Camera Reviews

Argus A2B

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.

Argus 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 A2B

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.┬áBut 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.

Argus A2B

This Art-Deco-y detail is on the back of every Argus A-series camera.

Argus A2B

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.

Lighthouse

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.

Church courtyard

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.

Legal loansharking

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.

Double exposure

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.

Bell housing

This one was in desperate need of a CLA, or at least a good lens cleaning.

Downtown Kirklin

Or perhaps Argus improved the lens in its postwar cameras, and this prewar lens was just prone to ghosting and flare.

Fulton County Courthouse

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.

Kirklin Pvblic Library

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.

Standard

16 thoughts on “Argus A2B

  1. I can sort of side with the store manager. But he should have relaxed when you explained to him what you were doing. I hate when real estate agents take pictures of my house to use as comps. Then again I don’t like real estate agents anyway.

    This camera seems easy enough to use with a little knowledge of setting the lens and light adjustments. That triple exposure picture? I bet you blow that up and frame it, it would sell for millions! Photographer LOVE to do that. And make a good buck at it.

    Cute little camera.

    • I get it that a shop owner might get suspicious if I’m shooting their storefront, and I’m ok with it if they come out to ask why I’m doing it. But once I answer that it’s just interesting subject material for me, I rather expect them to relax. I’m shooting from a public sidewalk, the law’s on my side.

      I know there are plenty of photographers who like multiple exposures, but I’m not one of them!

    • You know, I can’t imagine anyone collecting digicams either. But I’ll bet that 50, 60 years ago nobody could imagine anyone collecting old film cameras.

  2. Those are very nice results from that historic old camera. The lens is a lot sharper than many would guess, and also yields unique tonal values. I enjoyed shooting my AF and A2F models, partly because they allowed focusing down to a foot-and-a-half. That is something the contemporary Leica couldn’t do at the time, and the Argus was a lot easier to load with film because of the removable back.

    • Mike, what impressed me most about the A2B was that even though I had focus set wrong, I still got usable images. The one photo above that came out sharp — man, it looks like you could cut your fingers if you reach out and touch the letters on that church sign.

  3. Lone Primate says:

    Jim, those shots are amazing. If you’d told me they’d been shot in the 1950s, I would absolutely have believed it. I’d love to be able to pull off something that convincing in Photoshop. :)

  4. Brian McCue says:

    My Dad has an Argus A2B POst War (SN# 80,000+) . My daughter is in a photography class and will be using it. It is nice to have something old taking new pictures!

  5. Dan Cluley says:

    I have 6 or 8 different examples of the A family, and tried shooting 3 or 4 of them with mixed success. The biggest problem I ran into was the light seal where the lens moves in & out. They used a strip of velvet ribbon, and after this many years, mine tended to shed particles onto the film.

  6. Robert Stewart says:

    I think that comment about 200 speed before WWII and 150 after needs some checking. Other sites draw no such begin date conclusion for the 150 option. One site notes one the author considers early 1940’s because of the serial number. “Pee Wee” Martin of WWII 3/506 Airborne fame posts a photo of his on his facebook page. He says he had the camera during his early training days in WWII and it is clearly the one with a top shutter speed of 150.

    • Ok. I wrote this long enough ago that I don’t know now where I got that bit of info from. I’ll revise the text to be less authoritative about this point.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.