Saturday, April 25, 2020

Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day 2020

Fostoria, OH, WPPD 2016.

Tomorrow, April 26, is the last Sunday in April, also known as Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day (WPPD).  There seem to be a lot of photo events on the calendar -- 'Roid Week, Toy Camera Day, Argust Day, World Photography Day, etc.  However, WPPD is a lot more organized, as it has a web site devoted to the day. I have participated off and on over the years, and this year, I definitely will be making some pinhole photos.  Unfortunately, the pinhole community lost Eric Renner, who died on April 9.  You may not know his name, but his book - "Pinhole Photography - Rediscovering a Historic Technique" (Focal Press) is an amazing book, and great resource for anyone wanting to know more about pinhole and zone plate photography.  He started pioneering work with pinhole cameras in the 1970s, and from the Freestyle Photo page -

"Mr. Eric Renner is the founder and co-director of Pinhole Resource, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sharing information about pinhole photography. He is also founder and co-editor of Pinhole Journal, published three times a year, and gives educational lectures and workshops internationally. Renner has worked in pinhole photography for 32 years. Some of his recent work in assemblages are made in collaboration with his wife Nancy Spencer. His photographs are exhibited in major collections throughout the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, the California Museum of Photography, the National Gallery of Canada, and Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris, France. Renner is the author of "Pinhole Photography: Rediscovering a Historic Technique"

That short summary only tells a part of the story. Mr. Renner's work  is in many museums and collections, and his pioneering work with pinhole photography wasn't just about the mechanics and technique, it was also because he could tell a story with his photographs. I know that the first time anyone uses a pinhole camera, that person is truly amazed to get an image from something so primitive and non-technological as an oatmeal box with a tiny hole.  To take it to the next level - actually making an interesting photo and not that the photo is interesting because it was taken using a pinhole is a great achievement.  To be fair, the same argument can be made for a lot of photography.  Do you like a certain photo solely because of the process used to make it, or it it because of the intrinsic qualities of the image?  Most of us like a certain image because of what we see in it, how it affects us, or that we relate to it in some way.  The mechanical process of normal photography used to make the photo is far less interesting.  The thought process leading to the making of the image, however, is often of interest to us.  With pinhole photography, there is not only the making of the image, there is the making of the camera in a way that affects the image, so the entire process from the camera design to the final image is part of the thought process. 

I will say that pinhole photography, because of its mechanical attributes - long exposures, great depth of field, never fully sharp, but detailed images, and the odd effects that are a result of making almost any dark container a camera, can lead us to make photographs that are unlike any other process.  In that pinhole reality, people can accomplish amazing works that transcend time and physical constraints of the normal camera with a lens.  Eric Renner took pinhole photography from the status of a clever classroom exercise to an artistic photographic genre that is still relevant and exciting.  In Renner's book you'll see the work of a number of photographers, and I think that it can inspire others to try something new.  Yes, pinhole photography can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it, and it can show a "reality" that is not done with any other process. 

Pinhole photography may be the perfect medium for this COVID-19 mess that we are in. Social distancing, shuttered stores and restaurants, closed off parks and natural areas, and those stay-at-home suggestions could result in some creative spark that a pinhole camera image is the perfect for. 

Good luck tomorrow, and may your pinhole images be memorable!

I'll be using my Hamm Camera Pinbox camera - a cardboard camera that uses 120 roll film.  So, I'm hoping for no rain. 

Here's an image from my first roll from the Pinbox, using Ultrafine's Extreme 100 film.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Argus C-3 Follow-up.

My recent post about the Argus C-3 generated a lot of interest, and comments both on the blog and on social media.  There's no doubt that the C-3 was a popular camera into the 1960s, and for some young photographers, it may have been a hand-me-down from a parent that had probably moved to a better camera.  Nonetheless, an Argus C-3 can be used to take pretty good photographs, and to show that I can still use one, a shot a roll of Eastman 5222 a few weeks ago.  I developed the film in D-96 and the results are excellent.   One thing that I quickly found out is that one has to be careful about holding the camera.  A finger in the wrong spot gets hit by the cocking lever when the shutter button is pressed. Definitely not an ergonomic camera, but yet, it does work pretty well.  Also, when rewinding the film, hold the film catch button down while rewinding - which takes forever, because there is no crank, just a thin knurled knob.

