This brick of a camera was the first good camera for many people around and after World War II. I made it work, but I didn’t enjoy using it much. Check out my updated review here.
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 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.
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.
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. I discovered quickly 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.
– Maya Angelou
Sugar was the best dog I ever had. She was smart and gentle and loyal and happy.
I had noticed that she had been lethargic for a few days, but I wrote it off. She was old, after all, and was entitled to be tired.
Then one morning, Sugar’s legs quit working. On her way out the back door she tripped over nothing, fell to her chest, and struggled to get up. I helped her to her feet and watched carefully as she moved slowly out into the yard. As she squatted, her legs wobbled and then gave out. She didn’t even try to get up. I ran out into the yard, scooped my dog up into my arms, and carried her inside.
Sugar never walked again. The vet said it was autoimmune hemolytic anemia and it was probably too late for treatment to work. It doomed poor Sugar. I put her down that afternoon.
After she passed, I finished shooting one of my old cameras and had the film processed. One of the photos was of her, from about a week before she died. Here it is. She looks like hell. I don’t know if you can see it, but it’s plain as day to me. She had death written all over her. She needed to have been seen by a vet. But I didn’t even remotely see it while she was suffering.
I felt terrible. I had been very busy and distracted, and I didn’t see my dog’s pain. I beat myself up for a while because I hadn’t done my best to care for her.
But I know my best varies. It’s better when I’m well than when I’m sick. It’s better when I’m relaxed than when I’m stressed. It’s better when I’m unhurried than when I’m busy.
I also know that life is a learning exercise. Sugar taught me something about what a suffering dog looks and acts like.
Now I know better. For my 16-year-old dog, Gracie, I will do better.
This one is for my friend Andy, who is suffering a similar loss.
I wrote a eulogy for Sugar after she died. Read it here.
Yes, it’s the Harry Potter camera. More precisely, the Argus Match-matic C3 is the camera that Colin Creevey used to take photos of Hogwarts so he could show them to his father. It appeared in the film Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, making it the most well-known Argus camera ever.
In reality, the Argus Match-matic C3 was the first serious freshening of a 20-year-old camera. The Argus Camera Company probably had no idea what it was in for when it started making the original C3 in 1938. It was the first affordable 35 mm rangefinder camera, and did it ever sell. Argus made only minor changes to the C3 over the years; one C3 looks pretty much like another.
But by 1958 many competitors had entered the low-priced 35 mm space, offering cameras with style and features the C3 couldn’t match. Argus fielded other 35 mm cameras, but none of them caught on like the unexpectedly durable C3. So Argus decided to spruce up its venerable black brick, sticking some tan vinyl (leatherette?) across its front and back.
More importantly, it also clipped a selenium exposure meter, the LC3, into the accessory shoe. It gives readings in numeric exposure values (EVs). The old C3 used traditional shutter speeds and f stop numbers, but this C3 replaced both with numeric guide values. To get a proper exposure, you set those numbers so they add to whatever EV the meter returns. For example, if the meter returns 7, you can set the aperture and shutter to 3 and 4, or 5 and 2 – any combination that matches the meter. And thus this C3 earned the rest of its name, the Match-matic.
This was supposed to be a simple system, simpler anyway than the notoriously non-standard C3 with its controls in odd places all over the front of the camera. But simple is a matter of opinion, and mine differs from Argus’s.
You might also enjoy, by the way, my review of the original C3 (here). Also see my reviews of the Argus A2B (here), A-Four (here), and Argoflex Forty (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
I dropped some Fujicolor 200 into my Match-matic and actually had to read the manual to figure out how to set exposure. Man! What is this world coming to? And even then, I struggled with it. I got it right only a few times. This was one of them. It’s sad that the best image I got is a throwaway of my front yard.
Every photo was out of focus to some extent. You can see it in the previous photo at larger sizes, but it’s pretty obvious on this one at this size. It doesn’t look like camera shake to me. Perhaps the rangefinder is out of alignment.
Then things started getting really weird. I’ve bollixed photographs in all sorts of ways, but this one is new to me. Dig that crazy brown streak.
I stopped by First Presbyterian Church, one of my favorite subjects, for a snap. This is what I got. I swear, the air in Indianapolis isn’t polluted!
Or maybe, in true Harry Potter form, my Match-matic is enchanted. Perhaps it’s seeing beyond this muggled plane. Perhaps there’s magic in the air.
Whatever it takes to avoid blaming the photographer.
If you’d like to see more, check out my Argus Match-matic C3 gallery.
I dropped a roll of film into my Argus C3 in August and it took me until last week to finish shooting the roll. I think that means I didn’t enjoy the experience very much. And I was really looking forward to using this camera.
My C3 dates to 1945 or early 1946 and so was among the last with the old-timey f-stop scale of 4.5, 6.3 9, 12.7, and 18. Since my skill is limited to the Sunny 16 rule, and f/16 isn’t marked on this camera, I was setting it a hair left of f/18 and hoping for the best. It didn’t work; most of my photos came out poorly exposed. I tried to fix them in post-processing.
This photo of a PT Cruiser I rented while my car was in the shop also came out underexposed:
Typical of me, I dove into this camera without learning how to use it first, and it took me a while to get the hang of it. I didn’t know, for example, that before winding you have to release the film catch, a little lever on top of the camera. I figured it out after the winder tore through the film’s sprockets, crinkling the film on a couple shots. This photo shows it best, though the subject isn’t too exciting.
I had much better luck with wide shots in bright sunlight. I washed some comforters at the laundromat one sunny afternoon and I brought the C3 along to photograph suburbia’s trappings. The police were next door “code 7” as they used to say on Adam-12.
I could have moved in closer here, but the colors are good.
So my C3 wasn’t a joy to use, and because of my meager skills I ended up with few decent shots. I am sure that as I practice shooting with my old cameras I’ll get better results. And before I try out my next old camera, probably my Kodak Retinette, I think I’ll rummage around the Internet for a manual and read it.
The Argus Camera Company of Ann Arbor, Michigan, pretty much single-handedly brought 35mm photography into the mainstream with its C-series rangefinder cameras. The C3 is the best known and most available of the series; millions of them were made between 1939 and 1966.
The C3 was the Volkswagen Beetle of amateur photography – it was relatively inexpensive and looked funny, but it did the job well and lasted forever. Like the Beetle, even though Argus changed the camera little by little over the years, one C3 looks pretty much like any other. Based on its five-digit serial number and its uncoated lens, my C3 is from 1945 or early 1946. Other subtle clues to its age include that its rangefinder window is tinted blue (not yellow, as in later years), it has seven shutter speeds (older models had ten; later models had five), the shot counter is chrome with black numbers (later models were black with white numbers), and the back sports two chrome strips and a film speed guide (later models deleted these).
C3s remain common and easy to find even 42 years after Argus stopped making them. My C3 is nearly in mint condition, which is not unusual and did not command a premium price. I paid less for this camera than it cost to ship it to me!
Many, many people learned the fundamentals of photography behind a C3, and C3s have taken many beautiful photos, both then and now. The C3 is also fairly simple to maintain and repair, and plenty of information about how to do it is available on the Web, such as here. Mine appears to be in good working order, but when I one day run a roll of film through it I’ll know for sure, and may be glad for all these online repair resources!
Do you like old cameras? Then check out my entire collection.