In '47 Argus introduced the Argus Model 21 "Markfinder," a
35mm camera with a unique bright-line finder based on technologies developed
by Argus during War World II. This metal bodied camera was their first model
to have automatic shutter cocking as the film was advanced to prevent double
exposures and it had a hot shoe for flash. In the '50s and '60s
Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras came into prominence with the introduction
of the penta-prism, instant return mirror, and automatic diaphragm. More automated
exposure control was being introduced with the introduction of the Exposure
Value System (EVS) in the U.S.A., which coupled the shutter and diaphragm so
the photographer could change just one parameter without altering the amount
of light reaching the film. In '56 the Argus 50mm f/2.8 Cintagon lens
for the new C-44 camera was one of the first commercial lenses to be designed
with the aid of computers. In '58 Argus gave the venerable C-3 a facelift,
naming it the C-3 Standard. An identical version, the Argus C-3 Match-Matic,
incorporated a rudimentary EVS control with a clip-on meter calibrated in Match-Matic
settings and a two-tone black and beige finish.
new "Argomania" book by Henry J. Gambino provides
a detailed historical overview of this company and is copiously
illustrated with dozens of black and white photos of nearly all
the early pioneering Argus cameras.
The Argus C-4 ('51-'57) may have been the best camera Argus built.
It had a die-cast aluminum body, coupled rangefinder, coated 50mm f/2.8 Cintagon
lens, behind-the-lens five speed shutter, and built-in flash sync. It sold for
$99.50. The Argus C-4 and C-44 (an upgraded C-4 with bayonet-mount interchangeable
lenses) cameras were both later upgraded by adding a rapid wind film advance
lever and designated the C-4R and C-44R.
The only totally new camera introduced in '58 was the Argus V-100, a 35mm
rangefinder model having a built-in selenium meter with a shutter and diaphragm
calibrated in EVS numbers, which was the first imported camera to carry the
Argus name. It was made by the German firm Iloca Camera and was a clone of the
Iloca Rapid II-L.
In the late '50s and early '60s automation in still photography
was becoming more common. So, in '59 they introduced the Argus C-33, which
was basically a redesigned but still boxy and heavy version of the venerable
C-3. It offered a rudimentary form of exposure control with an accessory CM-2
exposure meter, which coupled to the shutter speed control to give the proper
lens opening to use. It was superseded in '60 by the Autronic, the first
of their cameras offering fully automatic exposure control through a built-in
coupled exposure meter.
In '57 the company became the Argus Division of Sylvania Electric Products,
Inc., and in '62 Argus was again sold to Mansfield Industries, a relatively
minor player in the photographic field whose product line consisted mostly of
low-end items for home movie makers, filter kits, auxiliary lenses, and darkroom
items. However, the merger made Mansfield/Argus the second largest manufacturer
of photographic equipment in the US. By the end of '62 Argus announced
the end of camera production in Ann Arbor and moved production to a Chicago
suburb. In the still camera line, the only products manufactured by Argus at
that time were the Autronic II and the aging Standard and Match-Matic models
of the Argus C-3, which were still selling well.
In 1947 Argus introduced the Argus Model 21 "Markfinder,"
a 35mm camera with a unique bright-line finder. This metal bodied
camera was their first model to have automatic shutter cocking
as the film was advanced to prevent double exposures and it had
a hot shoe for flash.
In '62 Argus purchased a number of cameras from Mamiya, which were relabeled
Argus. The Argus Auto 35 (also sold as the Mamiya Automatic 35EEE) and the Tower
41. A belated entry into the booming SLR market was the Argus SLR, also made
by Mamiya. In '63 two more imported cameras came along, the Argus A-5
and Argus Automatic 35.
The big photographic technology breakthrough in '63 was the introduction
by Kodak of the 126 Kodapak drop-in cartridge for their new line of Instamatic
cameras. Since this concept drastically simplified film loading, it was immediately
a hit with the public. A year later, Argus was the first firm other than Kodak
to manufacturer a 126-film camera, the Argus 260, which was made by Mamiya.
It used the tiny AG-1 flash bulb introduced by General Electric in '58.
In '65 Sylvania introduced the flashcube (having four even tinier flash
bulbs housed in one rotating housing). This forced Argus and other firms to
redesign their cameras to accept flashcubes.
In '66, manufacture of the Argus C-3 ceased. The firm continued to import
cameras under the Argus name, but never again manufacturer a camera. After 30
years an era of made-in-America photography had ended.
To learn more about Argus and a history of their business, seek out the well-illustrated
new book Argomania or visit the Argus enthusiasts website at: http://groups.yahoo.com/
group/arguscg/. You can also visit the Argus museum located in Ann Arbor, Michigan,
which opened in '87 in one of the original factory buildings. A former
service manager, Richard Kinsey, acquired the remaining stock of Argus parts
in '85 and opened his own firm Ikon Photo Optics (803-787-1626), in Columbia,
South Carolina, where he still repairs early Argus equipment.
Personal Observations From A Former Argus Employee
The 50mm f/3.5 Cintar lens used on the brick-like Argus C-3 camera was very
similar in optical design to the popular, and quite expensive, Leitz Elmar 50mm
f/3.5 lens of that era. If you were able to obtain a perfect example of the
Cintar lens, having precisely manufactured elements and optimal spacing shims,
the resolution results would match that of the Elmar lens, but since the Cintar
was produced to less precise standards at a much lower cost, few of them actually
matched the optical quality of the superb Elmar.
Many of us old-time photo buffs started out using an inexpensive Argus 35mm
camera before graduating to more versatile gear. Even users of the venerable
Argus C-3 "Brick" often were not aware that this was actually an
interchangeable lens camera. After screwing off the idler gear cap screw located
between the focusing knob and the lens, the 50mm Cintar lens can be screwed
off. There were several 35mm plus 100-135mm accessory lenses offered for the
C-3 that coupled to the rangefinder, but they required a special optical finder
on the top of the body for proper framing.
Argus cameras were engineered and manufactured in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for nearly
three decades. Even the glass for the lens elements was ground and assembled
at the factory. I remember well a neighbor who worked in the glass grinding
facility coming home with the red rouge grinding powder all over his work clothes
every evening. I worked in the Argus Engineering Research and Development for
four years in the late 1950s when right out of college. I helped test and evaluate
existing and new camera and projector products for lens quality and flash efficiency
and in setting inspection standards for movie camera products being produced
overseas for Argus.
Argomania (ISBN 0-9770507-0-X) has a list price of $39.95 plus $4.50 shipping.
Copies can be ordered directly from Aeone Communications, 73 Old Dublin Pike
#181, Ste. 10, Doylestown, PA 18901. Check or money order only. Websites and
booksellers will also handle this new book.