5 frames with...

5 Frames with an Argus/Cosina STL and Fomapan 400 after the Season’s First Snow – By Dan Smouse

January 12, 2022

Stopping at the local Salvation Army store whenever I find myself in Kenai has become a regular tradition for me. I go there looking for the underappreciated film cameras of years gone by. Typically, I walk away empty-handed but my track record of finding very useable vintage cameras keeps me coming back. On this particular day though, I left with not one, but two 35mm camera bodies complete with lenses. They were both manual focus bodies but they each represented a different generation of cameras.

The Camera

The eldest of the two was an Argus/Cosina STL carrying a Cosinon 55mm f1.4 lens, the other a Minolta x-370s with a Minolta 35-70 lens. The total cost for the pair was just under $6. Both of them came home, were inspected for function, and then dutifully placed on the shelf. By all accounts the Minolta seemed nearly as good as new. It powered up and all functions seemed, well, functional. I made a mental note to one day put a roll of film through it.

The Argus/Cosina, on the other hand, had seen better days. At some point in its history it had obviously been dropped; the corner of the body adjacent to the winder was deeply dented, the frame counter winder was broken out, and the counter no longer worked. Adding to this, the lens had its own problem. Thankfully, the focus ring was smooth and the apertures clicked in nicely. Unfortunately though, about a third of the interior of the glass had a very fine spider web of haziness. What would have probably been a fine lens was in less than stellar condition. To the camera’s credit, the shutter still wound and fired with the wonderful sound of an SLR. Winding and firing a mechanical SLR is one of life’s simple joys so it was placed on a shelf within easy reach where it would serve as a sort of “fidget” for me when I was working at my desk and needed a distraction.

The Decision to Shoot

It has been said that familiarity breeds contempt but that ongoing proximity often breeds desirability. Most certainly the latter was true with my proximity to the old Argus. The more I handled it, the more I wanted to shoot it. Honestly, the camera was in quite excellent condition despite the previously mentioned damage. The glass was quite a mess but I wondered if that would just add some “character” to any pictures shot with it. It took a few weeks but finally the decision to shoot a roll through it was made. It was here that Fomapan 400 enters the picture.

The Film

My film stock consisted of several rolls of Portra and a roll of FP4, none of which I wanted to potentially waste on an exploratory roll through a camera that had a significant chance of ultimately being defective. I needed something affordable which would be good enough to produce useable pictures with while at the same time not a film I’d really care about if the roll was a bust. I had previously shot with Fomapan 200 and for the price I had been quite impressed with it so I looked into what was in stock at B&H. Ultimately, I decided on their 400 speed “Action” film as I wanted something a bit faster so that I could stop down a bit (I don’t fully trust my manual focusing skills and like some margin) while still maintaining useable shutter speeds and at under $5 a roll how could I go wrong?

Time to Shoot

Shortly after the film arrived, we had our first snow of the season which wasn’t exactly the conditions I was hoping for but as this was Alaska, I knew it was now or wait 5 months for the snow to be gone. Over the course of the next couple of days I trapsed around the area where I live shooting whatever caught my fancy. The new snow had eliminated any plans I had made for the test roll so I decided to just shoot. I completed the roll and sent it off to be processed, not sure with what to expect. A week later, I was notified that my scans had been uploaded, ready for viewing. I opened them to find a very nice surprise. When I did my part, the shots looked good. The pictures were suitably sharp with nice contrast and a tasteful amount of grain. The lens resolved very nicely and if I hadn’t known differently I never would’ve thought it to be less than pristine.

Will I shoot the Argus again? Probably not. It was fun giving it a whirl but it doesn’t measure up to the experience of my “regular” shooters. I will, however, be buying more Fomapan 400. It is an ideal film for testing the random cameras I find at a price point that doesn’t make me wince.

You can see more of my work on Flickr (here) and IG (@in_the_image_photog). I also share my thoughts on life and theology at A Float on the River. God bless!

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9 Comments

  • Reply
    Martin
    January 12, 2022 at 10:53 am

    The Minolta X-370 (or its clone/license build named Cosina DX-300 – the European for the X-370 is X-300) was my everywhere camera for a long time. I got it for little money and a good friend was so kind to replace the broken capcitor for me (a soldering iron is a deadyl weapon in my hands a t least for cameras). So another 40 cents and a cup of coffee poorer I had a working camera again. It is light and a great shooter with just the bit of comfort that makes live easier (aperture priority AE) and metered manual showing set and metered times in the finder so you can override on purpose without guessing.

    • Reply
      Dan Smouse
      January 12, 2022 at 3:14 pm

      I will be definitely be putting a roll through the X-370s! It is in much too nice of condition to just keep it on the shelf. It may not become a part of my regular rotation but it deserves to be shot.

  • Reply
    Dana Brigham
    January 12, 2022 at 3:04 pm

    I really like the Fomapan 100/200/400 emulsions (and they are rebranded under a few other names at about the same discount price) — they have a bit “softer” feel to me than the TriX of my youth! And I have an Argus/Consina STL (or two) lying around here somewhere. I shy away from shooting in the snow also (here in Maryland we definitely don’t get as much as you!) — but your photos have inspired me. The subtle differences in the white of the snow on different objects, and the almost white of the sky — love it. And I must say that you have helped me out of the “funk of fungus”!!! I have a lot (way too many) of vintage lenses (and not so vintage) with haze issues — from very mild, to “who rubbed a bar of soap all over the internal elements of this lens???” And I sigh and stack them in the “need to take these apart and clean the elements” pile that then never gets touched again. But a good number seem to match how you describe yours, and better — so I will now dig those out and create a new pile — the “ignore the inside, just use the lens!” pile…. Thanks! Stay warm!

    • Reply
      Dan Smouse
      January 12, 2022 at 3:16 pm

      I’ve always been leery of lenses which had haze or fungus issues as well, but this was indeed an eye-opener.

  • Reply
    Lee
    January 12, 2022 at 5:56 pm

    While the X-370 may not have the weight and more quality feel of some other Minolta cameras, it can perform very well. And if the the 35-70mm lens that came with it is one of the versions of the Minolta MD Zoom 35-70mm f/3.5, then you’ve got yourself a decent rig.

    • Reply
      Dan Smouse
      January 12, 2022 at 6:08 pm

      The 35-70 that came with my X-370s is the more mundane 3.5-4.8 variable aperture version.

  • Reply
    CJS
    January 12, 2022 at 9:14 pm

    My results from an Argus/Cosina with a Cosinon lens (I don’t recall exactly which at the moment) were stunning, with the sharpness and contrast of much more prestigious models; I think the camera must be something of an overlooked gem. I have a second one awaiting a tryout.

    • Reply
      Dan Smouse
      January 12, 2022 at 10:40 pm

      The camera definitely does everything needed in a solid, mechanical body but I believe the lens is what really makes them sing.

  • Reply
    Charles E
    February 23, 2022 at 3:45 pm

    Getting that Cosinon f1.4 within a bundle for $6 is surely the biggest bargain you’ve struck at your Salvation Army over the years? I have one and it’s spectacular for rendering that “Time Life” feel with colour film. It’s a look I really like and I use this lens with cameras of all ages in my collection whenever I take portraits. In my opinion, it’s a keeper and worth investing in an m42 adaptor for any/all of your favourite cameras if you wish to capture a 1960s aesthetic. Really interesting piece which I enjoyed reading. Thanks for sharing!

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