Argus Argoflex EF
|Argus Argoflex EF
Film type: 620
The Argoflex EF was an entry-level TLR made by Argus from 1948-1951, a minor redesign of the earlier and less common Argoflex EM with added flash sync. These two cameras are both derivatives of the Argoflex II without the problematic automatic wind feature, and the II was itself a replacement for the prewar bakelite Argoflex E, which had similar hardware to the EM. The EF is the last Argoflex to be a true TLR, as every succeeding Argoflex would be a box camera with a pseudo-TLR viewfinder, sometimes with zone focusing but usually with fixed focus.
The EF is a stripped-down but reasonably conventional TLR--though of course, by this time, most TLR's had lenses fixed in a moving front standard, not the unreliable external gearing that the Argoflex shares with some of the earlier TLR's. Like the vast majority of TLR's, the EF takes 6x6 centimeter exposures, though unlike most it takes 620 rollfilm. It has an aperture range of 4.5 to 18 and a speed range of 1/10-1/200 plus time exposure and bulb. Unlike the original Argoflex, the bakelite Argoflex E, the body is made of metal and has an early hot shoe for flash. Also, unlike (most examples of) the Argoflex E, it cannot accept 120 at all, as the narrower 620 spools are already a snug fit within the compartments, making it impossible to load the slightly wider and thicker 120 spools.
The camera is physically quite substantial, with a thick cast-metal construction overlaid with leatherette (though the camera weighs slightly less than the Argus C3, a smaller camera.) It possesses very clean lines due to the lack of complicating controls; except for the film advance, every control is on the shutter body. On the rear of the camera is the red window, placed to view the numbers 1-12 on a conventional roll of 620 (or re-spooled 620). This window is blocked by a pivoting guard inside the camera, operated by a small spring-loaded lever below the window. Presumably this arrangement is so that, if the camera is left in the sun with the back facing up, the light filtering through the backing paper will not eventually fog the film.
Other features include a tripod mount, solid brackets for straps, and an ever-ready leather case either sold with the camera or separately.
The lenses are both coated Argus Varex three-element anastigmat 75mm f/4.5, with the rear two elements fixed in the camera body and the front element mounted on a helicoid for focusing. Thus it is one of the few twin-lens reflex cameras with substantially identical lenses for the taking and viewing lenses; most TLR viewfinders were built around a lower quality lens with similar focusing characteristics to the taking lens, for economy's sake. Also note that these lenses are very slightly wider than the conventional normal lenses for a 6x6 camera, at 75mm rather than 80, yielding a healthy angle of view of circa 55 degrees at the corners and 40 degrees edge-to-edge. The camera's vignetting when stopped down is subtler than might be expected from a budget TLR, but the focus is not particularly sharp under the best of conditions. On older examples, the gearing between the lenses is apt to strip out and allow the gears to slip, in which case calibration will be lost. Collimation is a finicky process on this camera, as in order to adjust the calibration, both lenses must be unscrewed completely and the viewing lens must be screwed back on a certain number of turns before starting to screw on the taking lens, to establish the proper relationship between the positions of the two lenses.
On top of the viewing lens barrel, placed to be visible at the same time as the finder screen, is a comprehensive depth-of-field calculator, formed by distance marks on the lens rim rotating past a scale with the focus range of each f-stop marked on it. This is particularly necessary as the viewing lens is wide open and has a relatively shallow field.
The aperture markings are non-standard-- rather than the usual arrangement where the aperture starts from a standard aperture such as f/22 and counts up by the conventional full stops (16, 11, 8, 5.6, et cetera) to the second-highest stop, with the last step being a partial stop up to the maximum aperture, the Argoflex's diaphragm is actually designed around the maximum aperture, f/4.5, and the scale counts down from it by full stops. The sequence thus goes: f/4.5, 6.3, 9, 12.7, 18. This can make it difficult for photographers working with a meter, who must guess the approximate position of a standard F/stop on the nonstandard scale; 12.7 is probably close enough to f/16 for Sunny 16 rule, however; it is preferable to overexpose slightly than to underexpose by the same amount. The diaphragm is also notable, like that on the C3, for its large number of blades, ten in the case of the Argoflex, giving a very round overall aperture.
