There is a special place in my collection for very cheap cameras that perform well. The Shanghai Seagull 4B is one of those cameras. Last year I found a 4B on Adorama with a stuck focusing knob. I bought it and sent it away for repair.
The promise of the Seagull 4B is that it's reasonably priced (Twin Lens Reflex) TLR that takes great pictures. TLRs themselves are a niche category in photography and most decent TLRs will set you back $150+. The 4B on the other hand can be had for for around $100 pretty easily on eBay.
The camera itself is dead simple. Being completely manual, there is a simple winding knob that advances the film. To shoot the camera you have to cock the shutter and then press on the shutter release. In more advance TLRs you pay for the convenience of an advance crank that does the film advancing and shutter cocking all in one stroke. It's a small inconvenience but something that comes naturally the more you use the camera. I never found it to be an issue.
The minimum F3.5 aperture means on a sunny day you can shoot in the shadows outdoors. With the focal length at 75mm I shot everything at a shutter speed at or above 1/125 of a second. Anything indoors is going to require a tripod, fast film (800+) or extremely steady hands.
In use the camera is very light, even lighter than a Hasselblad 500CM. The main issues I had with it were the pretty dim focusing screen. In direct sunlight it was pretty difficult to frame and see if things were in focus. I had to use my hand to cover the screen and even used the built in magnifier, but those are always awkward to use even on good cameras. Shooting was simple though and the extra steps you have to take become pretty natural after a couple of shots.
Even though my copy isn't perfect, it's beginning to show some lens separation, the images that came out of it are great. The photos came out contrasty and sharp. There is some slight vignetting in the corners at all apertures and the colors lean a little cool but there isn't anything bad about the images either.
Is the Seagull 4B the perfect TLR? No. But it's plenty capable of taking great pictures and a low cost way to try out TLR cameras. I enjoy the simplicity and the fact it isn't too expensive. I don't have to baby it and I'm always pleasantly surprised when my scans come back. For me that's enough to have around and currently the only TLR I have.
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