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Argus A2F Art Deco, viewfinder camera

The Argus A2F camera was one of the last of a series of viewfinder cameras made in the USA in the years just before and just after the second world war. At the time the series was made, they were a quite sophisticated camera for an American designed and made unit, although not in the same class as some of the German 35 mm cameras of the time.

My Argus A2F camera

I found my Argus A2F camera on eBay in a sale marked as 'old camera'.

I have to admit that other than knowing it was an Argus, I didn't know anything else about the unit until it turned up a couple of days after winning the auction for £8:50.

When I opened the parcel with the camera in, I found a unit in reasonable condition, although really filthy, with the front lens in particular being very dusty and dirty. Most of the controls around the shutter were pretty tight to move, and the actual lens unit (which is collapsible) was almost frozen stiff in its collapsed position.

I found that I could clean most of the dirt off quite easily with some cotton buds, using lens cleaner for the glass and chrome cleaner for the rest of the body parts. Once the dirt was off, and I tried moving the controls and lens, everything freed up quite nicely.

The only actual damage I can find is around the shutter release. Normally, the camera should have a short shutter release screwed into the cable release socket on the shutter, but that is missing from my camera. I can screw a normal cable release into the socket and release the shutter, but the threaded part of the socket is broken and needs to be re-soldered to the plate it sits on.

Although the shutter will release it is a bit sticky on the T setting and the speed setting feels a bit tight when moved from the Bulb position to the 1/200 setting, so I intend to strip the shutter down, clean it and apply some light grease.

Pictures of the Argus A2F Art Deco

Argus A2F Description

The Argus A2F has a distinct 'Art Deco' look to it with the shaped Bakelite body, the raised lines on the front and the rectangular pattern on the back. In fact, the A2 camera series was designed and made at the very end of the art deco period and this particular unit is one of the last models in the series, so at the time it was made it probably looked a bit dated.

In terms of feature set, the camera is quite well-equipped for its day. There is a 4 speed shutter and an f/4.5 lens, along with a built-in exposure meter and adjustable focus from a very close 1 1/4 feet (15 inches) to infinity.

The exposure meter design is an interesting one.

It uses a system called an 'extinction meter' which works on the principle of using a filter which blocks varying levels of light and then using that to find the point on the filter where the light is showing.

In the picture shown to the left, you can see at the top of the camera is a slot next to the viewfinder with a sliding bar above it. It's just possible to see in the slot that there are a series of rectangular bars shown, which get darker towards the left side of the camera.

To use the meter, the photographer would point the camera at the scene and slide the pointer along to align with the last rectangle which was still 'lit' which would take the light reading. Then, using the table on the top of the camera which is shown to the right, the aperture and shutter speed can be determined from the look-up table.

There are a couple of sliding scales on the top of the movable bar which is used to set the film speed, but on my particular example of the camera these are quite stiff, and I think if I moved them I'd probably break the thin aluminium.

The shutter is a unit made by IRC and is of a quite simple 4 speed design. In a future article, I will cover stripping it down and cleaning it - my camera certainly needs that done.

The lens fitted to the camera has no markings on to say what the focal length is, or which company made it. I suspect this means it was made by Argus themselves, and the focal length is probably around 50 mm, which would be standard on a 35 mm camera.

In order to use the camera and operate the focus, the lens needs to be released from the camera body, which is done by gripping the front of the shutter unit and twisting it. The lens then pops out and reveals the focus control at the back of the lens.

I found the focus control quite difficult to adjust; the knurled adjustment ring is close to the body, and the ring which locks the lens in it's collapsed state rather gets in the way of adjusting it.

The film transport is a very simple arrangement of just a pair of sprocket holes, which lock after the film has moved one frame. So to use the camera you turn the film advance until it locks, adjust the exposure and take the picture and then press a little button next to the frame counter which releases the film transport, allowing the camera to be wound on for the next exposure. There is no interlock which stops you taking multiple images on the film, or which make sure that you actually take a picture.

Although the Argus A2F is a simple camera, I find it a very attractive unit, probably because I find the whole Art Deco style very appealing.

Argus A2F Specifications

  • Bakelite body, Art Deco style 35 mm viewfinder camera
  • Collapsible lens assembly to reduce size
  • f/4.5 max aperture - setting up to f/18
  • 4 speed shutter (1/200 sec to 1/25 sec) + bulb and time
  • Manually settable frame counter
  • Extinction exposure meter
  • Manual focus range 1 1/4 feet to infinity
  • Bottom mounted rewind knob
  • Tripod thread
  • Cable release + shutter release mounted on lens (missing on this camera)
  • Serial No: 22536
  • Manual available on-line here.

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