Let’s get the details out of the way first, because few are to be found anyway. The Argus A-Four (or, as the camera proudly declares across its face, argus a-four) was produced from 1953 to 1956. It takes good old 35 mm film. Its plastic and aluminum body holds a coated f/3.5 Argus Cintar lens stoppable to f/22. Its three-leaf Gauthier shutter fires only at 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, and 1/200 sec. You have to manually cock the shutter before you can take a photograph. In the photo at left, the shutter is cocked – see the little metal arm sticking out on top of the lens barrel? You set aperture, shutter speed, and distance; pull that lever over to cock the shutter; and then press the black button. Click!
I had an A-Four in my first camera collection and liked it. I shot a couple rolls with it, and even developed one roll myself and made contact prints (with the help of an experienced friend). It was the first camera I owned that let me set aperture, shutter speed, and focus, and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I was fortunate any of those photos turned out. (You can see some of them here, here, and here.) But I loved it. While I had maybe a dozen cameras when I bought that A-Four, I didn’t really think of myself as a collector. Shooting that first roll with the A-Four changed that. I was hooked.
So I was glad to come across this A-Four for ten bucks on eBay.
It came with a leather carrying case. The bottom flap had broken off – just like the one on my first A-Four, making me think it was a common flaw in the case’s design. It also came with a flashgun and one Sylvania P25 blue-dot bulb. (Sylvania’s slogan: “Blue dots for sure shots.”) The flashgun is powered by two C batteries.
The camera, however, is all mechanical. Before it arrived, I found some Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros black-and-white film on clearance for a couple bucks a roll, so I bought several, thinking they’d be just right for my vintage Argus. I had downloaded an A-Four manual from butkus.org and it included a page showing how to set aperture and shutter speed for common films of the day. It’s really very clever – for most color films you lined up the shutter and aperture to yellow dots on the lens barrel, and for most black and white films you lined them up to red dots. The idea was that if you used the dots you would get properly exposed shots under most conditions. All you had to do shot to shot was guess the focus, from 3.5 feet to infinity. I wasn’t sure the dots would work with the Neopan 100 Acros – I didn’t know how fast those 1950s films (such as Tri-X, Plus X, and Kodachrome) were in comparison. So I shot using the Sunny 16 rule. And let me tell you, I had a great time.
I started in my neighbor’s front yard. He and his wife are master hosta growers. They are heavily involved with the Indianapolis Hosta Society and routinely travel to shows and conferences about this herbaceous perennial. His lush yard is well known in hosta-loving circles. Every summer I’ve lived here, tour buses pull up in front of his house on one or two Saturdays and people get out and wander around his yard. Check it out.
I got in close to this big boy. My neighbor has little metal signs next to each hosta proclaiming its variety, but it’s all Greek to me.
I also tried an available light shot in my living room, six feet from the picture window on a sunny day, with the camera wide open at the slowest shutter speed. I cropped the photo because I bungled the framing. These are peonies from the bushes in my front yard. The shot could be crisper, but then again I was holding the camera in my hands.
I also took the A-Four to the Mecum Spring Classic car auction. I was quite a sight with the A-Four and two point-and-shoot digital cameras in my hands. I am simply delighted by this photo of a 1967 Ford LTD headlight.
I am almost as chuffed about this shot of a 1968 Dodge Coronet R/T taillight. I got it in color with my Canon PowerShot S80, too, but the camera did all the work. With the A-Four, I had to at least stop down to f/11 (as the sun had gone behind a cloud) and guess the distance to the subject. It makes me feel like a real photographer, by golly.
Finally, here’s a photo of a 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396. I’ve always loved this body style. I like this photo best at its largest size because it shows what this lens and this film can do together. Not bad for a ten dollar camera.
Do you like old cameras? Then check out my entire collection.