Getting to know my Argus Argoflex Forty

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by gary green, Sep 23, 2021.

  1. I’ve been collecting and using old cameras for most of my adult life. I’m a spare change collector however; no Leica, Rollei, Contax, etc. elite cameras in my cabinet. Instead, my collection is mostly filled with old Kodaks and sprinkled with an assortment of other low-value brands/models. Being somewhat mechanically inclined, I look for affordable, vintage 35mm and 120/620 film cameras in repairable condition, give them a home-grown CLA, and run a roll or two of film through them for fun. In particular, I look for “sleeper” cameras that aren’t in high demand by collectors but have one or more unique qualities that distinguish them from the plethora of cheap, ho-hum, copycat film cameras that flooded the markets back in the day.

    I bought my first Argoflex Forty at an online auction after reading a review on the Photo Jottings website. Up to that point, the only Argus cameras that stuck in my mind were the C3 “brick” and the Argus 75, neither of which held any special value to me. The Argoflex Forty was different. I was intrigued by the combination of functionality and basic simplicity of the camera: the brilliant viewfinder, the large negative, the apparent quality of the lens, the 9-bladed (circular) iris, and the range of shutter speeds and apertures. As a late middle-aged lifelong eyeglass wearer, my vision has started to degrade to the point where attempting to manually focus and frame through squinty and/or dim viewfinders, which would describe most of the cameras in my collection, has become too tedious. The large, bright, and reasonably accurate viewfinder in the Argoflex Forty was just the antidote for these tired old eyes to keep enjoying my hobby. Since I tend to shoot landscapes at apertures of f8 or smaller, guesstimating distance for the scale-focused lens isn’t too much of an issue. In fact, for both metering and subject distance, I use apps on my phone which, up to this point, have served me well.

    All relationships have their ups and downs and, after shooting my first roll of film, I started to feel the honeymoon was over. You see, most of the frames had what appeared to be a light leak along either one or both sides of most of the frames. I didn’t notice the problem on the top or bottom edges, just on the sides. At first, I blamed this on trimming the roll of 120 film to fit the 620 supply side (a tight fit but possible). I soon discounted this theory after noticing that even the later frames, buried deeper on the spool and safe from light bleeding over the edge of the spool, were affected. I also saw the problem on film that I had re-rolled onto 620 spools in my darkroom. I then took out my high-powered LED flashlight and tried to find any evidence of light leak to no avail. Searching through other reviews of the Argoflex Forty on the web, I found evidence of the same problem in the sample photos provided in the reviews. Most of the reviewers dismissed it as a light leak and others opined that it was a desirable effect that added vintage charm to the photos. This would not do! I wanted and expected excellent results from this camera based on the positive reviews. Something had to be done.

    Here is a particularly egregious example. This is a long exposure shot of the interior of a church sanctuary. Outside the frame on both sides are exit doors with viewing panes to the outside. The light through both doors has bled onto the edges of the film.
  2. I reasoned that there must be a fundamental design flaw with the camera that was the cause of the “light leak” so I took a closer look at the internal construction of the light chamber and noticed that the first 3/8 inch of the perimeter of the light box at the film plane was nearly perpendicular to the film plane. After this point, it angled up towards the rear lens element as is typically seen. Any light striking this flat edge would be a part of the image circle outside of the film plane. Using a flashlight with the shutter open, I could see that a bright light source just outside the edge of the frame could strike this flat 3/8 inch perimeter strip at a shallow angle and reflect a concentrated beam up to the edge of the film (while the light chamber is matte black, it is not non-reflective). Here is an illustration of the light chamber design and an attempt to show what I believe is happening (top-down view - not to scale).
    Argoflex Light Chamber.jpg
    Julio Fernandez likes this.
  3. My solution was to insert a baffle into the light chamber to attempt to prevent or minimize the light striking this flat portion of the light chamber perimeter at a shallow angle. My choice of baffle was a thin layer of black felt material (non shedding) that I adhered to the light chamber walls just to the inside edge of the flat perimeter close enough to cast a shadow on the flat perimeter but not close enough to the film plane to fuzz up the edges. So far so good; my early results have been promising. My first roll of film since installing the baffle had no frames with the “light leak” issue which is significant because I don’t believe any previous rolls shot through this camera didn’t have at least one frame affected. With this issue hopefully fixed, the honeymoon is back on.

