The Iconic American

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by rick_drawbridge, Jan 23, 2013.

  1. According to the sources, my copy of the Argus Standard C3, bearing the serial number 1921259876, was manufactured in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the first quarter of the year 1958. As the production run extended from 1939 to 1966, one would have to call mine a "late model".
  2. I'm not going to go into great lengths to describe the Argus C3 and it's history, as I know that it's a perennial favourite among the members of this forum. I hope you will respond with your recollections, and accounts of your experiences with this iconic camera. Love it or hate it, "The Brick" is part of American culture to an extent that no other camera has achieved, and is accredited with introducing and establishing the use of 35mm film among US consumers. Given the extremely long production run of around two and a half decades, I can well believe that many US citizens of my advancing years have handled an example at some stage in their life. Apparently the "technical" appearance, with all the various wheels and knobs, held a strong appeal for the American consumer.

    To me, it's a child of US design of the era spanning 1940-60; solid in the same way that a Sherman tank was solid, basic mechanical solutions built strongly but with little sophistication and with scant regard to what we now call "ergonomics". My personal reactions to the camera, having run a couple of films, are overtly negative; I found it a clumsy and poorly-designed piece of apparatus, slow and clumsy to use with numerous pitfalls for the novice user. Just getting the camera open, depressing the spring clip on the side, takes a measure of strength that many would have found challenging.
  3. The camera has a rangefinder which is linked to the focus wheel mounted on the face of the camera and protruding above the top deck; on this example age has rendered the linkage very stiff, apparently a common problem caused by sticky old grease. The rangefinder, a split-image type , has a separate viewing window beside the viewfinder, not exactly the swiftest of procedures though the rangefinder is bright and accurate. The viewfinder itself is a mere peephole. The shutter has to be cocked by the chrome lever on the face of the camera, and the fingers then kept well clear as the lever returns to the uncocked position as the shutter is released. Unfortunately, a comfortable grip on the camera places one's fingers right in the path of the cocking lever's return. To advance the film, a latch on the top of the camera must be tripped and released as the winder knob is revolved, acting as a double-exposure prevention, but if the camera is packed away prior to winding-on and the latch bumped in the process, it's possible to re-cock the shutter and make an exposure over the previous frame. I did this, several time, alternating with winding on to be sure of fresh film in the gate, and my films ended up with several double-exposures and a couple of blanks. This model has a limited range of shutter speeds ranging from 1/10th to 1/300th, with "B" available as sort of shutter-button lock.
  4. It's a heavy camera, strongly-built and quite nicely finished, and it does have the capability of accepting a telephoto or wide-angle lens, if one can master the complicated procedure of partial dis-assembly involved. The standard lens is the faithful 50mm Cintar f/3.5 lens with some evidence of coating, and it actually performs very well, with good contrasty colour rendition and reasonable sharpness. Overall, it all seemed to be rather a challenge, and I post a few samples. I'm aware that many great photographs have been taken on an Argus C3, but my samples are not among them. Film was Fuji Superia 200 ISO, scans from the Fuji Frontier.
  5. Yep, your criticism matches mine reasonably closely. My only addition is that to service the shutter you have to peel off the leatherette on the front.

    I solved the problem of the shutter-tensioning lever catching your fingers by adjusting it so that it points towards the lens. Easy solution.
    The rest just takes a bit of routine.
    The multiple exposure problem is worse on the older Argus A's where the shutters are of the automatic cocking type.

