Argus C33 – A beautiful brick

Years ago I read that War Correspondent Ernie Pyle used an Argus C3, which would be a great segue into this post, but I haven’t been able to confirm it. Regardless, the C3 35mm film camera, the third in the “Brick” series was the most popular camera that Argus made selling 2 million or more units during its run from 1939 to 1966.

History

Argus Incorporated was based in Ann Arbor Michigan and was one of the most successful camera companies of its time. One of only a few American Camera manufacturers while also being a major contributor to the economy of the Ann Arbor area.

The C33 is a middle child of the C series and was built as an attempt to update the C3 (which was still being made and sold) but was dated compared to the lineup from Nikon, Canon, and others of the time.

Design

Like many other 35mm film cameras of the time, the C33 is a rangefinder, so focusing is independent from the lens. The lenses all tie into the split-screen rangefinder which makes focusing like many of the SLRs that would soon dominate the market.

Similar to its cousin, the C3, the C33 is nearly a smooth metal brick. The chrome or nickle plated sides have large surfaces of uninterrupted lines, the biggest exception is the front. The front view of the C line film cameras is what defines the m as an Argus. The camera is well designed, attractive and quite nice to use.

Optics

The rangefinder on the C33 is fairly large and quite bright with all of the lenses, but like all rangefinders what you see is just an approximation of what you are actually photographing and with it’s minimum range of about 3 feet, you would have to take into consideration the offset and frame the image accordingly.

The C33 has 3 lenses available for it. The standard 50mm that came with it, which is normal for a 35mm film camera. A 35mm wide angle and a 100mm telephoto were also available. All three lenses are Argus Cintar color corrected, anastigmat coated 4 element lenses that use Series VI lens hoods and filters. The filters are drop-in style even though the lenses are all threaded at about 44mm, the threads are for the lens hoods. They are all aluminum construction with a brushed finished and the C33 bayonet mount. Luckily the lenses can only go on one way, so they are easy to swap out.

Features and function

The C33 is kind of a special beast in that it has several accessories but only one of them are (or seem to be) compatible with any other Argus cameras. The C33 lens featured a new bayonet mount that only works with the C33. The Selenium Light Meter (model CM2) is also compatible with the Argus C44r and C4R cameras. The light meter mounts over the shutter speed dial and locks into place, so adjusting the shutter speed is then tied into the function of the meter so it all works together giving you averaged readings. The whole things seems to be a little finicky, but it still works, even after 60 years of just hanging out in a box.

To continue it’s oddity, the C33 has very few shutter speed options, ranging from 1/4 second to 1/300 second, making it less versatile than it’s contemporaries. While the shutter speeds were identical to the popular C3 model, the Nikon S3 offered speeds up to 1/1000 and the Nikon F was also introduced the same year as the C3, so the release and design of this camera was already putting Argus at a disadvantage.

Argus C33 rewind knob lever
Argus C33 rewind knob lever

The C3 is heavy (a full pound heavier than many cameras), and cumbersome to focus. The focus dial is well placed and promotes easy usage placed just forward of the shutter release. The dial can be awkward and tends to stiffen up from lack of use making the camera very difficult to use as intended and designed.

The film counter is small, dark and hard to read even in good light. The rewind lever is pretty neat as it is spring loaded and recessed into the knob, so it just pops out and is ready to go, I can definitely see this as a point of failure if mistreated. You also have to reset the film counter back to zero before you reload the camera, but the rewind lever tucked well into the bottom of the camera so it seems unlikely you would catch the lever or flip by accident.

Conclusion

Despite all of its quirks, the C33 is an inexpensive film camera, and fun to use. It’s a good looking camera due to the abundance of chrome contrasted with the black leatherette. The controls are well placed and operate easily. With the availability of wide angle and telephoto options, the lenses make up for its relatively small shutter range. It’s durable and rugged like the C3 and gets as many looks. The biggest downside to this camera is that you have to have it in a case to really use it since it has no straps hooks on the camera itself. It’s a cleaner design, but clearly a flaw.

Argus cameras aren’t big sellers, so if you’re tempted, get one. Expect to pay around $100 for a decent camera and a lens or two.



Specifications

General:

Argus C33
Type : Rangefinder
Lens mount: bayonet mount
Operation : Mechanical
Format : 35mm
Shutter: Leaf shutter
Shutter speeds: 1/4 sec – 1/300, Bulb
Shutter lock : Yes
Shutter remote : Mechanical
Mirror lock-up : No
DoF preview : No
Multiple exposures : Yes
Self timer : No
Flash sync: M, X
Flash mount : Cold shoe, 2 prong connection
Production : 1959 – 1961
Weight: 2lbs 10 oz

Manual shutter release cable

Download the Argus C33 Manual

C33 Accessory Lens Guide

Lenses:

50mm
Argus/Cintar
Elements: 4 anastigmat coated
Aperture: f/2.8 – f/22
Filter size: Drop in Series VI 1 5/8″
Field of view: 40 deg

35mm
Argus/Cintar
Elements: 4 anastigmat coated
Aperture: f/4.5 – f/22
Filter size: Drop in Series VI 1 5/8″
Field of View: 64 deg

100mm
Argus/Cintar
Elements: 4 anastigmat coated
Aperture: f/4.5 – f/22
Filter size: Drop in Series VI 1 5/8″
Field of view: 24 deg

Mount: Bayonet mount exclusive to the C33.

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