Camera Reviews

Argus Argoflex Forty

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.

Argus Argoflex Forty

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.

Argus Argoflex Forty

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.

Argus Argoflex Forty

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.

Argus Argoflex Forty

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.

Clock at Coxhall

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.

Ampitheater

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.

Statue

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.

Umbrellas and light leak

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.

Down the alleyway to the courthouse

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.

Federal Courthouse

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.

Bank of Indianapolis

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.

Orange Truck

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.

Black Dog Books

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.

Red Jeep

To see more from this camera, check out my Argus Argoflex Forty gallery.

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!
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Old house

Old house
Argus Argoflex Forty
Kodak Verichrome Pan (expired 6/1980)
2019

One more from the Argoflex Forty as I finish writing my review. I was in Lebanon on an errand and brought the camera along.

This photo was late in the roll. Winding had always been uneven, but by this frame there was a spot during winding where I had to turn the knob hard.

For whatever reason the film didn’t wind evenly onto the takeup spool and spilled past the spool’s edge on one side. I didn’t notice that until a few days after I took the film out of the camera, which allowed light to leak onto the edges of some frames, as here.

Nice old house though. I’d guess it dates to before 1850.

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Film Photography, Preservation

single frame: Old house

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Jail

Boone Co. Jail
Argus Argoflex Forty
Kodak Verichrome Pan (expired 6/1980)
2019

Coming soon: a review of the circa-1950 Argus Argoflex Forty. It’s basically a box camera in twin-lens reflex guise, but it has a good, coated Anastigmat lens that’s sharp from corner to corner.

I had a great time with it and a roll of expired Verichrome Pan. I heard that this 620 camera can take 120 film if you snip the edges off the film spool and use a 620 takeup spool. I did that to a roll of Ektar, which is at the processor’s now. As soon as I get scans back I’ll finish writing my review of this camera and share it with you.

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Film Photography

single frame: Boone Co. Jail

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Film Photography

Verichrome Pan in the Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F

I had such a nice time with the No. 2 Brownie that I immediately loaded another roll of film, this time some Verichrome Pan expired since June of 1982.

Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F

It felt so right to shoot that film in this camera. It was the film of Everyman for many decades, recording millions of family memories.

Moreover, unexposed Verichrome Pan has a great reputation for deteriorating slowly. When I mentioned to a film-photography friend that my VP was from 1982, he said, “Only 1982? It’s still fresh!”

When this box Brownie hits, it really hits. Just look! This is the statue before the Carnegie library in Thorntown, Indiana.

Carnegie Library, Thorntown

Yet I whiffed about half the photos on this roll thanks to camera shake and misframing. It’s very challenging to see whether a subject is level in the tiny viewfinders. I leveled subjects in Photoshop, but that tool can do nothing about motion blur.

Carnegie Library, Thorntown

Every distant subject I photographed ended up at the very bottom of the frame, with tons of sky above. I can’t tell whether that’s a fact of Brownie life or not. These cameras were designed with group shots in mind — Aunt Edna and Uncle Bill and Grandma and the cousins, at 15 feet. I never had any trouble framing subjects about that far away. Next time, when I shoot distant subjects I’ll try to compensate by moving them up in the frame.

IOOF Thorntown

It must be statute that every Indiana town have at least one building marked I.O.O.F., for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. I should do a series on Indiana Odd Fellows buildings. I’ve photographed dozens by now.

Downtown Thorntown

Downtown Thorntown is fairly plain. This building is in good shape but others could use a little love. There were few signs of life in the commercial district — I encountered nary a soul here. Speaking of souls…

Thorntown Presybterian Church

But it was a Saturday. The Presbyterians would have to wait one more day to corporately honor the glory of the Lord.

Thorntown Police

Coming upon the Thorntown Police Department reminded me of the time I nearly got a speeding ticket here, but my young and beautiful first wife got me out of it. Read that story here.

I shot this roll of Verichrome Pan the same day I finished the roll of Ektar I shared with you in this camera’s review. I sent both rolls to Old School Photo Lab, and I had the Ektar scans in a couple weeks. After two more weeks I inquired after my Verichrome Pan. The response: to get the best results from “the old stuff” they use a different developer and a special processing run, at no extra charge — and they were awaiting shipment of more developer. Color me impressed.

