Arguably the reason 35mm film became the staple of American amateur photography is due to the millions of “Argi” sold from the 30’s to the 60’s. Affordable 35mm photography became accessible to the American public when the IRC radio manufacturing company set its sites on camera production, became the Argus Camera Company of Ann Arbor, Michigan and released the Argus A in 1936. It became an instant hit. The camera’s low price and ease of use, not to mention the convenience of the 35mm film cartridge developed by Eastman Kodak, quickly solidified this new format.
The Argus C series soon followed suit, specifically the C3 which was produced essentially unchanged for 27 years from 1939 – 1966. There were only a few slight modifications done to the Argus C3, affectionately called “the brick,” over its production run. These included slight alterations of the frame counter, shutter release, shutter cocking lever, flash and accessory connections, reducing the number of shutter speeds, backing leatherette configurations and minor lens changes. Additional lens are also available including a 35mm wide angle and 100mm telephoto. An external viewfinder is necessary to utilize these lenses correctly.
Early prewar C3’s had 10 shutter speeds, silver frame counter dial, no accessory shoe or flash attachment, and featured either a Weston or ASA film speed reminder dial on the back. The Cintar 50mm lens was uncoated. The rangefinder window was generally of a blue hue. Postwar C3s had the shutter speeds reduced to seven or five, all models included a Bulb setting. The chrome shutter release was altered slightly and the frame counter dial became black plastic with white letters. Most of these models featured the coated Cintar 50mm lens. Even later models were given five color coded shutter speeds. Known as the Colormatics, this feature was intended to simplify the exposure process. A flash attachment and cold accessory shoe were also added. The film speed reminder on the back was removed and the shutter release was slightly altered. The Argus nameplate was also added to the front beneath the shutter cocking lever. The rangefinder window was generally of a yellow hue, however other colors have been known to exist.
In 1958, Argus produced variations of the C3; the Matchmatic, Golden Shield, The Standard, and the C3 big brother the C33, possibly the world’s ugliest camera. The Matchmatic and Golden Shield were essentially jazzed up C3s with two-tone leatherette, larger rangefinder windows, a teardrop shaped shutter cocking lever, flattened knobs and buttons, and a new coated Cintar 50mm lens with the aperture dial on the barrel instead of the lens face.
The Argus C3 is a fun camera to handle and repair. It’s perfect for the beginning photographer or anyone who wants to start repairing cameras. Made of strong Bakelite and metal, this thing is a tank and can withstand the abuse of any photographer. With its decent range of aperture and shutter speeds, and a quality coated 50mm lens what more do you need to learn photography. The shutter release has a “B” and “I” engraved at the base and a white indicator dot. Just turn the base of the shutter release to “B” for long exposures and “I” for instant exposures. The “brick” satisfied millions of photographers over the last 60 years, and if still in working condition, can continue to produce great images.
CLEANING AND REPAIR
This model is fairly easy to take apart. In fact several camera repair people suggest the C3 as the first camera a beginner should work on. There are some great repair tips within the Argus links. I received mine in very good condition and didn’t have to perform more than standard cleaning and lubrication. To remove the interchangeable 50mm lens, start by removing the rangefinder gearing between the focus dial and the lens. This dial is actually two parts, the shiny chrome cover and the notched gear itself. The top cover does unscrew from the dial but is quite difficult to accomplish on later models. After the cover is off, simply lift up the gear to remove it. Unscrew lens by turning counter-clockwise.
The shutter blades will be readily accessible and can be flooded with lighter fluid if sticky. Remember to work the shutter for several minutes after flooding. I use a 50/50 solution of ammonia and hydrogen peroxide to remove any haze and fungus from the lens and rangefinder windows. Dip a cotton swap into the solution and lightly wipe off the lens and windows, but don’t use too much because it can leak through the seal and get behind the glass. Wipe off with a soft optical cloth or lint free tissue paper. The camera face can be removed, but peeling back the edges of the front leatherette will be required. There are small screws under the leatherette that once removed will allow access to the entire shutter mechanism which spans the full width of the camera. Use Pliobond or an equivalent to glue the leatherette back down once the faceplate is reattached. The lens housing and other metal areas of the camera were pretty tarnished. Place some M.A.A.S. metal polish on a soft toothbrush and scrub the lens housing, metal dials, and trim. Let sit for a minute then wipe of with a soft cloth or lint free tissue. Avoid getting this stuff on the lens glass. All of the metal shined up quite nicely considering the camera is over forty years old. The lens housing sparkles.
To put the lens back on or attach an alternate lens, simply screw the lens clockwise until fairly tight then back it up a bit until the f/16 aperture number is centered at the top of the lens, perpendicular with the base of the camera. The rangefinder dial should be set to infinity. Line up the center coupling gear between the teeth of the rangefinder dial and the lens, and firmly push it back into place. It should easily snap back in. Gearing teeth cover only half of the lens base so when the rangefinder distance dial is turned from infinity to three feet (counter-clockwise), the coupling gear should spin the lens counter-clockwise simultaneously and travel to the other end of the teeth at the lens base. The rangefinder distance dial should turn from infinity to three feet smoothly and completely. If it doesn’t the RF dial and lens weren’t lined up properly when the coupling gear was reattached. Remove the coupling gear and try again.
Remember to open up the back and wipe down the inside of the lens and the rangefinder and viewfinder windows. The viewfinder is fairly bright but the rangefinder window leaves little to be desired. The small window magnifies the image and makes it fairly difficult to focus. The frame counter can be removed with a single screw, and it looks like a small area of the top can be removed with two screws to allow access to the inside of the rangefinder and viewfinder windows. Also for ease of adjusting the rangefinder, a thick metal cover can be removed with a small spanning wrench to reveal the two rangefinder adjustment screws underneath.
Do a search on EBay for Argus C3 to get an idea of just how many of these cameras are available in a wide range of condition. The common black C3 is the most prolific model while there are still plenty of Matchmatics and Standards available, with the occasional Golden Shield and C33 popping up here and there. The common black C3 can easily be picked up for five to ten dollars in very good condition, usually with a case and possibly a flash attachment. The other later models such as the Matchmatic may fetch more, around ten to twenty dollars. You may come across a C2, which does not have the coupled gear between the rangefinder dial and the lens, being auctioned as a C3. The C2 has less features, but is harder to find so pay accordingly. Also, you can usually tell what type of C3 is being auctioned if the photo is clear enough to make out the shutter dial. The newer models have only five evenly spaced shutter speeds that are color coded. Earlier models have up to 7 or 10 black shutter speed numbers on the dial. These are heavy cameras and shipping is generally six to ten dollars. My best advice is patience, enter your maximum bid and walk away. You’ll either win it or you won’t. If you don’t there will always be another opportunity. If the seller doesn’t list the condition of the lens or you can’t tell from the photo, email the seller and make sure the lens is without scratches. Dust and fungus can be cleaned, however some fungus does etch the glass, so the cleaner the lens the better. A pristine camera is just a paperweight if the lens is damaged.
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