Part 2: Argus C3
This is part 2 of an on-going series titled "My Grandfather's Cameras." I never met my paternal grandfather, Bob Diefenbach. He passed away in 1969. His small collection of cameras sat in a basement for 45 years until they were handed down to me in the spring of 2014, still loaded with film. Read more in Part 1: Argus C4
The state in which my grandfather’s cameras were handed down to me is impressive. Granted, none of the cameras had been touched since 1969, but even then, it is clear that Bob Diefenbach took great care of his photography equipment. My grandfather treated these cameras like new, even though the Argus C3 was particularly obsolete even at the time he was using it.
The Argus C3 was made for nearly 20 years, which is incredible. It is hard to imagine any of today’s technology being relevant or sold for two decades.
Nicknamed “the Brick” the Argus C3 looks and weighs as much as one. Nothing is automated and, like the Argus C4, it lacks a light meter. As you can imagine, the C4 succeeded the C3, but mostly because the C4 was able to simplify the process by combining multiple actions into one (i.e. winding the film also cocks the shutter).
Part of me wonders why Bob Diefenbach even held onto this camera. It was technology from the 1930’s utilizing a very primitive 3-blade aperture and is generally very cumbersome to use. The C3 lacks any ability to multitask – there are even two separate viewfinders, one for focus, the other for framing. I’ve never used something like that before. Similar to a 4×5 view camera, the process to take a photo with a Argus C3 is relatively complicated and long:
- Release the winder
- Wind the film
- Set the shutter
- Set the aperture
- Focus the lens
- Cock the shutter
- Release the shutter
I am sure the veteran film photographers reading this are rolling their eyes at my grief, but I have a genuine problem with how slow this camera is. The Brick is not ideal for my kind of photojournalism, although WWII photographer Tony Vaccaro famously used an Argus C3 during the war.
I love how film cameras slow me down and make me appreciate the process, but this was just too much. When I did attempt to document people naturally, I had to limit myself to situations in which I knew for sure where the person would be so I could pre-focus. Unlike autofocus, or even contemporary manual focus, the C3’s focus window is very small and the focus ring is extremely stiff, making adjustments on the fly near impossible (the stiffness may be due to the age of this particular camera).
Okay, on to some positives. This camera is crazy sharp. Even sharper than the C4 or my 1970’s Minolta SRT 101 (my father’s camera). I don’t know if it is due to the rangefinder method of focus, but I have never seen a film SLR as sharp as this. I am still amazed. Portraits and landscapes are clearly a strong point with the C3.
Because cocking the shutter and winding the film are done separately, double exposures are very easy to do (even when not intended). Here is a weak attempt of an intentional double exposure combining a portrait of my mother with a group photo of my family having drinks in the countryside.
I never brought the Argus C3 on assignment, but I am involving the Grandfather’s Cameras project into my on-going personal project leading and documenting Boy Scout Troop 14. I took the Brick along with me to the Memorial Day Flag Planting ceremony in the Presidio. This is where preparation, pre-focus and a deep depth of field came into play.
I can see why my grandfather upgraded to the C4 from the C3. The Argus C3 is cumbersome, less pleasant to carry, and a bit of an ugly duckling. However, the pictures it makes are wonderful. The sharpness rivals that of my professional digital cameras.
I can ultimately understand why he never got rid of it.