What do you know about old Argus cameras?
February 26, 2016 6:34 PM   Subscribe

I have an elderly Argus C3 camera. The local photo shop has quoted me $65 to fix it. I could buy the identical camera on eBay for much less - there are a ton of listings from $10 to $40 with, the kicker, no guarantees that any of them will work. The few listings that are guaranteed to work run closer to the repair price or well over it. So I have 2 questions, really: 1) Repair or replace? 2) Or go with another camera entirely?

I don't have any big sentimental attachment to the Argus, I just like the way it looks. As best I can tell from googling, it's one of the older C3s, probably from the late 40s early 50s but possibly prewar. It was my father's - his name is on the case - but I don't think he ever used it much, if at all. I really like the idea of using a very old camera and, ok, the family connection is kind of cool. Still. $65 is a lot of money to me.

I am a pretty dedicated digital photographer but I have never had a film DSLR. I've taken one photo / darkroom class in my life, In middle school, and I loved it but somehow never went any further. I did end up in art school, though, and what I want to do now with film is very art focused. I am planning to take a darkroom class in April & I need a camera for that. I'm excited about it! I'm not really looking for crystal clear images, I want ghosts, fuzz, scratches, maybe double exposures. I'm likely to end up transferring the images onto different materials.

Is the Argus the right choice for this sort of thing? I've looked at some images on Flickr and been a bit underwhelmed. Do you know other artists using the Argus? Or is there another camera I should be considering? And, if I do go with the Argus, should I pay to repair the one I have, or take a chance on another one? Anything you know about Argus cameras would be great! Thanks!
posted by mygothlaundry to Grab Bag (10 answers total)
If you like the camera for sentimental reasons then I think the repair price you're being quoted is very reasonable and you should get it repaired. Otherwise, forget the C3 and get some newer device.

Sorry, I don't know anything about the Argus, but have an old camera of my dad's which I mean to keep going as long as possible (and a Minox I love to play with).
posted by anadem at 8:15 PM on February 26, 2016

Best answer: The C3 is an awesome looking camera! I've always loved how they look, and have been temped to get one myself. I guess $65 isn't bad if you will for sure end up with a working camera. Honestly it's not "worth it" from a strictly financial standpoint, but may be worth it to you, due to the family connection, and not having to keep trying to find one that works.

I have not shot with an Argus, but in my thrift store browsing they seem pretty common. If you do decide to give it a try, the advice I give for using any camera is: know its limitations and work within them. Trying to make a camera do something it's just not capable of is a recipe for frustration. Since you are open to randomness and the unexpected as a form of artistic expression, and not, say shooting a wedding, that makes it easier.

On the flip side, there are TONS of functional film cameras for sale (or for free) that will be easier to shoot with and take better quality photos. Some look very cool, and some are rather boring.

Also keep in mind that aside from your darkroom class, there are plenty of services that will develop your film and give you digital files. You'll probably get better quality images by editing digital images than you will in the darkroom.

(Oh, and a couple picky points of pedantry: You say "I have never had a film DSLR." With the C3, you still won't. It's a rangefinder camera, not a Single Lens Reflex. The difference being that with an SLR you view through the actual taking lens, whereas with a rangefinder you view through a separate viewfinder. Just something to be aware when camera-shopping, so you know what you're dealing with. Also the D in DSLR means "digital" so a film DSLR would't really exist. Sorry for the pedantry!)
posted by The Deej at 8:16 PM on February 26, 2016

Repair the one you have. The time may come when you or your children come to appreciate the link to your father, even if minor. Plus it's good to increase the stock, while we still can, of these amazing mechanical devices. They will probably never be made again in significant numbers.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 8:29 PM on February 26, 2016

Best answer: You should get a different camera; an SLR is a much better choice. The first darkroom photography class is purely technical. You'll learn how to not mess up developing film, you'll learn how to not mess up printing photographs, and you'll learn how to not mess up while using a film camera.

Having a camera that only works partially is not going to be helpful to you figuring out how to make photographs because you want to know exactly where the problems are coming from.

On the Argus c3 there's no light meter (or a selenium meter that won't work anymore), so you won't be able to get correct exposure causing endless inconvenience in the darkroom. The Argus is also a range finder which means you're not looking through the lens like an SLR, and unless the rangefinder is calibrated correctly none of your photos will be in acceptable focus. Almost all old cameras will have light leak issues unless you replace all the light seals.

I suggest buying a Pentax Spotmatic on Ebay (I have 3 or 4!). They're built like tanks, the lenses are excellent, and they are a perfect camera to learn with. You'll need to buy a battery for the light meter but everything else is mechanical.

I wouldn't throw the Argus away. It's a cool object and at some point you should try shooting some pictures with it.
posted by gregr at 8:38 PM on February 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I agree on buying a Pentax. That's the canonical learner film SLR; it's definitely the camera you want when you're shooting for a beginner darkroom class.

