Argus Cameras; The American Firm That Made Miniature Photography Affordable Page 2

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.

The 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: 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.


leonardo85's picture

It was intriguing learning about this camera, the technology has moved us into the field of digital photography where we could create magic with our cameras. The quality of a camera plays a vital role in movies as well, there are certain movies where the camera work points up the dramatic elements of a situation such as in action movies, airplane movies where each and every shot is crucial.

kiranjhons99's picture

The quality of a camera plays a vital role in movies as well, there are certain movies where the camera work points up the dramatic

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mar1us91's picture

where each and every shot is crucial jocuri cu tractoare