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Monday, 31 August 2009


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The Argus C3 was my first 35mm camera. I went to Venezuela and Colombia when I was 17, despite my parents' misgivings (we lived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa) and to show that they really supported the idea, in the end, they gave me a C3, about 30 rolls of Kodachrome, and a hand-held light meter. I gotta say, I took some terrific pictures with that camera; it was a brick. But, like you, I never loved it, and abandoned it for a Pentax Spotmatic a few years later. I cared so little for the C3 that I don't even know what happened to it; but now, that I'm old, I sort of wish that I did know.


Mike, the thought that a camera should look "good" in order to inspire the photographer to use it does have some merit. It's akin to cars. When you think about it, the external shape of a car makes no difference to your driving (assuming the care is correctly built from an aerodynamic and engineering point of view), and yet, we all want to buy a car that is aesthetically pleasing to us. Given two cars that handle exactly the same and sport the same technical specifications, we'll choose the "prettier" one, even if we cannot see this beauty once inside the car.

And yet...there is a mental image of the car that we take with us while in the driver's seat, and maybe associate with. A slick car will inspire slick driving, as maybe an elegant camera inspires elegant photos.

Man, that Argus really has all the appeal of the early Seventies mass produced transistor radios. A perfect argument for the validity of Ruskin's theories...

If you want another camera with some appeal, how about this Yashica Minister (at my site)? It's nothing special, but it's got "soul".

My second camera (after a Kodak Hawk-Eye Brownie) was an Argus C3 that my father handed down to me after he bought a Canon FX SLR. I loved the camera (I still have it), and took some good photos with it. At the time, I didn't care about the aesthetics of the thing. I was just thrilled to own anything at all.
He eventually gave me the Canon FX as he never seemed to get an in-focus photo from it. I immediately had it repaired, and became the official family photographer. Within a year of owning that camera I had my first Magazine cover - (not "Life" or "National Geographic," but a magazine cover nonetheless).


My Dad had an Argus before my time, which was supplanted by a Nikon S. My Dad used that camera from the early 1950s until it was supplemented and ultimately replaced for regular use by a Spotmatic. That Nikon was an object of desire. It was important, and it looked important in its leather box with accessories. That camera was something to be respected. Following that Spotmatic, my Dad used a Canon F-1, a Pentax MX and ME Super, a Canon EOS A2E, and now a 40D, but he still has that Nikon S, it is still usable, and it is still an object of desire (although I think we would throw it over for an SP if one found its way into our hands).

I think that Nikon helped feed my interest, and prepared me to use my first camera, A Konica S2(!) rangefinder.

Cameras are tools, but as representatives of industrial design, the best examples seem to call out "Use me" and I think we respond.

so did KFC also have you do the bank deposit??


"You know, it's ugly but I think it could be uglier."
"I don't know. Could you try adding some 'bling' to bad effect?"
"Um, we could add a chrome bezel."
"That would just be horrible. Perfect! Could you also use a cabinet hing for the back?"

Imagined design review meeting for the argus.

I have my father's Contaflex. Fortunately he passed it on to me when I was well past the age of brainless. Have to agree about the sound of the shutter. That and it's heft impressed me, not it looks though. The Spotmatic and then the Nikons did that.

My first camera was the Instamatic 100 (pop up flash) and it still informs my aesthetic today. DP1 user you know.

Something timeless about a brick.

I have years of slides my father took with the Argus C3. No light meter either. Apparently all you need is the data sheet included in the box with the film to take well exposed Kodachrome slides. For indoors there was a side-mounted reflector and big blue flash bulbs. When one of those babies went off you knew it! (They sometimes exploded too!)


I, too, got started in 35mm Kodachrome photography with an Argus C3 Matchmatic.

Amazing that someone else still has one, complete with the top-mounted light meter...please forgive me for momentarily thinking you might have used my photo of my C3 that I sent you for the Forgotten Camera series! (http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2008/09/forgotten-cam-2.html)

I guess my love of photography was kindled by my dad's beautiful Olympus OM-2. When I was in highschool I had an OM-10, a much uglier camera, and saved until I could buy an OM-1.

