Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Argus C3

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The third time, as they say, was a charm. I didn’t get on well with my first two Argus C3s. The first one chewed up my film pretty badly. I had trouble getting accurate focus with the second and something was wrong with my film. Meet my third C3, with which everything finally went well.

Argus C3

Argus manufactured C3s from 1939 to 1966, taking a couple years off during the war. The state of the camera art changed a lot during those 27 years, but demand remained for a capable and relatively inexpensive 35mm camera. So Argus kept on, but made little changes here and there over the years. The features and trim bits present and absent on mine say it’s an early postwar camera, but the serial number (187019) pins it down to 1947. More here if you’re interested.

Argus C3

Using a C3 is just nonstandard enough that I’ll explain it. Film loads right to left. To wind you have to move that little hexagonal knob to the left, start turning the winder, release the knob, and then wind until it stops. You set aperture on the lens barrel by pressing your finger into one of the two pips and rotating the dial. My C3 has an accessory lever fitted to make that easier. To set shutter speed, turn the dial on the camera face next to the viewfinder. To focus, look through the rangefinder, which is the round hole on the right. It’s a split screen; turn the lens barrel until the subject lines up in the top and bottom windows. Then you move your eye to the left hole, the viewfinder, to frame. Push down the black lever on the front to cock the shutter, and then press the shutter button.

Argus C3

My C3 has seven shutter speeds from 1/10 to 1/300 sec., copuled with a 50mm f/3.5 Argus Coated Cintar lens. It uses the standard f/3.5, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16 aperture scale. One of the things I didn’t like about my first C3, just a year older than this one, was its odd scale that moved from f/5.6 to f/9, 12.7, and 18. My light meter didn’t support those f stops, so I had to do some guessing. It was nice not to have to mess with that on this C3.

I loaded some Fujicolor 200 into the C3 and metered with an app on my iPhone. Quickly I discovered that ISO 200 film was a little too fast for the blazingly bright day on which I shot this roll, given that the fastest shutter speed and minimum aperture are 1/300 sec. at f/16. You’d think that’d be right enough given the Sunny 16 rule, but my meter kept wanting me to close down one more stop. Fortunately my film’s exposure latitude was wide enough that it didn’t matter much that I was slightly overexposing. The shots were usable as scanned, but I made them all a little better by reducing exposure by a half stop in Photoshop.

Scratch Kitchen

The C3 handled as C3s do, which is to say clumsily. Focusing is stiff. The rangefinder is tiny and hard to see through. The viewfinder is pretty tiny, too, but at least it’s bright. The camera’s strong spot is its strong, sure shutter, which fires with a crisp snap and a ping.

Flowers

I take a lot of photos now of downtown Fishers, Indiana, since that’s where I work. Just five years ago downtown wasn’t much: a few older buildings plus a lot of little houses. The houses are systematically being demolished in favor of apartments, office buildings, and shops. Come, modern urban density. For the time being, the old Nickel Plate tracks pass through Fishers. The city wants to tear them out and make a trail out of the railbed.

Xing

I shot this from the balcony of the building in which I work. A little house used to stand where the mound of dirt is. I hear an apartment building is going up there and will soon block the view of the restaurant beyond.

Parking Lot

I guess they’re going to build right onto what is now our parking lot, and we will all have to park in this garage.

Garage Under Construction

Honestly, given my poor experience with my previous C3s I didn’t expect much from this one and didn’t take great care in choosing or framing subjects. So naturally, the shots all look great.

Fire Station

I did take the C3 into the shade to see what I would get. That let me back off f/16, though not by much, just down to f/8.

Patio

I even tried one quick throwaway shot at my desk, inside. I don’t remember what my exposure settings were but I’ll bet they were something like 1/30 sec. at f/3.5. It reveals a tiny bit of creamy bokeh in the background.

At my desk

The coated Cintar surprised me with the subtlety and detail it can capture. I’ve seen it in photos others have shot with their C3s, but there’s just something about experiencing it yourself.

