James's Camera Collection: Argus C3

Argus C3 USA Company History Owner's Manual 35mm cameras Argus Collector's Group website
Argus Argus C3
Camera type: rangefinder
Approx. dates of manufacture: 1939 - 1966
Approx. original price: $30 (1940) - $69.50 (1952)
Approx. street value: $10

I don't get it. I have one (actually I have at least two, maybe more) and I still don't understand why these things were wildly popular. Most cameras are only manufactured for a few years; even the big hit cameras rarely run over a decade; yet this thing was made over a quarter-century. Go figure.

In 1939 it kind of made sense. The Germans had been making 35mm cameras for years (e.g. the Leica and Contax), but the US was still in love with roll film. Argus decided to try to make their own Leica-copy, which they called the A, followed it with a series of cameras based on it, briefly flirted with the model B, then unleashed the C series in 1938. The first two were okay, but the third, the C3 hit like gangbusters.

It's nick-named "the brick" and it feels like it. It's dense and heavy, but that gives it a substantial, quality feel that a lot of plastic cameras lack. They're simple and fairly reliable. Optics are so-so. It was the Ford of cameras.

I think I paid $5 or $10 at the swap meet for my first one, and it came with the box and the display price tag. It's a late version, made sometime between the late 50s and 1966 when the company folded. I have another one that came as a lot of equipment that I'd purchased because I wanted something else. That one (pictured) has the coupled flash unit. That's one nice thing about this particular camera: the flash plugs right into the side so you don't have to fool with sync cords, and it leaves the accessory shoe available for an add-on light meter.

If you want to see more of this camera, watch a movie called Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow, because it's the camera that Gwyneth Paltrow uses throughout the movie.

©opyright by James Ollinger. All Rights Reserved.