5 frames with...

5 Frames on an Argoflex – From Picture to Reality – By Charlie Bierwirth

September 5, 2021

Inspiration can can come from many sources. When my wife found a photo of an Argus Argoflex at an antique shop and gave it to me for my Christmas present, little did she know that would inspire me to expand my camera bag and enter the world of medium format film photography.

The picture my wife got me for Christmas with my Argoflex I picked up on eBay.

To be fair, I had been wanting to get into medium format for a while. The larger film, wide assortment of cameras, and the ability to shoot film stocks only offered on 120 genuinely intrigued me. Fast forward to Christmas and me opening my gifts and getting the picture of the Argoflex. I think the first words out of my mouth were “This means I get to buy this camera, right?!” I had only heard of the big names in TLR’s (Mamiya, Yashica, Rolleiflex, etc.) and knew they carried big price tags. While researching the Argoflex I found many could be bought for under $75, but I also learned that their quality wasn’t that of the newer, more professional TLRs. For a guy with a limited budget just starting out in film photography, this medium format circa 1940’s camera was just right for me. Eventually a camera I had been following on eBay dropped from $65 down to $40, and at that point I couldn’t pass it up.

The Argus Argoflex was among one of the earlier TLRs and therefore is about as basic as they can be. Higher apertures (4.5, 6.3, 9, 12.7, 18) coupled with an odd set of mechanical shutter speeds (1/200, 1/100,1/50, 1/25, 1/10, T, B) are applied to its 75mm lens. Many models were made for 620, not 120 film. My model accepted the 120 spool just fine, despite the label saying only to use 620. There’s no exposure counter, it’s a fully manual winding, and you have to rely on using the view glass on the rear of the box to know what frame you were on. I did not exactly master this skill, and as such I had some double exposures.

For my first roll through this camera I opted for Portra 400. It’s a dependable film stock that produces beautiful colors and at 400 iso, I had flexibility with the relatively slow max shutter speed of 1/200. I used the Nossaflex app to meter and record my shots (I’d recommend Analog Memo for Android users). Sure enough the metering and settings provided exposures that I think were pretty close to reality.

The focus ranges on the focus ring I think are pretty accurate. This picture is probably blurry from the 1/50 shutter speed.

Composing a picture in a TLR is way different than in an SLR or rangefinder. It’s essentially backwards. It’s a skill I need to improve on, and it doesn’t help trying to compose a photo while intoxicated like I did on this picture.

Even sober, getting horizon lines perfectly straight isn’t always easy. I do have a tripod and will try to bring that out more in the future to help.

I had a hard time reading the exposure numbers on the back of the paper through the red-lens peep-hole on the camera. There were a few double exposures like this one. I had to take the classic selfie, it just so happened I looked a little too high and my next frame was a shot of my flag. The results were pretty darn patriotic.

Overall I’m happy with this little light box. It’s a different skill to compose your shots on a TLR, but one that I look forward to improving. If you’re thinking about dipping your toe into medium formats and TLRs, consider starting on cheaper models first to see if it’s for you.

I’ve already got more rolls of 120 in the fridge waiting to be shot.  Check out my Instagram to see them when they come out.

Thanks for reading.

—Charlie

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9 Comments

  • Reply
    Juna
    September 5, 2021 at 10:54 am

    I like the outcome of the „little box“ a lot – especially for the first roll. You will learn, how to do it best and get the pictures straight etc. Just keep on shooting!

    Thank you for sharing, this not so common and sought after camera and especially thank you for keeping it alive and shooting.

  • Reply
    Bob Janes
    September 5, 2021 at 12:20 pm

    Lovely to hear about this – I visited Ann Arbour for a couple of days a few years ago and only found out it was the home of Argos cameras recently – had I known I might have done a pilgrimage to the old factory…

    • Reply
      Charlie Bierwirth
      September 5, 2021 at 5:29 pm

      If I ever make it to Michigan I may have to go myself….

  • Reply
    JAMES LANGMESSER
    September 5, 2021 at 4:49 pm

    Charlie, It’s all a matter of mastering the materials and equipment at hand. As a boy of 10 I received a plastic Imperial Reflex camera, 120 film size. I took pictures of everything. The highlight of my having that camera was to take a picture (B&W) of an automobile accident that I sold to the Chicago Tribune. I was immensely proud the next day to read the byline under the picture “Purchased from a Freelance Photographer”.

    • Reply
      Charlie Bierwirth
      September 5, 2021 at 5:31 pm

      Thanks, James! That’s cool to have something published at such a young age.

  • Reply
    Argoflex: From Picture to Reality – Under The Hill
    September 5, 2021 at 6:01 pm

    […] 35mmc is a film photography blog site that I found incredibly useful as I was getting into the hobby and still love today. It’s got loads of gear and film reviews as well as serves as a great place for stories to be told and projects to be shared. I’ve written two articles for the site in the past, and my third one just dropped today: 5 Frames on an Argoflex – From Picture to Reality […]

  • Reply
    Ben Garcia
    September 9, 2021 at 12:59 am

    I don’t hear of these being used, often. Nice to hear of someone else enjoying an Argoflex! It was my 2nd MF camera (if you count a Holga) and bought when I knew almost nothing about older film cameras, let alone MF. They are all metal, purely mechanical, lens still in great condition. Happy Shooting!

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