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™‚

PhotoPlus 2018 Quick Observations

I attended the annual PDN PhotoPlus Expo at the Jacob Javits Convention center in New York City last week.

Just to get it out of the way so you’re not disappointed, I am NOT doing a full throttle report on everything I saw.

It may be bad for some but it’s good for me because I simply was not all that excited by the latest and greatest gear!

Ok, I’ll admit, I enjoyed trying out the new. Nikon Z and Canon R series full frame mirrorless cameras. But unlike in 2013 when I saw the Sony A7R for the first time, I did not feel the need to want to have them. Wow, am I free? ๐Ÿ™‚

Ok again, lenses such as the HUGE 58mm f/0.95 Noct Nikkor (above) for the new Z Mirrorless system was exciting to see but now I say…Samster, even if you could afford it (which you can’t!) would you ever carry that thing out in the real world ๐Ÿ˜Š

I thought mirrorless was about making things smaller and more compact. Perhaps it’s not possible to make a full frame lens that fast and make it smaller but I just think the big two Camera Legends Canon and Nikon are still obsessed with BIG as ever.

Anyway back to everything. I mean, I’m not going to lie. I loved it all, but now I feel it’s all for YOU to try. Not me. I think I, and perhaps some of you too, I’m at the point of gear exhaustion.

And I’m thinking realistically. What, really, is the Nikon Z or Canon R going to do for me that I couldn’t do with my “old” A7R?

By far, my favorite moment was catching up with my good man, the great Louis Mendes. If you don’t know, Lou is famous for shooting and selling portraits in the streets of NYC with a Speed Graphic large format camera.

In the past he used packfilm such as the discontinued Fuji FP series, but as a sign of the times (and because you know I’m interested in this stuff!) I found out that Mr. Mendes is now shooting with Instax Wide!! I can now say packfilm is officially DEAD if Lou stopped shooting it!

No he hasn’t given up his Speed Graphic for one of those horrible Instax monsters. He had his modified to take the Instax Wide film. It appears to me to be one of those hard to find, discontinued Belair Instax Wide backs.

It also seems he had a couple of acolytes with him learning the craft from the master.

The last shot is for all of you to see what you missed out on! Everybody loves a beautiful model! Is it ok if I call her “Sweet Sexy?” If not I’ll take it back ๐Ÿ˜Š

Anyway that’s it for today. If any of you were there I’d love to hear from you, leave a comment!

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Trends: Canon AE-1 & Fuji FP-100C

Just sharing with you guys a couple of postings I made to the YouTube channel but did not post them here till now.

These are segments I called “Tuesday Trends” where I look at topics that I feel are “trending” in the camera and photography world and even though they might not be mainstream news, I feel are interesting enough to put a spotlight on.

First up is the legendary Canon AE-1 from 1976, one of the most popular cameras of all time.

Just for you guys, I’ve cut to the chase in the above video. I came to the conclusion that the Canon AE-1 prices have been rising is because…YOU GUYS ARE BUYING THEM UP! ๐Ÿ™‚

Not you my camera savvy readers, most of you guys probably have or have had the AE-1 at some point in your lives, but hipsters (you know who you are!), newbies, and anyone just getting into film photography. Part of the problem is because the AE-1 was, and is still so very popular, it almost always shows up during a search for film cameras.

Now first off, let me say I love the AE-1 for what it is. It’s a great camera that introduced millions of people to the wonderful world of photography. Yet, especially today, its specs are hardly earth shattering. Keep in mind, I’m just talking about the AE-1 original, not the latter AE-1 Program though when it comes to rising prices we can count that camera in too.

Shutter priority, manual mode, and relies on batteries. If you’ve read my pages here, you could probably read between the lines. Especially that last part about the batteries.

Now I’ve never been an anti-battery camera person. On the contrary, I have always found most modern cameras that uses batteries to be reliable enough not to worry,

That said, if you have a choice, especially the choices we have in today’s used market then I would say I would much rather buy a purely manual camera that doesn’t need batteries to operate, other than the meter of course.

I was quite disturbed to find the AE-1’s prices rising, after not checking for a long time. I used to periodically buy this camera to give away to friends or kids who wanted to learn photography. They never cost any more than $25-50 for a whole package of body, lens, filters, etc. Not any more. Now prices for a body alone averages $70.

