Argus C3 (the brick) Review

To see images shot with this camera, click the category link at right.

Ugly or beautiful?  I think it’s kind of beautiful in it’s weirdness.  The Argus C3, or “brick” as it’s aptly nicknamed, is an odd camera.  It is very brick-like.  It could serve as a deadly weapon in a street fight, thanks to it’s weight and solid build.  The way all of the dials, knobs, and lens are stuck to the outside of the brick make me wonder what the designers were thinking.  It’s very odd, indeed.

The Argus C3 was made in Ann Arbor, Michigan from 1939 to 1966, and was the best-selling 35mm camera for nearly 30 years. Based on the serial number found inside the camera, mine was produced in 1950.  I’ve read that customer surveys during the time the camera was being made showed that people thought all of the knobs and dials gave it a “scientific” look, which was a positive selling point for the camera.  It certainly doesn’t have the look or feel of a precision camera, but it does look “gadgety” and scientific, and it certainly feels durable.  It was a low-priced camera at the time, and it brought relatively high-quality optics in a solid mechanical build to millions of people.

Word has it that photographer Tony Vaccaro shot many of his WWII photos with an Argus C3.

An interesting feature is that it has interchangeable lenses.  A nice thing about this is that it’s easy to remove the lens and access the shutter blades and aperture for cleaning, if necessary.

I didn’t have to do any repair to mine and it works fine, which attests to it’s durability.  One problem with some I’ve seen is that the rangefinder window gets very cloudy and you can’t see through it well enough to focus.  I don’t know how easy it would be to fix this — perhaps simply opening the top of the camera and cleaning inside the rangefinder could fix it.

I’m writing this review after only shooting one roll of film, so I’ll have to update this after I shoot the camera more.  Something about the design and operation of the camera gave me very little confidence when shooting, though the images turned out better than I expected.  This lack of confidence resulted in very little creativity in my photography, though.  Using the camera seemed like more of a chore than using most cameras, so it didn’t free up my mind to focus on composition and creating interesting images.  I was just focused on getting the camera set properly and getting any kind of shot.

The viewfinder window is extremely small, but I can see the whole image frame even wearing eyeglasses.  The right viewfinder is the rangefinder window showing a magnified view and a split image to focus, and the left one is the viewfinder to frame up your shot.

The right eyepiece is the split-image rangefinder, which is magnified for easier focusing, and the left viewfinder is for framing your shot. The film speed dial on the back is simply a reminder of what film you have loaded -- it serves no mechanical function, since this camera has no light meter.

The focus knob/rangefinder is linked to the lens through a series of gears. The dial also shows the focus distance, for manually setting the focus. To focus you can either spin the lens or this rangefinder dial. On my camera the focus is a little stiff, but you can focus with your index finger on top of the rangefinder dial gears.

Shutter speed of 1/10 to 1/300 second is set with this dial.

The film counter dial counts up from zero. The little knob behind the dial has to be pushed to the left to allow the film to advance, and the counter stops just short of one full rotation, to count up by one exposure each time.

The aperture is set at the front of the lens by turninig the dial using the two small metal pins. f/3.5 to f/16

The body is made of molded bakelite, with mostly aluminum parts. The back swings open on a hinge by pressing the chrome tab on the left side of the camera. You can see the leaf shutter blades here completely behind the lens. This is a bit unusual for rangefinders of the time, which usually had the leaf shutter within the lens. This design with the shutter behind the lens allowed for changeable lenses, and now as these cameras age it's nice to be able to access the shutter blades if they need cleaning, without the need for tools to unscrew a rear lens element.

You cock the shutter by pressing down on the black plastic lever on the front, then fire with the chrome shutter release on top of the camera. The problem with the cocking lever is that it's easy to position a finger just above the cocked lever when shooting, and if that happens your finger can slow down the shutter as the lever rises back to it's original position.

I've not had to make any adjustments on mine, but I believe that the round silver piece in the center with the two holes comes out to access an adjustment screw for the rangefinder. And it looks like removing the film counter dial and the two small screws would allow easy access to the rangefinder for cleaning and more serious repairs.

