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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Old house

Old house
Argus Argoflex Forty
Kodak Verichrome Pan (expired 6/1980)
2019

One more from the Argoflex Forty as I finish writing my review. I was in Lebanon on an errand and brought the camera along.

This photo was late in the roll. Winding had always been uneven, but by this frame there was a spot during winding where I had to turn the knob hard.

For whatever reason the film didn’t wind evenly onto the takeup spool and spilled past the spool’s edge on one side. I didn’t notice that until a few days after I took the film out of the camera, which allowed light to leak onto the edges of some frames, as here.

Nice old house though. I’d guess it dates to before 1850.

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Film Photography, Preservation

single frame: Old house

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Jail

Boone Co. Jail
Argus Argoflex Forty
Kodak Verichrome Pan (expired 6/1980)
2019

Coming soon: a review of the circa-1950 Argus Argoflex Forty. It’s basically a box camera in twin-lens reflex guise, but it has a good, coated Anastigmat lens that’s sharp from corner to corner.

I had a great time with it and a roll of expired Verichrome Pan. I heard that this 620 camera can take 120 film if you snip the edges off the film spool and use a 620 takeup spool. I did that to a roll of Ektar, which is at the processor’s now. As soon as I get scans back I’ll finish writing my review of this camera and share it with you.

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Film Photography

single frame: Boone Co. Jail

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Film Photography

Recommended film labs

Shooting film is fun. Figuring out where to get it processed, scanned, and printed is not. I’ve tried a lot of mail-order labs over the years and I’m going to share with you the ones I like best, and why.

I am a frugal hobbyist photographer in the midwestern United States, so I’m looking for basic services, good quality, and low prices within reasonable shipping distance.

I’m also looking for labs that can handle more than just 35mm color negative film. My town’s camera store processes, scans, and prints that stuff for a good price and I use them for it a lot. But sometimes I want to shoot black-and-white film or color slide film, or medium-format (120/620) film. The by-mail labs I choose can handle all of it. Some of these labs can handle obsolete formats like 127, 828, 110, and Disc.

The labs I use all do at least good quality processing and scanning, and all respond very well when something isn’t as you expect. Things do sometimes go wrong.

Unfortunately, with one exception these labs’ basic scans are too small in resolution for anything more than snapshot prints. My strong preference is for a scan of at least 3,000 pixels on the long side, which lets you print comfortably to 11×17. It also lets you crop the scans if you need to without the resulting image being uselessly small.

I’ve tried lots of labs, but these are the ones I keep going back to because I like their service.

Fulltone Photo

Fulltone Photo, of La Grange, KY, processes, scans, and prints 35mm and 120 (and presumably 620) film. Their Web site says they also handle 110 and 126, but their order form disagrees. They handle color and black-and-white negative and color slide films.

Their Web site is at fulltonephoto.com. You print and fill out their order form and mail it in with your film. They provide a postage-paid label for mailing your film to them. After they’ve processed your film, they email you for payment. They take only credit cards.

Fulltone does good work at the lowest price anywhere. Processing and standard scans for color negative film costs $7. Medium format films cost an extra 50 cents; black-and-white films are a dollar more. Slide film costs $14-16 to develop and scan. Shipping is $4.50 for orders under $15 but free otherwise, so it pays to send them many rolls at once.

Standard scans are especially small at 1545×1024 pixels (despite their order form claiming 1818×1228). Fortunately, for an extra $5 you can get scans at a whopping 6774×4492 pixels (again, despite their order form claiming 4535×3035). Even with this upcharge, Fulltone undercuts everyone on price. To my eye, their larger scans look better than their smaller ones, too. When your scans are ready they send you a download link.

Customer service is good — once their scanner whiffed some of my scans and they cheerfully rescanned the negatives. They’re the closest by-mail lab to my central-Indiana home, which cuts shipping time. Fulltone has a lovely Instagram feed here that I enjoy following.

Old School Photo Lab

Old School Photo Lab, of Dover, NH, processes, prints, and scans 35mm, 120/620, 110, 126, 127, 828, APS, and 4×5 sheet films. They handle color and b/w negative and color slide films.

