Tan Jinchun, a technician, works on the assembly line of Seagull cameras in the workshop at Shanghai Museum of Old Camera Manufacturing which opened last week and gives an insight to China's camera manufacturing history. The museum features cameras manufactured between the 1950s and 1970s. (Photo source: Shanghai Daily/ Dong Jun)
By Chen Ye
BEIJING, June 18 (Xinhua) -- Seagull cameras are a famous Shanghai brand dating back to 1958 and many people have fond memories of them. Now Seagulls are again being manufactured at a camera museum.
Everyone seems to have a mobile phone camera these days and digital cameras are standard, but still there are purists and professionals using film cameras.
"Shooting with a digital camera is very convenient, especially for young children and elderly people. But using a vintage camera brings me a true feeling of creation," says Gu Yueying, 55, who used to work for famous Shanghai Camera Factory. Since retirement, he has become a camera technician.
Gu's in his element at the new Shanghai Museum of Old Camera Manufacturing filled with vintage cameras, including around 200 domestic cameras and 80 foreign models.
The museum opened on June 10 and mostly features cameras manufactured between the 1950s and 1970s.
In 1958 the Shanghai Camera Factory became the first camera manufacturer in China, turning out Seagull and Dongfeng (literally East Wind) cameras.
In 1964, the Seagull was selling well internationally and in 1969 the Dongfeng Camera 6920 came out and was also exported. The latter was made to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the People's Republic of China in 1969.
The first Dongfeng model was made for Jiang Qing, wife of Chairman Mao Zedong, who was interested in photography, according to Zhu Zongxun, a camera collector.
"I remember there are only 97 known Dongfeng 6920 cameras in China, very few but precious," Zhu tells Shanghai Daily. He donated much of his collection to the museum.
Also in 1969, the Shanghai Camera No. 2 Factory (now Shanghai Seagull Camera Company) made 10 Red Flag Camera 20s to celebrate New China's 20th anniversary.
The characters hongqi were written in the calligraphy of Chairman Mao.
Between 1970 and 1979 there were only 271 Red Flag 20s in the market for special customers, such as the Xinhua news agency.
Collector Zhu recalls that back then a camera could only be purchased with a coupon. Those lucky enough to have a camera coupon paid at least 150 yuan (today US$20). But the average monthly wage back then was only 10-20 yuan.
China's camera industry entered a period of prosperity in 1985. The Shanghai Seagull Camera Company turned out 450,000 cameras a year, making it the world's biggest camera manufacturer.
But the industry slowed down later and in 1989 the Seagull assembly lines closed. However, Seagull manufacturing has recently resumed and the old workshop is turning out Seagull 4A-109 cameras in the Shanghai manufacturing museum.
The museum was founded by Chen Haiwen, a famous photographer who was born in 1958 and has collected cameras for nearly 30 years.
He donated most of his collection to the museum. "As a photographer and founder of the museum, I hope the exhibition and the renewed manufacturing of Seagull 4A-109 TLR cameras will attract public attention to vintage and classic cameras," Chen says.
He expressed thanks to the local government for support in restarting Seagull manufacturing.
Sixty-year-old Han Yulong spent 40 years producing Seagull cameras and after he heard the assembly line was reopening, he joined as a technician, working at the manufacturing museum, reproducing Seagulls.
Each camera contains more than 400 parts and there was a lot of adjusting. In the old days only two to three cameras could be turned out in one day, Han says, smiling and holding out his callused hands.
He talked on and on in technical jargon about upper and lower lens synchronizers, focus-length measuring instruments, camera vibration-proof tester, 3D camera velocimeters and other camera parts.
"In our heyday, the factory turned out at least 10,000 cameras a month and hundreds of thousands a year," Han says.
A Seagull 4A-109 camera costs 5,800 yuan (US$911) now.