This is not right! This should be a CHEAP CAMERA in terms of used prices! Anyway, my reasoning is all in the video, please check it out if you’re interested. I repeat myself a lot in this video but the point is clear…The AE-1 should be a CHEAP CAMERA and the prices should still be CHEAP ๐Ÿ™‚

Second up is the Fuji FP-100C, the packfilm classic that Fujifilm discontinued in 2016.

I posted somewhere on social media a couple of weeks back that I was facing REALITY and giving up on packfilm. In fact, I already have a buyer for my Polaroid Land Cameras once I deplete my last few packs of FP-100C.

Even the honorable fellows at CATLABS of JP who declared two years ago: “WE WILL MAKE PACKFILM” have given up on the process as announced this week.

As I had made my decision and prepared this video before their announcement I thought it was very timely! That’s what I mean by trends!

Basically, to cut to the chase, and if you DON’T want or have time to watch the video, I’m stating that if you ever wanted to try this film this might be the time because after a period of relative stability last year, the prices for the FP-100C are rising back up which may or may not indicate that the remaining stocks are close to depletion.

A sign that it is nearly gone is that B&H and Adorama no longer show this film in stock. Even a couple of months ago, it was.

Anyway, I hope this is helpful to somebody out there. Oh please forgive me when I get into “character” lol. As I said, you kinda need “personality” when you’re doing this YouTube thing ๐Ÿ™‚

Catch you guys next time!

Sam

Flashback Friday March 2018

Just a couple of random items for your Flashback Friday…,

I saw this photo on my desk. It was from a few days shy of 2 years ago, “3/26/16” and I was a bit surprised that it was not one, but two years ago!

It felt like yesterday when I shot Baby Zayda cheerfully eating her Cheerios. I also used this image in my Fuji Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic review. As I said in that article, I was not fond of the wallet sized photos but this shot is my favorite from it. Upon close inspection, Instax Mini files are sharp!

Anyway, the photo got me thinking about today’s subject…

Ah friends, is it springtime already? As the years go by and as you grow older, do you ever say to yourself…there are just so many springs left in your life?

“Cheeri-O” 2016. Fuji Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic.

As a kid and young adult, life seemed timeless and full of possibilities. As a middle aged man, the realities to what may lie ahead seem more real and though not yet urgent, the feeling is there that I have to do what I need to do and do it soon…whatever it is I need to do! I really am not sure what that is! ๐Ÿ˜Š

Someone once said I was a nostalgic fool and indeed I am! But if memories are all we have, then what is a person to do but look back?

The beauty of looking through the eyes of a child is that you kind of relive at least some of your youth through their experiences.

“Sunset Park” 2018. iPhone 6s Plus, Argentum b&w filter.

I don’t know friends, I just see life flashing before my eyes. Kids growing up. Years going by faster and faster. Is it just me?

CONTAX AX VIDEO REVIEW

As a complement to our 2016 review of the CONTAX AX, the camera from 1996 that tried the titanic attempt to “autofocus” manual focus lenses, I have added a short YouTube video review of the camera.

You may remember the article as part of the “Tuesday Titans” series. On the video, I have changed it to the “Camera Legend TITAN” series so as not to be tied down to a Tuesday timeframe ๐Ÿ™‚

The video does include additional features such as tips on using the AF, and a video view of the ingenious autofocus drive mechanism.ย Hopefully it helps anyone who is looking at buying one of these cameras.

I plan to do more of these YouTube videos for other cameras already reviewed on our blog, if and when I can and then embed them directly into those specific articles.

Speaking of YouTube, I can tell you this will be an uphill climb. So many photography related channels! But I’m not so much concerned about the views or number of subscribers at this early stage because just like this blog, I am looking at it as a long term project.

Just like the articles here, I figure whoever will be interested in the cameras we have profiled will eventually stumble upon the video, as they have with the article since YouTube is apparently the second largest search engine.

Staying for the long haul is not a problem for me. I have dedicated myself to do this. Creating the videos, the editing, the time taken, even for my low budget videos? Now that is a little troublesome!

Anyway, this written blog will always be my base and so I thank you all so much for your support over the past few years. I wouldn’t be doing all this if there wasn’t anyone to write for! THANK YOU! ๐Ÿ™‚

Fuji Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic

Fuji Instax Mini Kit

Recent Items: “Slow Jams”

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“Love RIP” 2016. Polaroid 180 Land Camera, 114mm f/4.5 Tominon with close up lens attachment.