You order and pay through their Web site, oldschoolphotolab.com. Processing a roll of 35mm or 120 color or b/w negative film and getting their standard scans costs $18, including shipping both ways. Color slide film costs just a dollar more. They give discounts if you send several rolls at once. They accept credit cards and PayPal.

What I love most about OSPL is that their standard 35mm JPEG scans are a generous 3072×2048 pixels. I know no other lab that offers standard scans that large. You can order giant scans, at 6774×4492 pixels, for an extra $10 for JPEG or $20 for TIFF. Medium format scan sizes are similar.

The other thing I love about OSPL is that they’ve never let me down — their processing and scans have always met or exceeded my expectations. I can’t say that about any other lab I’ve used. When the film really, really matters, I send it to OSPL.

Unfortunately, over the years OSPL’s prices have crept up so that they’re now the most expensive of this class of labs. You can get good service and quality for less at the other labs I recommend.

When your scans are ready, they email you a link to where you can download them. If you want a CD of the scans, it’s 3 bucks extra and you have to wait longer to get them. I occasionally order 4×6 prints from OSPL and they’re lovely.

OSPL is popular and therefore a little slow — after you mail your film, expect scans in no less than two weeks. The staff responds promptly and cheerfully when you contact them. The lab is active on Twitter and the feed is often a hoot. The same goes for their Instagram feed.

Dwayne’s Photo

Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons, KS, is the granddaddy of all by-mail labs. They process, print, and scan 35mm, 120/620, 220, 127, 110, 126, Disc, and APS films. They process color and b/w negative and color slide films.

Their Web site is dwaynesphoto.com.  Ordering from Dwayne’s straight outta the 90s: you have to print out and fill out order forms, the right one for the kind of film you’re sending. When you send them more than one kind of film you have to fill out multiple order forms. Here’s hoping Dwayne’s upgrades to electronic ordering. They take PayPal and credit cards, as well as checks and money orders

Processing and scanning one roll of 35mm or 120 color or b/w negative film costs $10. Slide film costs $13.50-$15 depending on format. Other services’ prices vary. Return shipping costs $5 for the first roll and 50 cents for each additional roll. They don’t offer prepaid mailing labels so have your postage stamps ready.

Their 35mm and 120 scans are a not-bad 2740×1830 pixels at 72 dpi. For an extra $5, you can get scans of negative films at a ginormous 6770×4490 pixels. Scan resolutions vary for other film types and formats.

You can choose to download your scans or have them mailed to you on CD. I go for the downloads and Dwayne’s pretty consistently emails me a link to them within a week of receiving my film. (Slide film takes longer.) I’ve not ordered prints from Dwayne’s.

Dwayne’s can handle any curveball I throw them. Once I broke some film while rewinding in one of my old cameras. I stuck the camera into a dark bag, coiled the film into a black film canister, marked the can “Loose Film Open in Darkroom,” and sent it to Dwayne’s. They processed it without skipping a beat.

Customer service is good if impersonal. Once I sent them a roll of expired Kodak Gold 200 in 620 and they accidentally processed it as black and white. They sent me a note of apology, my black-and-white negatives and scans, and a fresh roll of Ektar, albeit in 120.

Film Rescue International

Sometimes you’ll find some very old, very expired film in a camera. Any of the above labs will process it, but they might not get good images because old film deteriorates.

Send it straight to Film Rescue International, filmrescue.com. They process any film, no matter how old, and use creative darkroom and Photoshop techniques to coax the best possible images from it. They’re expensive and they’re slow, but they do outstanding work.

I used Film Rescue for a roll of Verichrome Pan I found in a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye. That film had been in the camera for more than 40 years in unknown conditions, so I was afraid it might have deteriorated badly. They got good, high-contrast images from that film. They lacked “that Verichrome Pan look” but were crisp and clean.

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Film Photography

Where can you still get film developed? (2018 edition)

Oh, for the days when you could drop your film at any drug store or big-box store and get processing, scans, and prints. Walgreens, CVS, Target, Walmart, Costco, Meijer, et. al., used to offer one-hour or overnight service. No more. If they still take film, they send it to a commercial lab. Turnaround time is a week or more, and they throw away your negatives.

Where can you get your film processed, then? And keep your negatives?