Here you can see it has a nice ten-blade aperture.

Shown here next to her prettier sister, the Argus C3 Matchmatic. The Matchmatic is nearly identical except for the tan leatherette, different knobs and a hooded lens, but it uses an odd system of shutter speed numbers (4, 5, 6, 7, 8 ) and aperture numbers (3-1/2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 ) that were matched to an accessory light meter that snapped into the shoe on top of the camera. I don't have a meter for mine, but would love to find a working one. I think it's very rare to find a meter that still works, but I'd like to have even a non-working one just because they look cool. The Matchmatic gained in popularity after it appeared in the second Harry Potter movie (with the side-mounted flash), and at least for a while some Matchmatics were fetching very high prices on ebay.

38 Comments on “Argus C3 (the brick) Review”

  1. Rob says:

    Hi Rick,

    Thank you for sharing. I just bought my Argus and ours are identical in every feature which is interesting because there are so many variations of this camera. I am having a hard time deciphering if it is a C2 or C3. The knobs, 7 shutter speeds with non color markings, lens labeling, cylindrical shutter release conflict with what is on the internet about the camera. Regardless it is a great piece of history which works just like it did in the 40’s or 50’s.

    Thanks again.


    • Rick Schuster says:

      Hey Rob,
      That’s a good question about C2 vs C3. I hadn’t really realized how similar they are — it seems the only difference might be the addition of two holes on the left side of the camera to plug in a flash. I had to take another look at mine to verify that it is in fact a C3. So if you have the flash sockets, it’s a C3. If not, then it’s a C2.
      I should add that info to my article above.
      Thanks for commenting.

  2. Samantha says:

    I have a matchmatic as well that I may be using for my photo class this spring. I read that you were able to look up the serial number on your camera to see when it was made. Where is the serial number located on the matchmatic and where would I go to look up when it was made? I was also wondering if you had any suggestions on where to find a light exposure meter for it that actually functioned?

    • Rick Schuster says:

      Hi Samantha.
      My Matchmatic has a serial number stamped right on the bottom. There’s some info here about figuring out when it was made:
      I’ve only seen a few of these, but none of them had light meters that worked. I’d love to find one someday. But you’d probably be better off just buying a hand-held lightmeter. Or learn about the ‘sunny 16’ rule and guess your exposures. There’s got to be information out there somewhere on how the numbers on the dials correlate to actual shutter speeds and apertures, but I’m not finding any info right now. Let me know if you find anything.

      • Jessica says:

        All 3 of these links should help you if you havent found any information yet about the shutter speed. Or they might help someone else who stumbles upon this.




      • Rick Schuster says:

        Awesome, Samantha. Thanks for the links.

  3. Daniela says:

    I just bought this camera but i need to do some minor repairs to it, do you know where i could do it?

    • Rick Schuster says:

      Hi Daniela. I’d say to do them on your desk or workbench, but that would be kind of smart-alecky. But in seriousness, if the repair seems minor, I’d do some online research and figure out if you can do it yourself. A camera like this, which is not terribly valuable, is a great way to learn some camera repair, and learn more about how the camera works. If you wreck the camera, you’re not out too much. If you’re wondering about who could do the repairs for you, I really don’t know. But I have a feeling a repair person might charge more to fix it than the camera’s worth.

  4. Phil S says:

    The “When Was My Argus Camera Made?” site has moved and the current link for it is:

    If that can be updated in the posts on this page it would be great! Thanks!

  5. Steve says:

    I just purchased a C3 on eBay for just over $50. It’s in original box, with receipt from 1954, with bulb flash, instructions and the Tower Meter. Looks to be in good nick, but not sure of the functionality of it yet. Just the history alone is about worth it with all the accessories.

  6. jeff urraro says:

    years ago,I shot some stag photos with my buddies c3,no one thought they would come out,long story short ,they came out to good and i got into a lotta trouble

    • Rick Schuster says:

      Ha. Good story!

