I was looking to do something in honor of the 4th of July Independence Day holiday on Tuesday. I think classic American cameras don’t get enough spotlight.
I thought to myself, what is the most iconic American camera? What camera would qualify as an American Camera Legend? There have been quite a few of them, but for some reason none came to my head right away. When you think of iconic German cameras, right away you probably think of Leica, Rollei, or the early Contax cameras. Japan, you easily think of Canon, Nikon, Pentax, etc, etc.
American? First thing that came to my mind was Kodak, but Kodak was iconic mostly as an American film manufacturer. Sure they had a bunch of cameras too, but a lot of them were rebranded imports or cameras that were part American, part foreign (usually the lenses). It was films like Kodak Kodachrome or Ektachrome that made Kodak an American icon.
I thought of Polaroid too and certainly some of their cameras such as the Land Cameras or the One Step series would qualify. But again, a lot of the best Land Cameras had Japanese lenses on them.
The only one I could clearly say is an American Camera Legend is the Argus C3. Well, let’s say it might be the most iconic American camera in my collection. So if you can think of a more iconic American camera, feel free to let me know. I’m just saying this is the most iconic made in the USA camera in my collection.
AS A CAMERA
The Argus C3 is a 35mm rangefinder camera made by Argus of Ann Arbor, Michigan from around 1939 to 1966.
The camera features a 50mm f/3.5 Cintar lens which was made by other companies among them the most well known was Bausch & Lomb, another famous American optical manufacturer.
The lens can be removed and there are a few other lenses which can be used on the C3, though in my personal experience, I’ve never seen a C3 in the flesh with any lens other than the 50mm Cintar. The Cintar is actually the fastest at f/3.5 while the other lenses (35mm/100mm/135mm respectively) have a very slow and boring f/4.5 as their fastest aperture.
The camera has a shutter speed range of 1/10 to 1/300 plus B and the lens as an aperture range from f/3.5 to f/16. The rangefinder focuses from around 3 feet to infinity and is coupled.
There were a few revisions to the C3, but I think they are all pretty much the same cameras or at least nothing really earth shattering in the revisions. The original “C” model has an uncoupled rangefinder.
The first thing that strikes you about the Argus C3 is the awesome retro look. But this isn’t a Fuji or Olympus digital camera dressed up as retro. This thing is from 1939 to 1966…it IS retro! 🙂
Its nickname is “The Brick” and it does look and feel like a funky, chunky brick! In pictures, it looks smaller to me than it actually is in real life. I remember being quite surprised by the size of this camera when I first got it.
I remember seeing the camera numerous times on television, as a prop in print ads, and in movies, most notably in one of the Harry Potter movies.
It makes a great prop I must say!
I know without pictures “it didn’t happen” but I’m not going to lie, I don’t have any photos from this camera that I’d consider remarkable.
The lens, at least on my sample, was of average quality and many of my shots were in poor focus or blank. The ones that were sharp seemed decent but nothing I’d call spectacular. Don’t forget, this was a camera designed and priced to sell to the masses, it was not and is not a Leica. I can and do blame myself for not producing decent pictures with the camera, but I don’t think the Argus C3 would mind if I blamed it too 🙂
Sure, don’t get me wrong, you can get some nice pictures with it, but then again you can get nice pictures with almost any camera. If you want a camera to take those shaky, out of focus, softish hipster images, this might be the camera for you.
I’m not sure if the rangefinder was off or the shutter or something else I was doing wrong. It might just be my particular camera and lens. Nevertheless, it’s not a camera I’m really interested in putting another roll of film through as I have a lot of other film cameras to review!
PRICE & COLLECTIBILITY
The Argus C3 is a good example of “collectible” not translating to “expensive.” Argus made millions of these mass produced cameras and while beautiful (to me), it is not an out of this world picture taker. People know that and it shows in today’s used prices which can go as low as $10, though the average prices for these cameras seem to be trending at between $15 to $30.
The C3 is also a good example of a camera looking like it’s worth more than it is. I’ll bet on any given day, someone comes across one of these in their attics and knowing today’s appetite for anything retro, they probably think it’s worth a lot. Then they check prices on eBay only to be disappointed by the low prices these cameras command.
AS AN ICON
As I said at the start, the Argus C3 is an American Camera Legend. The camera sold in the millions and helped to popularize 35mm photography in America.
By doing so, they probably helped Kodak sell a boatload of film in the USA as well. So even though the C3 wasn’t and isn’t (in my opinion) a great shooters camera, it is indeed a legendary camera. A Camera Legend.
So if you’re a camera collector, and a patriotic American, you don’t just want one, you need to have one in your collection!
The looks alone will bring a smile to your face and amazement to your non camera knowlegeable but retro loving friends. Just think twice before you waste any film on it. My two cents! 🙂
WHERE TO BUY?
Buy from our affiliates and help to support Camera Legend. Appreciate your support and your visits!
Nikon Lens Rebates are on!! This is the time to SAVE BIG on Nikon!
11 thoughts on “Iconic American Cameras Part I: The Argus C3”
Nice look for a brick 😉
Never saw one here in Europe though….
I own three of these: two black ones and a tan-and-black Match-Matic. And I haven’t warmed to them. I’m probably going to sell them.
Another film blogger I follow gets stunning results from his, though: http://connealy.blogspot.com/search/label/Argus%20C3
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hi Jim, thanks for the link, made me want to give the Argus another shot!! I’m in your shoes, but maybe I need to try and warm myself up to this camera 🙂
I’ve got my grandfather’s Argus C3 that he used to take all of his photos that I’ve posted over the years. I’ve taken some liberties with some of them and converted to B&W, but they all started as color slides, mostly Kodachrome or Technicolor, some Ektachrome. Scans don’t do them complete justice, but it’s been wonderful to have all of these. Here’s a link to the ones I’ve posted on Sanslartigue:
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hey David, thanks for the link, you’re photos are awesome and better than anything I got out of this camera! Perhaps, I will give it another try or get another copy of the Argus to try, thanks again for the inspiration!
I’ve been meaning to shoot a roll with it, not sure what I’m waiting for. I’ve got several rolls of expired film also. Remember all of those were shot by my grandfather when the camera was new. It hasn’t been used in 40 years
Bro, this is one of two cameras that got the 11 year old Boscodamus into photography, the other being the venerable Exacta VX. My cousin and uncle from California brought the cameras with them on a visit and showed me transparencies.
Until then I had only known my mom’s Brownie and little B&W prints with the serrated edges. Needless to say I was more than impressed! 🙂
Thanks for the memory with this fine write-up.
LikeLiked by 1 person
It might the rangefinder part is out of synch. I stumbled across one a couple of years back, late fifties edition. Once I figured out the film advance gimmick I got pretty good results, most of the issues I had were more in the way of user errors.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hi Chris, yeah despite my somewhat sarcastic humor, I did state that it could just be my particular camera and lens. You know, I may give it another go! They are very cheap on the market, I’ll probably seek out another one. Appreciate your input, thanks!
I have fairly big camera collection. Saw a Argus 3 Matchmatic on EBay and had to get it. I think it’s a cool looking camera. I still shoot film but I just shoot medium format using 2 Mamiyas a Bronica and a
The Argus Matchmatic is an eye catcher for sure! One thing I’ll say is that the Argus cameras look great though they could never match your medium format cameras! -Best, Sam