A look back at the Argus C44 rangefinder camera

The Argus C44 was not a particularly fancy camera. First sold in 1956, it was the latest and greatest (and last) in a line of Argus rangefinders. Most people who know the name Argus know it for the Argus C3, a boxy “everyman’s” camera, but consider that the very next year, Nikon released the famous Nikon F. Nobody would choose to find an Argus at a garage sale over a Nikon F. I was never given the choice.

Anyways, I’m writing this so that at least one person on the Internet will have said positive things about the Argus C44.

The Argus C44’s metal construction feels weighty in my hands. It comes with an attractive set of three lenses (tele, normal, and wide) in individual leather cases. It includes a small viewfinder attachment that sits in the flash shoe and simulates each lens’ field of view. It doesn’t have a light meter but does come with a faint whiff of cigarette smoke (or at least mine did, anyways).

Many people have complained about the infuriating lens mount, but that’s OK—just use the 50mm f/2.8 and keep the other lenses as display pieces. More than sixty years later, it holds up pretty well. Legend holds that it was one of the first camera lenses ever designed with the help of an electronic computer, University of Michigan’s MIDAC. Considering those were the days of vacuum tubes and magnetic-drum memory, that’s a pretty impressive selling point.

The focus ring on my camera is quite difficult to turn, probably due to corrosion or cigarette tar. And looking through the rangefinder only gives an approximate confirmation of focus. So the rough procedure for taking the above photo was:

  1. Choose something that could have multiple correct focal planes
  2. Meter the scene (Bring Your Own Meter)
  3. Set the aperture wide open, and get the shutter and focus approximately right
  4. Push the weird shutter button and hear the weird snap
  5. Get the photo developed at the nearest pharmacy mail-in film lab

I found that the sturdy construction gave me reasonable results more than half a century after it was manufactured, and the combination of the f/2.8 lens and modern-ish film worked well even in indoor lighting. The shutter speeds are limited to 1/10 through 1/300s, so some thought needs to go into choosing the right film speed as well. (For comparison, the Nikon F does 1/1 through 1/1000s.)

Should you buy an Argus for yourself? The good news is that Argus cameras in general seem to be durable and resilient. The bad news is that the eBay listings currently seem to be north of $50 without even having the complete set of lenses, and I really do get the feeling that there are probably better cameras for the money. Still, if you have never used a camera that doesn’t need electricity and you see one of these at a garage sale, grab it (hopefully it comes with a light meter), pop in a roll of film, and enjoy!

2 Responses to “A look back at the Argus C44 rangefinder camera”

  1. David Tellet writes:

    One of my favorite cameras. I really think the mount got a bad rap, it is quite easy once you get the hang of it. And the shutter release is one of my favorites. It eases up just before release so there is little to no camera shake due to pressing the shutter button. And I like the loud odd metallic shutter sound. And the camera with the 100mm mounted wouldn’t be out of place in a Flash Gordon movie. Yeah, not the greatest camera, but a lot of old time fun.

  2. Bill Blauvelt writes:

    I got mine in the late 1960s from a friend and had fun with it though for serious work I used a slr. I treated it as a somewhat disposable camera and it never failed.

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