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Seagull 203 and 203-1: an inexpensive 120 folder

Made by Shanghai Seagull Camera Ltd of China, the 203s were produced throughout the 1960s. I bought both of mine off eBay close to 15 years ago, but prices haven't changed much. The one on the left was new in the box for $100. The one on the right has almost all the "leather" peeled off, but I got it for $20.

Seagull 203 & 203-I

These folding cameras shoot 120 roll film and are very similar to the Agfa Isolette III. The lens pops out with the press of the button on top of the case. Loading the film is fairly straight forward for a 120 camera, however, you have the option to shoot either twelve 6×6 images or sixteen 6×4.5 images.

Inside the camera on either side of the film gate is a metal hinged flap. These flaps must both be flipped towards each other to get 16 shots or away from each other for the larger image.

There are 2 metal covered red windows on the camera back for counting your frames. One is for 12 frames & the other for 16. I put a piece of black tape over the window that I am not using so I don’t get confused.

The view finder is a true rangefinder so focusing is pretty easy. If you’re not familiar with rangefinder focusing, here’s a quick lesson. Look through the center of the viewfinder and you will see a little yellow square with a partial image in the middle of a larger, clear image. Place the yellow square on the subject you want in focus. With your left pointer finger you will find a knurled ring right behind the lens/shutter assembly. Turning this ring will focus the lens closer or farther away. Watch the image in the yellow window and when it merges together with the surrounding image, your photo will be in focus. Cool, huh? Once the lens is focused, you can recompose the image so your subject isn’t dead center.

The lens is a 3.5/75mm three element design with coated glass for color film as well as black & white. It tends to be sharpest at f-11 or f-16. The shutter is the old fashioned kind. The knurled ring (A) on the front sets the shutter speeds (Bulb through 1/300). On both my 203 & 203-1 there is a spring type lever (B) on top of the shutter that moves the aperture ring. This lever connects with the shutter speed ring so that both rings turn together allowing you to change shutter speed & f-stops in unison. For example say you want to shoot a landscape and the exposure is 1/300 of a second at f-8, but you decide you want more depth of field. Simply turn the aperture to f-22 and the shutter speed will automatically change to 1/60 . This is a great feature, especially if you use the “Sunny-16” rule or EV numbers for exposure. Lifting up the lever slightly will allow you to turn the aperture ring independently. There is another lever © on top of the lens assembly that cocks the shutter. Both cameras have a self-timer lever (D) on the side of the shutter, but be warned: Seagull makes the worst self-timers I have ever seen. These are notorious for causing the shutters to jam making the camera useless. This is true on all models of Seagull cameras including the TLRs.

Photo by fotoflix

These cameras were often poorly constructed and the materials used are not of high quality, however with a little patience, they are capable of taking a fairly sharp picture.

Both cameras have tripod and cable release sockets. The 203-I has a hot shoe for an electronic flash and also it’s lens has a distinctive blue color to it’s coating. I assume this is for crisper/brighter colors when using color film.

written by fotoflix

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