The Argus Camera Company of Ann Arbor, Michigan, pretty much single-handedly brought 35mm photography into the mainstream with its C-series rangefinder cameras. The C3 is the best known and most available of the series; millions of them were made between 1939 and 1966.
The C3 was the Volkswagen Beetle of amateur photography – it was relatively inexpensive and looked funny, but it did the job well and lasted forever. Like the Beetle, even though Argus changed the camera little by little over the years, one C3 looks pretty much like any other. Based on its five-digit serial number and its uncoated lens, my C3 is from 1945 or early 1946. Other subtle clues to its age include that its rangefinder window is tinted blue (not yellow, as in later years), it has seven shutter speeds (older models had ten; later models had five), the shot counter is chrome with black numbers (later models were black with white numbers), and the back sports two chrome strips and a film speed guide (later models deleted these).
C3s remain common and easy to find even 42 years after Argus stopped making them. My C3 is nearly in mint condition, which is not unusual and did not command a premium price. I paid less for this camera than it cost to ship it to me!
Many, many people learned the fundamentals of photography behind a C3, and C3s have taken many beautiful photos, both then and now. The C3 is also fairly simple to maintain and repair, and plenty of information about how to do it is available on the Web, such as here. Mine appears to be in good working order, but when I one day run a roll of film through it I’ll know for sure, and may be glad for all these online repair resources!
Do you like old cameras? Then check out my entire collection.
Last updated on 29 January 2020 by Jim Grey