      • jeff urraro says:

        Rick,Any idea where to get accufine developer?also Do you still shoot fiim Jeff

        • Rick Schuster says:

          Hi Jeff. I shoot a lot of film, but I haven’t done my own developing for a long time. I haven’t bought from them, but I know that freestyle photo ( ) sells developer and other darkroom supplies.

          • jeff urraro says:

            Thanx Rick,I am a photographer in Erie,Pa,also I own an art gallery and frame shop,I want to set up my darkroom,so the community here has a place to print from negs.Any suggestions would be appreciated Jeff Urraro

          • Rick Schuster says:

            That’s great that you want to set up a darkroom for the community, Jeff. If you’re in need of equipment, I think there are a lot of enlargers and other darkroom equipment sitting in peoples’ basements never to be used again. If you have a craigslist website in your area, you might find people selling equipment cheaply or even giving it away to someone who’ll actually use it.

      • Peter Paar says:

        Until I was forced out of the darkroom a few years ago for health reasons, I got my chemicals from B&H. I might note I still get most of my equipment from them.

  7. Peter Paar says:

    If have just purchased a Matchmatic on EBay for $37 (includes $15.50 postage!). A working meter is included. While doing a little research on this model I found a site with the manual as a pdf:

    Click to access c3matchmatic.pdf

    The manual included equivalents for the shutter speed and the f stop.

  8. eppaar says:

    I got the C3 Matchmatic and the meter does work. Seems to be reasonably accurate. While nosing around the web I found a number of sites showing how to disassemble and repair a C3.

  9. Ken H in OH says:

    I have an Argus C3 that belonged to my mom’s cousin, who used it while in the Navy during WWII… I later found at that my aunt also had one, and she gave me a wide angle and telephoto lens made for the C3… also have the flash unit for it… it was my first 35mm camera, not being able to afford a “state of the art” 35mm in the 1970’s… but I enjoyed using it, and still cherish it today… often see these at antique shops and shows… but never see the extra lenses.

  10. Cyril Lowe says:

    I bought a C3 a year ago for £15. It works superbly,and I have had some great photos from it. It has ten speeds ,but some previous owner has sandpapered the number from the inside. I think it must have been made in 1938. You can find a US Army manual about them on the internet.

  11. Bill says:

    Stumbled across this webpage when I dug out the old Olympus Argus I found on the road near Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park 44 years ago. Been shooting digital for the last 15 years. Told a friend I would give him the Argus today (camera afficionado). My Argus looks exactly like the C3 pictures you posted except that it has a mounting bracket on top like the Matchmatic. I am assuming it is a C3. Where would I find the serial number — not apparent externally?

    • Rick Schuster says:

      Hi Bill,
      I can’t find my C3 right now, and don’t remember exactly where the serial number is. On my C3 Matchmatic, it’s stamped lightly into the plastic on the bottom of the camera. I think on the regular C3 it was somewhere inside the camera though.

  12. Bill says:

    Thanks for the response. Definitely was not on the outside. Gave it to my friend yesterday. I’ll tell him to check the inside.

  13. Bill says:

    Thanks for the links. I’ll pass them along.

  14. nicksagenius says:

    Just bought a C-3 at a yard sale for ten bucks. Original box, flash, and two Eveready batteries (red !) like I remember from childhood (1960s). Everything seems to work and I am waiting for my first roll of black-and-white to come back from developing. The serial number matches to 1949, so she’s getting on in years. Haven’t tried the flash ’cause I haven’t located flashbulbs yet (and yes, I will use new batteries !).

  15. William Boyle says:

    I purchased an Argus C3 in 1953 while stationed at a remote Air Force site in Alaska. Got some sand in the shutter speed dial and being young thought I could fix it. Took it apart but could not put it back together. Sent it back to Argus with a note asking how much it would cast to repair. I received the camera back fully repaired at no cost. I did tell them I thought it was a great camera and included a few pictures of Alaska scenery.

  16. Sarah Skolaski says:

    Hello, I just bought a Argus Model C3. It looks to be in very good condition. The only issue is that I know absolutely nothing about cameras. Exposure, range, ect go right over me. Do you know any resources for me to read as a super beginner?

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