Michigan's greatest 1930s film camera visits the junkyard

For a cheap 1930s camera design out of Michigan, the Argus Brick shoots beautifully sharp photographs.

The most popular scent of all the Car-Freshner Little Trees: Black Ice.

There’s a sadness about engines pulled and discarded in junkyards.

That’s downtown Denver in the background.

Those of you who have followed my old-cameras-in-new-junkyards series know that most of my ancient photographic hardware uses either fat medium-format film or goofily skinny “spy camera” film. 135 cartridge film, which is what nearly all decent-quality mainstream cameras used from the 1960s until the near-total demise of film in our current decade, hadn’t interested me as junkyard-shooting material, not since I’d mastered the pinnacle-of-35mm-technology Canon AE-1 several decades ago. However, the iconic Argus C3 has such great history that I had to try it at my local U-Pull-&-Pay.

It’s sitting on a 1976 International Harvester Scout Terra.

The C3 came out of Ann Arbor, Michigan, starting in 1939, and production continued well into the cheap-Japanese-SLR era. It was a sturdy rangefinder camera, surprisingly heavy and with controls in weirdly hard-to-reach locations. Known as “The Brick” by generations of photographers who prized its toughness and sharp corners, the C3 took very sharp photographs for its price and stole many a sale from far more expensive German hardware. Mine comes from the final year of production: 1966, when this extremely dated camera finally succumbed to competition from the likes of the Nikon F. I’ve used it to photograph cars at Speed Week, but last weekend was its first trip to my local U-Pull-&-Pay.

That’s a rare 1986 Toyota Camry Liftback.

Because junkyard duty is much harder on ten-buck, 53-year-old cameras than the Bonneville Salt Flats, the back cover of the camera popped open when I set it down on a Honda valve cover to grab my toolbox and switch to car-clock-pulling duty, completely or partially exposing some of my roll of Tri-X (I have since tightened up the low-bidder cover latch on my C3). This effect lends authenticity to some of my junkyard photos, I say.

For a cheap 1930s camera design, the Brick performs beautifully. No wonder more than two million were sold.

Most of the shots came out pretty well, though, and I’ll be returning with the Brick— and maybe my 70th Anniversary of the Glorious October Revolution commemorative FED-5— for more junkyard 35mm film action soon.

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