Argus C3: A Lovely Brick

See those gears between the focus wheel and the lens? That alone put this camera on my ” Must Haves” list. Add ” looks like the box it came in bakelite and metal frame body” and that was it for me. Oh, and it takes decent pictures also? Okay, great! Even a non-functioning body would still be welcome on my shelf any day. This one showed up in pretty good condition from

Thoughts? I can find something to like about nearly any film camera so, no surprises here I like it! Anything created by someone to capture images is a winner in my book. Why this one? Let’s see. Let’s begin with the minuses and pluses followed by last thoughts, samples and ongoing gallery link, shall we?


  • I scratched my Crown Vic and Pelican case with this thing. A glancing blow with no lasting effect on the Crown Vic and the Pelican is a tank, but know that this thing is not to meet anything or anyone you care about with any force or speed.
  • Exceedingly; unrelentingly rudimentary. Given its 1930s originating vintage, it is not the cameras fault, but you have to be on your toes to keep from making some silly mistakes with this camera. Accidental double exposures are especially common. Overlooking the B/I switch at the base of the shutter, I unwittingly shot my whole first roll of film and 10 exposures on my second in bulb mode.
  • An error I picked up on myself (followed by some words not fit for polite company) when contemplating why on earth my whole first roll looked like some blur concept project. User error for sure, but this is a camera that will happily let you mess up a roll of film if you are not paying attention to every detail.


  • One of my favorite photos was the fruit of one of these rudimentary double exposure mix ups.
  • Starts conversations whether you want to or not. I have seen people literally stop in their tracks to ask about this thing. Any excuse to talk cameras works for me.
  • It will make you learn. This is the first camera that has urged me to leave the light meter in the bag and fully commit to employing the sunny 16 rule. My other two non metered cameras (Hasselblad 501c and Fujica GW690) are relatively costly at only 12 or 8 exposures per roll, so I consider a light meter a must for them, but with 24 or 36 available to mess up the stakes are lower. Plus the way this camera looks and feels begs you to just wing it.
  • Do not know if the vintage (per the numbering was made in 1953) lowered my expectations, but I was genuinely very pleased with the lens. Contrast is not abundant usually, but that is to be expected.
  • Rudimentary as a plus. For some reason I love that you have to:
    • Cock the shutter each time before taking the shot.
    • Slide a lever over before turning the winder (no film advance lever here) between shots and mind that you turn it in the right direction. Arrow supplied, but more than once I was left uncertain that I had spun the dial in the right direction.
    • Rewind the film by simply turning the camera over and winding the film the other way. No unlock button anywhere. Again, you are free to screw up a whole roll without any warning or safety measures. When yo come back to this camera after a bit it is on you to remember how you left it.
    • Use two viewfinders, one to focus and one to frame.
    • Set a wonderful ASA dial that is connected to nothing and serves as nothing more than a reminder.
    • Push a clip on the side to open the case with nothing to keep you from accidentally opening it when loaded.
    • Even having to set the counter to zero yourself after loading a fresh roll of film.
  • Construction. This thing is the most tank like steam punk thing I have ever seen. Door hinge? Looks like a hardware store hinge. And the interior is as fantastic to look at as the exterior. There are no weight saving cutouts or corners cut. It is all corners.
  • Evidently roughly a bazillion were made so my fairly clean bargain grade copy only ran me $35.
  • Few cameras I have owned have been this much fun and provided this much satisfaction when an image comes out of that scanner.

Well that about does it. Final thoughts? This camera is not for everyone. Seeking perfection in image output that is easily repeated in rangefinder form? This is not your camera. You may want to look at something like the Konica C35 AF2 or Canonet QL17 GIII. With the Argus the attraction comes from wondering how this old timey camera will render what you framed. Some shots were amazingly clean. Others had a distinctly vintage haze about them. Others are a crap shoot and fall somewhere in between. If that sounds good to you why not get one since the asking price is so reasonable?  Ongoing gallery here

Happy shooting!






  1. Great write up on an interesting little camera! I’ve seen these before, but never looked closely – now I might have to!

    1. Thank you. It is a fun little camera.

  2. This was my first camera. I saved up and bought it used at the local camera shop when I was 14, in 1980. I used this exclusively for a year and now it sits on my bookshelf.

    1. Mine is currently shelved as well. I need to get it out again.

  3. I still have two, though one is in rough shape. Used to take a C-3 on endeavors that would be risky for my old Nikons and Nikkormat, back in the film days well over forty years ago. Never failed me….

    1. Agreed. Never have I experienced a more solid camera.

  4. Very cool camera, thanks for the write up. I would love to have an old vintage camera but I am too busy buying lenses and modern cameras. My first serious camera was a Minolta SRT-101. That was a great camera.

    1. Thank you for the kind words.

  5. My Dad gave me a 20 year old Argus when I was 15. I used it for a year, learned how to use a meter and set exposure, and how to print. A no-auto-anything camera is a great learning tool.

    Since I was still serious after a year, for Christmas I got a “real” camera for my birthday: a Mamiya 500 MSX (a Pentax screw mount camera with a spot meter instead of an averaging meter, for those who don’t remember this old camera).

    I am still amazed at how sharp those old prints from the Argus are: the C3 sense is a fine example of how good even an inexpensive 50mm can be.

    1. Agreed. The Argus performed far better than I expected.

  6. A basic but very reliable camera that can make surprisingly good photos. I have one that my father purchased new in 1956. It sill works perfectly, I just ran a roll of Tri-X through it.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  7. I have one of these and I love it! I carry a more modern (1980s) film camera with a light meter to get the exposure settings, or use an app. I have taken some great pictures with this thing.

    It takes great B&W photos, but the color pictures also turn out stunning. Thanks for the great article.

    1. Love that your more modern camera is from the 80s. Thank you for the kind words,

  8. My father had one in the 50’s and assigned all photo tasks to me at about 12 years of age I shot hundreds of color slides of all vacations etc. for years. This camera really got me interested in photography. By the way all slides were ASA (ISO now) 10 yes I said ten. I still have the camera since my father passed away, although it hasn’t been used for years.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story. My father got me started also. I cannot recall ever coming across or hearing about ASA 10 film. That is impressive.

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