My Argus ‘AF’ – An American Masterpiece?

I must confess to being rather taken with the ‘Art Deco’ period with its simple, clean shapes, often with a “streamlined” look. This has previously been reflected in some of my vintage camera collection, specifically in my four Flexaret twin lens reflex cameras. Although they were built in the Art Deco style they were not built in the Art Deco era which spanned between the 1920s -1940s.

However, my latest acquisition, an Argus ‘AF’, is both ‘Art Deco’ in style and was produced between 1937 and 1938 – truly ‘Art Deco’!

Argus cameras were first produced in 1936 by International Radio Corporation (IRC) of Michigan, USA, a company that originally produced radios from 1931. Apparently, the original Argus ‘A’, released in 1936 was loosely modelled on the Leica 1a. Personally, I think that it may have been the inspiration but the two cameras were worlds apart! Apart from both being rangefinder cameras shooting 35mm film there is little to compare between them.

Having just made that bold statement, I must concede that the Argus ‘A’ was historically important. At a time when the prospect of owning a Leica that cost around $200 was beyond the reach of all but the most wealthy, the Argus ‘A’, priced at only $12.50, was guaranteed to be a success from its debut in early 1936. The low cost was as a result of IRC’s experience in producing quality Bakelite mouldings. Yes! the body is all Bakelite. The introduction of an affordable 35mm camera was also assured due to the readily available 35mm movie film.

The original Argus ‘A’ had shutter speeds of 1/25th, 1/50th, 1/100th and 1/200th second plus B(ulb), and T(ime) controlled by an an Ilex Precise shutter. It was fitted with an F4.5 Anastigmat lens with aperture settings: f/4.5, 5.6, 8, 11. The Argus ‘A’ had no focussing ring, just two settings. There is nothing to prevent a careless user making double exposures on either the ‘A’ or ‘AF’!

In 1937, the Argus ‘A’ was followed by the Argus ‘AF’ and the Argus ‘B’, which were two variations on the same theme. The AF, at $15.00, had an infinitely adjustable focusing mount but the same shutter and lenses. Other than that the A and the AF are the same camera.

My Argus camera was advertised as an Argus A. Fortunately, the seller provided several good photos from which I was able to ascertain that it was indeed an Argus AF. The letters ‘AF’ after the serial number was a bit of a giveaway!

Production Years of the Argus ‘A’ series

A (1936–1941)
AF (1937–1938)
B (1937)
A2B (1939–1950)
A2F (1939–1941)
AA (1940–1942)
FA (1950–1951)

A Little Whimsy!

To finish this brief review, I thought that I would highlight something of an oddity in the instruction manual! It recommends that “The camera should be held steady, resting against the bony structure of the face ….” The accompanying image shows how …. with the camera held upside-down! Is it just me……?

How to shoot an Argus AF – According to Argus!

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