Back to Film, or how to find a good cheap camera.

I was recently asked to help someone sell an extensive camera collection.  The cameras represent consumer photography from the 19 teens through the 1960’s.  Many of them are display pieces and are no longer useful without being sent out to a shop for repair.  Overtime cameras that aren’t used suffer from fungus on the lens, sticky shutters, and overall dust. The old folders are vulnerable to separation of the leather from the metal bodies. The old bakelite plastic gets brittle and is prone to splitting. Most of the cameras have one thing in common, they take medium format film. Back in the day the most common roll film was 120. Kodak, perhaps to push consumers into buying Kodak film, used the same film on a smaller spindle and marketed it as 620.  Kodak 620 film was used in everything from the point and shoot Brownie Hawkeye to their early folding cameras.  The folders are interesting because the same roll of film was used for 6×6, 6×7, 6×9 and 6×11 frames.  In addition to changing the number of pictures a roll of film would hold (12, 10, 8, 7 respectively), the negatives are all huge compared to 35mm film. The smallest medium format film size is 645 (15 frames per roll) which produces a negative 2.5 times larger. From there it only gets better. By better I mean the larger the negative the less it needs to be enlarged to produce a sharp viewable picture. In addition that means that larger prints (above an 8×10) are possible.  Since old cameras can be cheap there is an opportunity to get into higher quality film for a low price. The Argus 40 TLR is one of those finds.


The Twin Lens Reflex camera was made famous by Rollei from Germany. With superior optics, ease of use, and packaged in a small metal frame, the Rollei was a favorite of professional and amatuers for over 50 years. The problem with the Rolleiflex is that even today you will have to spend over $500 for one in good shape. It inspired many knock offs by nearly every camera manufacturer.  Perhaps the most sought after copy is the Yashica 124. Not the same quality of the Rollei but pretty close and nearly bulletproof, it shares the quality glass lens and metal body of the original. I have one and couldn’t be more pleased. With the combination of a large film size and the lack of a mirror to flop up and down and possibly create camera shake. The lens on top is for viewing only with the bottom lens being used to expose the film. TLRs are capable of very sharp pictures.

The Ansco 40 is a very inexpensive copy of this same format.   In addition the Argus is a viewfinder camera meaning the prism does not help the user to focus on the subject. The lens has distance markings for focusing purposes (called zone focusing).  I came across this camera among the boxes of about 100 cameras. It looked very clean as did the leather case it was in and when I shined a light through the lens there was no evidence of fungus.  So I put a roll of black and white film in it.

Take a look. This is right out of the camera. I cleaned up a few spots but that is it. No adjustments from the software. The camera is like new (40-50 years new). For about $100 US a guy (or gal) could play with this piece of history. Ebay, Etsy, or what ever marketplace you like to frequent has these old TLR’s. Of course let the buyer beware-be sure to buy a camera that is in working condition and if it doesn’t work return it.

Some kinda fun, and you won’t know if you “got it” until the film is developed.


Shoot film, shoot digital, or do both. It doesn’t matter.

Until next time.



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