Try your town’s camera store, if it has one. I live near Indianapolis, where Roberts Camera still processes 35mm negative film. I never order prints, just scans, which Roberts burns to CD. The scans are 3130×2075 pixels at 72 dpi, big enough to print 11×17 enlargements. They turn color film around within two business days and black-and-white film around in about a week. I haven’t used them for b/w film yet but they charge only about $8 to develop and scan color film. That’s about as inexpensive as you’ll find.

But what if you aren’t close to a camera store? Or if you shoot film they can’t handle, like medium-format (120) film, or an uncommon format like 110 or 127? That’s when I turn to one of several by-mail labs around the United States. I’m going to recommend the ones I use. I’d love it if you’d share the ones you use in the comments, especially if you live outside the United States.

Dwayne’s Photo

Dwayne’s in Parsons, KS, is perhaps the granddaddy of all by-mail labs. They’re consistent in quality and speed and their prices are reasonable among the by-mail labs so they’ve gotten a ton of my business. Their Web site is dwaynesphoto.com. 

Dwayne’s processes, prints, and scans 35mm, 120/620, 220, 127, 110, 126, Disc, and APS films. They process color and b/w negative and color slide films.

Ordering from Dwayne’s straight outta the 90s: you have to print out and fill out order forms, the right one for the kind of film you’re sending. When you send them more than one kind of film you have to fill out multiple order forms. They do take PayPal via these order forms now, at least. Here’s hoping Dwayne’s upgrades to electronic ordering.

Processing and scanning one roll of 35mm or 120 color or b/w negative film costs $10. Slide film costs $13.50-$15 depending on format. Other services’ prices vary.  Return shipping costs $5 for the first roll and 50 cents for each additional roll. They don’t offer prepaid mailing labels so have your postage stamps ready.

Their 35mm film scans are 2740×1830 pixels at 72 dpi. For an extra $5, you can get scans of negative films at a whopping 6770×4490 pixels at 72 dpi, which is big enough for poster-sized prints. Other formats’ scan sizes vary.

You can choose to download your scans or have them mailed to you on CD; the price is the same for either service. I go for the downloads and Dwayne’s pretty consistently emails me a link to them within a week of receiving my film. (Slide film takes longer.) I’ve not ordered prints from Dwayne’s.

Dwayne’s can handle any curveball I throw them. Recently one of my old cameras broke the film as I started to rewind it. I stuck the camera into a dark bag, coiled the film into a black film canister, marked the can “Loose Film Open in Darkroom,” and sent it to Dwayne’s. They processed it without skipping a beat.

Old School Photo Lab

Old School Photo Lab, of Dover, NH, is the other lab I use a lot. They process, print, and scan 35mm, 120/620, 110, 126, 127, 828, APS, and 4×5 sheet films. They handle color and b/w negative and color slide films.

You order and pay through their Web site, oldschoolphotolab.com. They used to undercut the other well-known labs slightly on price — and used to get the lion’s share of my business as a result — but recent increases have erased that advantage. Processing a roll of 35mm or 120 color or b/w negative film and getting their standard scans costs $17, including shipping both ways. Color slide film costs just a dollar more. They give discounts if you send several rolls at once.

What I love most about OSPL is that their standard 35mm JPEG scans are a generous 3072×2048 pixels at 72 dpi, for nearly poster-sized prints. No other lab offers standard scans that large, which makes OSPL still a good value. You can order giant scans, at 6774×4492 pixels at 72 dpi, for an extra $10 for JPEG or $20 for TIFF. Medium format scan sizes are similar.

When your scans are ready, they email you a link to where you can download them. If you want a CD of the scans, it’s 3 bucks extra and you have to wait longer to get them. OSPL prints digitally. I occasionally order 4×6 prints and they’re lovely.

OSPL used to be blazing fast but they’ve become popular and it seems to have slowed them down. Expect scans in one to two weeks; once recently they fell behind and I waited a month. Quality is consistent and good. The staff, and sometimes the owner, responds promptly and cheerfully when you contact them. The lab is active on Twitter and the feed is often a hoot. The same goes for their Instagram feed.

Willow Photo Lab

Willow Photo Lab of Somerville, MA, is the price leader. They offer processing, printing, and scanning of 35mm, 120/620, and APS negative films, in color and black-and white, through their Web site. They process b/w film by hand!

