China – a country famous for its current ability for manufacturing the latest cameras – not so well known for its history in making them a few decades ago..
It was early on Saturday morning (the day before Father’s Day) when two packages arrived at the door of our flat in Happy Valley, Hong Kong.
Both were Chinese made cameras with the only thing separating them being 30 years of history. In one box was my much awaited for Spinner 360 and in the other a Medium Format Hongmei gh-1 from 1980 Shanghai.
It was the brightest day we had had in Hong Kong for quite some time, so along with my wife and daughter, both cameras came for a lunch time outing on the Island. The Hongmei hg-1 isn’t a TLR like we are used to seeing from the older Chinese cameras, but an MF folding camera that through the use of internal flaps allows you to change from 6×6 to 6×4 when loading the film. Now this is a very simple camera – no light metering, no range finding and no link between the advance and shutter. In fact the camera requires you to cock a small lever on the lens much like a Smena 8M or Lubitel so multiple exposures or linking frames is a doddle.
The simple Triplet lens runs from F4 to 22 and has the focus ring in front at the end of the lens. Shutter speeds run from B all the way up to 1/500th and it even has a delayed shooting switch on the front as well as a hot shoe that requires a PC cable. There is little to be found on the net about this camera and all I seemed to find were occasional images on flickr and a set from another Lomographer on this site who replied to my questions telling me that they were good cameras but just very soft.
Now to some people to be told that the camera you have just bought off the well known auction site has very soft focusing would be terrible – but I couldn’t wait for some at that plastic lens style appearance in a glass lens. So over three films, a lunchtime on the Island and an evening from the balcony in our flat; the camera had a simple run through and to be completely honest it is a dream to use. Everything is manual and requires some estimating or even the use of a light meter and it seemed to respond well to every request I made of it.
Finally as we all know the proof is always in the eating and after processing at the Lomo friendly shop in Mong Kok I received back three films or 40 exposures that completely blew me away.
The Hongmei hg-1 I have seems to have one of the cleanest and clearest lenses I have on any of cameras and when you estimate the focal length correctly and use a small enough aperture to allow for mistaking distance – you get a sharp image with full and punchy colours reminiscent of a camera that will cost much more than the US$ 35 I paid for my Hongmei hg-1.
The picture of the two cameras was taken with a mamiya MSX1000 and the MF images were using three films – Lomo B/W film, Kodak Ektar and Kodak 160NC.