Camera Reviews

Argus Match-matic C3

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Yes, it’s the Harry Potter camera. More precisely, it’s 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, arguably making it the most well-known Argus camera ever.

In reality, the Argus Match-matic C3 was the first serious freshening of a camera that had been in production for 20 years. The Argus Camera Company probably had no idea what it was in for when it started making the chrome-trimmed black bakelite (plastic) 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.

Argus Matchmatic C3

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 added 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.

LC-3 light meter for Argus Matchmatic C3

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. 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.

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.

Gracie

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.

Psychedelic stop sign

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!

Otherworldly First Presbyterian

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.

Do you like vintage camerasThen click here to see the rest of my collection!

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Camera Reviews

Argus C3 Match-Matic

Hi and welcome to my film-photography blog! If you like this post, subscribe to read more in your inbox or reader six days a week.    Click here to subscribe!

It’s been months since I bought an old camera. I’ve been looking at Argus C3s on eBay for months, looking for the right one. Argus cranked out millions of C3s from 1939 to 1966, and this rugged and relatively inexpensive camera is credited with almost single-handedly popularizing the 35mm film format in the United States. These things are as common as dandelions, but I have wanted one for a long time.

Actually, I wanted two. I figured I’d first find an original C3, a classic black brick. But starting in 1958, Argus put a bit of tan leatherette on the front and back and a light meter on the top and called it the Match-Matic. I found one of those first, and here it is. Mine was made in 1960.

Argus Matchmatic C3

This camera is heavy, and its hard corners make it uncomfortable to hold. The lens on mine appears to be clear, but the viewfinder and rangefinder, while usable, are both a little cloudy. The winding knob is a little loose but I think the camera ought to work fine anyway. Many, many people took excellent photographs with their Match-Matics. Some classic camera lovers, such as this fellow and this lady, still use theirs.

As I built my first camera collection, I bought pretty much anything I could afford. I ended up with more than 100 cameras and I enjoyed them all, but most of them were considerably worn and probably 1 in 4 of them was broken. When I started collecting again, I decided to buy nothing but working cameras in decent cosmetic condition. As you can see, this Match-Matic is in very good cosmetic condition. The only real blemish is on the back, where the case left a snap mark.

Argus Matchmatic C3

Notice the accessory shoe? That’s where the light meter goes. Without a working light meter, the camera has no real collector value. I understand that the light meters weren’t as long-lived as the cameras, and I imagine the little things tended to get lost, so it’s no wonder so many Match-Matics are available without them. I’ll keep looking at Match-Matics until I find one at a good price that comes with a working light meter.

Then why did I buy this meterless Match-Matic? For its case! Seems like every C3 I see comes with a case that looks like Ernie Pyle took it to Normandy and let the whole 82nd Division run over it on their way up the beach. This one came with a nearly perfect case.

Coming soon: an early C3 I just won on eBay.

Do you like old cameras? Then check out my entire collection.

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