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Rare and Funky: The Great Wall DF Camera, a True Lomo-Jewel

2012-12-24 13

Last week I bumped into this Chinese camera. I vaguely knew about it and despite being a bit expensive I bought it anyway. I am so glad this camera is in my collection now. It is the most allround Lomo camera I have. Trust me, I have a lot of of cameras and this one is just a true Lomo-Jewel

Introduction, just for the sake of having an intro

A few years ago I started to collect cameras to satisfy my Lomographic needs. I found out that cheap cameras all have their own quirks and typical character which distinguishes them from other cameras. When you have one professional SLR, you don’t need five others because they all produce quite the same, almost perfect images. But when you dive into the world of cheap cameras, everything changes. So for me, every camera has to add something new to my collection in terms of Lomo-lens effects. For instance, I have three medium format Holgas, one vignettes like hell, ,one vignettes normally and one nearly shows any vignettes. So I need all three of them. The same goes for my collection of sixties Diana clones. Some have real slow shutter speeds, some have a wider aperture and others have the worst plastic lenses ever, giving a never seen before lo-fi effect.

Credits: gauthierdumonde

Last week I bumped into a camera which I already heard of, but actually I did not know much about it. It was called The Great Wall DF-3 Camera and I bought it without knowing what it was capable of. I only shot three rolls with it and it is already one of my all time favorite cameras.

Credits: gauthierdumonde

History

I will be brief on the history of the Great Wall camera, because not much is known about it and many sources contradict. Some say it is a decent camera built for important Chinese communist party members, other sources say it is a piece of crap built to provide photographers a less expensive camera than the Seagull TLR. The camera has been produced in the late seventies and early eighties, not by millions but by thousands. It is based on the German Pilot 6 camera from the nineteen thirties because that was an easy camera to construct.

A brief technical description

It is a Chinee medium format SLR with a waist level viewfinder. The viewfinder is dim and to get a clear view you have to open the 90mm lens to its widest aperture of f/3.5. After you composed your shot you have to close the aperture manually to the desired F-stop, there is no mechanism to stop the lens automatically down when you trigger the shutter. The shutter speed goes from bulb up to 1/200s. The camera has a multiple exposure button. After you have taken a shot, you can’t cock the shutter again unless you wind the film or push a button that enables yu to shoot another image on the same frame. The camera originally came with a removable 4.5×6 frame, most of them got lost. Whatever, you want to shoot 6×6 images with this baby.

What makes this camera so good for Lomography?

It has a very special shutter, a guillotine shutter. When the mirror flips up, the shutter follows like a guillotine. I have never seen that kind of shutter before. This guillotine shutter creates a special kind of vignette where the top and bottom of the picture are darkened.

Credits: gauthierdumonde

Now the great stuff: you can do macro photography when you have a 50mm lens with a 39mm screw thread (called the LTM: Leica Thread Mount). The Great Wall camera has a removable 90mm lens with a 39mm screw mount. The strange thing is, there are never made any other lenses for this camera. Some sources say that there were never carried out plans to make more lenses (which makes sense to me), other sources say the lens was removable to be used on an enlarger, making photography less expensive again because you can use the same lens on your camera and enlarger. Anyway, all you need is a 50mm lens with a 39mm screw mount. This does not have to be an expensive Leica lens, a Russian Industar Jupiter-8 is fine. You have to focus the lens on its closest distance, otherwise it won’t screw on the Great Wall camera. When you have done that you can shoot objects at about 12 cm from the lens, while you are able to focus and compose the image on the viewfinder. This I find great for doing doubles, first I shoot some macro pictures and afterwards I shoot city views or portraits on top of it. Real Nice!

Credits: gauthierdumonde

Freelensing

Freelensing is a technique were you unscrew your lens and tilt it up, down, left or right. This results in cool partial focus and light leaks. This camera is ideal for it. You can remove the lens and you are able to see what your effect will be on the focus screen. That’s great !

Credits: gauthierdumonde

Is there anything bad about this camera?

Yes, its availability. They aren’t maybe by millions but by thousands and most of them remained in China. On top of that it became a collectors item. But you can still find it cheap in thrift stores and flea markets. So when you ever bump into to one, do not hesitate and make it yours !

written by gauthierdumonde on 2012-12-24 #gear #review #chinese-camera #medium-format #freelensing #lomo-jewel #slr

13 Comments

  1. buckshot
    buckshot ·

    Nice, detailed review - congrats!

  2. herbert-4
    herbert-4 ·

    Nice review... interesting camera.

  3. jimfranks
    jimfranks ·

    Some more Great Wall info here:
    inauspicious.org/cameras/df4/

    And some pictures of a homemade lens here:
    www.flickr.com/photos/sideofbeef/4424811674
    www.flickr.com/photos/sideofbeef/4424812420

  4. gauthierdumonde
    gauthierdumonde ·

    @jimfranks mine is a DF-3 by the way. The self made lenses give me ideas... thanks !

  5. tanip
    tanip ·

    Never seen this cam anywhere! I'll add it to my never-ending list of cameras to be on the lookout for (although seems like this one won't pop up anytime soon).

  6. gauthierdumonde
    gauthierdumonde ·

    @tanip this one was on my list for a long time. You read stories about people finding them in thrift stores for 40USD, and they don't buy it because a Rolleiflex is way better. I don't believe those stories, but I wish you'll find one for that price. I paid about five times more. The owner knew it was rare.

  7. adash
    adash ·

    Cool. I like the camera and I even more like the fact that it's an SLR. TLRs are great for street/portraits, but tilt-shift and macro is simply impossible with them.

  8. gauthierdumonde
    gauthierdumonde ·

    @adash also great is: the 90mm lens has a 52mm filterthread. Most of my filters and my filterglass holder are 52mm.

  9. adash
    adash ·

    Oh, that's very nice too. My TLR has an odd Bayonet attachment, and Bayonet attachment filters are usually very expensive....

  10. ihave2pillows
    ihave2pillows ·

    Cool. Does it have a metal plate that needs removing each time you shoot a frame, like with the Kiev88?

  11. gauthierdumonde
    gauthierdumonde ·

    @ihave2pillows NO. The film loads like a TLR. In fact,it feels and looks like 'one eyed TLR' but it's an SLR.

  12. lanline
    lanline ·

    Nice review! Have you ever considered filing down your Holga film frame? You can change the vignetting by filing the frame to a shape that suits you.

  13. gauthierdumonde
    gauthierdumonde ·

    @lanline this camera comes with a 4x6 frame (and a secondary counterwindow) to deal with the vignetting, but I never use it.

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