As an amateur historian and the proud hubby of the family genealogist, I see a lot of old pictures. And as a camera geek, I spend a lot of time wondering about the people who took them, and about the gear they used.
The camera I'm talking about in this post hits all the sweet spots. It's old, and it has a family connection. This particular rig, an Argus C4R, belonged to my Great-Aunt Opal, the woman who raised my grandfather after his mother's early, mysterious passing.
Before I get into the meat of this entry, take a look at this glamour shot --
She's all original, right down to the Argus branded leather case.
My Great-Aunt and -Uncle traveled a lot after his retirement and this 35mm rangefinder went everywhere with them. Every time I visited them, I insisted on seeing their slides (much to my mother's chagrin). Most, if not every single frame, passed behind the lens you see here.
When my Great-Aunt could no longer take care of herself, her camera passed to me. Even though I've had it in my collection since the late 1980s, I've never shot anything with it, until now.
A bit of Argus history.
The Argus C4 was produced in large numbers in the 1950s. Later versions, like the C44, had interchangeable lenses. The C4 is a rangefinder, meaning that the image you see in the viewfinder doesn't pass through the lens via a mirror/prism arrangement like an SLR. Focusing is a bit different, too, and I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I didn't know how to do it when I shot the first test roll. More on that in a minute.
A visit to an Argus collector's site helped me pin down the year this camera was built. As it turns out, my C4 is actually a C4R, which stands for (R)apid Wind. I don't have another C4 to compare it to, so I'm not sure what the difference there is between this and the standard model. The C4R was made only in 1958, which makes this one, if not rare, at least uncommon, and easily the oldest usable camera in my collection.
Shooting the C4R was better than a time machine as far as I'm concerned. There are no electronics of any kind - no meter, no auto exposure, no auto focus, nothing.
Speaking of focusing, since I had never used a rangefinder and didn't bother to look for a manual before loading it up, what I did was guess the distance from the camera to the subject, then dialed the focus ring to the the distance I had estimated. I couldn't believe that Great-aunt Opal managed to take such beautiful pictures of the American Southwest by guessing distances.
Turns out she didn't have to, and neither did I. If I had done my research before shooting, I would have known that there is a way to get very good focus, at least as accurately as an SLR.
Rangefinders focus by displaying a double image in the viewfinder. All you have to do is turn the focus ring until the images become one, and you're there. Duh!
The viewfinder on my C4R is more than a little dirty, so I didn't even notice the double image when I was shooting my test roll.
On to the pictures!
The scratches are just 30-odd years worth of dust and dirt. The lens is pretty good shape. Even with the dirt, it's hard to take a bad picture of this cat!
The line through the photo is from the photo lab scanner. It's not on the negatives. I love how modern film still looks like it was shot decades ago
How hipster! Leaves, rocks, and ice.
7 days earlier, the spot I was standing on was under four feet of water. That's still ice back there, even though it was well above 40 degrees when I shot this. Gotta love Indiana in the winter.
This is the sharpest shot of the bunch. Not bad, considering I was guessing the distance to focus.
Notice that the dirt and scratches were nearly gone by the end of the roll. But the C4 is still due for a good cleaning before I take it out again.
There were plenty of shots on this roll that were WAY out of focus, but now that I'm know what I'm doing, the next bunch should be better.
Like I said before, there's no metering on this rig, so this was my first chance to try out the Minolta meter that I picked up at an auction a few months ago. The exposures it calculated were dead on, matching the meter on my Nikon DSLR.
There's no way to know for sure how long it's been since the C4R last saw action, but I'm sure it's been silent for at least 35 years. Even after all that time, it performed perfectly. I'm going to clean it up and run another roll through her.
Pressing the shutter button on a half-century old camera is like a trip into the past, and I'm eager to take it again.
I still have lots of cameras to share with you in the coming year, and even more that I hope to find. Yard sales will start up again in a few months, and there are still auctions in the winter, so the treasure hunt continues...