Camera Reviews

Argus Argoflex Forty

With waist-level ground-glass viewfinders and coupled high-quality viewing and taking lenses that focus in concert, real twin-lens reflex (TLR) cameras are fine and capable instruments. Some of them, like the legendary Rolleiflex, became luxury items in their day. They still are.

In the 1950s, to try to capture the TLR cachet some camera manufacturers made cameras that looked like TLRs with waist-level viewfinders and separate viewing and taking lenses. But these were glorified box cameras, usually with fixed focus, fixed exposure, and simple brilliant viewfinders.

Rising above the crowd among these pseudo-TLRs is the 1950-54 Argus Argoflex Forty, as it boasts a 75mm f/4.5-22 Coated Varex Anastigmat lens that focuses down to 3.5 feet, and a nine-blade leaf shutter that operates at 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, and 1/150 sec. and bulb.

Argus Argoflex Forty

The viewing lens isn’t coupled to the taking lens, however. The viewfinder always shows everything in focus. You have to guess the distance to your subject and twist the focus ring to that number of feet.

Argus Argoflex Forty

At least the brilliant viewfinder is bright and crisp. If you’ve ever shot a real TLR you’ll find this viewfinder to be small, but except for adapting to it reversing the scene left to right I never had any trouble framing my subjects with it.

Argus Argoflex Forty

You’ll find this camera in three slight variants: one called the Argus 40 and one with no name printed on the body at all. Some of these cameras have black plastic winding knobs instead of the metal one on mine. Otherwise, these cameras are identical, with bodies of Bakelite with a metal back, trimmed in aluminum.

Argus Argoflex Forty

You’ll find a few different Argus pseudo-TLRs that share this body. The most common is the Argoflex Seventy-Five and the later restyled but functionally identical Argus 75. Both have a fixed-focus, fixed-exposure meniscus lens. The similar Argus Super Seventy-Five offers a focusable 65mm f/8-f/16 lens.

I bought this camera because I’ve admired the images fellow photoblogger Mike Connealy has gotten from his for years. He says that his Forty has reliably produced images for him as good as those from more sophisticated cameras. See his work here. When I came upon this Forty for a good price, I scooped it up.

This despite it taking out-of-production 620 film. You can occasionally find expired 620 film on eBay, and the Film Photography Project sells 120 film they’ve hand-respooled onto 620 spools (here). To save a few bucks you can spool 120 film onto a 620 spool in a dark bag. The Film Photography Project has instructions here.

But there’s no strict need for any of that with the Forty, as a 120 spool fits snugly but functionally in its supply end after you trim off the edges of the spool ends (instructions here). You need to use a 620 spool in the takeup end, however. My Forty came with one, and I just asked my lab to return that spool to me after processing.

The Argoflex Forty is smaller and considerably lighter than a regular TLR, making it not too bad to carry in your hands on a photo walk. If you have a strap lying around, though, you can tie it on to the lugs and sling it around your neck or shoulder. That’s what I did.

By the way, if you like pseudo-TLRs see also my review of the Kodak Duaflex II here. Other good boxes I’ve reviewed include the Agfa Clack (here), the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye (here), the Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model D (here), and the Ansco B-2 Cadet (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I had some 620 Kodak Verichrome Pan, expired since June of 1980, chilling in the fridge. What a perfect film for this old camera! I spooled it in and took the camera out. As you can see, it makes square photos, 12 per roll.

Clock at Coxhall

I started with a quick trip to Coxhall Gardens, a park in Carmel. The Argoflex Forty was an easy companion, performing well in my hands. The shutter button was a little heavy to push.

Ampitheater

The big, bright viewfinder made it easy to frame my subjects. I did a reasonable job of holding the camera level, too. I did manage to cut off the top of this statue, unfortunately.

Statue

I finished the roll around the square in Lebanon. As I wound the film, it started to bind up a little, becoming hard to turn. What I didn’t know is that the film wasn’t winding evenly onto the takeup spool. After I removed the film from the camera, light leaked a little onto several frames, the ones that peeked past the spool’s end. The effect was worst on this, the last image on the roll.

Umbrellas and light leak

Unfortunately, I didn’t notice this wonky winding until a couple days later. There wasn’t much to do at that point but send the film right in for processing. Fortunately, only the one above was significantly affected. I could have cropped it out of the other photos had I wanted to.

Down the alleyway to the courthouse

This shot of the courthouse down an alley was the last shot not affected by this leaking light. Notice what you’re not seeing here: the vignetting and corner softness common to box cameras. There’s good sharpness from corner to corner. Really, if I told you I took these with one of my real TLRs, like my Yashica-D, would you have been any the wiser?

I had a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 in 120 sitting here doing nothing so I cut the edges off its spool ends and loaded it into the Forty. It worked; the film wound with no trouble. Here’s the federal courthouse in Indianapolis.

Federal Courthouse

With its exposure latitude, Ektar has never failed me in any old box camera. It helps a lot that this particular box lets you set exposure. On this Downtown Indianapolis photowalk I first used the light meter on my phone, but it kept giving me readings consistent with Sunny 16 so I quit metering and just used that age-old rule to guess exposure myself.

Bank of Indianapolis

The Argoflex continued to be simple to use and to return images sharp from center to corners. The lens delivers medium contrast, which seems strange in this era of uber-contrasty digital images, but the look is pleasing.

Orange Truck

I finished the roll on a walk along Main Street in Zionsville. It’s my tradition to photograph the Black Dog Books sign. By the way, this time the film wound properly onto the takeup spool. I don’t know why it didn’t on the previous roll.

