The Brick – An American Classic, The Argus C3 Rangefinder Camera

The Brick, The Argus C3 Camera

The Brick, The Argus C3 Camera

A few years ago, my father gave me an Argus C3 camera. It was given to him by a neighbor. My Dad is in his late 70’s, and working a 35mm rangefinder camera is likely something he could have done 20-30 years ago, not today. We both had a great chuckle at what a hideous piece of crap this thing looked like, despite being in beautiful condition, and in the original leather “never-ready” case. At the time, I was into photography, but not in the rabid manner of today.

Fast forward to this past weekend. While at the bi-annual Photographica show, which is held by The Photographic Historical Society of New England, a dealer, after finding out I had one of these, showed me the Argus 35mm wide-angle, and 100mm telephoto lenses, both West German-made (thank goodness-if they had been American made, they would likely not be working today). He asked me if I had taken the Argus out, which I have not. He encouraged me to do so, as it is a camera capable of taking some amazingly sharp, contrasty images. Turns out that the Cintar 50mm lens is somewhat of a legend with rangefinder photographers. A rangefinder? My perception was that they are a nightmare to focus, and to use. That misperception could be nothing further from the truth.

Taking the camera out for the first time this weekend, I had a realization. Wait, I already have extensive rangefinder experience, with the Polaroid Land Cameras. The same concept. In use, the Argus is much slower to focus, yet instills a lot of confidence that you got the shot. The rangefinder window is tiny, and hard to use. The look of the camera is that of a science project gone bad. Gears and levers all over the place, with strange markings everywhere. The fastest shutter speed is 1/300th of a second, so outdoors, 100 or 200 speed films are what you are feeding it.

The Argus is a joy to use. It’s performance has dubbed it “The American Leica” amongst vintage camera photographers. Argus, out of Ann Harbor, Michigan, made a ton of these. Legend is that your parents, grandparents, aunts, or uncles, have at least one of these hanging around, collecting dust. It single-handedly made 35mm the format of choice worldwide. A variation of it, the LC3 Matchmatic, has a non coupled lightmeter on the accessory shoe, and an olive colored skin. This camera uses proprietary EV values, and the meter can be used on a C3, with an exposure chart, easily available online, which translates the EV values to the more traditional f/stops and shutter speeds of the C3. The camera, I am told, made a nice appearance in one of the Harry Potter films. I guess it is used by Colin Creevey in The Chamber of Secrets. I have yet to see a Harry Potter film- I may have to do so. Already have a bid in on a Matchmatic. The Argus is just too fun of a camera to resist. The most fun I have had with a camera in a long, long time.

The C41 processing should be complete today- can’t wait to see the results.


14 thoughts on “The Brick – An American Classic, The Argus C3 Rangefinder Camera

  1. EV is proprietary? Maybe just not so common. All of my light meters use it. My Polaroid Land Camera 180, Rolleiflex and all my Hassleblad lenses have it as well.

    • There is no “standard’ EV. Take a look at, for example, exposure values for the Polaroid 95, Model 80, and, say, that of a light meter, such as the Gossen Luna Pro F. All different, all proprietary.


      • I could be wrong but didnt the 95 and 80 use proprietary “Polaroid LV numbers”? That’s why there were meters made specifically for polaroid at the time.

        After a quick look, the ev’s on my cameras all seems to match up to one another (in f and t) and match the ev chart on wikipedia afaics.

        So the Argus EV is proprietary eh? Is there an easy way to convert it?

        thanks for talking about the argus, I’ve always wanted to pick one up and may do so.

  2. Yes. There is no standard EV system. It is, more or less, a random value, created by manufacturers back when they wanted to sell proprietary meters. I have a Hasselblad 500c/m, and out of all of the EV scales I have seen, theirs makes the most semse. The one used on an Argus Matchmaker is easily translated to standard exposure f/stops, and shutter speeds. The Argus C3 Standard uses traditional f/stops and shutter speeds. I meter with a Gossen Luna Pro F. Today, I went down to the camera shop to pick up the first 3 rolls of C41. Not a shot on any of them. Turns out the C3 had a sticky shutter, which I repaired by soaking the shutter blades with Ronsonol, which has Naptha in it. Worked like a charm. While I had things apart, I also cleaned and lubricated the rangefinder gear assembly, and recalibrated the rangefinder against infinity. Looking forward to some exposures this time.


  3. “…both West German-made (thank goodness-if they had been American made, they would likely not be working today).”

    What an ignorant comment. Get a clue. Back in the days when the Argus would have been most popular the entire world looked for items made in the USA because of their quality. For a more direct comparison, there are millions of Kodak cameras from that time period (and earlier) that are still in use today.

  4. I love the Argus- just calling it what it truly was, a piece of junk. And I have some of the Kodak’s you mention- they are a blast! You can read my blogs on the Brownies- they are a complete blast, and look showroom new today. Just talking comparatively with the Argus, as compared to, say, Leica, or my beloved Hasselblad. There is no comparison, but then again, apples and oranges.


  5. We must have different ideas of what “junk” means. You’ve said several times that the C3 takes good pictures, and it’s proven itself a very durable and reliable camera. To me that’s the exact opposite of “junk.”

  6. And i second Rob_L’s sentiment. Assuming that by “Made in America” we mean “Made in the USA,” I’m not sure how you can make such a statement considering you’re using and US-made camera that’s at least 44 years old.
    If it were made today sure, no way it would still work half-a-century from now, but the mantra of “if it breaks just buy a new one” is a fairly recent one. Like, within-my-lifetime recent(born 1988). I’ve got a Packard Bell PC that came with Windows 95, and it still works today. Granted it’s obsolete by any modern standard and runs Windows 98 now, but the machine itself (the whole thing-CPU, monitor, keyboard, everything) still works just fine, and that’s a level quality you don’t see in electronics today.

  7. sorry about that. I just started reading your blog yesterday, so I don’t yet have a feel for if/when you’re being serious. One of the major cons of text-based communication. I hope I didn’t come off as rude; I certainly didn’t mean to.

  8. No worries. My mantra was adopted from the Film Photography Podcast- “Super Positive”! And I try to stay clear of the photographic nit picking and pixel peeping associated with the digital forums.


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