    No complaints about the lens.
  6. Dammit Rick, even your brick looks good.
  7. Excellent presentation. Thank you.
  8. Great pictures and review as always. I always thought the Argus 35's resembled boxy prototypes? Sort of like they placed everything where it needed to be, without any consideration of style, or ease of functionality? . As you stated they ignored "ergonomics".
    The only upside is of course the images they're capable of. But most of their foreign competitors, Contax, Nikon ,Leica had far better optics and quality. But these all cost many times more than the C cameras.
  9. The company made Radios, prior to cameras. maybe the design was meant to be a portable radio that was repurposed. The shutter release is where you would have put the antenna.
  10. The company made Radios, prior to cameras. maybe the design was meant to be a portable radio that was repurposed. The shutter release is where you would have put the antenna.
  11. Interesting. I never found the C-3 lovable. Quite the contrary. I was introduced to the C-3 in 1955 or -6 when my father tried to teach me to use his.
    It was too large for my little hands, the controls were stiff and the sharp edges on the control wheels cut into my little fingers. Understand that I had large paws for a kid my age, so large that I was told to take up 'cello, not violin, in junior high school. I found my father's C-3 painful to use, am still averse to the things.
    I've never understood why it was necessary to have separate windows for rangefinder and viewfinder, found and find the feature obnoxious. This feature, which was nearly universal back then, is one of the reasons that I never warmed to thread-mount Leicas.
    I'm not sure that my father loved his C-3. It was rarely in evidence, unlike the Kodak Tourist that he often used.
  12. Rick,
    Nice to see a C3 matchmatic in use again. This was my 1st 'real' camera. Quite a step up from a Pocket 110 camera. The C3 is a bit clunky but an OK shooter at f/5.6-8 with a shade. Nice feature of this model ,the lens takes standard Series V filters and shade. Once I learned to work within it's limitations ,my photos improved. Dragged the 'Beast' all over the north woods camping and hiking making some of my fondest memories.
    PS It sits on my bookcase where I can pick it up and trip the shutter and remember.
  13. Super pictures Rick, thanks for posting, and as always your image of the camera itself is something of a work of art.
    The "Brick" isn't as common in England as I guess it is in the States. Some years ago I bought one for a few pounds at a car boot sale, together with its huge ever ready case with the padded out ends. Sadly I never got around to putting a film through it.
    Back then my son was a member of the local Basketball academy and I used to have a couple of hours to kill after dropping him off there. One day I was wandering round the nearby streets when I saw a small Chemist's shop, with some old cameras for sale in the window. It turned out that the owner, Terry Mattock, was a keen photographer and I bought a few things from him. I eventually asked him to sell some of my own surplus kit, and was amazed by his knowledge, he didn't just know the cameras, he knew everything about them, even the most obscure. I felt honoured when he once described me as a "fellow enthusiast". He was that sort of old fashioned guy - the shop had been founded by his parents, and he was born in the flat above.
    One day I took him the Argus C3 to sell, and he immediately offered to buy it for himself, as it had been his own first camera. A while after that he was taken ill, and some time later I was sad to hear that he had died. But I was glad that I'd been able to re-unite him with his first camera.
  14. Despite the camera, for which the term "non-ergonomic" was probably invented, your eye for color makes the results worth viewing.
    The C3 and its stable mates probably did as much to make 35mm slides what they became as did cameras that are much more highly respected as "classics".
  15. Excellent to see some pictures from the Brick, I have never been game to use mine! Actually had it out yesterday, and the thing has a sort of Buick quality about it, but the ergonomics...well lets say that I will never criticize the Exacktas again!
    Your pictures are really good as usual, and I can almost taste those broad beans!
  16. Calling the C3 an "iconic American" makes me think of the old criticism of American tourists abroad as "ugly Americans". I've always thought the C3 is an exceedingly unattractive camera. It takes "form follows function" to an extreme and conjoins it with tone-deaf visual aesthetics. I've never doubted that it was capable of taking good pictures (as you demonstrate; I particularly like "Harvest"), and it certainly earned its place in history, but the industrial designer responsible for its outward appearance should have been prosecuted. It looks like some sort of homebrew project, as if someone took a small metal box, perhaps originally used for cigarettes or breath mints, and mounted a shutter inside it and a lens and some dials on the outside.
  17. The Speed Graphic was not particularly beautiful either, but-------
  18. Very nice presentation, and the shots are really very nice, but....
    I've tried to like these cameras. They're certainly icons, but to me they represent the worst of US manufacturing quality. Stupid low tech design, so-so image quality, cheap materials, and a shutter that belongs on a toy. We made Pintos and Edsels, but I don't want one of those either (nor a Fiat). I'll take a good old US Kodak Retina (made in Germany, of course) any day.
  19. Beautiful work Rick. Only you could make the C3 look desirable.
  20. Your stunning presentation epitomizes what can be accomplished with a practical, functional picture-taking machine and a true master behind the lens.
    I especially love the classic highboy coupephoto..... it made my morning!
  21. It is easy to judge a 70 year old design, and hold it to today's ideals. Try looking at this from a 1939 perspective.
    The designers were limited by the available materials and manufacturing methods of the late 1930's. Things that we take for granted today, like plastics, injection molding, CNC machining, and investment casting. Had not been invented in 1939. Most important of all: they tried to make the cameras affordable.
    Henry Ford's first cars weren't very "ergonomic" either. But like the Argus, they were clumsy and ugly , but both got the job done.
