Argus Argoflex TLR

2009/05/18

Since I just recently blogged about a photo I took with the camera, it seemed only natural to write about the camera itself.

The Argus Argoflex is a TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) camera – that is, it has two matched lenses, one stacked above the other. Each lens serves a different function; the upper (viewing) lens is used to set up the scene one wishes to capture, while the lower (taking) lens is used to transfer the actual scene to the film. Both lenses are a matched set, in that they have the same optical qualities, and, as such, the upper lens replicates (more or less) exactly the view that will be captured on the film. The viewing lens projects its image onto an angled mirror and up to a ground glass screen that shows the photographer the view that the viewing lens is currently seeing; this mirror is the reason that the camera is called a reflexcamera, and is a feature that these sorts of cameras share with modern single lens reflex (SLR) cameras, though in the case of the latter, the mirror reflects the view from the taking through a mirrored prism and into a viewfinder. Since the mirror in a TLR is fixed (unlike the hinged mirror in an SLR), the camera itself is relatively simple to operate; the most complex elements are the combined shutter / aperture housing, and the film advance / exposure count display. The viewing hood that opens up to surround the ground glass screen (on the top of the camera) is spring-loaded, and thus, self-erecting once released. Below is a photo of the camera itself, along with the fitted leather ever-ready case that I received when I purchased the camera.

Argus Argoflex TLR

For additional historical information about the camera, see the links below. [1][2]

Both lenses on the camera share the same 75mm focal distance, which is the standard, or normal, [3] focal length for medium format film. This is a relatively simple fixed-lens camera, meaning that there are no other focal lengths (wideangle & telephoto) available for this particular camera (note that some other TLRs have interchangeable lenses, but this one does not). Focusing is achieved by rotating a ring around the viewing lens (the geared wheel surrounding the upper lens), which is coupled to another geared wheel around the taking lens: as such, focusing the viewing lens simultaneously focuses the taking lens. A lever on the left-hand side of the taking lens (facing) released the shutter, while a tab on the right-hand side of the taking lens sets the aperture for the taking lens (the viewing lens has a fixed aperture of f/4.5). The above photo shows the viewing hood in the “open” position; normally, the front panel would be flush with the top face of the camera to protect the ground glass screen within. [4] The film advance crank is also on the left-hand (facing) side of the camera, so it is not in view in the above photo; additionally, on the rear of the camera is a red viewing window that allows one to read off the film advance count printed on the backing paper of the 120 film. [5] Apart from the latch and hinge for opening up the camera back, there are no other moving parts in the camera – quite simple, eh?

Using the camera is a relatively simple affair; there are only a few shutter and aperture settings, so it is not particularly complicated to adjust the two settings. As mentioned, the act of focusing the viewing lens automatically focuses the taking lens simultaneously, so once the view in the ground glass screen is in focus, the taking lens is also in focus. To make focusing matters easier, the WLF hood also contains a built-in flip-up magnifying glass that aids in critical focusing on small details in the ground glass screen. Since the camera is a self-contained whole, there is no additional equipment required to operate it (you’ll need a light meter, though), making it a fairly simple camera to carry around. The relatively simple operation also makes it easy to use as a snapshot camera, while its relatively light weight makes it easy to hand-hold, unlike some of the larger (and heavier) medium format SLRs; granted, the latter are much more versatile, but they are also bulkier, heavier, and far more complex.

There are, of course, some downsides with using a simple camera such as this. First and foremost, the camera only has a limited set of shutter and aperture settings: it has only five numbered shutter speeds from 1/10th sec. to 1/200th sec. (with Timed and Bulb settings), while the aperture is relatively slow, with a maximum of f/4.5. [6] This limits the versatility of the camera when using faster film speeds, as the maximum shutter setting is relatively slow by today’s standards. [7] There is no automatic film counter, and so, the film must be advanced by remembering to look at the count through the red viewing window on the rear cover of the camera; this can lead to irregular spacings on the negative strip, if one is not careful when winding (though this may not be too much of a problem, even for lab processing). One other problem that may arise is that this camera does not have a double-exposure prevention mechanism (given the manual nature of the exposure count, this is not surprising), meaning that if one is not careful, one could accidentally expose a frame more than once (I’ve done this before, though not with this particular camera). The ground glass viewing screen can also be a little difficult to use, since it provides an unmagnified view through the viewing lens; the magnifying glass does aid substantially in critical focusing, however, so this does mitigate the focusing difficulties somewhat.

Despite its limitations, I do enjoy using this camera, particularly because it is so easy to use. There is also some nostalgia involved, as well; I learned how to shoot on medium format film on a camera similar to this one (though it was substantially more advanced). Its ruggedness and simplicity are definitely attractive qualities for this camera, not to mention the results one can achieve with it, as evidenced below:

ArgusAF_Norfolk01

The above photo required little post-processing, as the exposure gradient from light to dark was quite obvious here. An interesting note is that the autoexposure settings on my digital camera did not do as good as job at capturing the subtle glow on the horizon (most likely caused by a slight atmospheric haze); for all the fancy technology involved, it just did not perform quite as well as this “archaic” model did. [8] Please also note that this photo is presented in the unedited square format that the camera uses; each negative frame is 6cm by 6cm.

If you would like to see additional photos I shot with it, [9] please see the links to my Flickr site below. I will eventually get around to posting an operation guide for this camera on my Flickr site. In the meantime, please feel free to contact me if you are interested in using this type of camera, and have a question that falls outside of the scope of this post. Enjoy.

Notes:

[1]: Basic information on the Argus Camera Company here, at Camerapedia.org

[2]: Basic information on Argus TLRs here, from the Argus Collector’s Group website.

[3]: The normal lens for a given film format is the lens that most closely replicates the view of the unaided human eye, i.e., it has a coverage angle of approximately 60° in a “cone” that is centered about the viewing centerline of the lens. For 120 film, the lens focal distance is approximately 75mm to 90mm; the range is different for other film formats, since the different negative formats have different coverage requirements.

[4]: This hood / screen combination is known as a waist-level finder (or WLF for short), since the typical means of taking pictures with a camera so equipped is to hold the camera itself at waist level, and look down into the hood to focus the image you wish to take. This may have a slightly disconcerting effect when one first uses the camera, since the resulting views are not quite what one normally sees unaided.

[5]: 120 film is the only paper-backed film that is still in regular production; at earlier points in the 20C, most films were so-called rollfilms with paper backings. The paper is blackened on the inner face (facing the film), and has numbers printed on the outer face of the paper, which may be viewed through the ubiquitous red windows on the backs of earlier cameras that did not have automatic mechanical film advance counters.

[6]: By comparison, the faster lenses on the high-end rangefinder cameras of the era had maximum aperture settings of f/2 (admitting over four times as much light as an f/4.5 lens); some of the fastest lenses had maximum aperture settings of f/1.4, which were capable of admitting over six times as much light as an f/4.5 lens.

[7]: My (almost) ultra-modern autofocus SLR has a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000 sec., compared to the maximum setting of 1/200 sec. in the case of the Argoflex.

[8]: To be fair, the digital camera did respond better when I used it in manual exposure mode; I was just surprised that the sophisticated autoexposure settings did not do as good a job. So much for high technology!

[9]: Flickr set with additional photos here.

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One Response to “Argus Argoflex TLR”


  1. […] about this camera before, so if you want to see more information about the camera, check out that post. Otherwise, check out the photos […]


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