Double exposure of my brother, 1985
Argus A-Four
Kodacolor VR 200 (probably)
1985

My brother ran for the high-school track team. The practice track was behind the school, along a side street. Mom and Dad used to drive over there and watch practice.

It was my senior year. I have negatives from a roll of film I shot that May as I was preparing to graduate. This photograph tells me I was using my Argus A-Four camera. That’s because it’s the only 35mm camera I owned then that allowed me to take a double exposure.

I didn’t mean to take this one. I took one shot of my brother leaning against the fence, and then a minute later took another — but forgot to wind in between. Also, I turned the camera both times for a landscape photo, but the second time upside down from the first time.

It made this double image of my brother, made perfectly symmetrical with a judicious crop.

Film Photography

single frame: Double exposure of my brother, 1985

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Camera Reviews

Operation Thin the Herd: Argus A-Four

In Faytette

I have a deep affection for this little bit of Bakelite, aluminum, and glass. The first argus a-four I owned, in the 1980s when I was a teenager, was the first camera I ever shot that let me set aperture and shutter speed. It generated the little spark for photography that, in my 40s, would finally burst into flame.

Argus A-Four

I put several rolls of film through that a-four, including a roll of bulk-loaded Plus-X that I developed in my high school’s darkroom. The photo below came from a roll of drugstore Kodak color film that I shot around my neighborhood. My brother made this shot of me leaning on the family car. It was the summer I turned 16.

Me, Van, July, 1982

I set aperture, shutter speed, and focus for my non-photographer brother — this is a viewfinder camera with no onboard light meter, so you have to guess and then set all of those things before every shot. You also have to cock the shutter by pulling the cocking lever atop the lens barrel. You’ll never make a quick shot with an a-four. But in the 1950s, when this camera was new, it was a solid step up from the box cameras amateurs otherwise used.

As my first marriage crumbled away I did a few regrettable things, including selling my entire camera collection. I owned a couple hundred cameras then, mostly junk excepting that a-four and a handful of others. My life eventually settled down and I started collecting again. I searched for and eventually found another a-four. I took it along to a muscle-car auction with some Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros loaded. Just check out the resolving power and sharpness of that 44mm f/3.5 Coated Cintar lens.

67 Ford LTD

This a-four hasn’t given me such great results on every roll, however. It seems like one roll turns out great and the next not so much, kind of like Star Trek movies. This was a not-so-great roll as too many shots turned out soft. I don’t think I focused wrong on so many shots, and I used apertures of f/8, f/11, and f/16 most of the time, so I should have had plenty of depth of field. It’s not so evident at blog size, but if you look at any of the photos at full size you’ll see that softness. Unfortunately I burned my last roll of Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros for these results.

Zionsville house

The a-four’s viewfinder isn’t precise. When I made this photo every bit of that arch was visible in the viewfinder.

Oak Hill

The camera is roughly the same size as a compact SLR like the Pentax ME or the Olympus OM-1, but is much lighter. The shutter button is awkwardly placed, but after a few shots you get used to it. The winding knob is this camera’s big usability disappointment. It’s too close to the body to really grab it, so to wind it on you make a whole bunch of short turns with just your fingertips. Mine turns stiffly, as though it could rip through the film sprockets.

Flowers

When I finished the roll and started to rewind, the film immediately tore. I’d been meaning to buy a dark bag anyway, so I bought one, put the camera in, spooled the film into a black 35mm film can, and sent the film to Dwayne’s. They processed it no problem.

Oak Hill

The lens is also prone to flare when the sun isn’t behind you. Or perhaps the lens is dirty. This a-four was on display in my home for nearly a decade and who knows how much grease and dust landed on the lens over the eyars. A swab dipped in rubbing alcohol, applied gently, would have been a good idea before I shot this camera. I regret not at least checking its condition.

John Hume

The shutter’s 1/200 top speed makes it challenging to shoot fast films on sunny days. I shot Tri-X 400 in this thing once and even on a cloudy day my external meter wanted exposures this camera can’t give. I shot everything at smallest aperture and fastest shutter (f/16 and 1/200 sec), relying on Tri-X’s famous exposure latitude to cover. Pro tip: use films of no more than ISO 200 in this camera.

Pleasant Hill Cemetery

The argus a-four was Argus’s answer to Kodak’s Pony, and unfortunately the Pony bests it slightly in every way. Its shutter is slightly faster, its lens is (in my experience) sharper and less prone to flare, and it’s a little easier to use.

Durango

Yet the whole roll through, I felt good when I brought this a-four to my eye. It connected me with my photographic beginnings and that just felt great.

Mail stop

To see more from this camera, check out my Argus a-four gallery.

I’m going to move on from the argus a-four, however. I’ll never shoot it again. Yet my first a-four introduced me to photography’s possibilities, and for that reason this camera has a special place in my heart. I reserve the right to change my mind.

Verdict: Goodbye

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Photography

I’m not impressed with your Leica

I’m not impressed that you own a Leica. Or a Hasselblad, or a Nikon F series, or any other fine, expensive camera.