Order and pay via their Web site, willowphotolab.com. Processing and scanning one roll of 35mm costs just $7. Other services’ prices vary a little. Shipping costs depend on how far away from Massachusetts you are; most of my orders have been $3. They don’t offer prepaid mailing labels, so get your postage stamps out.

Scans are skinty at 1536×1024 at 72 dpi, sent to you on a CD. That’s only large enough for maybe a 5×7 print, so I always order their higher resolution scans for an extra $1.60. They’re 3072×2048 pixels at 72 dpi.

I’ve not ordered prints from Willow, but unlike most other labs they still do wet-process printing on light-sensitive photo paper. A full set of prints costs just a buck when you order developing and scanning too.

Willow changed hands in early 2018; the whole lab packed up and moved from Missouri. The new owner has maintained the same level of quality and service. They’re not the fastest lab, probably because they’re so small, but their prices make up for it for me. When you email them with questions, the owner responds promptly.

The Darkroom

The Darkroom, of San Clemente, CA, is the SEO king of by-mail labs. Google “film processing” and see where they show up! They process, scan, and print 35mm, 120, 126, 110, APS, single-use cameras, and 4×5, 5×7, and 8×10 sheet film. They handle color and b/w negative and color slide films.

The Darkroom offers online ordering and payment at thedarkroom.com. Processing, standard scans, the scan CD, and shipping both ways for a roll of 35mm color film costs about $17. Prices for other formats are similar. Scans come with every order, via both emailed download link and CD.

The Darkroom’s standard scans are puny, 1536×1024 pixels at 72 dpi. Other labs offer larger scans for about the same price. You can order larger scans, 3072×2048 and a giant 6774×4492 pixels, for an extra $4 or $9 per roll, respectively. I’ve never ordered prints from The Darkroom.

Scans are usually ready about 7 days after I drop the film into the mail. It takes up to a week longer for my negatives and the CD to arrive, but I expect that they’d arrive faster if I lived out west. I’ve never needed to contact The Darkroom for customer service.

Fulltone Photo

Fulltone Photo, of La Grange, KY, gets some of my business too. Their Web site is fulltonephoto.com. They process, scan, and print 35mm, 120, 126, and 110 film. They handle color and black-and-white negative and color slide films.

You print and fill out their order form and include it with your film. When they receive your film they email you for payment info.

Processing and standard scans $7 plus shipping; their site doesn’t list shipping costs. Medium format films cost an extra 50 cents; black-and-white films are a dollar more across the board. Slide film costs $14-17 to develop and scan. Shipping is discounted when your order costs more than $15.

Standard scans are especially small at 1818×1228 pixels at 72 dpi, which is good only for a 4×6 print. Fortunately, for an extra $5 you can get scans at 4535×3035 pixels at 72 dpi, which will print to near poster size. Last time I used them, a few years ago, they returned your scans only by mail on CD. I’ve never ordered prints from Fulltone.

Fulltone has always done good work for me. They’re the closest by-mail lab to my central-Indiana home, which cuts shipping time. Fulltone has a lovely Instagram feed here that I enjoy following.

Film Rescue International

Sometimes you’ll find some very old, very expired film in a camera. Any of the above labs will process it, but they might not get good images because old film deteriorates.

Send it straight to Film Rescue International, filmrescue.com. They process any film, no matter how old, and use creative darkroom and Photoshop techniques to coax the best possible images from it. They’re expensive, and they’re slow, but they do outstanding work.

I’ve used Film Rescue just once, for a roll of Verichrome Pan I found in a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye. That film had been in the camera for more than 40 years in unknown conditions, so I was afraid it might have deteriorated badly. They got good, high-contrast images from that film. They lacked “that Verichrome Pan look” but were crisp and clean.

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Second Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis

Ghostly church
Kodak Six-20
Kodak Plus-X
2010

The first time I photographed Second Presbyterian I was shooting my folding Kodak Six-20 and some Plus-X that I bought pre-respooled as 620 from B&H. The entire roll came back looking like this, to my disappointment.

I came across the negatives recently and they look normal. My wife bought me a new flatbed film scanner for my birthday, and it takes medium-format film, so I may try scanning the negs myself when I get moved and settled.

I’ve reviewed the Kodak Six-20 twice: here and here.

Photography

single frame: Ghostly church

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