I’m not sure what is more impressive, that the Argus Camera Company of Ann Arbor, Michigan solidified 35mm as the format of choice for amateur photographers by selling an inexpensive, quality rangefinder camera in 1939 which sold millions of units over it’s nearly 30 year production life, or that Argus is still making cameras today. Of course the Argus cameras today are regulated to the small, fully automatic, point-and-shoot type, APS or entry-level, digital cameras, but they are still plugging away, albeit now from Chicago instead of Michigan.

Equally impressive is that The Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. has also acknowledged the contributions of Argus to popular photography by awarding Argus the “Great American Camera” honor. The Argus C3 is a classic, and every camera collection should have one. The C20 on the other hand was a distant cousin. Produced in the 50’s, this simple brown, Bakelite camera did not break any new ground, nor turn many heads.

The C20 is not an impressive camera, and information regarding this model is hard to find. It features a standard viewfinder window, however the separate rangefinder window is quite small and somewhat difficult to use. The 44mm lens resembles something off of an old folder model, as the shutter cocking lever is situated on the top of the lens barrel and must be set before the shutter can fire. There is also a small, sprocket along the film path inside the camera that spins as the film is advanced. This also plays a part in the shutter cocking system, much like the Kodak 35 Rangefinder. A simple plastic button has been put in place alongside the lens barrel that pushes down on the shutter release lever toward the bottom of the lens. The aperture and shutter speed ranges are limited but usable, and the focus range is adequate spanning 2.5 feet to infinity. This whole camera seems to be designed around left over parts Argus had lying around, and resembles a Kodak Pony rather than earlier Argus models. The tough Bakelite body is fairly sturdy and the removal back snaps off for easy film loading. There are two large, flat knobs on top of the camera. One is for rewinding the film, the other for advancing. The advance knob has a small protrusion used for thumb advance, but must be turned counter-clockwise nearly 180 degrees to advance the next frame. This can be very annoying. The advance knob must be twisted clockwise about five degrees to invoke the rewind release. This model does share the same flash capabilities as the C3, a side mounting flash bulb connector. All in all, a capable but unassuming camera.

Crafted from brown bakelite, plastic and aluminum, the C20 can easily be cleaned using Windex. Windex can be used on the lens as well (sparingly) if no fungus or haze is present. Otherwise use a 50/50 solution of hydrogen peroxide/ammonia to remove fungus and haze. Cotton swabs lightly covered in Windex will clean the viewfinder and rangefinder windows. The lens can be removed by unscrewing the front focus ring and removing three small screws. There is one large flat-head screw underneath the lens housing. This is the ring with the shutter speeds etched into it. Remove this screw to separate the front of the lens housing to get to the front and middle elements. The rear element can be accessed from the inside of the camera. Once the two outside elements are removed the shutter blades can be flooded with Rosenal lighter fluid if they stick. Work the shutter for several minutes and let dry before reassembling the lens elements.

Not as common on EBay as the Argus A, C3, C4 or C44, the C20 can be found occasionally but does not command a high price because it just isn’t a great camera.  There is nothing special about the C20 so don’t spend too much.  They can be found for 10-15 dollars.  I wouldn’t spend more than 20 dollars for this simple plastic and aluminum camera with limited aperture settings and shutter speeds.  The shutter must be engaged using the separate lever on the top of the lens housing and the sprocket inside the camera must turn to release the shutter, so it could be possible that a seller thinks the camera is broken when it really just needs to be advanced and the shutter engaged.  These are easy to repair and clean up, so don’t pay a premium if an auction is found.  Shipping should be around 8-10 dollars.

Argus Camera Company
Make a flash for your Argus
Argus C20 Manual 
Argus Collectors Group 
Argus Camera Photo Exhibition

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