Argug’s A-series of cameras, into which the Argus A2B fits, was one of the first cameras to take advantage of the 35mm film cartridge. Kodak’s original Retina camera was first, but it was considerably more expensive. The Argus A2B brought 35mm photography to everyman.
Argus introduced the A in 1936, two years after Kodak introduced the 35mm cartridge. A simple camera made of Bakelite plastic, at $12.50 (equivalent to more than $200 today) the A wasn’t cheap but it wasn’t out of reach. Other models based on the A body followed quickly. 1939 brought the A2B, which added an extinction meter to help the photographer set exposure. I was curious about both the A and about extinction meters, so I went shopping for an A2B.
See the extinction meter there, inside the oval area between the viewfinder and the rewind knob? The meter contains a series of gray filters, each one darker than the last. You peer through them, looking for the darkest one that still lets you see light, and then set the aperture and shutter speed according to an index atop the camera. Unfortunately, the filters in my camera were in poor shape, making the meter difficult to use. Notice also the collapsible lens barrel. To take pictures, you twist it and pull it out.
Argus ceased production during World War II, and when production resumed the company made small changes across the A line. I’ve heard, but can’t confirm, that prewar A2Bs had a 1/200 sec top shutter speed, and 1/150 sec after. But it’s possible that the switch happened earlier. In any case, it’s a later A2B, but no later than 1951 when Argus quit making As altogether. It cost $29 in 1945, equivalent to more than $350 today. This A2B comes with a coated 50 mm f/4.5 lens and a Wollensak Alphax leaf shutter. It offers two focusing zones: 6 to 18 feet, and 18 feet to infinity.
Another A2B found me, one from before the war with a 1/200 top shutter speed.
This Art-Deco-y detail is on the back of every Argus A-series camera.
Focusing the A2B is not intuitive. For 6-18 feet, extend the lens barrel and twist it until it locks, with the Argus logo parallel with the camera’s face. For greater than 18 feet, twist the extended lens barrel to unlock it.
Other Arguses in my collection include the A-Four (review here), the Argoflex Forty (review here), the C3 (review here), and the Match-Matic C3 (review here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
I understood focusing exactly backwards when I loaded a roll of Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros into my postwar A2B. Fortunately, my A2B was in a forgiving mood. My photos came out just a little bit soft, with a dreamy quality about them. The softness shows up more when you click through to see these photos larger on Flickr.
I drove over to New Augusta, a community near my home that used to be an independent town, to photograph its church. I shot Sunny 16, but given the A2B’s old-style aperture scale I set it between f/18 and f/12.7 and hoped for the best.
This shot of a cash-advance business in a strip mall came out sharp, too. I was probably standing about 18 feet back, where the lens would be sharp regardless of how it’s focused. I’m not often bothered when I’m out using one of my cameras, but seconds after I took this photo the manager stormed out quite upset that I was photographing his storefront. I explained what I was doing, but he remained agitated. He kept interrogating me, so I just walked away.
The A2B doesn’t prevent multiple exposures, so after each shot wind right to the next frame. I got three double-exposed shots in a row on this roll. What’s strange about it is that I took three shots of my office building, then drove down the road and took three shots of a rest stop on the Monon rail trail, and the first three shots are on the same frames as the last three. I’ll never figure out how I did that.
I next loaded some Fomapan 100 into my prewar A2B. While I didn’t love my postwar A2B, I did not at all enjoy the prewar A2B. I’m not sure why; they’re substantially the same camera. But I was glad when the roll was over.
This one was in desperate need of a CLA, or at least a good lens cleaning.
Or perhaps Argus improved the lens in its postwar cameras, and this prewar lens was just prone to ghosting and flare.
The extinction meter on this A2B was shot, too, so I used a light-meter app on my phone to find good apertures and shutter speeds.
To see more from this camera, check out my Argus A2B gallery.
I’m glad I experienced the Argus A2B for its important place in 35mm photography history. But my curiosity is satisfied: I didn’t enjoy this camera. For a day of fun shooting with a simple 35 mm camera, I’d reach for my Argus A-Four or my Kodak Pony 135 first because of their improved ergonomics and greater control. Many classic-camera users would disagree, as the A has a bit of a cult following. If you’d like to try an A, they’re plentiful on eBay and the wonderful Argus A/A2 Camera Page is an excellent source of information, including a great user’s guide that explains all the models and how to use them.
If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.