The main viewfinder is rather basic, being slightly dim in the best lighting conditions and almost invisible in subdued light or with strong light overhead. The camera does, fortunately, possess a sports finder for quicker composition. This simple frame finder is formed by erecting the viewfinder hood and pressing the front plate with the Argus logo to fold it back towards the viewing screen. Doing so reveals a large window in the front of the hood. The plate will catch on two notches on the back plate of the hood, just below a small peep-hole which forms the rear of the finder. There is also a folding loupe to assist in focusing using the reflex finder, though it is difficult to see the entire frame through the loupe. Additionally, if the loupe becomes loose, it can blur the image seen through it, making it useless as a focusing aid.
The shutter is a Wollensak Alphax, a mostly conventional leaf shutter. This is an everset shutter with a rather long throw, set up in a between-lens position. The Alphax is considered a mechanically straightforward unit, and multiple detailed tutorials exist online for disassembling, de-greasing and re-lubricating it if it has become fouled over time. There is a socket for a cable release immediately under the trigger.
The camera possesses flash-sync, but unfortunately the modern photographer will find it impossible to mount a flash. The hot shoe is proprietary; it requires a thinner flange on the flash than a modern unit will have, and the contacts will almost certainly not line up. Add to this that most examples lack a PC socket (though some authors claim their camera has one), and it becomes clear that only an Argus flashgun or a very cunningly devised substitute will function with this camera. Whether a modern flash can somehow be modified to fit or connected with a homemade adapter is a question for the ages. The simplest solution may be to solder (or tape?) wires to the contacts and connect them to an accessory hot shoe or PC cord.
In some ways, it can be tempting to see the early Argoflexes as the medium format's answer to the Argus C3. Like the "Brick," the camera is simple, blocky, lacking extraneous features but possessing serviceable shutter and a unique aesthetic; both cameras are notably dominated by external gearing. On the other hand, it can be seen as a fairly standard entry in the geared-lens, basic TLR subtype, based ultimately on the geared-lens model of Ricohflex; within this context it can be seen as less of an original piece of Argus engineering than the C3, but it does have the Argus hallmarks of weight, simple design and physical toughness. It has no automatic advance mechanism to jam (a problem seen in many up-market 120 cameras) and no complicated mechanical linkages outside of the shutter to foul up. Basically, the only component that can normally fail irretrievably is the shutter, and in failure modes related to normal use even this can often be repaired. In this way, the camera is more reliable even than the famously rugged C3.
Another point of comparison is to the Ciroflex, probably the main American-made TLR of the time. The Ciroflex was roughly contemporary, had the same shutter, but operated by lensboard focusing with a side-mounted focus knob like most contemporary TLR's. In many ways, the relationship between the Ciroflex and the Argoflex is similar to the relationship between the C3 and the Ciro 35; both are comparable in many ways but reflect vastly different engineering philosophy. In terms of quality and usability, much could be said in favor of the Ciroflex, but the Argus was both more rugged and cheaper at the time and remains so on the antique market, as with the respective 35mm's.
Indeed, due to the numbers produced and the entry-level quality, it is still quite possible to find the various true Argoflexes for sale in working condition cheaper than almost any other TLR (only the Lubitel 166 tends to be cheaper). Using it since the discontinuation of 620 requires either buying re-spooled 120 online (from a very few low-volume sellers), or re-spooling it oneself; this is generally considered to be fairly easy, given a dark room, gloves, 120 film and 620 spools. Many tutorials exist on line, given the continuing popularity of 620 cameras like the Kodak Medalist and Brownie Hawkeye.