Far be it from me to say you shouldn’t own one. I own a Nikon F2 and an F3 myself.

But if you want to impress me, show me your work.

67 Ford LTD

Argus A-Four, Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100, 2010

I never tire of looking at this photo. I made it with my Argus A-Four, a 1950s 35mm viewfinder camera made of bakelite and aluminum. It packs a surprisingly capable 44mm f/3.5 Coated Cintar lens. I paid ten bucks for it.

I paid closer to $100 for my Nikon N2000 and a 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor lens. That’s a bargain compared to a working F2 body. Yet there wasn’t anything I could capture with that 35mm lens on my F2 that I didn’t capture when I recently shot that lens on my N2000.

That’s not to say I enjoyed using the plasticky N2000 as much as I enjoy using my solid, smooth F2. It’s wonderful to experience such a fine instrument. An Argus A-Four feels cheap in its own right; it’s ridiculous to compare its usage experience to that of any Leica. Cameras so fine deserve their devoted and fawning followers.

Yet so many of those followers treat their cameras as museum pieces. If you’re among them, I refer you to the work of John Smith, who shoots his Nikons and Leicas all the time. He makes wonderful photographs of the northern California coast. Check out his blog here.

Some of these followers even look down their noses at cameras they consider lesser. If you’re among them, I refer you to the work of Mike Connealy, who uses simple gear to make stunning photographs. Check out his blog here.

Consider this a challenge to make good work — especially using simple, inexpensive tools.

 

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Dead end on 79th St.

Dead end on Old 79th St.
Argus A-Four
Arista Premium 400
2016

Photography
Image
Film Photography, Old Cars, Road Trips

Argus A-Four photographs through the years

Argus A-FourThe shots I shared with you on Monday from my Argus A-Four, a bakelite-and-aluminum 35mm viewfinder camera made from 1953-56, led me to look at photos I’ve taken with this camera in the past.

The A-Four and I go way back — to 1982, as that’s when I shot my first roll of film in one. I was 14. I’ll share some shots from that roll later, but first, let’s look at what this camera can do.

I was surprised and disappointed that the shots I shared with you on Monday were so grainy and lacked sharpness and detail. This photo of a 1967 Ford LTD tail light, which I took in 2010, is creamy smooth with rich blacks and solid sharpness and detail. This is what this simple camera can do.

67 Ford LTD

Maybe I got better results because I was shooting Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros, a modern tabular-grain film. The Arista Premium 400 I used for the shots I shared on Monday is an old-style cubic-grain film. Perhaps the modern films make the A-Four sing. Here’s an Avanti II from that 2010 roll, which I shot at that year’s Mecum muscle-car auction.

Avanti

Just one more old car, a 1972 MGB GT, just because these results are so good. I used the Sunny 16 rule to take all of these car photos.

72 MG MGB GT

I also took the A-Four along on my tour of Putnam County’s old bridges in 2010. (Trip report part 1 here and part 2 here.) This is the Hibbs Ford Bridge. As you can see, the lens is subject to flare when shooting toward the sun.

Putnam County bridges

I forget which bridge this is, but its massive truss is taller than my car.

Putnam County bridges

When I toured US 50 in 2010, I found this curious (formerly) neon sign in Seymour.

Paris Style

Now let’s step into the Wayback Machine and look at a couple photos from 1984, from the only roll of film I’ve ever developed myself. This is the elementary school I attended in South Bend, shot on probably Kodak Plus-X.

James Monroe School

I shot the A-Four wide open from my childhood bedroom door. That’s my brother’s room there, and the round mirror was rescued from the Oliver Hotel in South Bend before it was demolished in the late 1960s.

Hallway at home

And now, the promised photos from 1982. I’d picked up my first A-Four at a yard sale a year or two earlier, and finally loaded some Kodacolor II into it. This is Missy, the Labrador retriever we had then, relaxing in our side yard. I was deeply attached to this dog! I had an 8×10 made of this image then, and my dad made a frame for it. It still hangs in my home.

July82_009

Here’s my brother in midair at my grandparents’ palatial retirement estate in southwest Michigan. He would probably kill me if he knew I published this, so let’s not tell him, OK?

July82_014

I opened the A-Four wide to get this indoors shot of my grandfather. I took few photos of him (and my grandmother, for that matter), and I regret it. My favorite photo of him is this one of him holding me as a baby.

July82_010

Finally, here’s me leaning on our family car at the time, a big old cargo van my dad bought for the cabinetmaking business he started. I shared this photo once before with a little more story behind it. (I took my first driving lesson in this beast; story here.) Hey, there’s a little more of that into-the-sun flare.

Me, Van, July, 1982

By the way, I scanned these 1980s shots with my cheap, plastic Wolverine Super F2D, which did a good enough job.

As you can see, the Argus A-Four is a fairly capable lump of plastic.

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Wood fence

Wood fence
Argus A-Four
Arista Premium 400
2016

Photography
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