I still think the OM cameras and lenses are the most beautiful SLR objects around.

o/~ today's cameras ain't got the same soul... o/~

I've got a C3 that belonged to my grandfather, and if I recall correctly it took pretty good pictures. Mine is evidently an older model which lacks the "Flash Finder" and that meter thingie on top.

My own first 35mm camera was a Konica TC, which I still have as well. I remember taking it apart and putting it back together - my Mom was horrified but it was my camera I bought with my money, and it worked just fine when I put it back together. Those old cameras were elegant in their simplicity, which made up for their looks.

My first camera was a Zeiss-Ikon Contaflex and I really did love that camera. I also had a Brick; I bought it at a flea market much later on just as a curiosity.

I have an Argus C3 and a Contaflex. My parents had the C3 that my father bought in a PX, and my grandfather had the Contaflex which I inherited a few years ago.

I never minded the looks of the C3 so much as the sound of the shutter. It would make a sproing sound that was the same as a cartoon clock exploding from being over wound. If you used it to take a portrait, it would elicit comments like "See, I told you I would break the camera!"

I can't remember what the Contaflex sounded like, the shutter long since succumbed to Compur disease, whereas the C3 works fine even though it looks like there is a little bit of rust(!) on the shutter leafs.

I used the C3 for a while when I was about 10, then I purchased a Practica 500 TL which was really great since it had a stop down TTL meter that encouraged you to get a DOF preview on every shot.

Years later I used the C3 again when I extended the frame into the sprocket holes and eliminated the space between frames so that the images overlapped and then print 5 frames at a time. I discovered that the Cintar lens was a beautiful thing when used nearly wide open, and went and bought a second unmolested C3.

I never was bugged too much by the c3's looks, but then my taste in cars runs to 70s-80s Volvo turbo wagons, Porsche 914/6s (had both) and original Lotus Europas and Lamborghini Espadas ( on the get-around-to-it-someday list, at least the Europa )
I have a major thing for Graflex and Hasselblad cameras and they are pretty brick like too

As a young teenager in the 60s I had the good fortune of living outside the US for a couple of years in the Philippines. During that time I commandeered the Argus camera my father kept in the closet and started taking pictures. He never used the camera but he didn't want me to ruin his toy so he brought me a nice Konica rangefinder back from Japan. I loved that camera. The cover was impregnated with some kind of subtle scent that I still remember. Unfortunately within a few weeks someone stole it. I didn't own another camera until I got an Oly C-2000Z 2mp digital the late 1990s. Anybody besides me ever get a day off from school because they they dug up a live torpedo on the school grounds? Long ago and far away.

While visual beauty may have some influence on how much someone likes using a particular camera, I think its feel and, perhaps, audible feedback, that are the real sources of appeal.

The Contaflex isn't a particularly beautiful camera and the Argus C3 series, particularly the MatchMatic illustrated, aren't particularly ugly. The big difference is that holding a C3 is uncomfortable while the Contaflex feels good.

Another modern example, for me anyway, is the visually attractive Olympus OM-1 (the original, not the OM-1n) and the somewhat lumpy Nikon F2 Photomic. The Nikon wins hands down and going away when it comes to comfort. The OM-1 is full of sharp edges and doesn't fit the hand while the F2 is far more comfortable. One of my personal favorites is the Nikon F3. Smooth, comfortable, and rather nice looking, though its hard to beat the sound of a Contaflex for inspiring confidence that all is well.

It was the OM1 for me. Nice little camera.

I wouldn't invoke words like "soul" and "passion" when it comes to cameras (they're just tools to me), but at the same time, the Argus cameras look like something I'll never use! I suppose this is what happens when you cut production costs during manufacturing. I wonder how hard was it to design a sloping frontplate and rounded corners during that time?

My Dad had a Couafeex that I sadly didn't get to use. That privilege went to my older brother. But, feeling inspired, I'm going to get one, by the grace of Ebay.

I definitely get where you're coming from on this one. Part of it is looks, part of it is build/feel, but part of it, I imagine I just can't describe.

