Sometimes I shoot the same things more than once with different cameras and films because I know the composition works. Recently I shot a scene with my Argus Argoflex Forty on Kodak Ektar 100, a few days after I shot it with my Olympus OM-1 and 50mm f/1.8 F.Zuiko lens on Kodak ColorPlus. Here are the two photos.
It’s remarkable to me how different these two photographs look even though they’re of the same thing.
First I see how the Argoflex Forty’s 75mm lens (for 620 film) is longer than the 50mm lens (for 35mm film) on the OM-1, which creates the effect of the copper-roofed Columbia Club building appearing to be different distances away.
The 1×1 and 3×2 aspect ratios also give different impressions of the scene.
The day I went out with the Argoflex Forty the sun was fully out, while the sun was behind a cloud at the moment I made the photo with the OM-1. This certainly influenced the way these lenses and films rendered the scene’s colors.
But those lenses and films have their own characteristics regardless of the light. I find ColorPlus to yield far warmer earth tones than Ektar under any circumstances.
I have no conclusions to draw. I just find this interesting.
With waist-level ground-glass viewfinders and coupled high-quality viewing and taking lenses that focus in concert, real twin-lens reflex (TLR) cameras are fine and capable instruments. Some of them, like the legendary Rolleiflex, became luxury items in their day. They still are.
In the 1950s, to try to capture the TLR cachet some camera manufacturers made cameras that looked like TLRs with waist-level viewfinders and separate viewing and taking lenses. But these were glorified box cameras, usually with fixed focus, fixed exposure, and simple brilliant viewfinders.
Rising above the crowd among these pseudo-TLRs is the 1950-54 Argus Argoflex Forty, as it boasts a 75mm f/4.5-22 Coated Varex Anastigmat lens that focuses down to 3.5 feet, and a nine-blade leaf shutter that operates at 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, and 1/150 sec. and bulb.
The viewing lens isn’t coupled to the taking lens, however. The viewfinder always shows everything in focus. You have to guess the distance to your subject and twist the focus ring to that number of feet.
At least the brilliant viewfinder is bright and crisp. If you’ve ever shot a real TLR you’ll find this viewfinder to be small, but except for adapting to it reversing the scene left to right I never had any trouble framing my subjects with it.
You’ll find this camera in three slight variants: one called the Argus 40 and one with no name printed on the body at all. Some of these cameras have black plastic winding knobs instead of the metal one on mine. Otherwise, these cameras are identical, with bodies of Bakelite with a metal back, trimmed in aluminum.
You’ll find a few different Argus pseudo-TLRs that share this body. The most common is the Argoflex Seventy-Five and the later restyled but functionally identical Argus 75. Both have a fixed-focus, fixed-exposure meniscus lens. The similar Argus Super Seventy-Five offers a focusable 65mm f/8-f/16 lens.
I bought this camera because I’ve admired the images fellow photoblogger Mike Connealy has gotten from his for years. He says that his Forty has reliably produced images for him as good as those from more sophisticated cameras. See his work here. When I came upon this Forty for a good price, I scooped it up.
This despite it taking out-of-production 620 film. You can occasionally find expired 620 film on eBay, and the Film Photography Project sells 120 film they’ve hand-respooled onto 620 spools (here). To save a few bucks you can spool 120 film onto a 620 spool in a dark bag. The Film Photography Project has instructions here.
But there’s no strict need for any of that with the Forty, as a 120 spool fits snugly but functionally in its supply end after you trim off the edges of the spool ends (instructions here). You need to use a 620 spool in the takeup end, however. My Forty came with one, and I just asked my lab to return that spool to me after processing.
The Argoflex Forty is smaller and considerably lighter than a regular TLR, making it not too bad to carry in your hands on a photo walk. If you have a strap lying around, though, you can tie it on to the lugs and sling it around your neck or shoulder. That’s what I did.
By the way, if you like pseudo-TLRs see also my review of the Kodak Duaflex II here. Other good boxes I’ve reviewed include the Agfa Clack (here), the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye (here), the Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model D (here), and the Ansco B-2 Cadet (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
I had some 620 Kodak Verichrome Pan, expired since June of 1980, chilling in the fridge. What a perfect film for this old camera! I spooled it in and took the camera out. As you can see, it makes square photos, 12 per roll.
I started with a quick trip to Coxhall Gardens, a park in Carmel. The Argoflex Forty was an easy companion, performing well in my hands. The shutter button was a little heavy to push.
The big, bright viewfinder made it easy to frame my subjects. I did a reasonable job of holding the camera level, too. I did manage to cut off the top of this statue, unfortunately.
I finished the roll around the square in Lebanon. As I wound the film, it started to bind up a little, becoming hard to turn. What I didn’t know is that the film wasn’t winding evenly onto the takeup spool. After I removed the film from the camera, light leaked a little onto several frames, the ones that peeked past the spool’s end. The effect was worst on this, the last image on the roll.
Unfortunately, I didn’t notice this wonky winding until a couple days later. There wasn’t much to do at that point but send the film right in for processing. Fortunately, only the one above was significantly affected. I could have cropped it out of the other photos had I wanted to.
This shot of the courthouse down an alley was the last shot not affected by this leaking light. Notice what you’re not seeing here: the vignetting and corner softness common to box cameras. There’s good sharpness from corner to corner. Really, if I told you I took these with one of my real TLRs, like my Yashica-D, would you have been any the wiser?