    The other niggle with this camera is the whole 620 film thing. You’re pretty much stuck using a 620 spool on the takeup side which really wasn’t a problem for me. As I mentioned above, you can fit a trimmed 120 plastic spool on the supply side but it’s a tight squeeze. In fact, I went so far as to use a dremel tool to grind out grooves in the back cover (it’s plenty thick aluminum) to fit the 120 spool as-is (except for requiring a little notch in one end of the spool to clear the spindle nub). However, I’ve found that, in operation, the 120 spools often bind up when winding the film. I think it has to do with the size of the opening in the end of the spools being too large and allowing too much play. In the end, I forced myself to learn to transfer 120 film onto 620 spools and found it’s really not that difficult or time-consuming.

    For best results, as usual, put the camera on a tripod and use a cable release because, IMHO, the shutter speeds are in the “too slow to safely handhold” range if you want pin-sharp photos. Also, the shutter release operation is crude by any standard and it takes practice to hold the camera steady while pressing the button. If you need to handhold this camera, press it firmly against your body and breathe out before pressing the shutter release button. I also recommend keeping a piece of black electrical tape over the film counter window (fold over one edge so you can easily lift it to wind the film) and gluing a thick rubber washer or O-ring around the elevated tripod mount to give added grip and stability.

    Here are some sample shots.
    img074_small.jpg img103_small.jpg img052_small.jpg
  4. Excellent fix and excellent photos. BTW what was the film and developer? The film looks to be a slow film, 25 ASA perhaps?
  5. Thanks! I used Fomapan/ 100 speed film. I develop in HC-110 for 13 minutes with 5-sec agitation every 30 seconds (after initial 30-second agitation). I forget the dilution letter but I use 6.5ml of syrup to make 16 oz of solution.
    John Farrell likes this.
  6. Super results, once the source of the light leak was eliminated. A picture of the camera would be interesting - I'm not familiar with the Argoflex Forty, like, perhaps, many other non-US members.
  7. Yes, I suppose this camera is not readily found outside the U.S. Here it is.
    John Seaman likes this.
  8. Great stuff! An excellent fix and fine examples from this quite capable camera. There's some information on the Argoflex 40 that I put together a few years ago, here:

    A Surprising American
  9. I am intrigued! I will now go back and examine the few rolls I have shot with my example. I have tow ..well funny stories to tell as well. Both based on y stupidity level. Before I get to that I will quickly relate how I came in to my exemplar. My father nearing retirement age moved from teaching in the big city to a local area high school about the time I finished and as they had no one to teach photography, he volunteered. (BTW this is how I got sucked in ) In light of the upcoming semester he spotted this Argus 40 at a yard sale and named it the 5,00 Dollar Yard sale special, He thought any student who didn't have a camera could use this, as this was not the case I ended up with it.
    The OP mentioned the simple non-focusing "bright finder" This is just a huge version of what you find on many folders. Since I had no previous TLR experience, I didn't realize how a proper GG finder should appear and when somebody asked my "expert " opinion on a TLR I looked through the finder and saw this milky OOF image and advised the camera was likely defekt. Geez What an ignorant idiot I was .

    The second story is "It ain't broke but I'll fix it " The back is hinged but when closing the "clip" would always just undercut the opposite edge. AS it was spring steel clip and obviously it was light tight at that point I thought I'll just "slightly" bend it to facilitate coming over the edge. "PLING" the clip snapped in the middle. It now definitely needs help coming over the edge, and while it fits snugly, I secure it with a rubber band to avoid any accidents.
    I would like to say I am always pleased with the images I get with it. Early on I shot some color slides. One was a bridge in subdued light. that was great. I was trying to project it (620 format) with a lantern slide projector.. I left it in there for too long and it melted somewhat .. not sure where it is now.




    I sharpened this a bit .. wasn't happy ..but now I can't seem to delete it from the post
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2021
  10. Thanks Rick for the pointer to your thread! A great summary of the camera and excellent photos as well.
  11. Thanks for the stories Chuck! BTW, I see the "problem" on the right side of your last pic. That's typically what I saw on many of my pics.

Share This Page