James's Camera Collection: Argus C3

Argus C3 USA 35mm cameras
Argus Argus C3
Camera type: rangefinder
Approx. dates of manufacture: 1939 - 1966
Approx. original price: $30 (1940) - $69.50 (1952)
Approx. street value: low

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.

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 dominated by paper-backed 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 Model A 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. The bad part is that you can't use a 3rd party flash without an adapter.

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.

Camera manual: Orphan Cameras.com

©opyright by James Ollinger. All Rights Reserved.