You can watch my Photo Notes Episode 2 on D-96.

Here are some photos of Asheville, NC, during our COVID-19 shutdown.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

The Praktica LB2

Low Budget, even for a Praktica

The Praktica line of 35mm SLR cameras was manufactured by  Kamera-Werkstatten (K-W), which became part of the VEB Pentacon group in 1964 and were produced to about 1990. Yes, they were made on the other side of the Iron Curtain, in Dresden, East Germany.  My first brush with a Praktica was around 2001, when I  bought a Praktica TL on eBay.  I had it for a few years, and enjoyed its simplicity and the fact that it used M-42 screw-mount lenses.    My next Praktica, in 2009,  was an early model, the FX-3, which was made in the late 1950s.

By the mid-1970s, SLRs were extremely popular, and with the offerings of Pentax, Canon, Minolta, Nikon, and Olympus (and many smaller brands), there was much to choose from in an SLR system.  One thing all these cameras had in common was TTL metering.  The Praktica LTL (1970-75) did have TTL stop-down metering, and I find it interesting that the LB (1972-75) and LB2 (1976-77) utilized an external Selenium meter that was uncoupled.   The price point for the LBs must have been significantly lower, and perhaps aimed at beginners.  I just don't see how such a camera would have competed against Japanese-made SLRs at the time outside of the Communist Bloc.    I tried searching for 1970s Praktica SLR prices in US magazines, and the closest I could come was a 1981 price for a Praktica LTL3 (which did have TTL metering) with a 50mm lens for $107 at Cambridge Camera.   At that time, a Nikon FE body with a 50mm 1.8 lens was $310.  A Canon AE-1 with 50mm lens was $370.  Obviously, the Praktica was much cheaper, but also lacked any automation.

So, what's one to make of the Praktica LB2?  The basic features of the camera are:

  • Vertical metal-bladed shutter with B, 1- 1/1000 sec shutter speeds
  • ISO 6 - 1600 settings for meter
  • external Selenium-celled, uncouple meter with match needle window on top deck
  • ISO flash shoe on prism
  • 1/125 sec flash sync
  • 1/30 sec sync for flashbulb
  • front mounted shutter release
  • tripod socket
  • accepts M-42 screw mount lenses

I loaded up the LB2 with some Svema FN64 (from the FPP store) and took the camera along on several outings.  The front-mounted shutter release didn't take long to get used to, as it's actually very comfortably placed, and my index finger falls naturally on it.    The shutter has a nice chunk sound when it fires, and apart from the Selenium meter, it reminds me a bit of a Minolta SRT 102.  I used several lenses, the favorite being the Starblitz 28mm f/2.8.    I tried to use the metering of the camera as much as I could, though I may have just used sunny-16 a few times.  One disadvantage of that non-TTL meter is that filter factors need to be considered when using any filter, rather than having the meter compensate for them.

In the end, while the LB2 is an odd-duck SLR, it does pretty well for such a low-budget camera.  In general, the Praktica SLRs are a step up from the Russian-made Zenits, and will deliver good results.  The prices on eBay have really gone up for the Prakticas.  In their heyday, they were never common cameras in the US, and some were rebranded by Hanimex and others for the UK market and elsewhere outside the Iron Curtain.  It was only after the fall of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany that the Dresden-made SLRs really became commonly available, and by then, M-42 mount SLRs (of which there are many brands from Japan, Germany, and the Ukraine and Russia) just were not popular, so they did not sell for much in the used market.  Now that film cameras have become more popular, the prices are 2-5 times what I would have paid 10 years ago. You certainly can buy a 1970s-80s Praktica SLR and a bunch of M-42 mount lenses and have a lot of fun shooting.  The vertical metal-bladed shutters are reliable, in my opinion, better than the cloth-based horizontal shutters that are found in the Pentax Spotmatics.