When I shot the Ektar, the frame numbers were in the very right edge of the ruby window, making accurate winding difficult. The Verichrome Pan frame numbers appeared smack dab in the middle of the ruby window — as if this film was made for an old box like this.

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Camera Reviews

Kodak Six-20, revisited

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I was so impressed with this camera when I bought it seven or eight years ago. I was limiting my collection to folders and rangefinders then, and this mint-condition folding Kodak with Art Deco details was so lovely I just had to own it. I’ve always displayed this camera. I have little display space, so it’s a special camera that doesn’t end up in a closet or in a box under the bed.

Kodak Six-20

Manufactured from 1932-37, the Kodak Six-20 was more style than substance. It featured a 100mm Kodak Anastigmat lens, one step up in quality from Kodak’s entry-level Diway, Bimat, Twindar, and Kodar lenses. Some think this Anastigmat is similar in design to a Tessar. Yet its maximum aperture is only f/6.3, and the No. 0 Kodon shutter in which it is set offers just three settings: 1/25, 1/50, and 1/100 sec, plus time and bulb. Not very versatile.

Kodak Six-20

The Six-20 offers two viewfinders: a brilliant peer-down viewfinder attached to the lens assembly, and a pop-up sports viewfinder on the body side. On mine, the brilliant viewfinder is so cloudy as to be useless.

Kodak Six-20

This was the kind of camera a gentleman could slip into his coat pocket, or a lady could carry in her clutch, and look stylish when pulling it out. Only a gentleman or a lady could afford this camera: it was $38 when new, which is equivalent to $666 in 2016.

Kodak Six-20 Kodak Six-20

I shot this camera once before, in 2010. See the review here. I got terrible results and blamed a combination of camera gremlins and photographer incompetence. But I’ve learned a lot about using old gear and making photographs in the years since, and so I decided to try again. I began by cleaning the lens, which is easily accessed from the back by opening the aperture wide and setting the shutter to T. I then shot the shutter at every speed many times to loosen it up.

The Kodak Six-20 unsurprisingly takes 620 film, which hasn’t been manufactured since 1984. It’s the same film as still-manufactured 120, but on narrower spools. You can respool 120 onto 620 spools, or buy it pre-respooled at premium prices. Because neither option excites me, I swore off 620 cameras a few years ago. But as my grandmother always used to say, “never say never.” I bought a roll of expired (1/2004), cold-stored, hand-respooled Kodak Verichrome Pan from the Film Photography Project store and spooled it into this octogenarian camera.

My first stop was a nearby Episcopal church. Armed with my monopod to keep the camera stable, and my iPhone light meter app to get exposure right, I got to work. This is my favorite shot from the roll.

Church building

Somebody forgot to put the toys away on the church playground.

Toy trucks

From the church, I walked around the surrounding Warfleigh neighborhood a little. The Meridian Street Bridge cuts through on its way over the White River. The sun, low in the west, created gobs of annoying flare. I had to have my back fully to the sun to avoid it. I’m sure Kodak made a snap-on hood for this lens; I wish I had one.

Meridian Street bridge

These shots all look a lot better than the original scans, which were hazy and low contrast. Fortunately, in this modern age Photoshop corrects those problems quickly and easily. But even Photoshop couldn’t help with the flare.

Starbucks

I finished the roll (just eight photos!) over in the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood, where there’s a Graeter’s ice-cream shop. It was busy on this warm Saturday evening.

Graeter's

By the way, the Six-20’s shutter requires no cocking. That’s unusual for a folding camera of this era. I’m betting that the No. 0 Kodon is a simple rotary shutter similar to those found on box cameras.

See the rest of my photos from this camera in my Kodak Six-20 gallery.

I was actually about to sell this camera. I’ve been thinning my herd, as cameras were stuffed into every nook and cranny around here and the madness had to stop. I’ve shed probably 50 cameras and am not done yet. But something made me pause and try this one again. I’m glad I did; after this experience I’ll be keeping it.


