Argus C33 – A beautiful brick

Years ago I read that War Correspondent Ernie Pyle used an Argus C3, which would be a great segway into this post, but I haven’t been able to confirm it. Regardless, the C3, 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. 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 and was 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.

Like many other cameras of the time, the C33 is a rangefinder, and 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. 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, a 35mm wide angle and a 100mm telephoto. 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.

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 with it’s placement just forward of the shutter release, however the dial tends to be awkward and tend to stiffen up from lack of use which can render 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.

Despite all of its quirks, the C33 is 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 a wide angle and telephoto option, the C33 has a decent range that makes 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 either, so if you’re tempted by the brick, expect to pay around $100 for a well functioning camera and a lens or two.


Argus C33 film cameraArgus C33 with Light meterArgus C33 and accessoriesargus C33 top
Argus C33 back openArgus C33 light meterArgus C33 and accessoriesArgus Flash details
Argus 100mm lensArgus C33 focal scale and frame counterArgus C33 Flash mount pinsArgus C33 rewind lever
Argus C33 camera and accessory details

Specifications

General:

Argus C33
Production: 1959 – 1961
Film: 35mm
Shutter: Leaf shutter
Weight: 2lbs 10 oz
Flash: 2 prong connection (proprietary)
Flash syncing: M, X
Mount: bayonet mount
Shutter speed: 1/4 sec – 1/300, Bulb

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.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: