Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Another Argus A2B

“Isn’t this roll of film done with yet?” I said aloud suddenly, to nobody. Oh good heavens, is it possible that I didn’t wind the film on right and it hasn’t been advancing? Because I certainly don’t want to shoot the whole roll over again.

That’s when it hit me: I had not at all enjoyed using this camera. It had frustrated me from the first frame.

To hell with any unshot frames. I rewound the film.

Argus A2B

Meet the Argus A2B. That I disliked it surprised me, because I have another A2B (review here) and I enjoyed shooting it. But that was five years ago, when my camera preferences were still forming. Would I hate that camera, too, if I shot it now?

Argus A2B

Before I get to why this camera and I didn’t get on, here’s some history. The 1936-51 Argus A series of cameras has a fascinating story (read it here) as the first affordable camera for Kodak’s 35mm film cartridge, new in 1934. The A2B is from 1941-1950 and added an extinction meter and exposure calculator over the original A.

The various A-series models offered slightly different lens and shutter combinations. Running changes were even made within a series. The original A2B offered a 50mm f/4.5 uncoated lens set in a four-speed Ilex Precise shutter (1/200, 1/100, 1/50, 1/25 sec.), with a plunger-style shutter button. In 1945, the shutter became an unknown type, still four speeds (1/150, 1/100, 1/50, 1/25 sec.) and the shutter button became a lever. Some postwar A2Bs even featured a coated lens. This A2B’s features make it a prewar model; my other one is from after the war.

Argus A2B

The A2B has some quirks that some find endearing and others find annoying. One quirk is the collapsible lens barrel, which controls focusing. In, the camera focuses between 6 and 18 feet; out, it focuses beyond 18 feet. Twist the barrel to extend or retract it. When retracting, twist so tabs on the barrel fit under flanges on the body. This holds the lens in. The photo above shows the lens extended.

The other quirk is a weird aperture scale with stops at 4.5, 6.3, 9, 12.7, and 18. Whatever aperture my light meter or Sunny 16 guesses told me to use, I set it a hair off the next higher aperture on that scale. The extinction meter on this one looks to be in good shape, but it is tiny and thus difficult for my middle-aged eyes to use. For that matter, the viewfinder is so small as to be almost unusable, too.

I thought old-school Fomapan 100 would be just right for this old-school uncoated lens, so I loaded some and got to shooting. And then all of the A2B’s quirks kept taking me right out of the photographic moment.

I did get a few solid shots from it, such as this one of the public library in tiny Kirklin, a little town on the Michigan Road about 45 minutes north of Indianapolis. This is a Carnegie library; see others from around Indiana here.

Kirklin Pvblic Library

I wished for a carry strap on the A2B. It’s coat-pocket small, but who wears a coat in July? Fortunately, I own a couple pairs of cargo shorts that let me carry even bulky cameras, but I didn’t always already have them on when I went out shooting. So it took me a solid couple months of using it here and there to get through as much of the roll as I did before I threw in the towel. This pavilion is in Elm Street Green, a park in Zionsville.

Elm Street Green

The whole roll came back from the processor suffering from muddy contrast, which is characteristic of these old, uncoated lenses. I tweaked contrast on every frame in Photoshop. On this and a few other frames, I also played with the shadow control to bring out details in dark areas. This shot of Margaret at Elm Street Green is technically the best shot on the roll: decent contrast and passable sharpness at snapshot sizes.

Elm Street Green

I spent an afternoon in Rochester in northern Indiana at a Michigan Road board meeting, and had the A2B along. We met across the street from the Fulton County Courthouse, a grand Romanesque Revival structure. I couldn’t back up far enough to get the whole thing in the frame. And the tiny viewfinder made framing it more challenging than I like. Also, any shot where the sun wasn’t fully behind me suffered from flare. The more sun, the more flare. That’s to be expected from an uncoated lens. The flare made some shots unusable. I suppose if I shot this camera all the time I’d get used to checking the position of the sun.

Fulton County Courthouse

On the way home from Rochester I stopped in Burlington for dinner and shot this scene. I hadn’t looked online yet to discover the ranges to which the two lens positions focused. So I left the lens extended, shot mostly distant subjects, and hoped for the best. I was absolutely within 18 feet for this shot, but it’s reasonably in focus. I did enjoy the plunger shutter button and the self-cocking shutter, which are unusual features on a camera of this era. All I had to think about was exposure. If the viewfinder were more usable, I would have composed this shot better.

On the Michigan Road in Burlington

A handful of shots on the roll came back foggy and blurry, as in this photo of an angel statue in the cemetery near my home. I couldn’t tell you why this happened. Shrug.

Foggy angel

Another quirk of using the A2B: the film won’t wind unless you first slide to the left that little knob below the frame counter atop the camera. The frame counter on mine is so pitted as to be useless, which is part of why I had no idea while shooting whether I’d shot the whole roll yet or not.

Also, the A2B offers no double-exposure protection, so you probably ought to always wind after shooting to ensure the frame you’re shooting is not yet exposed.

See more from this A2B, and from my other A2B, in my Argus A2B gallery.

The Argus A cameras have a small but devoted following. Don’t count me in. But this remains a historically significant series of cameras and therefore worthy of being collected and used.

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15 thoughts on “Another Argus A2B

  1. Dan Cluley says:

    As I said yesterday, my experience with the As has also been a mixed bag. On the other hand, they look cool, and are pretty inexpensive, so somehow I ended up with 7 or 8 of them.

    Something looks off with that front glass in the viewfinder, possibly installed backwards? I wonder if that contributed to your framing issues?

    I know Argus is not your primary focus, but did want to let you know that the Argus Collector Group has their annual fall gathering in Ann Arbor MI the 3rd weekend in October if you are interested. A-fours are definitely welcome. :)

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    • One of these days I’ll make it to Ann Arbor with my A-Four!

      It looks to me like the front viewfinder glass fell out and was glued back in. It happens to be sitting on my desk as I type this, so I looked through the viewfinder just now and everything looks right through it. I really think that I just don’t like tiny viewfinders like this.

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  2. Dan Cluley says:

    I don’t recall problems with the viewfinders, but so few old cameras are “glasses friendly”, so I may just have low expectations.

    If you do make a trip to Ann Arbor, contact the Argus museum ahead of time, the curator may be available for a more in depth tour.

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  3. I have used this camera a few times and I have gotten a few photos each time that get me to thinking that if I used the camera enough that I would get the hang of it. Still with all the other choices I have it is kinda hard to get excited about doing that. I imagine that back in the 30’s I might have been pretty happy with this camera. I have heard that a lot of photographers cut their teeth on this one or on a C3. I do have the opinion that at some time in their life that every photographer should give one of these old Argus cameras a go.

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    • I’ve shot a number of cameras where I felt the same way — that I’d adapt and overcome in time. I’ll bet that if I kept practicing, I could get pretty good with this camera. That’s not going to happen, though.

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  4. The A series Argus cameras do have a lot of quirks. Some are quite a bit easier to deal with as there was quite a bit of variation in features, including the variability of legibility in the control markings. I had my best experience and results from the Argus A2F which has a full focusing lens mount. The A2F is rather unique for its time in that it allows focusing as close as 15 inches. Hrad Kuzyk’s free on line book on the Argus A cameras is a great resource.

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    • So much became standard about 35mm cameras by the 1970s. So stumbling upon a camera from well before then, when the standards were still being figured out, can make for a jarring experience. Kind of like trying to drive a Model T, which had a strange pedal configuration compared to pretty much everything that followed it.

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