Of my 35mm film cameras, I don't really remember my first (Miranda) too well and the followup Yashica Fx3 (entry level) didn't do it, but the Pentax Program Plus was pretty good. I went through several AF Minoltas before getting a used '9' and that was the first 35mm SLR I owned that really begged to be taken out & driven. Solid, with a 100% viewfinder that demanded to be looked through and a silky sounding shutter that I'd press just to hear it :)

My Rollei TLR has some of that as does an old Ricoh 500 rangefinder.

The thing is, such a camera, I think, can't have anything get in your way. If a camera does most things right, but something annoys you, it doesn't have that "use me" quality. I've yet to try a digital camera that appeal - and maybe never will.

The first camera I've ever bought was a Contax 139 Quartz. It was a beauty with the luscious faux-leather coating compared to the more conventional all-metal offerings at that time. It felt good in the hand as its body would yield to the touch in a way that eluded the hard textured skins of other bodies... until the faux-leather started to peel!

I don't know what a "Couafeex" is, but somehow I sense I'd better not ask!


Funny you should mention that. The Contax 139Q was the first camera I ever bought for myself, in about 1981, a year after I first became obsessed with photography. Went all the way through photo school with it.

I loved that camera, loved Zeiss lenses, and probably would still be shooting Contaxes even though they're no longer around (I loved the cute little Aria), except that in 1988 I joined a professional studio and all three of the other photographers shot Nikon. I gave up my Contax and bought an F4s and several lenses and flashes not only so I could borrow the other photographers' equipment, but because I felt I should be able to share my equipment with them. Between us we had maybe ten bodies and thirty or so lenses, and it was share and share alike at work; between us we could cover any need. But I missed Contax for years.


Dear Mike,

Many years ago, pre-personal-computer, a friend pinned up a copy of a job-seeking letter she'd drafted that read in part,

"I am seeking a position as a laborsyptu tecjmovosm*" to which someone appended a hand-written footnote "*touch typist."

pax / Ctein

After using the family Vito BL when I was young, my first "real" camera after a couple of 110 instamatics was a Minolta SRT 100X I got when I was 15 (my parents bought it for me as I didn't get any D's on my end of year school report!)

I had wanted a Nikon, but I did work experience with a professional photographer who used Minolta's and he proved to me they were a good camera. I loaned it to a friend who had it stolen.......

I bought another to replace the stolen one - and it still takes good photos today..

The box-like C3 design was a knock-off adaptation/copy of the first Zeiss Contax, which was an ergonomic failure (until the gorjesus Contax II replaced it).

My first SLR was a Praktica SuperTL which looked as if the the original design was based upon that of a Soviet tractor. One could only call it svelte and ergonomic if you had the physique of a female East German shotputter. I really wanted to use my father's Pentax Spotmatic but I forbidden on pain of eternal suffering. When I was 18 the Pentax ME Super was launched and it was advertised on TV. Man oh man I really wanted one of them with its ultra modern pushbuttons and LED display and petite shape. My father gave me a Praktica B200. Yes it had aperture priority and an LED display but it still looked as if it shared genetic material with a Soviet tank. The lenses were great and I still wish I had them, Zeiss designs from before the war, a Pentacon Prakitcar 50 mm f2.4 and a Pentacon Prakticar 135 f2.8.

The David Bailey started appearing on TV doing Olympus ads and I bought a compact XA as my travel camera. I feel in love with it and when I returned from a years worth of travelling I went out and bought myself an OM 1n 35-105 Zuiko and a T20 flash. I was in heaven. I worked my way up to the OM4 which I still have an use with the original 35-105.

The OM range of cameras spoilt me, the combination of small form factor, fantastic build quality and delightful functionality is what I now judge all cameras by. I just wish there was a full frame equivalent of the OM4, 12 MP would be sufficient. I tried the E620 but could not get on with the horrendous viewfinder. So I'm left using a 5D but wishing I had something more pleasing to use. I don't like the Canon jelly mould cameras at all and the Nikon are not much better to my mind.

Short digression, I'll ask: What is a Couafeex? Contaflex made for Sandy Koufax?

Funny you mention KFC! I worked at a KFC when I was 16 years old. And yes they actually entrusted me as well as several other teenagers to open and close the store. That was back in the 70's, I guess times have changed...