Photo Results

I developed the Svema FN64 in the FPP D-96 for 8.5 min at 20°C.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Something new -- Photo Notes

I talk about the Kodak Pony in this video

I have been thinking about this for a while, and today I finally shot a little video to share on YouTube.  It doesn't replace blogging, but I hope to do a few more of these short Photo Notes videos (less than 10 minutes) to share my experience with the photo community.   Let me know what you think.  I know I have to do a better job with the framing, but it was all done on the quick, using a Canon G10 camera, my iPad, and iCloud, and iMovie - first time ever, but I'll get better.  So, Photo Notes will be that - short videos to inform and maybe amuse.

The link is  -

Have a good day!

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

The Argus C-3 - The Infamous Brick

After over 15 years of blogging with Random Camera Blog, it's hard to believe that I, a former Argus collector/shooter, have not said much about the Argus Brick.  It's more than a chunk of Bakelite and Aluminum. It represents small-town industry and innovation.  It also represents the birth and decline of American-made products in the post-WWII era.  It represents the birth of 35mm color slides and amateur slide shows, and the post-war photography boom in America.  The Argus C-3 was never a beauty pageant winner, and its rugged homeliness is a throwback to when utility was favored over aesthetics, and the science of ergonomics had yet to be invented.

The Origins of the Argus C series

While Ann Arbor is known as the home of the University of Michigan, I imagine most people have no idea of the industry that was there nearly a century ago.  In 1931, the International Radio Corporation (IRC) was formed by a bunch of businessmen to build small radios for the home. Since this was in the Great Depression, it seems like it was a risky venture, but in fact, it was quite successful.  Summer months were apparently a less busy time for the company, and Charles A. Vershoor, the company president, decided that they could produce a small 35mm camera with the facilities already present at the IRC in Ann Arbor.  He apparently got this idea after seeing a Leica Model A while abroad in 1934.  The result was the Argus A, a fairly simple Bakelite-bodied 35mm camera with a rim-set shutter and plain viewfinder that appeared in 1936 - with nothing in common with the Leica except that it took 35 mm film.  The resulting sales were so successful that IRC sold its radio patents to RCA, and thus the company became the International Research Corporation, later changing to Argus, Inc. in the 1940s.

While the Argus A series of cameras were successful, they lacked rangefinder focusing, and much like the Contax rangefinder camera, the design for "the brick" has a geared focus wheel on the front of the camera that is linked to the rangefinder.  However, the first model, the Argus C (1938-39), did not have the rangefinder linked to the lens focus, and one therefore had to read the distance from the uncoupled rangefinder and then move the focus distance on the lens barrel. The Argus C-2 also appeared in 1938, and has the rangefinder wheel coupled to the lens.  There was no flash linkage on these first two models, which was addressed by the C-3, appearing in 1939, with production continuing until 1966.  That was almost a 30-year reign for a camera, which of course, is unheard of today.  Because of the C, C-2, and C-3 models having some overlap, and the lengthy production run, there are many variations in the C-3, some retrofitted C-2s, and because Argus was often cash short, there can be oddities that pop up that vex collectors. Some of those may have been modification at the factory, or by users.

Argus tried to continue with some basic form of the C-3 in the Argus C-33 (1959-61), Autronic 35 (1960-62), and Autronic II (1962-65).  None of these cameras were a big success. With the availability of much better cameras from Japan and Germany, and a more discerning and prosperous market, Argus sales steeply declined.  Argus barely clung to life into the late 1970s through a series of mergers and acquisitions and it ended its run as a company in 1985.  No cameras have been made in Ann Arbor since the early 1960s, and it's safe to say that the C-3 was the most popular 35 mm camera produced in the USA, with millions produced. 

Argus made many more cameras than the beloved Brick, and the best compendium on the history of Argus and its cameras is the book Argomania (2005) by Henry J. Gambino (ISBN 0-9770507-0-X).  Unfortunately, it's out of print, but you may find a copy for sale online somewhere.  My favorite Argus camera is the C-4, which has a proper 35 mm rangefinder appearance, with a metal body and ergonomics that are enjoyable after using a C-3 for any length of time.

A must-have, if you are into Argus!