    In 1939 cameras such as Leica, were certainly more svelte, and compact. But no one can marvel at their "ease of use". Loading , and their separate finders were both slow to use.
  22. Rick:
    Good results, and I like the "Harvest" shot the best. Since I live in Ann Arbor, and am intimately acquainted with all things Argus, I think your view of the camera is fair. But as Steve Levine points out, there are reasons for the Brick being the way it is. I don't know how many C models have passed through my hands -- probably close to 100, and probably 90% of them still worked as they should. On the other hand, I can't say the same reliability for any camera made in Europe or Japan, except maybe the Nikon F and the Pentax Spotmatic (but of course, they are not as old). I generally have admiration but not love for the Brick. My favorite Argus is the C-4, which looks like a camera and has nice clean lines.
    My local camera club, the A3C3, opens a new exhibit tonight, which is at the Argus Museum in Ann Arbor.
  23. Good to see a variety of responses! I suspected the C3 is a camera that tends to polarize photogaphers into the "love it or hate it" camps, but we all seem to have rational likes or dislikes about it. I think Steve L. and Mark's position of "admiration, not love" for The Brick would sum up my attitude; it was a solid, reliable and affordable machine, made in the USA, and very much part of the culture. As such, I guess it deserves it's little pedestal in photographic history. Point taken regarding the Speed Graphic, Roger, and I enjoyed your witty denunciations, Steve M, Ken and Craig. Nice recollections, Chris and John, and Dan, I had a sister who once elected to learn the violin and I suspect this contributed to my decision to leave home and set up flat with a couple of friends. Do you still play the cello? It takes similar fingering to play The Brick...
    Interesting comment regarding negative film and slides, JDM and James. I tend to forget just how huge "slides" were, as I worked mainly in negative or medium format transparency, and avoided "slide evenings" like the plague. Ah, Tony, how few of us can relish the flavour of a fresh Broad Bean, now they're well and truly off the list of commercial varieties. Along with the first tender spears of asparagus, they mark a high point in my culinary year. And many thanks for your kind comments, Kayam and Gabor; as for the coupe...Well, I saw it first...
  24. I have used a C3 and tend to agree with this presentation. The image quality is not bad, if used correctly. It is a very easy camera to service (probably the easiest classic 35mm around). Ergonomics are horrendous, which means that you are expected to adapt to the camera.
    And nobody mentioned, the Brick appears in Harry Potter's films. I got some points with my children for that.
  25. The most amazing thing is that these were made for 27 years! Even Nikon's longevity king the F3, was only made for 21 years.
    I would guess that the C3 holds this record? What other camera model was made continuously for that long?
    During this time Leica introduced probably ten different models? And Canon, fugetaboutit. They made so many different model RF's in the 50-60's, it boggles the mind.
  26. Love the pictures, and presentation of the camera, absolutely hate operating the C3. I have lost several skin layers to that focusing wheel. The film advance stop was corroded in mine, so I had to toss it. Did not shed any tears.
  27. I'd be surprised if your C3 was actually a 1958 model. I have a 1959 model and it lacks the bulb symbol on the shutter dial. I had always assumed that the bulb symbol must have been added later then.
    Edit: your serial number corresponds to 1961, not 1958.
  28. Thanks Dave, I used the same source as you to date the camera, and it's a little confusing. Here's the section I used ; I got as far "1921.." but I lack the "8".
    • Standard C-3s with serial numbers starting with 19218... were made in the first quarter of 1958.
    The section dating the Match-Matics confirms the 1961 date
    Thanks, Ralf, I'd agree about the sore finger tip, and Julio and Steve for your input.
  29. I actually think it looks very cool. A true funkis camera.
  30. I've found that it is hard to find 1960s C3s. I've been watching ebay for a 1966 for years, and I've never seen anything later than 1964 come up. I almost wonder if the factory was even still making C3s in 1966, or if they were just shipping out 65's or even 64's as 1966 models.
  31. Awesome presentation as usual, Rick. Your example delivered some very nice photos. I sold my last C3 some time ago and can't say that I really miss it. I'll probably get another if I come across one for a bargain price, but I won't go looking for one. Thanks for a great post!
  32. You're right, Ann; one of our local galleries features one in a steampunk display. I don't think I'll be watching out for another one, Dave, but that's an interesting observation regarding the dates. Thanks, Andy, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Even a bargain price probably wouldn't tempt me, though I would quite like a two-tone Matchmatic with accessory meter and that huge flashbulb holder. Hmmm...
  33. Excellent thread about one of the great ugly ducklings of photography! Despite its ergonomic awfulness the Argus C3 brought affordable 35mm photography to millions of Americans. That is quite an achievement.
  34. I've seen these cameras at several antique malls and thrift shops, but never seem to find a working example and the lens seems to always have been attacked by fungus. It is an interesting looking camera..just like a brick. I also have to agree, give me a Kodak Retina any day.
  35. Wasn't Minolta's X-700 made until 1999? That's when I bought mine. IIRC They came out in 1981 so they are another long-produced icon.
  36. There is a wonderful letter on Stephen Gandy's website CameraQuest: "Dad owned a C-3". For someone like myself used to in-camera meetering and now autofocus (and yes, digital!), this description of the technique and skill needed to reliably get good results from a C-3 is humbling and inspiring. Well worth the read.
  37. Thanks, Thomas, I didn't discover the Camera Quest letter when I was looking for information on the C3. It's certainly worth the read! You're right, Patrick, and the X-300 may still be in production in China as one of the Seagull models. Mind you, Jason, a Retina was probably unaffordable to many of the people who bought the Argus, as William pointed out.

Share This Page