I had a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 in 120 sitting here doing nothing so I cut the edges off its spool ends and loaded it into the Forty. It worked; the film wound with no trouble. Here’s the federal courthouse in Indianapolis.
With its exposure latitude, Ektar has never failed me in any old box camera. It helps a lot that this particular box lets you set exposure. On this Downtown Indianapolis photowalk I first used the light meter on my phone, but it kept giving me readings consistent with Sunny 16 so I quit metering and just used that age-old rule to guess exposure myself.
The Argoflex continued to be simple to use and to return images sharp from center to corners. The lens delivers medium contrast, which seems strange in this era of uber-contrasty digital images, but the look is pleasing.
I finished the roll on a walk along Main Street in Zionsville. It’s my tradition to photograph the Black Dog Books sign. By the way, this time the film wound properly onto the takeup spool. I don’t know why it didn’t on the previous roll.
I did notice some flare or haze in shots where the sun wasn’t well behind me. But that’s not surprising for a camera of this era.
The Argus Argoflex Forty is a surprise and a delight. It’s easy to carry and use, and its lens returns images of pleasing contrast and tonality with good sharpness. It’s also more easily used than most 620 cameras given that it can take 120 film with the spool edges cut off. The Argoflex Forty is a keeper, a great little box for a day when I just want to shoot for fun.
If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here! To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.
Some subjects draw me in every time I pass by with a camera. This scene on Main Street in Zionsville has become one of those subjects. I am sure I have at least one more photo from here, but I can’t find it now. Enjoy these five.
Lab scans of 35mm color negatives are miracles. Any lab I routinely use reliably sends me crackerjack digital images.
Getting usable scans from my CanoScan 9000F Mark II via its ScanGear software, on the other hand, is a lot of work involving a number of subjective choices in scanning and post-processing.
I used to think that the colors I got back from the lab were the film’s true colors. I see now how much of that is in the scanner settings, and that I don’t actually know how any film I typically use renders color.
The improvements I made this time were to scan to lossless TIFF files, and to turn off ScanGear’s Image Adjustment setting (which I had overlooked when turning off all the other image-enhancement settings). It helped? I think?
Here’s my scan of a photo I made on Kodak Gold 200 with my Olympus OM-1 and a 50mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto Macro lens. There’s a little of that mottling in the blue sky that I keep trying to prevent. But it’s not as bad as in previous scans.
Roberts Camera scanned this film when I had them process it. It’s a touch brighter than my scan. The sky has a slight turquoise tint and lacks any mottling. Otherwise, either scan is fine.
Here’s my scan of a butterfly pausing over this flower. Notice how purple the flowers in the background are.
Roberts made those same flowers quite pink, but brought out the detail lurking in the butterfly’s wings.
I also tried scanning some Kodak Ektar 100 I shot in my Pentax Spotmatic F with a 35mm f/3.5 SMC Takumar lens.
Here’s Robert’s Camera’s scan. They got richer colors than I did, although I’d say the sky in mine looks more realistic. The green tint on the right edge of my scan is clearly an artifact of the negative that Robert’s somehow edited out.
I walked over to the building to make this close shot. My scan:
Roberts Camera’s scan got a richer red, but my scan offers better highlight detail.
It was so much easier when I accepted whatever color I got from my lab scans, as if they were the final word on film and lens. Now I’m suspicious of every scan, because of all the choices it represents. Is it possible that the only way to truly know what colors are in a negative is to make a darkroom print?
This, by the way, is the last in this series of experiments. I’ve learned what I need to. I get good enough black-and-white scans now to start processing and scanning black-and-white film, which was my goal. Now that I work Downtown in Indianapolis, eight blocks from Roberts Camera and their C41 lab, I’m likely to have them process and scan my 35mm color negative film. They charge just $10.
I wonder why square photographs aren’t more common. Maybe it’s because starting in the 1980s 35mm point-and-shoot cameras became popular. That could have cemented the format’s 3:2 ratio as normal for photographs.
In the digital era the DSLR kept 35mm’s 3:2 aspect ratio. Point-and-shoots went with 4:3 for some reason, but that’s close enough to 3:2 to not look weird. My digital point-and-shoot, a Canon S95, has a 1:1 setting buried somewhere in its menus. My iPhone 6s also offers a square setting. But no digital camera I know of shoots square by default.
For me, however, shooting square feels like going back to my roots. For the first eight years of my photographic life, I shot nothing but cameras that made square photographs. It was the 1970s and early 1980s; square was very common then thanks to the wildly popular 126 format.
Here’s a scan of a print from my first-ever roll of film, Kodacolor II in a Kodak Brownie Starmite II, August, 1976. Side note: just look at how beautifully these drug-store-print colors have kept over the last 40+ years! These are my childhood friends Darin, Colleen, Christy, David, Mike, tank-topped kid whose face I can’t see and therefore whose name I can’t recall, and Craig just entering the frame from the right.
Here’s a scan of the negative, cropped 3:2 to the subject. Conventional wisdom calls this the better composition because the subject fills the frame. But what it lacks is the big blue sky we used to play under and the city infrastructure that lay all around and above us. The crop also cuts off the rounded tip of Mike’s grand walking staff. The square format brought in all the details.
That’s not to say that square format is inherently magic. Just like with any aspect ratio you have to find the subjects and compositions that work best. Here are some decent square photos I’ve taken more recently.