Black Dog Books

I did notice some flare or haze in shots where the sun wasn’t well behind me. But that’s not surprising for a camera of this era.

Red Jeep

To see more from this camera, check out my Argus Argoflex Forty gallery.

The Argus Argoflex Forty is a surprise and a delight. It’s easy to carry and use, and its lens returns images of pleasing contrast and tonality with good sharpness. It’s also more easily used than most 620 cameras given that it can take 120 film with the spool edges cut off. The Argoflex Forty is a keeper, a great little box for a day when I just want to shoot for fun.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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21 thoughts on “Argus Argoflex Forty

    • I will still buy old cameras and test them. I like doing it, and people seem to like reading my reviews. But my new MO is to keep only the best of these cameras. It’s no longer about accumulation!

  1. Dan Cluley says:

    Nice to see that you enjoyed this one. I’m not surprised, as I feel that the first postwar decade was peak Argus. They never built “great” cameras like Leica, but at this point they covered most of the middle ground with “good” cameras at reasonable prices.

    To add a little useless trivia to your description:

    This basic camera was introduced in 1950 and there was some confusion as to the name originally. There seem to be records indicating that it would be called the Argoflex Model, but I’m not aware of any actually produced with that name.

    There are some early versions with:
    no lettering on the front plate or lens surround
    no lettering on the front plate with either argoflex or forty on the lens
    Argoflex on both the plate and the lens.

    The majority of them are like yours with forty on the lens, and either Argoflex, or just Argus on the front plate. The switch to Argus seems to have happened in late ’52 or early ’53 and the switch from silver metal knobs to black plastic happened about the same time.

    Many but not all have a 4 digit number stamped inside the camera or on the inside of the rear door. If yours has that it tells you the month/year it was made, but I would guess mid-1950 to 1952 regardless.

    • Nice, you untangled the web of Argoflexes!

      This is a surprisingly good performer. You’re right, Argus made a lot of good cameras in this time frame. Not great cameras, but good ones that made fine images.

      • tbm3fan says:

        Just to add to nomenclature I just got a pristine one for next to nothing off the Goodwill site. Dated 5303 or March 1953 and the top plate reads “Argus 40”.

  2. Andy Umbo says:

    Wow, actually pretty good results, better than I would have expected! I shy away from these “American TLR’s” for the reasons you stated, maybe I should take a closer look…

  3. I had two versions of this, both differing from yours in that one had an Alphax 200 speed shutter and the other a 100. Amazing how many little variations of simple cameras there are! And of course the secret to the good pictures is a glass lens – several manufacturers were already using “optical plastic” and it showed.
    As for the Duaflex, they came in versions I, II, III, and IV. Yes; I had them all!

    • Oh, I didn’t realize these had different shutters! My research didn’t reveal that. But I’m not surprised to hear it.

      I had a Duaflex II as a kid, when you could still buy 620 film at the drug store. I liked that camera a lot.

  4. Very nice results from you Argus Forty. I like pretty much all the brilliant finder cameras, but the Argus Forty is the best of the bunch. I always find the brilliant view to be a big help with composition, and it gives me confidence that what I see will be recorded on the film.

    • This finder seems to cover the image area of the film well, too. On that Bank of Indianapolis shot, I backed up as far as I could without standing in traffic to get the awning and flowers in, and my scans match my memory of that moment of framing. That’s huge for me. One of my major pet peeves is a viewfinder that’s misaligned or shows significantly more or less than what the lens renders onto the film.

  5. Peter Paar says:

    Argus entered the TLR market in 1940 with the Argoflex E. This camera was a little more elaborate than the 1952 and later models. The viewing and taking lenses were coupled, the shutter went to 1/200, and there was magnifier in the viewing hood. The prewar model took both 120 and 620 film. Several models were made in the postwar period embodying various improvements (coated lens, flash sync, brighter viewfinder) but using only 620 film. Production of the last of these (Argoflex EF) ended in 1951. Until all Argus TLR production ended in 1965 all of this type of camera were of the simpler design first introduced in 1949 with the Argoflex Seventy-Five.

  6. tbm3fan says:

    Kodak has brought back Ektachrome and in an interview implied something else could come back. Well they already make 120 Tri-X and I have wondered now about a 620 Tri-X. All it needs is a reel and not a reformulation of an old film. I wonder how many would pull out their 620 Kodaks to start shooting? I know I would happily load several box cameras and folders (ie. Monitors) to shoot. Just a dream…

    • I think a return of 620 film falls into the “when pigs fly” category. The last 620 camera was built in, what, the 1960s? It’s only us hobbyists that would shoot it, and I’m not sure there are enough of us.

      Speaking of Monitors, I have a Monitor Special here that hasn’t gotten its turn yet in Operation Thin the Herd. I should put a roll through it forthwith. Mine has a fussy shutter button but if I remember right it takes a cable release.

  7. SilverFox says:

    Nice pictures Jim, it shows (yet again) that a simple camera can take just as good a picture as something expensive and feature full. As long as you can get the focus rigt and select an appropriate aperture and shutter speed there’s nothing more needed to take great shots. Every other feature on a camera is just there as a bonus.

  8. -N- says:

    I don’t know if you are aware of the Voigtlander Brillant camera, but like the Argoflex you describe, it is really a box camera shaped into a TLR. It is a really fun little camera and works really well. It even has a numbering system to let you know when to stop winding your film for the next picture. I got one a bit ago and while I only used it once, I really enjoyed it. The photos turned out well, too.

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