here but the “M” can be partially seen above my right middle finger. And the lens says “Leitz Wetzlar” very clearly.

The smaller rangefinder windows in the blurry photo is just an optical effect, an optical illusion.

I always tell people, even though I doubt they believe me, but my camera selfies are not a narcissistic love fest! ๐Ÿ™‚

Firstly, I’ve done them for years as a way of checking critical focus. Secondly, as in the case here, they help me remember the camera and lens I used! And the fact that people like looking at photos of cameras? Well, that’s just an added benefit!

Happy Monday folks!