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. Quickly I discovered 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.
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