Camera Reviews, Photography

Argus Match-matic C3

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Yes, it’s the Harry Potter camera. More precisely, it’s the camera that Colin Creevey used to take photos of Hogwarts so he could show them to his father. It appeared in the film Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, arguably making it the most well-known Argus camera ever.

In reality, the Argus Match-matic C3 was the first serious freshening of a camera that had been in production for 20 years. The Argus Camera Company probably had no idea what it was in for when it started making the chrome-trimmed black bakelite (plastic) C3 in 1938 – it was the first affordable 35 mm rangefinder camera, and did it ever sell. Argus made only minor changes to the C3 over the years; one C3 looks pretty much like another.

But by 1958 many competitors had entered the low-priced 35 mm space, offering cameras with style and features the C3 couldn’t match. Argus fielded other 35 mm cameras, but none of them caught on like the unexpectedly durable C3. So Argus decided to spruce up its venerable black brick, sticking some tan vinyl (leatherette?) across its front and back.

Argus Matchmatic C3

More importantly, it also clipped a selenium exposure meter, the LC3, into the accessory shoe. It gives readings in numeric exposure values (EVs). The old C3 used traditional shutter speeds and f stop numbers, but this C3 replaced both with numeric guide values. To get a proper exposure, you set those numbers so they added to whatever EV the meter returns. For example, if the meter returns 7, you can set the aperture and shutter to 3 and 4, or 5 and 2 – any combination that matches the meter. And thus this C3 earned the rest of its name, the Match-matic.

LC-3 light meter for Argus Matchmatic C3

This was supposed to be a simple system, simpler anyway than the notoriously non-standard C3 with its controls in odd places all over the front of the camera. But simple is a matter of opinion, and mine differs from Argus’s. I dropped some Fujicolor 200 into my Match-matic and actually had to read the manual to figure out how to set exposure. Man! What is this world coming to? And even then, I struggled with it. I got it right only a few times. This was one of them. It’s sad that the best image I got is a throwaway of my front yard.

My front yard

Every photo was out of focus to some extent. You can see it in the previous photo at larger sizes, but it’s pretty obvious on this one at this size. It doesn’t look like camera shake to me. Perhaps the rangefinder is out of alignment.

Gracie

Then things started getting really weird. I’ve bollixed photographs in all sorts of ways, but this one is new to me. Dig that crazy brown streak.

Psychedelic stop sign

I stopped by First Presbyterian Church, one of my favorite subjects, for a snap. This is what I got. I swear, the air in Indianapolis isn’t polluted!

Otherworldly First Presbyterian

Or maybe, in true Harry Potter form, my Match-matic is enchanted. Perhaps it’s seeing beyond this muggled plane. Perhaps there’s magic in the air.

Whatever it takes to avoid blaming the photographer.

If you’d like to see more, check out my Argus Match-matic C3 gallery.

Do you like vintage camerasThen click here to see the rest of my collection!

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23 thoughts on “Argus Match-matic C3

  1. Reading instruction manuals? Pshh. Surely there’s an app for that :) Wizard-spooked film or not, the camera seems pretty cool (this comes from a girl who takes awful photos but thinks old cameras are pretty).

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    • I wrote instruction manuals for a living for 12 years, and I still feel like I’ve been defeated when I have to read one! This camera is cool, despite the poor results I got from it. I display the most interesting cameras around my home and this is one of them on display, collecting dust.

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  2. ryoko861 says:

    I guess it’s showing it’s age. From not being used for so many years, it either needs a really good cleaning inside or it’s haunted.

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  3. Jennifer S says:

    It’s like your vintage camera is doing something weird to make vintage-era prints come out… definitely strange to see new snaps show up pre-aged, faded and brown. But interesting!

    Did you know the squib caretaker at Hogwarts is named Argus Filch? I wonder if the movie propmaster had the name in mind when choosing this camera. I’m guessing not… it just looks dramatically like something a wizardy kid with muggle parents might bring to school.

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  4. Lone Primate says:

    What a shame… that first photo of the lawn came off without a hitch. It’s hard to imagine what’s up with the others; they remind me of 40-year-old photos that come out of the drawer with something spilled on them back when Culture Club was still in the top ten. It doesn’t look like light leakage. Is there any chance the film stock itself is to blame?

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    • It doesn’t look like a light leak to me, either. The film was fresh, so unless this roll got messed up in manufacturing or the processor screwed it up, it’s an unlikely culprit. I’m hoping some of my camera-collecting readers will have some insight to offer. If it’s a camera problem, maybe I can fix it. I don’t see this camera being something I use frequently, but I wouldn’t mind using it occasionally if I could get reliable results from it.

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  5. That one of the church is really pretty nice. I’m wondering if the effect is due to a sticky, stuttering shutter. Of course, the location of the cocking lever is also problematic on the C3, but I’m assuming you would notice if the lever was whacking your finger at every shot. The C3 is pretty easy to clean up inside, but getting in there is a bit of a challenge. That is such a nice looking example that you might want to practice on a beater first rather than risking damage to the covering in removing it.

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  6. Try out the Argus Sandmar 35mm f4.5 its my favorite argus lens! Btw, if you use something like this on street, i promise a few people will come introduce themselves to you :)

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    • Yes, when I’ve been out with my more unusual cameras, I’ve had a few people come up and ask about it. A couple times, I’ve encountered others with classic cameras in their hands – that’s always very welcome!

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  7. eppaar says:

    If you “Google” Argus C3 repair you will find a number of sites that show you how to repair and clean a C3. The C3, despite its a complicated appearance, is one the easiest cameras to repair.

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  8. Kevin Thomas says:

    I bought a MatchMatic a few months ago to go along with my older black brick of a C3. Was in great shape, and the previous owner had helpfully taped a cheat sheet to it translating the match numbers into actual f-stops and exposure times. I used an app on my phone for a light meter and got some really good results of some great old buildings in downtown Brunswick, GA.

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