Argus C-3 Versions

The first version (1939-1940) of the Argus C-3 came with 10 shutter speeds plus Bulb. The second variant (1940-42) has seven shutter speeds plus B, and was the last version before WWII.  The third variant (1946) was identical to the second, but has a coated lens, standard f-stop designations, and a black shutter cocking lever.

The sixth variant (1955-56) has the "Color-Matic" settings such that the shutter speed dial, aperture dial and rangefinder dial are color-coded to match the "Color-Matic" settings.  The shutter was simplified to five speeds (1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/300), which remained for the run of the camera.  Further variations are pretty much cosmetic.  The "Harry Potter camera" -- an Argus C-3 Matchmatic (1958-66), has a two-tone leatherette and an EVS system that was supposed to simplify operation.  It also came with an LC-3 Selenium exposure meter.

The C-3 Standard was manufactured from 1958-1966, and it looks a bit more dressed up than the previous versions.  That's probably the most common Argus C-3 that people will run into these days.  The lens is recessed from the front just a bit, and the dials and button look more polished.  However, it's a C-3, and is not functionally different from the first C-3 in 1939.

My only remaining C-3s - both are users

My history with the Argus C-3

I picked up my first Argus, an Argus 75 box camera in the summer of 2000 at a thrift shop in Cheboygan, MI.  I didn't know squat about Argus cameras at the time, and I later picked up an Argus A and then a C-3 in 2001.  They were simply something interesting to try out, but then I started learning more about Argus, and that the cameras were made in Ann Arbor.  Once I found the Argus Museum at the site of the original factory, I was hooked into learning more about these cameras and started collecting them. So did my daughter Marjorie, and between the two us us there were probably close to 50 Argus cameras in the house at one time.  At that time, in the early 2000s, Argus cameras were dirt cheap.  After all, with digital becoming a big thing, those old Argus cameras could not have been worth anything!  So, we managed to acquire some rare models and pretty much all the variants in the C series. All of my rare Argus cameras were sold quite a while ago, and except for a few models, I gave the remaining Argus cameras to the Argus Museum before I moved to North Carolina  in 2019.
A few of the Argus C series that went to the Argus Museum

I kept two C-3s.  One is a third variant, and the other is a sixth variant.  Both work very well, and one has a 35 mm Argus Sandmar wide-angle lens instead of the standard 50mm f/3.5 Argus Cintar.

What's that, a 35 mm lens?  Yes, the Argus C-3 is capable of using other lenses made for it.  It's not a quick process, but Argus sold the 35 mm Sandmar lens and a 100 mm f/4.5 Tele-Sanmar lens.  Soligor and Fuji also made lenses for the C-3.

One of the wonderful things about Argus cameras is that aside from being popular in the USA, there were a number of companies that made accessories for them. Collecting such items is quite a feat by itself: close-up filters, series filter holders, flash guns, close-up kits, underwater housings, etc. can be found, though I suspect that what used to be fairly common has now become hard to find as a lot of such accessories were probably tossed in the trash.

Using an Argus C-3 

While I only occasionally use an Argus of any kind these days, I know that if I pick up a C-3, I can get good images from it. If the camera is in good working order, the lens clear, and the rangefinder accurate, you should be able to take very good photographs. In fact, I challenge you to find a better-US-made 35mm camera from that era that still works as well as when new. It's not going to be in the same ballpark as German-made cameras such as the Kodak Retina II, but it was far more affordable at the time.  An Argus C-3 can be ideal for long-exposures, and I have used one to take urban night shots.

Mark Dalzell, holding the Giant Argus C-3 at the Argus
Museum in Ann Arbor. There are several giant display
versions of Argus cameras at the museum.

Basic Features

  • coupled rangefinder focusing of lens
  • separate rangefinder and composing viewfinders (much like a Barnack Leica) 
  • manually selectable shutter speeds on a front L dial
  • manually selectable aperture on front of lens
  • I(instant) and B (bulb) select for exposure at base of shutter button
  • front-mounted shutter cocking lever - can easily do multiple exposures
  • manual reset of frame counter on top-mounted counter
  • film wind knob on top L, film rewind knob on bottom R
  • Tripod socket on bottom L
  • Flash sockets for bulb-type flashgun on L side
  • Shutter speeds from 1/10- 1/300 sec + B

- what, you want more? fuggetaboutit!