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Photography

Kodak Six-20 Brownie

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Somebody gave me this box camera, a Kodak Six-20 Brownie with an Art-Deco-inspired faceplate, a few years ago. The timing was bad: I had just decided to swear off 620 film and cameras. I had neither the patience to spool 120 film onto 620 spools, nor the willingness to spend 12 bucks and up for pre-respooled film. But a couple months ago I discovered a pile of eBay Bucks near expiration. And then I found a roll of Verichrome Pan in 620, expired in 1982, that those Bucks paid for. Free film!! So I dug out this old box.

Kodak Six-20 Brownie

Kodak puked out box Brownies by the legion during the first half of the last century. This model was made from 1933 to 1941. Original price: $2.50. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that’s equivalent to $46 in 2016.

Kodak Six-20 Brownie

As box Brownies go, this one had some unusual features. Almost all the box cameras I’ve known come apart at the back for film loading and unloading. This one comes apart at the front. You pull out the winding knob, pull up on the knob that anchors the carry strap’s front end, and tug on the camera’s face.

The Six-20 Brownie has two apertures, controlled by the tab atop the faceplate. Down selects the larger aperture; use it for most shots. Up selects the smaller aperture; use it for extremely bright conditions such as beach or snow scenes. The camera also offers a single shutter speed plus timed exposures. The tab on the faceplate’s side controls it; pull it out for timed shots. I’m guessing that the shutter operates at somewhere between 1/30 and 1/60 sec., and the two apertures are something like f/8 and f/16.

And while the camera’s lens (a simple meniscus) is inside the box, an external lens focuses the camera for shots at beyond 10 feet. For shots from five to 10 feet, move the lever below the lens opening to move the external lens out of the way. Release the lever and the external lens springs back into place.

This camera was filthy when I got it, so I cleaned it up as best I could. The pitted faceplate was beyond help. The viewfinders had gone opaque with crud, so I dismantled them and cleaned them. One of the mirrors was loose, so I superglued it back into place. Then I spooled in the Verichrome Pan.

The best shot on the whole roll is of my sons. That kills me, because it’s long been my policy not to show photos of them here. I should write in detail about why someday; a couple of principles are involved. And it’s the only shot I took with the front lens moved out of the way. Darn.

But here’s the second best shot on the roll. I don’t know how this Verichrome Pan was stored, but it sure behaved like fresh film. This was the only shot affected by light leak. I wonder if it might have happened while I removed the film from the camera, as I fumbled it a bit and the end of the roll came a little loose for a half second. This was the last photo on the roll.

Mass Ave and a light leak

I don’t know why I persist in using box cameras to photograph distant subjects. They’re meant to take photos of Aunt Martha and the nephews at closer range. When I framed this, the main part of Leon’s filled the viewfinder. But I shot it from across the street. Oh, and by the way, I recently bought a suit from Leon’s. It was a great experience.

Leon's

I had the Brownie along one day when I took my son to dinner at an outdoor mall in Noblesville. Sharpness and contrast are pretty good here, despite a little haze in the sky around the tree branches.

Parked at the outdoor mall

A couple photos were pretty muddy. I worked them over pretty good in Photoshop to improve contrast. Here’s one of them, of the mural is on the back of the Indianapolis Public Schools administration building Downtown.

IPS mural

This was the muddiest photo of them all, of the three trees on the golf course behind my house. The front ash tree has been dead for at least a year; the bark is starting to fall off. Anyway, Photoshop restored reasonable contrast to this scene. At full scanned resolution, a little motion blur becomes apparent, convicting me of moving the camera slightly as I made this exposure. But at print size, you’d probably never notice it.

Golf course trees

To see more photos from this roll, check out my Kodak Six-20 Brownie gallery.

It’s charming to shoot with simple cameras like this Six-20 Brownie. Even when the results are so-so, it still always pleases me that I got images at all. It’s easy to forget that a light-tight box and the simplest of lenses — even a pinhole — will make an image. And these turned out pretty well. You’d never guess that I used film expired for more than 30 years.


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