Pearl River S-201

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The Pearl River ("Zhe Jiang") S-201 was the most complete 35mm system SLR produced in China during the 1970ies and 1980ies. It is based on the Minolta SR technology (shutter, film advance, lens mount), but also borrowed a few features from the Nikon F, like exchangeable finders. The latter is unique for a Chinese SLR. It was produced by 5 former military equipment factories in the mountains of the Sichuan province in central China. The brand "Pearl River" was borrowed from an existing TLR manufacturer in South China, just to avoid registering another export brand. Although very expensive (690 RMB yuan[1], almost a years salary) it was very popular during its time.

Technical Details

  • 35mm SLR with exchangeable finder
  • Minolta SR mount
  • available finders: waist level, eye level with penta prism
  • finder screen with split image and micro prisms
  • horizontal cloth focal plane shutter
  • B, 1-2-4-8-15-30-60-125-250-500-1000 1/s
  • flash sockets for FP and X, sync at 1/60s
  • advancing image counter
  • self-timer 8-12 s
  • tripod mount 1/4
  • dimensions: 144x95x53 mm, 676 g (waist level finder, w/o lens)
  • earlier cameras had a mirror lock feature, which disappeared at the later model.


The camera would accept any lens with Minolta SR mount, which was the dominant lens mount in China. The Seagull factory in Shanghai offered a small series of lenses. The Pearl River S-201 came with specially branded lenses. It's not clear, whether these were produced by the Sichuan factories or made by the Shanghai Camera Factory. The standard lens was a coated 58mm f/2, presumably a clone of the Russian Helios-44, which itself was based on the Carl Zeiss Biotar Design from 1936. The [2] of the camera lists 3 additional lenses, specifically branded for the system:

  • Zoom-Lens 45-90 mm f/3.5
  • Telephoto lens 105 mm f/2.5
  • Wide angle lens 35 mm f/2.3

All lenses appear in a Nikon style design with a chrome ring and colored depths-of-field marks.


This section is based on information provided by 张雪松 (Zhang Xuesong), who posted the entire story on a Chinese Foto forum[3] in 2009. He actually visited one of the successors of the producing factories, met involved people and looked into company archives. The history of the camera starts in 1972, when the relationship between the PR China and the United States of America significantly eased after a visit of Richard Nixon in Beijing. As a consequence many former arms and military equipment producer were ordered to start production of civil goods in early 1973. Five of these factories distributed in the mountains of the Sichuan province in central China (Chongqin) were chosen to jointly produce a SLR camera based on the Seagull technology, which was licensed from Minolta at the time. Design was fixed and a first prototype was presented in December 1973. The basic work started in 1974, staff was trained in the Shanghai factories, tools were developed and build. During 1975 and 1976 about 50 pre-production units were made, many parts still manually. Mass production eventually started in 1977 with 705 cameras. After this, year by year, production increased until it exceeded 10.000 units in 1986. In the early 80ies the camera won several quality and industry awards and gained quite some reputation as China's most advanced camera system. However, in 1986 the Sichuan factories lost the right to use the Pearl River brand, which they had borrowed from the completely independent Pearl River camera producer in South China. The camera was renamed "Ming Jia S-201M", units for export got a "Mingca" label. Also in 1986, the five factories got the complete assembly line of the Pentax K-1000, from which they would toll manufacture the camera for Pentax. The Chinese also produced it as the "Mingca S-207" on this line for the domestic market. These two developments and the split-up of the five factories in the early 1990ies meant the end of the S-201. It can be assumed that production of the model in the late 1980ies decreased significantly and a total of about 50.000 units can be estimated.

Notes, References and Links

  1. Douglas ST Denny, "Cameras of the peoples republic of China", Jessop Special Publishing, 1989, ISBN 0 9514392 0 0
  2. user manual
  3. Chinese forum entry and its German translation

Gallery Images