Argus Argoflex Forty

2009/09/08

This is the camera I used to shoot the photo featured in this morning’s post, so I thought it would be appropriate to talk a little about the camera itself. [1]

Argoflex40

While the Argoflex 40 has the appearance of being a Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) camera, it actually is not. First and foremost, the upper “lens” is actually a glorified viewfinder lens; while it does feature a reflex mirror and a glass lens, it is not optically matched to the taking lens below, but has more in common with the waist-level finders (WLF) featured on much older cameras. Equally important is the fact that the upper viewfinder lens does not focus simultaneously with the taking lens; it does not have any focusing mechanism at all. Rather, the upper lens is always in focus, while the taking lens must be periodically adjusted to suit a given scene. In many ways, this camera has more in common with the old box cameras [2] than it does with contemporary TLRs; in fact, it may be more appropriate to think of this camera in those terms. Of course, to complete the “illusion,” the upper viewfinder screen is protected by a flip-up hood, similar to those used by real TLRs.

As you can probably see from the photo, the camera is not, however, without its complexities. Unlike earlier box cameras (and even some contemporary TLR lookalikes), this camera features five shutter speeds: 1/150, 1/100, 1/50, 1/25, and B (bulb); [3] it also features six (yes, six) aperture settings: f/4.5 (!), f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, and f/22. [4] While this range of settings is quite limited compared to, say, a contemporary rangefinder camera (or today’s SLRs), they are a vast improvement on what one would normally expect to find on a typical box camera. In addition, the camera also featured a simple (though effective) double-exposure prevention mechanism: the shutter cannot be tripped until the film has been advanced via winding the advance knob (which, as you can see in the photo, is on the side and to the rear of the box); one may also override this prevention mechanism by pushing the small lever next to the shutter release button (the button with the small red dot on the front of the camera). Lens focusing is by scale focusing only; as mentioned, the upper viewfinder does not feature any coupled focus mechanism; that said, the settings are simple enough to provide useful increments, while not being overly complex or fussy (the settings are 3 ½, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 15, 25, 50 feet, and infinity). In practice, these sorts of cameras are not easy to use for close-up shots, and since the upper viewfinder is not perfectly matched to the lens view, you’ll likely want to avoid such shots, anyways.

One issue that may be problematic for prospective users of this camera is that while it is a medium format camera, it does not use 120 film, which is the only commonly available medium format film still in mass production. The camera is formatted for 620 film; anyone familiar with the latter film type will also realize that there is a quick workaround available. The only difference between 120 and 620 film is that the spool size is different; the film and backing paper used in both types of film are identical. Thus, one can remove the film and backing paper from a modern 120 spool and reload it onto a 620 spool. [5] This will allow you to use the camera with modern film of any type (that is produced in 120 size, at any rate); just be forewarned that even professional labs may not know the difference between a 120 and 620 spool, and as the latter are substantially harder to obtain than the former, it would be wise to take your exposed “620” film and reload it onto its original 120 spool, prior to having the film processed. [6] Apart from that, however, the camera is quite simple to use, very rugged (the body is made of rather thick bakelite), and seems to produce decent results, even with its limitations. See below for another example of the results I obtained using this camera. As you can see, the camera takes square format 6cm x 6cm  (roughly 2 ¼” x 2 ¼”) frames; as such, you’ll be able to take 12 exposures on a single roll of film.

ArgusAF40_Chi-Michigan&Wacker_North01

This view itself is also one of my favorites in Chicago, though it is a bit more difficult to capture in a photograph. Since I have already posted about this view (albeit with a different camera and film type), I won’t get into too much additional detail. As mentioned in the Flickr description, the major buildings you can see in the view are the Wrigley Building (left, midground), the Tribune Tower (right, midground), and the John Hancock Building (center, background); the view itself is on Michigan Avenue, facing north along the Michigan Avenue Bridge. The street that intersects Michigan Avenue at this point is Wacker Drive, though you can’t see any of it here. [6]

Unlike previous antique cameras I have used, I am probably not going to create an instruction guide for using this camera; apart from transferring 120 film to a 620 spool, there really isn’t much to figure out when using this camera. I do have a Flickr set with photos I shot with this camera, though between this post and this morning’s post, two of the three usable scans I posted to Flickr have already been shown. Still, if you’re interested, the other photo is there. [7]

Enjoy.

Notes:

[1]: Yes, I know…I shot the photo from yesterday’s post with a different camera…I’ll talk about that one later. Honest.

[2]: Such as the first generation Kodak Brownie box cameras of the first decade of the 20C.

[3]: In case you’re wondering, the reason the “timed” setting is often referred to as “bulb” is that the original remote cable releases were activated by the air pressure differential created by squeezing – you guessed it – a rubber bulb. This was, of course, replaced rather quickly by a mechanical plunger (and now, with wireless gadgets), but the name persisted for quite some time, even as late as the mid 80s (my Canon SLR, which was manufactured in the 80s, still notes this setting with a “B”).

[4]: When I write about the other TLR lookalike box camera I used, the Kodak Duaflex IV, you’ll see why this is significant.

[5]: If you’re interested in doing this for yourself, I have created a Flickr set to illustrate how to do so. The primary difficulty is that all of these steps need to be carried out in complete darkness, but once you get used to the “feel” of the steps, it isn’t so hard.

[6]: Unless, of course, you process your own film…

[7]: And yes, before you mention it, I know…I cut off the tops of the buildings. Hey, it was a quick snapshot…what did you expect?

[8]: Flickr set with an additional image available here.

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One Response to “Argus Argoflex Forty”


  1. […] written about previously, though it is somewhat similar. I have, however, posted about this camera before, a couple years back; like the Kodak Duaflex IV, it is a TLR-styled box camera. I have […]


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