Cameras, Photography

Argus C3 Match-Matic

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It’s been months since I bought an old camera. I’ve been looking at Argus C3s on eBay for months, looking for the right one. Argus cranked out millions of C3s from 1939 to 1966, and this rugged and relatively inexpensive camera is credited with almost single-handedly popularizing the 35mm film format in the United States. These things are as common as dandelions, but I have wanted one for a long time.

Actually, I wanted two. I figured I’d first find an original C3, a classic black brick. But starting in 1958, Argus put a bit of tan leatherette on the front and back and a light meter on the top and called it the Match-Matic. I found one of those first, and here it is. Mine was made in 1960.

Argus Matchmatic C3

This camera is heavy, and its hard corners make it uncomfortable to hold. The lens on mine appears to be clear, but the viewfinder and rangefinder, while usable, are both a little cloudy. The winding knob is a little loose but I think the camera ought to work fine anyway. Many, many people took excellent photographs with their Match-Matics. Some classic camera lovers, such as this fellow and this lady, still use theirs.

As I built my first camera collection, I bought pretty much anything I could afford. I ended up with more than 100 cameras and I enjoyed them all, but most of them were considerably worn and probably 1 in 4 of them was broken. When I started collecting again, I decided to buy nothing but working cameras in decent cosmetic condition. As you can see, this Match-Matic is in very good cosmetic condition. The only real blemish is on the back, where the case left a snap mark.

Argus Matchmatic C3

Notice the accessory shoe? That’s where the light meter goes. Without a working light meter, the camera has no real collector value. I understand that the light meters weren’t as long-lived as the cameras, and I imagine the little things tended to get lost, so it’s no wonder so many Match-Matics are available without them. I’ll keep looking at Match-Matics until I find one at a good price that comes with a working light meter.

Then why did I buy this meterless Match-Matic? For its case! Seems like every C3 I see comes with a case that looks like Ernie Pyle took it to Normandy and let the whole 82nd Division run over it on their way up the beach. This one came with a nearly perfect case.

Coming soon: an early C3 I just won on eBay.

Do you like old cameras? Then check out my entire collection.

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16 thoughts on “Argus C3 Match-Matic

  1. You collect cameras off Ebay and I seem to collect T series Thinkpads. I just won a T42 to handle the new software I’ll be using. :)

    It will still work with the dock my T23 is in now. Merrie uses the other T23, and the T21 is for my radio show.

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  2. If at all possible, my next PC will be a laptop. Maybe I’ll come see you for eBay laptop-buying advice!

    My black C3 came the other day. It’s in fabulous shape.

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  3. Lori, thanks for chiming in! I just got the photos back from the developer from the roll I shot with my other C3, a black one from just after WWII, and let’s just say I have a lot of work to do to get the C3 down! Thanks for the tip about the light meter. I think I’ll quit looking for one and just buy a hand-held one; it would be useful then for all of my old cameras.

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  4. Cherie says:

    I have a C3 with the meter and case, my brother bought it new in 1961 while he was in the Air Force.
    I began using it around 1970 and my favorite photo (best ever in my life!) taken was of a ‘funny car’ doing a wheel stand at Seattle International Raceway. I captured the car with sparks flying back from the ‘wheely bars’, it was so cool!
    I’ve been considering selling my Argus, but wonder how to price it. Any suggestions? I looked on ebay but they don’t have any that have been in the same family since purchase – certainly that should count for something!
    PS I like your dog…

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    • Cherie, I’m no pricing expert. But C3s are still pretty common, and ones in excellent condition can be had for relatively little. To get a sense of value, I’d do an eBay search on closed auctions for C3s and look at ones in condition similar to yours, even if there’s no family history.

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  5. I’ve used c-3’s since the fifties, and obviasly like them. If you have big hands, they are easier to use than the tiny 35 rangefinders. On the colormatic I think any lightmeter that reads in e.v.’s will work for you, like for old polaroids, for example.

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    • I bought one of the Match-Matic light meters a few months after buying this camera. It registers light, but I don’t know how accurate it is. Maybe I oughta drop a roll of film into my Match-Matic and find out.

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    • The basic test is to aim it at a light source and see if the needle moves. If so, it “works.” To test its accuracy, however, I’d download a light-meter app for your phone and benchmark it against that. It’s a little tricky because the LC3 meter gives EVs and not f stops/shutter speeds but you should be able to find info elsewhere on the net that can help you translate that.

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  6. eppaar says:

    Very few of the small selenium meters such as the one for the Argus MatchMatic and the one found in the Retina IIIc and IIIC still work and if work are accurate. The larger meters such as the Westons are more likely to work. The Weston Master III and later have an EV scale included although it is called LV (Light Value) on the dial. A better choice is the silicon meters such as the Gossen Lunar Pro series. They do require a battery (standard 9 volt) but tend to remain accurate even after 40 years.

    The meter for the MatchMatic even if working is difficult to use. For one thing the needle, being very thin, is hard to see. The scales are in very small type and was difficult to see even when I was much younger. It is also not very easy to understand how to use it. And the whole idea was to make picture taking easy!

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    • Great point. I have an old full-sized GE meter here that I probably should have used with this camera. Increasingly, I use a light meter app on my iPhone with my meterless cameras — it really works great.

      And thanks for validating my experience that the MatchMatic has its usage challenges.

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