Argus C3 [1940]

The Brick: Best Selling American 35mm Camera Ever


The brick has sometimes been described as the American Leica; I've lost count of the cameras known as the something Leica? The poor man's Leica. the Russian Leica, The Leica Leica should have made, etc.? Although comparing this consumer camera with it's professional, German counterpart is overstating the point it does share some of the early Leica's characteristics;

  • separate viewfinder and rangefinder windows
  • interchangeable lenses
  • 35mm format
  • cocking the shutter being a separate action from winding on film
  • quiet leaf shutter,

The C3 has also been described as the Model-T of cameras (the Leica being the Mercedes) which seems to be a more accurate nick name. Certainly, in it's day, it brought quality optics and tank-like, solid mechanics to the masses where these features had previously only been available to the wealthy elite. It has been claimed to be the best selling 35mm camera ever. Also, like the Model-T, it was originally available in any color you wanted as long as it was chrome and black. It's most deserved nickname is "the brick" due to it's angular design and proportions.

Argus C3

As one of the best selling cameras ever the C3 can be found very easily in the US and very cheaply at that. However common it may be, it would be a mistake to write it off as worthless. It's optics aren't half bad and it lives up to it's 'brick' nickname in both build and aesthetics. To use the brick is to take a step back in time and the C3 was far from a point and shoot; it takes some education and knowledge to get an accurate shot out of the brick but hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic, American amateurs tried and many succeeded. The shooting work flow goes something like this;DSC01498.jpg

  1. Advance to the next frame - No single push film advance lever for the C3. First you must release the film advance catch, then wind the film a little before releasing the catch and completing the wind until the frame counter clicked to the next number.
  2. Set the exposure - no built in light meter so you either had to carry a separate one or use the sunny f16 rule or your experience to judge what that should be. Now set the shutter speed and aperture.
  3. Focus - using the tiny, yellow rangefinder window focus the camera.
  4. Cock the shutter - just because you advanced the film doesn't mean that you cocked the shutter. Press down the shutter lever on the right hand front side of the camera.
  5. Frame the shot - don't confuse the rangefinder for the viewfinder - the viewfinder is the one that isn't yellow.
  6. Take the picture - the brick isn't the easiest camera to hold but you've got to keep your fingers out of the way of the shutter cocking lever on its return path whilst pressing the shutter release down.

Of course, there's nothing to stop you taking a double exposure or advancing the film without taking any shot so you have to keep your wits about you.

I bought my example of this camera for $17.79 inc P&P from eBay. For that price it came with it's original case and flash and it's original sales box, literature and tag. The camera itself was in pretty good condition except that the shutter speeds are obviously not accurate even to my untrained ear. It seems like the faster speeds (anything over 1/10th of a second) cause the shutter to fire at it's fastest speed (1/500th). I didn't really buy this camera as a user so it's not high on my project list but I would like to fix this problem so I can throw a roll or two through this venerable, old American.

Argus Matchmatic


The C3 was never cutting edge technology even when first released but after a few years of production it was starting to look very dated especially in comparison to some of the competing models coming from Germany and Japan with built in light meters and even some with early forms of auto-exposure. Argus's response to this technological onslaught was the Matchmatic. The Matchmatic is a poorly disguised, though handsome, C3. It wears a new two tone jacket and it came with a complementary light meter which sat on its accessory shoe on the top of the camera. It was a primitive answer to the more advanced competition in that the lens and shutter markings were not the typical f-stop and fractions of a second we are familiar with but a new, simpler numerical system. The idea was that with the dedicated light meter you could read of the appropriate proprietary settings for the Matchmatic's lens and shutter and set them accordingly. Apart from this 'advance' it functioned just like any other brick.

I bought my Matchmatic after discovering it was the camera used in the second Harry Potter movie. Another eBay bargain, this one cost me $13.50 including P&P and included it's original case and meter. Unfortunately the meter is not working but I've yet to see an example that is. All other functions seem to be in perfect working order although the viewfinder and rangefinder are both badly in need of cleaning to the point of being barely usable. Once I've done this I'd like to put some film though it just for fun.




