It comes as a BIG surprise to many Minolta photographers when they learn that there are a LOT of cameras that were not made by Minolta, but that use the Minolta, manual-focus-style, Rokkor, SLR lenses! This is not big news to users of other cameras since there are quite a few cameras that use lenses made by other companies. For example, Chinon, Cosina, Lindenblatt, Exakta, Ricoh, Topcon and other camera manufacturers used the popular Pentax K-mount. Similarly, many cameras used the Praktica (AKA Universal, 42mm, or Pentax) screw-mount for many years! But there are also many NON-Minolta cameras -- running the gamut from non-metered, manual exposure cameras to auto-exposure, TTL flash, motor-driven wonders -- that use Minolta / Rokkor lenses. All of these were made in China, but they were not all made by the same company. The most frequently seen brand is Seagull (see below), but there were many others. These companies did not just make "copies" of Minolta cameras that would accept genuine Minolta lenses -- they also made their own lenses with a Minolta (AKA Rokkor or SR) lens mount, of course. This means that you can use Minolta/Rokkor lenses on their cameras, or you can use their lenses on your Minolta camera(s).
For the first few years after the Communist Government established itself in China in 1949, private enterprise was allowed to operate as before. Then the government (OOPS, I mean "The Party") departments gradually increased their involvement in these enterprises, in some cases buying some of their stock, and later on, many were simply nationalized (and usually given really bland, new names to boot!). This happened in every type of business, be it manufacturing, services, or anything else. In the photographic realm, while many businesses shared the same "Seagull" name and trademark on their products, it is likely that many, or most, were in a sense separate corporate identities under the umbrella of some government department. (The Seagull company, as we know it today, may have a portion that is no longer run or owned by the government.)
Camera manufacturing has a very long history in China, dating all the way back to the mid 1800's -- shortly after the first photographs were actually produced. By the mid-1950's, camera making took a turn with the copying of modern 35mm cameras, starting with the Russian Zorki -- which is actually a copy of the Ukrainian FED (which is actually a copy of the Leica II). And by the late 1950's there was tremendous interest in creating a Chinese 35mm SLR. And it's no surprise that the initial attempts used the Russian Zenit (Zenith) SLR as a model. The Zenit is really just a Zorki with an SLR prism on the top -- and used the same 39mm Zorki screw-mount. The Chinese Zi Jin Shan (Purple Mountain) was born in 1959.
For a variety of reasons, not the least of which was cost to manufacture & price to the consumer, very few were manufactured or sold. Other companies and institutes tried their hand at SLR copying as well, all using a screw-mount lens, such as the popular 42mm thread of the Pentacon SLR. The Chenguang was a copy of the screw-mount Contax S SLR but with a 45mm thread size.
By the mid 1960's, Japanese and European camera makers were moving away from the limiting, threaded, screw lens mount, and the Beijing Optical Glass Research Institute followed suit, producing a copy of the Canon FP -- and named it the "Beijing", or "ZB" for short.
It met the same fate as its predecessors -- high manufacturing costs and too high a price in the consumer marketplace.
Soon after that, the Shanghai General Camera Factory had a new idea -- one that worked in the end.
The Shanghai General Camera Factory (AKA Seagull) manufactured many types of cameras over the years, and liked to assign a "type" number on each camera category, such as "58" for its Leica derivatives, "4" for its 6X6 twin-lens reflexes, etc. For their 35mm SLR cameras, Seagull named them all with a "DF", followed by a number. The Chinese name for an SLR is "DanFan" in PinYin (Romanized Chinese) -- hence the "DF". The prototype of the first Seagull 35mm SLR was a copy of Minolta's SR-2 camera -- but with a Zorki 39mm lens screw mount. But it's obvious that the designers were considering using the Minolta bayonet mount because the Minolta lens tab is evident in this photo marked "SHANG HAI" in Chinese characters:
In the end, the first DF production model had the Minolta mount, and various other "DF" models followed over time. Minolta did not seem to be too peeved at all, primarily since they were only sold in the relatively small Chinese photographic market. Later, Minolta got together with Seagull in 1986 to have it manufacture the last Minolta X-700, X-570, X-370, etc. 35mm manual-focus SLR cameras.
Although the DF was developed at Seagull, it was also a common practice in China to have resource and model sharing with other companies (remember, all of the different companies were really working for the Government, I mean, The People) so it was also built, with various modifications, by other Chinese camera manufacturers under different names, such as the Peafowl DF.I, the Panda, and the Zhujiang S-201. The important thing is that they all used a Minolta lens mount.
One final note. There are five features to watch for on these
cameras -- the lens mount, the flash connection(s), the body style, the shutter
type, and the power winder/motor drive option(s). These can vary
substantially from one model to another, even though the cameras can appear
to be the same. Likewise, some cameras can appear very different, but
have the exact same features. The details of these features have been
set up on different pages, and it's a good idea to check out these pages
before you delve into the specific models, below. Here are the details
on the different lens mounts, the various
flash connection(s), the numerous
body styles, the shutter
types, and the different power winder/motor drive
option(s) on the various cameras below.
Below is the most complete list you will find on these Chinese-made, Minolta-derived, SLR cameras. Some details on some of their lenses and accessories are listed as well. There were at least TWO DOZEN different brands of Chinese SLR cameras (with countless models), all with names other than "Minolta" -- that used the Minolta-type SLR bayonet lens mount. Who knows, there may be more, so, please contact us if you have additional information to add to this website.
See Pearl River
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