A Surprising American

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by rick_drawbridge, Aug 7, 2014.

  1. Out there on the Web I saw some images from the Argus range of TLR and Box cameras and was intrigued; the quality seemed far better than I would have expected. So, when this specimen appeared on our local auction, I made a tentative bid, and won. Nobody else seemed very interested. It's the Argoflex 40.
  2. From 1940 until about 1951, the Argus Camera Inc., based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, produced a line of true twin lens reflex camera, with the viewing and taking lens connected by milled rims for the process of focusing, rather after the style of a Lubitel and many other TLRs of the era. The viewing lens had an aperture of f/3.5 and from all accounts the viewfinder was rather dim. The cameras were solidly built, of metal construction, and performed reliably, but were hardly the most glamorous of cameras, and fell by the wayside as European and Japanese imports began flooding into the US market after the war.
    In 1949 Argus simplified the cameras for a greater mass consumer appeal, coming up with the plastic-bodied Argoflex 75, a simple box camera, and the more sophisticated Argoflex Forty. Gone was the focusing screen, replaced by a plano-convex lens that gave a brilliantly bright and clear viewfinder, and the taking lens was fitted with a zone-focusing helical. However, though the Argoflex 40 is really just a box camera, it's a fairly sophisticated one, with a range of apertures from f/4.5 to f/22, and shutter speeds of B, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/150. The shutter was apparently accurate and reliable, though the front-mounted shutter release is a particularly bad example of the genre, with no "feel" to it and all the sloppy characteristics required to promote camera-shake. However, while the shutter is cocked by the film wind, there's a little lever beside the shutter release by which one may reset the shutter without winding on, so double exposures can be created. The 75mm Varex lens is a hard-coated triplet, very sharp in the centre and only marginally soft in the corners, with a little vignetting. The camera went on to become the Argus 40, production ending in 1954.
  3. It's a heavy little camera using 620 film, so I re-rolled an 120 Arista 200, risked my fingernails in operating the primitive catch that secures the hinged back door, loaded the film in the conventional interior, lined up the numbers in the red window on the back, and ventured out.
  4. The results far exceeded my expectations, I will have to admit; the images are sharp and contrasty and the tones very nicely rendered. I'd use this camera in preference to a Lubitel, any day. My apologies for the banal locations, another walk around that damn' park, but it's currently a matter of dashing out when the rain stops, so I can't voyage too far afield. Arista 200 dunked in Pyrocat HD, scans from the Epson V700 Photo.
  5. To be strictly accurate, the lens has a true distance scale for focusing rather than "zone focus", and is marked down to a handy 3.5 feet. The Argoflex is certainly an odd mix of features, but I rather enjoyed using it.
  6. That was our first "family" camera that I remember and possibly the first camera I ever held in my hands. As a boy, the camera seemed so complex. My Dad's shots didn't seem nearly as nice as your's. Thanks for posting on this American classic, Rick.
  7. SCL