Dear Other Martin Taylor
Thank you for your nice acct of your Argus C3. I just ordered one by eBay, too. And it arrived a few minutes ago. Mine is a $25 Matchmatic with leather case but no instruction book. Fortunately, I found a website that had an instruction book posted and I printed it out. I'll study it and shoot a roll of film and see how accurate the settings are. Thanks for the info about the Argus being used in the second Potter movie. That adds a bit to the image. Have fun with your camera!

Best Wishes,
Karl Kunkel
High Point, NC

Posted by: Karl Kunkel at August 2, 2004 11:26 AM

I just bought an Argus C3 as a spur-of-the-moment deal on eBay for $3.25. It probably helped that it was 5am EST. ;) Nonetheless...I look forward to getting and playing with this camera. It certainly seems to have quite a bit of character. And it's definitely a long way from my Canon A70....but that's a good thing. Sometimes we need to go back to our roots and re-learn apertures, shutter speeds and lighting. Take care!

Posted by: Jesus Perez at August 11, 2004 2:26 AM

I had bought my C3 Matchmatic at a flea market several months ago and it was indeed, quite different than my Nikon N55. I've been going through sites to see how to use it, but I have not had any luck finding a good site with instructions. Any suggestions??

Posted by: Melissa L at October 17, 2004 2:50 PM

You can't do better than to check out the Argus Collectors Group if you need Argus info.

Good luck!

Posted by: James M. Surprenant at August 17, 2005 12:43 PM

James - Very amiss of me to forget to link to the Argus Collector's Group. I've repaired this omission. Thanks for pointing it out.
Regards - Martin

Posted by: Martin Taylor at September 2, 2005 12:58 PM

Should I buy an Argus C44? I have a C3 which is "interesting" but I'm not sure about the other..

Posted by: John Bennetto at November 14, 2005 2:17 AM

Deseo comprar una C3 . Quién posea una que funcione muy bién por favor escribir.

Posted by: pedro at August 16, 2006 7:39 AM

Aloha, just got my hands on a C3 at the local antique shop (Antique Alley, Kapiolani Blvd, Honolulu). $20 included the C3 with the leatherette edges peeling but otherwise in excellent cosmetic form (including the unblemished chrome) AND the leather case in excellent condition. Hats off to your webpage that pays tribute to great American engineering and simply just a great camera.

Posted by: Larry L Medina at October 7, 2006 10:41 AM

Just took a roll of slide film (100 asa) with my C-3. The C-3 came through with sharpness and contrast to match the best of them. Just about the best $8.49 I ever spent.

Posted by: STEVE at November 1, 2006 8:45 AM

Please Please Please let me in- Tomi Rae Brown..

Posted by: Jamil Mathis at December 27, 2006 7:50 AM

Please Please Please let me in- Tomi Rae Brown..

Posted by: Jamil Mathis at December 27, 2006 7:50 AM

Thank you for your tribute to the Brick. I used one to teach myself photography well over 40 years ago. You forgot to mention the camera back that had no lock. I ruined a few rolls of film before I remembered to rewind the film first. =:0 Cheers!

Posted by: Phyllis Herring at January 4, 2007 11:12 AM

i have here an argus C3. anyone know what this is worth?

Posted by: Debra at January 15, 2007 1:38 PM

If you look through completed auctions on ebay (look under advanced search) which is my preferred way to see real world prices. Recent prices range from $5 to around $75. This will depend upon rarity of the specific model you have, condition and included accessories. The brick is not worth much due to how common and robust it is - in this case its strengths keep the prices down.
Hope this helps - Martin

Posted by: Martin Taylor at January 16, 2007 5:01 PM

I was just given a C-3 to try out, and I'm not totally sure that I'm advancing the film properly. I'm following instructions but the counter doesn't seem to be counting... Hopefully it's all working right and I just can't tell. :)

Posted by: Andrea at April 25, 2007 10:06 AM

Have model C3 production year 1939- 1957 50mm F3.5 Rangefinder coupled to the lens flash sync attachment hole but no attachment comes with case. If interested in this camera you must pay for shipping I live in nj, The camera is free its old and only a fan of this camera would be interested in it.


Posted by: regis at October 6, 2007 2:26 PM