There's joy in fiddling about with vintage rangefinders but there's also potential massive frustration, so it really makes sense to me that you should have a Pentax on hand for when you just want to crank pictures out and not have to learn an entirely different style of camera. Darkroom development can be frustrating at the best of times, so having a camera that's relatively familiar and easy to shoot with should mean you at least have some decent negatives to work with.
posted by BungaDunga at 9:18 PM on February 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

My father had a C3. Not sure when he got it, but before 1955. Maybe the late '40s. I used it some as a kid. We had a separate, hand-held light meter. At portrait distances, you might what to focus measuring distances with a tape measure. I forget the aperture, but I was always wanting bright sun or fast film. It was a big step up from a true mass market camera, but not a professional's choice. Dad moved up to an Ambi Silette with interchangeable lenses.

$65 is reasonable for a repair. That's basically an hour of work.

If you were really serious about reproducing the best pre-SLR style, you would want a Leica.

I bought a Pentax on Hong Kong while on R&R from Vietnam. Very good camera, very good lenses. Something went awry with the light meter somewhere along the way. I never had it fixed, but that repair would likely cost a lot more than $75.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:04 AM on February 27, 2016

Best answer: Chiming in to agree with you getting an SLR. I picked up a Canon AE-1 a few months ago off of ebay and was able to take decent pictures with it right away using only the knowledge that I've gotten from taking digital pictures. I happened to already have a 50mm lens for the Canon which influenced my choice and let me pick up a body for only $16 on Ebay but you should be able to pick up a body and lens for less than $40.
posted by octothorpe at 6:43 AM on February 27, 2016

Best answer: Camera Schamera. If you really want ghosts, fuzzy pictures and double exposures you can do that with any film camera that isn't working properly. A favorite used to be toy plastic medium format cameras and there was some iconic brand of them but I can't remember what it was, (the Diana?,) anyway they still make some version of them and you'll get their blurry chromatic aberation double exposure stuff with the fine grain of medium format if you want to explore that. As to the camera that you actually have my opinion, fwiw, is you should fix it because its got some, maybe not a lot, of personal history.

If you want a 35mm film SLR I imagine they are cheap to free these days. The more fully non automatic the better. The Olympus OM-1 gets my vote because they had good lenses, were very compact, lightweight, and had no automation. The traditional (ancient) argument between SLR and rangefinder was that because of no mirror or prism the range finder was more compact and less noisy/obtrusive, but I always felt like a leica around the throat of an artist was really a sort of piece of jewelry, not that their is anything wrong with that, maybe it wasn't during the spanish civil war or whatever but certainly by 1984 it seemed a bit fetishy. If you really want to slow down your picture taking, (that seems to be one rationale for using film these days,) You should try a 4x5 view camera, the kind that you use a tripod and cloth over your head with, it really makes you focus (no pun intended) on your shots as individual things. Another thing you could look into is making a pinhole camera, seriously. My thinking is that if you are using film why try to do what digital does better?
posted by Pembquist at 10:55 AM on February 27, 2016

Response by poster: Thank you everyone! Armed with all this info I went to the camera shop and LO. I am already having fun. I am holding on to my C3 and when I have a bit more money I will take it back to the shop for the repairs, but for now my new East German camera of the people is what I think I need. Pembquist yes, I love pinhole, that is in fact what has been leading me down this rabbit hole to begin with and oh man I need to look into the black cape and exploding flash.
posted by mygothlaundry at 2:02 PM on February 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I agree on the Argus C-3 images not appearing that great on Flickr. Likely better to move on to another vintage rangefinder or SLR. Some have mentioned Pentax, if you want to go manual and mechanical the Pentax MX is good and the 50mm f1.7 M lens is wonderful IMHO (K1000 also okay). An older Nikon Nikkormat (the FT2 or 3) or Nikon FM would be a good choice though a little pricier.

Dirt cheap vintage with surprising good lenses try an old Russian Soviet era Leica knock-off FED or Zorki 4. Functionality might be hit and miss but the Industar lenses are pretty good (50mm). Jupiter lenses as well. The Jupiter-9 lens is superb (85MM) if you wrangle a working unit. What's nice about these lenses is they can convey an art type image in that they are not insanely sharp at edges. Pretty good color rendition and in black and white wonderful contrast.

This Canon and others of that generation are also pretty good if you can find a working unit.

My father also had an Argus C-3 and I'm still waiting to find a nice Argus C-4 Geiss.

Here's a secret. These old cameras (not so much the Russian/Soviet) are dime a dozen on ShopGoodwill.com. Don't tell anyone. Happy hunting and picture taking.
posted by WinstonJulia at 1:08 AM on March 4, 2016

« Older 411 on Baltimore's Little Italy   |   What do you write in an OKC profile meant for... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.