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Argus A/A2 - 1936/39
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• First affordable, popular 35mm camera in US (Argus A)

• Established 35mm as a serious US amateur's format (Argus A)

• $12.50 in 1936 ($196 in 2010 dollars) (Argus A)

Stephen Gandy, who runs the terrific CameraQuest site, calls the Argus A "The 2nd Most Important 35 of All Time" on his Argus page (the Leica A is first), because the Argus A was the first 35mm for the masses, and was responsible for the popularity of 35mm film.

Arguses (Gandy calls them "Argi") were made in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The A was first sold in 1936, for $12.50. (Notice the Art Deco styling.) They sold 30,000 the first week! A few years later they cut the price to $10. Production stopped in 1950, but by then they had the C3, which was even more popular.

In 1939 Argus introduced the A2, which added an extinction meter. You sighted through it to find the dimmest of the shaded cells you could see through, and that told you the exposure. Good enough for B&W negative films, but not nearly good enough for color slides. See the excerpt from the instruction book, below, for more on how the extinction meter worked.

In 1962 or 1963, when I was 14 or 15, I started to get interested in photography, and that meant buying an enlarger. I answered an ad in the paper for a used one, and bought it for maybe $15 or $20. I told the seller I didn't have a camera of my own yet, so he gave me the Argus A you see pictured. I took the photo below in New York in 1963 with my Argus A, and I've taken few photos as good since.

The A2, on the other hand, I picked up for $5 at a camera swap meet in Oct. 2011.

By 1940 the price for the A had dropped to $10, and you could get the A2 for $12.50, the original price of the A.

Argus AWashington Square Fountain, New York, 1963Ad from Popular Photography, June 1938Ad from Popular Photography, Oct. 1938
Directory listing from Popular Photography, May 1940Argus A2Argus A2Argus A2
Argus A2Excerpt from Argus A/A2 instruction bookExcerpt from Argus A/A2 instruction bookExcerpt from Argus A/A2 instruction book

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