[Disclaimer: although the photos below are mine, the camera is not – it was in my possession for a short period and I had just enough time to shoot it... but not to clean it prior.]
Something I would have never expected to learn about the camera I’ll blog about today is that its “family” of cameras (the C-3) is the best-selling 35mm ever. The C-3, “the camera that made color slides popular”, was an inexpensive interchangeable-lens rangefinder camera produced between 1939 and 1966. Its price was $39.95 and millions of them were sold, in particular during the 40's and 50's when the C-3 was present in what seemed every other American household.
This particular model, the C-3 Match-Matic (the camera that was “as easy to set as a clock”), was only produced between 1958 and 1966.
This camera was affectionately known as “the brick”. This wasn’t just for its shape or weight (30oz / 850g!!) but also because of its rugged build. In fact, this product came with a great warranty: the camera and the meter were “guaranteed to be free of defects in workmanship or materials during their lifetime. If any servicing is necessary because of imperfections in materials or workmanship, your camera and meter will be factory-serviced without charge”. Today’s cameras are infinitely more complex, but their one- or two-year warranties look sad in comparison.
The three things that cosmetically stand out about the Argus C-3 Match-Matic are:
the tan leatherette finish
the dials on the front that resemble a set of toothed wheels in motion, conveying the idea of a complex mechanism (also present in previous C-3 incarnations); and
the LC-3 clip-on selenium meter (which was included with the camera, but is not shown in the photos here).
The rest of the finish is black Bakelite and chrome metal. Even if it was a very affordable camera with a pretty basic design, the Match-Matic had (and still has) a bit of a regal look about it. (Well, maybe not this one in particular.)
On the basic spec side, this camera used standard 135 cartridge film, and featured a 50mm Argus Cintar lens, “color corrected, coated anastigmat”, six different apertures and five shutter speeds (plus bulb for long exposures), and of course a tripod socket.
To make the aperture and shutter-speed controls more user friendly, the Match-Matic featured a unique numbered system in which, for example, a shutter speed of 1/125 was referred to as “7” and 1/300 as “8”. If you were new to photography, this supposedly made picture-taking much simpler. Some might say that this re-naming of the apertures and shutter speeds was unnecessary, but judging by the resulting sales the engineers and marketing guys at Argus knew what they were doing.
Available accessories included a flash, the Argus 500 “electromatic projector” for slides, and 100mm telephoto and 35mm wide-angle lenses. Third-party lenses were also produced.
The Match-Matic’s original instruction manual can be found here. (Note the spelling of the model’s name with a hyphen in the middle, as opposed to how the brand name spelling is found almost everywhere these days – “Matchmatic”).
To compose and focus, the Match-Matic required that you first composed your image using the viewfinder, and then shifted your eye to the separate rangefinder window to focus (or vice versa).
Due to the sheer number of units sold of this camera, it is fairly widely available in the used market. As such, its price used to be low ($10-$20), even with the über-cool selenium meter and the leather case. However, ever since the Match-Matic was featured in one of the Harry Potter movies as Colin Creevey’s camera (see here and here), its price has "skyrocketed" to about $50-$75. There’s someone currently offering it on eBay for $242 (down from their original asking price of $485) – good luck with that!
[Side note: A previous version of this camera (the C-3) was featured in “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” as photo-reporter Gwyneth Paltrow/Polly Perkins’ weapon of choice.]
Thanks for reading.