The first thing is to familiarize yourself with the controls of the C-3.  I think the number one thing that stumps people is opening the back.  Press down on the raised chrome spot on the body latch that's on the L side of the camera. The back can now be pulled open if you have pressed hard enough.  Oh look, the film loads on the right side and the take-up spool is on the left, the reverse of most 35 mm cameras.
Argus C-3 third variant, 1946-48

The Weston numbers were replaced by ASA numbers in 1948

push that chrome bump in to open the back

be sure to move the film catch to the L when you begin to advance
 the film
yes, it loads from right to left

Go to the Argus Collector's Group website for more information on the Argus cameras, manuals, and sample images.  I am reproducing two of their images that show the parts and layout of a typical Argus C-3.
C-3 Features Front, courtesy of the Argus Collector's Group

C-3 Features Top, courtesy of the Argus Collector's Group

While writing this article, I felt that I should go back through my rolls of film shot in the C-3 and re-scan them.  My shots date primarily form 2001-2003, before the age of Flickr and a lot of online sharing, so it's been good to see them again. If anything, there were more errors in my film processing than in the operation of the camera. I have to say, I thought a share of the negatives were pretty good, and if you are looking for a cheap 35 mm camera with full manual control, the C-3 should be considered.

A few things I wish Argus had done differently:

  • Strap lugs.  Argus isn't alone in this, but it would have been nice to have strap lugs on the camera body, and not to have to use the leather case with a strap.  I'm not a fan of ever-ready cases. 
  • A faster lens. A maximum aperture of  f/3.5 isn't great, and f/2.8 would have been nice.  However, based upon the lens design, it would certainly have made the camera more expensive, and bulkier than it already is.
  • A better system of attaching the back!

While its easy to talk about the shortcomings of the Argus C-3 in the year 2020, one should think about just what was available to the amateur photographer in the USA in 1942.   First of all, large format and medium format was the realm of professional photographers.  The cameras that used 127 film were mostly aimed at the occasional photographer, and box cameras that used 620/120/127  in the USA were aimed at the beginners and household photographers.  The “miniature” format of 135 film was really just getting popular, but it offered more control and less to carry around.  The cameras, however, were relatively expensive.  If one wanted to pursue 35 mm, the Argus C-3 was probably the most quality at an affordable price.  The Argus A series (starting in 1936) certainly made 35 mm affordable, but it was the C-3 that gave professional results.  Once war started in Europe, the German-made cameras became much more difficult to acquire, and the Argus was the obvious choice in the USA.   It wasn't until after the war ended, that the post-war 35 mm photography boom really got going, and while there were many American camera manufacturers, none of them sold  cameras as dependable as the Argus C-3.  Kodak was the exception, and its German-made Retina series cameras were a far better, more compact, and also more expensive option.  The Kodak Pony, originally made for 828 film, became a 35 mm camera in 1950, but it lacked rangefinder focusing.  The Kodak 35 Rangefinder (1940-42, 1946-51)- perhaps the most ungainly-looking camera ever, lacked the ruggedness and simplicity of the Argus C-3.  The earliest models lacked flash synchronization, and the camera was always more expensive than the C-3.

In today's dollars the C-3 would be about $675!

Speaking of WWII, the American photographer, Tony Vaccaro, served as an Army Infantryman, and carried his Argus C-3 throughout his service.  His photographs were taken as a soldier, and it wasn't until 50 years after the war ended, that he exhibited them.   There is no doubt that the rugged and easily repaired C-3 served him well, and his images show the stark reality of the war from D-Day until Germany surrendered.    There is an excellent HBO documentary (2016) -  Under fire. The untold story of PFC Tony Vaccaro. It's available online now.

You can still use a C-3 today.  They are great for making multiple exposures as you can cock and fire the shutter without advancing the film.  As I said above, if the camera is in good mechanical and optical condition, it will do as well as the person using that is using it.  There is something about using a 60-80-year old 35 mm camera in 2020.  While it's easy to poke a bit of fun at The Brick, it paved the way for a generation of photographers.

Some sample images from my C-3 cameras over the years

2008 Argus Day Meetup