Back yard late light

To see more photos from all the C3s I’ve owned, check out my Argus C3 gallery.

Now that I’ve had a positive experience with a C3, I see why these were popular. It was a lot of camera for the money. Once you got past its quirky usage, you could take lovely photographs. I imagine these were heavily used to make color slides back in the day. The Cintar lens probably made slide film just sing.

Even though I’m happy to finally have had a good experience with a C3, I’m not in love. If I shoot this camera again I’ll try ISO 100 film, or even ISO 50. But more likely, I’ll sell it and the other two C3s I still own.

To see the rest of my camera collection, click here
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19 thoughts on “Argus C3

    • Please stop complaining about this in comments; it is not the proper place to seek support. I receive my blog on my Yahoo mail every day and each post comes through complete with all pictures. So the problem is not with my blog or with WordPress, and you need to seek support through your Internet service provider.

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  1. Nice review of the C3 and excellent illustrations of the capabilities of the excellent Cintar lens. I don’t use mine often, but I follow the C3 group on Flickr and I have a soft spot for the camera as it was the first one I bought for myself in about 1958. Up to a few years ago it was fashionable to denigrate the C3 with unfounded claims of poor quality control and other criticisms. I think that was basically a case of confounding style and substance.

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    • Some time ago you shared some color work from your C3 that impressed me enough that I was willing to try again with this camera. I didn’t move fast — that post was at least a couple years ago, and this C3 has been sitting in the to-shoot box at least that long. The combination of my improved skill and a fully working C3 finally let me see for myself what these can do and why they remained popular for so long!

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  2. Ron says:

    The only one of these I’ve shot was the “Harry Potter” Matchmatic edition, with a barely functional cold shoe selenium meter in EVs and cryptic numbers for shutter speeds. Interesting, but not highly successful experience. My finger was usually in the way of the cocking letter when I pressed the shutter. I like C3s just because gosh-darn it, we used to make stuff in the USA. I also like how the Matchmatic looks on the shelf.

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  3. I had a serious case of camera envy as a teenager. My best buddy’s father bought a C3 in ’48 and I was drooling. Soldiered on with my Brownie, though.

    No matter what camera you carry you always have an eye for the picture.

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    • I imagine that if a C3 were your everyday camera, you’d eventually get used to it. But its usage is quirky enough that it might take a while. The advantage of a Brownie is that there are few settings to learn! And yes, it’s more about the photographer’s eye anyway.

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  4. SilverFox says:

    Nice pics, always wondered about the Argus as they come up all the time on my searches. Interesting but I don’t think I will be running out to get one soon :)

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  5. windswept007 says:

    I have one of these on my shelf waiting to be tried out. So I will reread your blog when I do. Your photos look sharp though, hope mine works as well as that.

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  6. I am glad you had a good experience with the C3. My experience was similar to yours. The results exceeded my expectations, however I am not in a hurry to use it again. Still I imagine that if the C3 was my main camera 60 years ago that I would have been pretty happy with it. I tend to think that every photographer should have at least one go with the C3.

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  7. Awesome Jim! I’m glad you got one that works and that lens looks really crisp. I’d say keep the good one, if just as a collectible that shoots!

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  8. Kevin Thomas says:

    I’m impressed you have one with a rangefinder that works – all the ones I’ve used have needed adjustment (and I just now realized I’ve had six of the things, lol). I do enjoy shooting periodically with a MatchMatic almost as old as I am, but the previous owner left a cheat sheet of shutter/aperture settings taped to the camera that helps a lot. As said, it’s a nice reminder that we used to make things in this country, and of a time when everything wasn’t run by computer chips.

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    • The rangefinder in mine was a pain to use but when I got the top and bottom halves to line up the resulting photos were in focus. Then, I was shooting at f/16 and 1/300 most of the time so I had giant depth of field — who knows whether that rangefinder is accurate or not!

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  9. Pingback: Argus C3 | Camera Go Camera

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