Friday, January 30, 2009
The Argus 75 - A toy or a tool?
The Argus 75 is a fun little bakelite wonder from Ann Arbor-based Argus. Produced from about 1949-1964, the camera takes 620 film. It has a shutter-cocking feature that prevents double exposures -- which was useful if you were one of those families that had at least two Christmases, Halloweens, or whatever on one roll of film (12 exposures). The Argus 75 (which started out named as the Argoflex 75) was the very first Argus that I bought in an antique shop in Cheboygan, MI about 8 or 9 years ago. I then started acquiring other Argus cameras, and as they say, "The rest is history."
The cameras isn't a real TLR in the sense that it's really a box camera with a reflex viewing window that uses a second lens. There is nothing to adjust except for Instant and Time, for making your exposures. The Time is important, if you wish to shoot in dim light, or convert the camera to a pinhole. A very useful feature is that Argus put a tripod thread on the bottom of the camera, making it more versatile. It's hard hand-holding a camera for time exposures.
The 75mm lens is coated, and the aperture is about f/13. "Instant" shutter speed is about 1/60 sec. Back in the day, Kodak's Verichrome Pan was the ideal film for this camera. Today, you could use Ilford FP4+, Kodak Plus-X Pan, or Fuji Across 100 for sunny to cloudy-bright conditions. For color -- Fuji Superia 100 works well. Since it was designed for 620 film, you can put a 620 spool in the take-up reel, and a trimmed 120 spool on the supply side. If that's too tight, you may have to respool your 120 film onto a 620 spool.
I once offered to write an article on the Argus 75 for Lightleaks magazine, but the editor told me it wasn't a "toy camera." It's just as much of a toy as the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye, or the Agfa Clack. To be sure, a well-made box camera, but really, nothing to adjust except for the shutter between Instant and Time. So, in that sense, it's just as much a toy camera as the Holga...maybe more so.
Since this camera has a tripod socket, it is easy to set it somewhere low and use the time exposure to good effect:
The camera typically has everything in focus from about 7.5 feet to infinity. If you can find the Argus "portrait filter" (a close-up lens), you can shoot things that are about 3 feet away (or experiment with other close-up lenses):
There are a number of variations on the Argus 75 -- and rather than repeat what is already out there on the web, go on over to James Surprenant's website. I often get asked how much these cameras are worth. Not really much. Don't pay more than $10 for one in great condition with the leather case and flash holder. The average value is probably closer to $5. Argus made a lot of these, and if you get a good one (most are in working condition, but you will need to turn the film winding knob to cock the shutter - look for the red to appear behind the lens) - give it a try with some film.
My pal, Gene McSweeny takes great photos with vintage cameras, so check out his Argus 75.
A gallery of all the Argoflex cameras can be found here.
So, is it a toy or a tool? Both.