As you may have noticed, I haven’t been reviewing a lot of cameras as of late. It’s not for a lack of cameras to review, believe me. Much respect to my fellow bloggers especially the ones who do it so regularly. There is no glory to this!

However, I do have a new hobby; camera repair. Or “attempted” camera repair anyway ๐Ÿ™‚

Here’s my most recent repair attempt. Some of you may remember my review on the wonderful Polaroid 180 Land camera. If not, and if you’re interested in that camera, you can check out the review here.

THE SHUTTER JAM

The camera was great. However, it started not being so wonderful a few months ago. First it started with the shutter intermittently not firing. It would just jam up for no reason, but then with enough pressing of the shutter release it would fire. Then one day, it stopped firing altogether.

Bummer. I thought this might be it for the mighty 180, but somewhere in the back of my mind I suspected it was not the leaf shutter in the lens itself, but that it was the release mechanism.

I remember reading about loosening up the cable that fires the shutter. On the 180, as with most Land cameras, the shutter release is attached to the main head board which also houses the lens. That area is protected by a metal part that is attached by three very, very tiny screws (if this stuff is confusing you, just refer to the pictures, they tell a much better story than I can!)

polac_233

“Slow Jam” The shutter release started to jam intermittently, eventually refusing to fire at all which prompted the attempted repair.

When you press the shutter release button (the red one), it actually fires the shutter through a cable, much like a cable release that you attach to your old school SLRs.

Anyway, I did loosen up the cable, but it did not solve the problem. I then tried the opposite, pushing the cable higher thinking perhaps it needed to be closer to get enough tension to fire the shutter. It still didn’t work.

Finally had to loosen up those three very, very tiny screws to take off the part that hides the actual shutter release. This turned out to the the hardest part of the job. It wasn’t supposed to be hard, but I found those screws to be so tiny, even my smallest “eyeglass kit repair” screwdriver wasn’t getting them raggedy screws out.

The space between the front board and the camera means your screwdriver must also be very tiny. There’s not a lot of room to work on this. I don’t have the biggest hands and yet I was having trouble fitting my hand in there while trying to turn the screws loose.

15203288_361792597495601_2476669614636881773_n

“Screwed” The actual shutter release is located behind this metal part (top) held together by three very tiny screws.

Eventually, I got them off and I’m able to fire the shutter with my finger. It still got jammed so I put in a dab of WD-40 and it’s better now, but not completely fixed. I tried putting the pieces back together, but I found the shutter would release only intermittently with the cable to I just left it off.

I can use it now as is, but since I have to push up the shutter release by hand, I fear it might induce camera shake. Fortunately, the 180 Land Camera has a self timer function and that is what I use if I’m taking shots lower than 1/60. This plus my limited supply of the soon to be extinct packfilmย means this is not a camera I’d use any more for taking shots of the kids, especially since they’re always moving around ๐Ÿ™‚

This is still an ongoing project and I figure it might be helpful for anyone having similar issues with their Land Camera.

Just like vintage cars, it’s an awesome thing ย and a lot of fun to shoot with a Camera Legend like the Polaroid 180. However, just like vintage cars, these classic cameras require maintenance and are not so fun when they start getting funky on you.

Just for the record, I did seek out service from a repair place that services these cameras. Never heard back from them. And perhaps that’s a good thing since they saved me money ๐Ÿ™‚

THE FILM JAM

While taking my test shots, the film jammed in the 180 as pack film has been known to do. The film is discontinued, pricy, and every picture counts so I did not want to waste anything.

In the past, I have ruined whole packs by trying to force it out. In my 180 review, I mentioned of opening the film back ever so slightly which usually eases tension and allows you to get the film out, but sometimes even that doesn’t work.

In that case, what you need to do is in total darkness, open the film back slowly, pull out the exposed film which should be the one on the very top (assuming you had already pulled the tab enough) and manually put it through the rollers. Again, this must be done in total darkness.

The very top photo of the the dead flowers was actually a saved print using this method.

THE BURNING QUESTION

With the shutter jam and the film jam, I had a whole bunch of “slow jams” to deal with while shooting that Polaroid.

The burning question is, with regards to Polaroids and film altogether: Why Bother?

My best answer for that is: You gotta love it man!! ๐Ÿ™‚

I know there’s a lot of folks way more experienced at repairing Land Cameras than I am and I’d love to hear from you!

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