Camera Reviews

Argus A-Four

Argus A-Four

Let’s get the details out of the way first, because few are available anyway. The Argus Camera Company of Ann Arbor, Michigan produced the Argus A-Four (or, as the camera proudly declares across its face, argus a-four) from 1953 to 1956. The A-Four takes good old 35mm 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. I cocked the shutter before making the photo at right; notice the lever sticking out over the lens barrel.

Argus A-Four

All of the controls are on the lens barrel: aperture, shutter speed, and focus; the shutter-cocking lever; even the shutter button. I’m sure this simple design kept costs down.

Argus A-Four

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. Here’s one of those photos, of the elementary school I attended in South Bend. The film is probably Kodak Plus-X.

James Monroe School

I spooled some color film, probably Kodacolor II, into it for another go. After I set all the settings for him, my brother made this one of me leaning against Dad’s work van.

Me, Van, July, 1982

While I owned maybe a dozen old 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.

This A-Four competed directly with Kodak’s Pony line, by the way. I’ve reviewed three of them: the Pony 135 (here), the Pony 135 Model B (here), and the Pony 135 Model C (here). You might also check out my reviews of the Kodak 35 (here) and the Kodak Automatic 35F (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

When I restarted my collection I went looking for another A-Four and was happy to come across this one for ten bucks on eBay. When it arrived, I loaded some Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros, armed myself with the Sunny 16 rule, and started making photographs. This is my neighbor’s front yard with its extensive garden.

Hostas

My neighbor specializes in hostas. He’s well enough known in hosta circles that a couple times every summer a tour bus pulls up and people get out and wander around his yard.

Hostas

The A-Four and I went to a giant car auction with more Acros aboard. 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.

67 Ford LTD

Here’s a 1972 MGB GT. I’m super impressed with the Cintar lens’s resolving power and the Acros’s tonal range here.

72 MG MGB GT

Finally, here’s a photo of a 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396. I’ve always loved this body style.

1968 Chevy Chevelle SS

On a later outing with the A-Four I loaded some Fujicolor 200 and went out exploring old bridges in the country.

Putnam County bridges

These aren’t bad, but I think I prefer the A-Four with black-and-white film. These colors are just a little off to me. I also got a lot of flare on this outing.

Putnam County bridges

So I returned to black-and-white film the next time I shot the A-Four. This is Arista Premium 400. Faster film was a good choice for a gray day like this one.

Co-op

I drove up the old Lafayette Road from northwest Indianapolis to Lafayette. The Co-Op building is in Indy, and the Frozen Custard stand is in Lafayette.

Frozen custard

I returned to Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros for another outing with the A-Four. I’d shifted from Sunny 16 to using a light-meter app on my phone.

Garden toys

The A-Four is a nice companion. I brought it along everywhere with me for a couple weeks while I moved through this roll.

In Faytette

To see more from this camera, check out my Argus A-Four gallery.

You might be surprised to know that I no longer own this A-Four. My outings with it satisfied my nostalgia. But more importantly, I had come to own more cameras than I could store. The A-Four is a fine camera of its type — but the competing Kodak Pony 135, Model C, worked just enough better for me that it was the one I decided to keep.

Don’t let that deter you, however. You can still pick up an Argus A-Four for very little money, have a very nice time with it, and get plenty of lovely images.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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45 thoughts on “Argus A-Four

  1. Lone Primate says:

    I admire someone who can get that into film. I wanted to, but I found it so disheartening not knowing till I’d spent $$$ what came out, what looked blurry, and having to spend the money and time waiting… shooting 24 or 36 frames when I wanted to shoot hundreds… when I had that film SLR in the late 80s, it mostly gathered dust. I didn’t have the chops for it; I had to wait for digital to really get started.

    In spite of that, or maybe because of it, I can really appreciate what you’re doing here. Those B&W shots are agreeable and eye-catching (the most satisfying work I ever did with my film SLR was in B&W… unfortunately, it was also the most expensive!). I like that faint blue cast in the photos… is that in the nature of the type of film you were using? That slight suggestion of silver or platinum to them makes them more appealing that something absolutely greyscale in every aspect.

    Sunny 16 rule, huh? Never heard of that. I doubt I’ll be able to make much practical use of it but it’s cool to learn it. :)

    • You know, LP, I wasn’t any good shooting film until I’d shot digital for several years and learned a little about composition. There’s just no substitute for the instant results you get on a digicam. Now I can frame a shot with a film camera and have an idea that what I’m doing is going to look right — as long as I didn’t bugger up the focus.

      I don’t see the blue cast in my photos. And I don’t really know much about this film; after all, I got it on clearance! I do like how well it renders the chrome on that headlight shot. Honestly, I’m just astonished by the results from this camera.

    • Thanks for stopping by! Arguses were almost as common as Kodaks back in the day, so it’s not surprising you recognize this camera.