    It's hard to believe that you could coax such excellent shots out of that "box". We had lots of Argus cameras in my family when I was a kid, and NONE of the pictures I ever saw, from anybody, were anywhere near as clear and contrasty as yours. My hat's off to you!
  8. Rick,
    Did you do any post-processing to reduce the vignetting? Most of the images I see around the web have considerably more than yours.
  9. Very nice.
    I confess that I've never used an Argoflex, so it's interesting to hear about it.
  10. We owe so much to Leo Baekeland. Too bad they don't make Bakelite bodied cameras anymore.
  11. Thanks, Louis; there must be a touch of nostalgia, there. Very little post-processing, Jerry and Stephen, the vignetting is really quite negligible. While there is some poor work from this camera out on the Web, there's also a lot of high-quality stuff; one site that kindled my interest is Mike Connealy's fine blog; have a look at :
    I guess it is Bakelite, John? I hesitated about using the term, as most of the sources I found described the body as being constructed from "heavy plastic". I guess Bakelite was still around in 1950. Thanks, JDM, I'm not recommending that you rush out and buy an Argoflex, but I'm pleased you found something of interest.
  12. The Argoflex 40 looks like it has a nicer lens and shutter than the 75. According to my favorite price site, both are worth about $20 each.
    Will it take a 120 spool on the supply side? Some 620 cameras will, some won't.
  13. Rick--great presentation as usual--and great pix! Amazing what those obscure cameras can do. Your number four photo is superb! Thanks!
  14. I've always passed on the Argus TLR's. Never heard anyone say anything good about them. Although I'm not sure I've ever come across the 40, mostly 75's. Just goes to show that there are still some surprises out there. Glad you decided to take a chance on this one Rick.
  15. The Argoflex Forty is another one of those underrated yet surprisingly capable old shooters. I bought mine thinking of it as sort of the "top end" in simple cameras, fully expecting its coated triplet lens and decent selection of aperture and shutter speeds to offer a lot of potential. And, I have to say I haven't been disappointed! As your pictures demonstrate, these little triplets can actually be rather decent image makers. Yours seem similar to these pictures which are from a different Argus model, but the same lens. So far I have nothing but "test" images to show from mine since I undertook to do a complete overhaul and wanted to first see if everything was working right. But I hope to get some more interesting pictures soon, especially some IR images since one of my tests was actually to characterize it for IR film.
    In addition to the decent lens, I also like the Forty for its stylish good looks (IMO), its bright viewfinder - similar in size to a Kodak Duaflex - and a few other features that you donโ€™t always find on simple cameras. These include a tripod socket, a cable release socket, a nine-blade iris, and a real pressure plate. Another thing I found after setting infinity focus was that the focus remained reasonably accurate over the entire range, being off by a respectable 4 to 6 inches at the closest focus setting (3-1/2 ft). Finally, the viewfinder accuracy is surprisingly good too, having a coverage about 5% larger than what the camera actually sees. (One of my pet peeves is inaccurate viewfinders).
    When you include name variants such as the "Argus 40" this model really is not that uncommon, at least not based on all the sales I have seen. Fortunately, the prices are often pretty reasonable too. :)
  16. 120 film helps present pictures better than let's say 35mm even with cameras that are not top rated. In the end though, this proves it's the photographer not the equipment that creates nice work.
  17. In case anyone is interested, there is a nice website devoted to Argus cameras at http://www.arguscg.org/.
    This site contains a lot of information about Argus cameras.
    There is also an active Yahoo group that you can subscribe to. Instructions are on the website.
    Argus cameras, in general, are very underrated. A previous poster said they had never heard anyone say anything good about Argus cameras. They obviously had never met anyone who had ever used an Argus.
  18. Nice overview of the Forty. I have three of them and they do perform pretty well for a faux TLR - the biggest problem I have is the thing you pointed out: the front shutter release that promotes camera shake. It takes some practice (or skill) to get sharp pictures, and it cuts down on the fun of the camera. Still, it is a nice, small medium format camera and illustrates Argus' decent camera at a decent price philosophy.
  19. This was close to my first "classic". Around this time I also got a Yashica D. My father suddenly had to teach photography and was looking for cameras for students and picked up this model from a yard sale in 1982 for a few bucks. I was just starting myself and I ..well I took it for me and used it after that. It is a cut above the other models and indeed mine vignettes quite nicely. Of course I'm no Rick D and my stuff is nowhere close. One color slide I made of a bridge in Fall trim was excellent. 120 color slides are the cat's pajamas!! I see you too were very impressed as I was with a glorified box camera.
  20. Good to see these Rick,all my toys are packed away....and I miss them! I don't think I have an Argus of any sort (but will have to check) so your post is most enlightening.
    A hard coated triplet on a box camera puts it firmly in the top ranks of that class, and as we all know, a good triplet used within it's limitations, can produce excellent results as you have shown.
    I have a couple of "faux" TLR's in the form of a Kodak and an Ensign, and while the viewfinders are excellent I can assure you that the image quality is firmly in the box camera ranks!
    Hope the weather clears soon for you, and keep the cameras coming...I need my fix!
  21. You're right, Glen, the Forty was way more sophisticated than the 75, and neither fetch very much at auction. I paid about $30 for my copy, and it's quite some camera for the price! Thanks, Paul, I'm always pleased that you like these posts; I get a kick from using some relatively unknown camera and producing reasonable results, it's the "surprise" factor, as Cory observed. Nice to get some experienced Argus input, Jeff, Paul and David; I've even managed to get some nice frames from "the Brick", while I think the C-Forty-Four is a delightful little machine. (See my post http://www.photo.net/classic-cameras-forum/00ZJRy).
    You're right, Alan, a good big negative beats a good little negative, any day, but it's cheaper and simpler and just as rewarding to produce a good little negative. I like that night shot of the school, Chuck, thanks for sharing the pic and your recollections. Hang in, Tony, you must be in withdrawals at this point, but I hope you shift is almost complete. As for our weather...I don't think I want to discuss that...
  22. For anyone wanting more information about Argus TLR's specifically, there is this page on the Argus Collector's Group website that Paul mentioned, which shows the full range of what was produced. There is also a page about restoration of the Argoflex EM and conversion to 120 which concludes with a rather detailed breakdown of the history of Argus TLR production.
    It is amazing to me how dedicated some Argus fans are and how much information there is out there, for this range of mostly rather simple cameras. It turns out that there is even a museum dedicated to the Argus Camera Company, it's people and products.
    Apparently some people just love Argus! And that's great, in my book. :)
  23. Nice results, Rick. I'll admit at first glance it might look a bit like a Lubitel, but that's where any resemblance ends. Nice sharp images with good contrast. I've never seen results from this one so thanks for sharing.

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