Film Photography

Argus A-Four photographs through the years

Argus A-Four

The 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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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

Film Photography

Taking the Argus A-Four out for a little exercise

I don’t completely understand why I’m so charmed by my Argus A-Four. Perhaps it’s because one was my first 35mm camera, purchased at a yard sale when I was a teenager. I’m a sucker for nostalgia.

Argus A-Four

Late last year I loaded one of my last rolls of discontinued Arista Premium 400, which is said to have been relabeled Kodak Tri-X, into the A-Four. Then I took it out with me all winter. One of my stops was at Bethel United Methodist Church. I think this building was built in about 1905. The church built a more modern sanctuary on this property years ago, and this building sat unused for a long time. When I was an elder at North Liberty Christian Church, after shrinking membership forced us to sell our building, Bethel rented us this sanctuary at a nominal rate so we’d have a place to meet. I shared some interior photos here.

Bethel UMC

It’s been an unusually warm winter, giving me plenty of opportunity to take the A-Four out. I went for a drive in northwest Indianapolis one Saturday afternoon and found myself on 79th Street west of the I-465 beltway. It’s a remarkably rural corner of the city, where I found this old house.

Old house

This old barn was pretty much right across the street. I wished I could zoom in a little to get just the barn. I considered just walking up to it, but since that one run-in with the cops while inadvertently trespassing, I just stay on the public roadway for my photos.


Not far away, along Moore Road, is Pleasant Hill Cemetery. It’s been here almost as long as Indiana has been a state.


Here’s a wider view of the cemetery. I love walking through cemeteries with a camera in my hand.

Pleasant View Cemetery

And here’s Moore Road in front of the cemetery.

Moore Road

Finally, I took the A-Four along on the Lafayette Road trip and snapped the frozen custard stand on Main Street in Lafayette.

Frozen custard

Despite my infatuation with this simple camera, I was disappointed with its performance on this roll. Sharpness and detail were poor, and grain was pronounced. I’ve gotten better from it. Click any of these photos to see them on Flickr, where you can inspect them more closely.

On Wednesday, I’ll show you photos that better highlight this camera’s capabilities — some dating to 1982!

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67 Ford LTD

I expected little from my Argus A-Four. My bias was clear: I think real cameras are made of steel. The Bakelite and aluminum A-Four falls short.

No matter that I had shot an A-Four as a teen and got usable images. I thought I had stumbled upon blind, dumb luck as a rank amateur. But when I shot this A-Four, I had developed some photographic skill — and every shot looked great: sharp and contrasty, with great detail and rich blacks.

This even though I set exposure using the imprecise Sunny 16 rule: in bright sun, set f/16 and 1/100 second. This ISO 100 film forgives imperfect light.

If I told you I shot this with my Nikon F2, I’ll bet you’d believe me.

1967 Ford LTD headlight • Argus A-Four • Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros • May, 2010

Film Photography, Old Cars

Favorite Photos Week: 1967 Ford LTD headlight

1968 Chevy Chevelle SS

I saw one of these being pulled along on a flatbed trailer the other day as I drove home from work. It even had the same “396” badge on the fender, meaning it packed big-block V8 heat. But I care less about the engine underhood than I do about styling — and I always liked the way these looked. I especially like the canted front end. I used to draw cars all the time as a boy, and I aped this front end over and over in my sketching.

I took this photo at the Mecum auction in 2010, using my Argus A-Four on Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros film. That Argus is a capable little viewfinder camera that I keep meaning to shoot again. I’ve owned two, and photos I took with both of them are in this Flickr album.

Film Photography, Old Cars

Captured: 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle SS

Me, Van, July, 1982

Here I am, a month away from turning 15, leaning on Dads’s big old Chevy van (read its story here) which is parked in my parents’ driveway. Oh man, does this photo stir up a lot inside me. First, I’m about the same age here as my youngest son, about whom I wrote on Wednesday. Second, it was at about this age that I was learning to write code and found out that you could do that for a living, which set the path that I’m still on. Third, I had my first driving lessons in this van with its unpleasant, super-stiff manual steering. Fourth, my parents are about to leave this house after having lived in it for 38 years. They’re moving to Indianapolis to be near their children and grandchildren, and to be near Dad’s oncologist at the VA hospital here.

And fifth, this was taken with one of my vintage cameras. I’d been collecting since I was nine, but only started using my old cameras at about this age. This was taken with an Argus A-Four, a manual-everything 35mm camera from the mid-1950s. I was shooting Kodacolor II. I had little idea what I was doing with f stops and shutter speeds, and only about half the shots on the roll turned out. For this shot, I set exposure and focus and handed the camera to my brother to take the photo. I don’t have a print of this image anymore, so it was great to see it come back to life via my scanner. And it brings me joy to see that even 32 years ago, I was motivated to find out how well an old camera worked, and to learn something about photography.

See some black-and-white photos I took with this camera here.

Collecting Cameras, Old Cars, Photography, Stories Told

Captured: Me, Van, July, 1982