  2. I love old cameras. I have a few, but they’re in bad shape. I haven’t even tried to use them. I love the shot of the Ford LTD head light.

    • Todd, I hope you’ll look into whether your old cameras work and maybe run a roll through a few of them! Well, for cameras for which you can still get film, anyway.

    • One thing I’m learning is that even an inexpensive point-and-shoot camera can take great photos. It’s more about the photographer than the equipment!

      • Jim,

        I believe my 35 mm photos are better than my digital photos “on average” because of two things:

        1) Control. My film cameras give me greater control over focusing and depth of field than the digital cameras I own.
        2) Money. The fact that each photo costs something makes me more thoughtful about composition than my digital photography.

        Make no mistake, I always have a digital camera with me (Canon SD880) but for special times of day or photos, I reach for a film camera also.

        • Your POV is fairly common, I think. I love my Canon S95 but I tend to take better photos with my film cameras for just these reasons.

  3. These are wonderful. There is a look to film that can not be duplicated with digital and I don’t care what Photoshop actions or filters you use. That’s a cool little camera too. I’ve still got an old Poloroid and now you’ve inspired me to try to find film for it. :)

  4. srqpix says:

    I would love to try out some old film cameras but the cost of it all would be a bit much right now. Maybe one day soon I hope.

    • It certainly does depend on your finances, but you can pick up good old cameras on eBay for under $30 shipped. The Canon Canonet series are often good choices, or try the Olympus Trip 35. I usually buy my film at Wal-Mart; I can get it that way for $2 a roll. I use Snapfish.com for color processing and can get prints and digital files for about $6.

  5. My favorite is the picture of the peonies, but they’re all nice. The Argus is a nice-looking camera; cameras today don’t seem to have the character that the old ones had.

    • The peonies themselves were mighty nice — they filled my living room with fragrance! Everything seemed to have more character in days gone by.

  6. great photograpahs they are so beautiful =)
    the headlight photo is my fave
    you are a brill photographer,you have an eye for certain things
    x x x loulou x x x

  7. Nice post! Thank you for sharing–I learned with film as well, but have never used an argus a-four. I love the adventure of not knowing what you’re getting. The headlight shot is gorgeous.

    • Thank you! I shot film for 30 years — badly, I mean frightfully badly — until I got my first digital camera a few years ago. It was the instant feedback (and a little reading about composition) that improved my photos immeasurably! Now I can go back to film and have a half a clue about what I’m doing.

      The headlight shot is composed as I planned but the sunburst was lucky happenstance. The sun came out from behind a cloud just as I clicked the shutter button. I feared it would wipe out the photo, so I shot again at a slightly different angle to avoid the sun. Here’s that shot: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mobilene/4665033778/. But when the photos came back from the processor, the sunlit one was clearly superior.

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  9. akivsboemi says:

    reminding me about my old cameras, who’s in bad shape. all of them…
    but, it’s very very very nice picture!!!!!

  10. Pat says:

    My Dad just recently passed away and one of his possessions is an Argus a-four….which looks to be in decent shape….with the same case as yours, but it’s not broken. I’m trying to sell it and appreciate the good description you gave….and nice photographs too!

  11. Michael Richardson says:

    Jim,

    I just inherited an argus a four and would love to get it up and running. Can you email me so we can talk about it?

    Thanks,

    Mike

  12. Tom Wikoff says:

    I recently found your blog while doing research on the Argus a-four. Your photos were fantastic by the way. I recently took possession of an a-four which has been in the family since the mid-50s and was used to take many pictures during both the 50s and 60s some of which I actually still have. The “rediscovery” has me excited and I want to try taking some pictures using the camera (yes, it still works). What kind of film would you recommend? I’m guessing that the ASA of films commonly made at the time this camera was sold was probably in the 25 to 50 range. I doubt there’s any comparable animal out there now. I’d like to try b&w as well as color.
    Thanks, Tom

    • I have shot exactly three rolls of film in my a-four, two b/w and one color. I like this camera with b/w film (I used Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros) and not at all with color (Fujicolor 200). The b/w results you see here; the color results all seemed washed out and poorly saturated.

      This camera doesn’t have any sort of exposure system so in a way it doesn’t matter at all what ASA film you use. I shot Sunny 16 with this camera — on a sunny day, f/16 with the shutter speed the inverse of the film speed, and keep stopping down the more cloudy it gets. Or you can get an exposure meter and feed it your film’s ASA/ISO and let it do the rest of the work.

  13. Mark says:

    Jim, do you have a routine, General or List, you use when you get a new old film camera?
    Did you do an article?

    I get a camera and want to jump in taking pictures but then think of the film and processing costs, all the possible errors. Then stop, I’m stuck.

    Do you tape the seams or wait to see the results?
    Start with b/w or color or?
    Is there a way to check shutter speed?

    With more people returning to or coming to film the first time might be good article(s)

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