My first camera was an Argus C3 too (my mom's college cam). I was 11. I learned sunny-16 from the back of the Plus-X box, and my first picture was of my dog and my thumb! The brick was a perfect learning camera. It's dim rangefinder, separate viewfinder, crazy film advance, and manual shutter spring made it such a deliberate instrument that its mere use was a course in making an exposure.

When I outgrew the C3, I was given use of dad's Contaflex II. It had a meter! Mike is right about the sound of its shutter; it's one of those iconic sounds, like the sound of a Harley, a slap shot, or footsteps in freshly fallen snow.

The Contaflex saw me through my fledgeling years of yearbook photography, but all the while I saved my paper route money and soon bought my very own camera: an OM-1.

After years of shooting digital, I've returned to film and couldn't be happier. My OM-2 and Pen EED are my fave guns these days.

My first camera was a full manual EXA Ia which I left accidentally on market square in Krakow (Poland) and figured it about 10 hours later in train :) I still regret this lost, mostly because of undeveloped frames left in it.

Now my "first camera" is a Olympus XA2, hope it won't get lost anytime soon ;)

Another guy whose Dad used an Argus C3 for endless slides--wish I had it and them now, but long since gone in the dustbin of memory and history. And I opened a Shell Station on Saturdays at 16--the world really has changed...

Gee, I think my C3 (the one pictured above) is rather attractive! Had you shown a photo of a standard black C3, I might have agreed with you though.
By the way, in your original "ugliest camera" post, you mentioned that you couldn't find a picture of the Konica Cyborg. I believe the camera you're referring to is actually the Konica Aiborg. Plenty of pictures of that beast online!

That Argus just looks like it would hurt using it. I wonder how many books of Green Stamps it took to get one?

I know people dog on the Minolta/Sonys and any of their vertical grip-equipped cameras just look awful. But, darn if I didn't just love the ergonomics of the A700.

And, I do love my D300 as well as my Bessa R.

Mike, see the Aesthetic-Usability Effect, also discussed in this book.

The Argus (it even sounds ugly) looks like a caricature of a camera. Or a toy car radio.

My first was a Canon EOS something-or-other, one of the entry models, bought with a student loan in the mid nineties. It was stolen a month later. Murphy's Law: my parents had lapsed that month on their contents insurance and the theft wasn't covered. Ouch.

"Gee, I think my C3 (the one pictured above) is rather attractive!"

Hey, John, nice to hear from you here. It *is* rather attractive, actually--just wasn't appealing to use, for me, back then.

The Zeiss Contarex is attractive too, actually, to pluck another example from thin air--an awesomely well-made object that just didn't give much thought to the then-all-but-unknown science of ergonomics.


I inherited my dads C3. He took a ton of Kodachromes with it, some during the Korean war.
Still have the C3 on my shelf. The memories of pop carrying it around are such treasures to me that I am blinded to any consideration of the relative beauty or ugliness of the brick.
Does anyone know just how many were built?

The 1969 Praktica Super TL could be seen as desirable if looked at from certain angles while ignoring unimportant details(like the finish)...and, it cost less than the next most expensive camera, a Miranda Sensomat. BTW, my Praktica was my only camera to fail from normal use...about 60 rolls of film in 2.5 years.

An Argus C3 was my first 35mm camera too, replacing a plastic 110 Kodak that was my very first camera. I have to say I feel a certain affection for the ol' brick, though whether it's because it was my first "adult" camera and I used it on a lot of wonderful family trips, or something intrinsic to the camera itself is unclear.

I wasn't (and still am not) fond of the fiddliness involved in changing lenses, nor the parallax issues of a non-through-the-lens viewfinder, but I did like that it was easy for a kid to change the film, it was pretty near bombproof, and it took damn good pictures. I also like the little "ting!" sound it makes when the shutter fires.

Earlier this year I was taking a bunch of pictures with it to do a day-by-day comparison with my Pentax ist*DS, but I ran out of steam around May. One of these days I'll get the rolls developed, and put the images up.

Speaking of funny typos - Kentucky Friend Chicken outlet sounds like a happy place...

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