Using The Argus Seventy-Five with Ilford HP5+ / by Michael Jin

I asked my father if he had any old film cameras a while back. His response was pulling out an old Canon ELPH which used APS film that is no longer sold and that I would not have the equipment to develop anyway. When I pointed that out, he took out a camera that I initially thought was a TLR. It was the Argus Seventy-Five.

White the camera certainly looks like a TLR, looks can be deceiving. It's essentially a TLR-looking equivalent of a box camera or toy camera that you can look down into to compose. Sure, there are two lenses, but there's no ability to focus the camera so the viewfinder just uses a mirror with no ground glass. The camera has a fixed aperture of approximately f/11 (although I've read f/13 as well) and two shutter speeds to select from: Bulb and approximately 1/60". The focusing distance is fixed at something like 10 feet, which means that it's probably more suitable for street shooting than for portraiture.

Unfortunately, it is designed to take 620 rolls of film which aren't largely manufactured. The ones that you can find are often re-spooled rolls of 120 or small batch productions that carry an absurd price premium (think $15 a roll). I was initially discouraged after seeing those prices, but it turns out that if you try hard enough (like, really really try) you can fit a normal 120 roll into the supply side while using a 620 spool on the take-up side. I loaded up a roll of Ilford HP5+ and the photos above are the results of the single roll that I put through it.

One would think that the lack of controls would make shooting pretty easy, but I found the experience to be maddening. Because there's no way to control anything, you're left to the whims of whatever light happens to be available, which actually made it extremely difficult to expose properly since the light never seemed to be just right. Everything came out either under or over exposed and I suppose that I will consider myself rather fortunate that HP5+ is forgiving enough to deal with such wild swings.

The film was developed in Kodak XTOL (1+0) at 20-degrees for whatever time Massive Dev Chart has. Continuous agitation via inversions for the first 30 seconds and then for 10 seconds each minute at a rate of 3 full inversions per 10 seconds. I do all of my developing and drying in my laundry room so I am constantly waging a war against dust and it seems like this film was a a battle that I very much lost in that regard. Oh well... Shit happens, right?

After seeing the results, I'm not entirely sure what to make of the camera. Its rendering is more clinical than toy cameras that I'm used to seeing and thus it lacks the lo-fi charm, but at the same time, it's not really sharp like a real TLR. The lack of any sort of manual controls is what really gets me most about this camera. Even the Holga that I recently purchased can at least switch between two apertures and adjust focusing distance. While the Argus Seventy-Five looks good on my shelf, I highly doubt that I'll be running another roll through it anytime soon. I'd rather pick up a Holga or get myself a real TLR...