Balda-Werk is a company with a long history that started with its founding in 1908 by Max Baldeweg in Dresden. Initially it produced camera parts, but in 1925 it introduced its first box camera and in 1935 the Baldina, a folding camera. After WWII Max Baldaweg restarted its company in former West-Germany, as the Dresden factory was confiscated by the authorities. The Dresden factory continued producing the Baldina cameras under the Balda brand, but was in 9151 renamed Belca. Camera production in West-Germany continued with pre-war as well as new models, including non-folding cameras. It kept producing cameras until the 1980s, although the last 20 years mostly simple instant cameras. The company reshaped itself and Balda AG still exists as a company specialising in plastics.
The Balda Baldina was introduced in 1935 and was a 35mm folding camera not unlike the Kodak Retinas, but quite different functionally. It had a wind knob at the bottom which needed to be pulled out to rewind the film, and next to it was a button that needed to be pushed in to reset the wind lock after each exposure. The shutter release was located on the camera body next to the rewind knob, but it had no double exposure prevention. There were several variants, some even featured a helical focus mount and it was most commonly found with a Compur or Compur-Rapid shutter. It was available with a wide range of lenses, including Schneider Xenons and Carl Zeiss Tessars, but more commonly Schneider Radionars and Meyer Trioplans. A unique feature was the peculiar frame counter with its flip-open cover. The Baldina also featured a viewfinder that could be adjusted for parallax by a little turning wheel.
A folding Baldina with uncoated Ludwig Meritar 50mm f/2.9 lens in Ovus shutter. This example was produced in the East-Germany Dresden plant shortly after WWII, as indicated by its Ovus shutter, the Balda Dresden equivalent of the Compur shutter. The build quality of this one feels rather cheap, with abundant use of rather flimsy metal parts.
After WWII the Baldina was produced in the original factory in Dresden, East Germany, as well as in the new Bunde factory in West Germany. From 1951 onwards the Balda factory in Dresden was renamed to Belca, and the Baldina continued to be produced under the name Beltica. From here on it no longer featured the peculiar frame counter. The West-German plant also produced a number of usually less well specified variants such as the Jubilette, Baldalette, Baldini and Rigona.
Top view of the folding Baldina, showing its quirky frame counter.
Somewhat curious about the Baldina camera is the 35mm film gate, which was essentially a metal mask screwed on top of what looks like a 127 film 4x3 film gate. There was in fact a 127 rollfilm camera made by Balda, the Baldi, which was very similar to the Baldini. It appears they were based on the same base chassis.
The Balda Baldi was a very small camera which easily fitted in your hand made for 127 film 3x4 format. Thus, it was considerable smaller than the 35mm Baldini (see above), but it had in fact a nearly 40% larger film format. Like the Baldini, the Baldi had a parallax-adjustable viewfinder. Other than that it was simple to operate, having a single wind knob to wind the film, two spy windows at the back to check the frame number, and a shutter release near the hinge of the front door. Despite the difference in frame size, the same 45-50 mm lenses were used on the Baldi as on the Baldina, although I have not seen any Schneider Xenon versions.
A Balda Baldi with Schneider Radionar 50mm f/2.9 lens in Compur-Rapid shutter. This example is actually branded 'Novex', not Balda. I have not been able to find out anything about this name. In the UK some Baldas were sold under the name Westex by Westminster Photographic Exchange, London, so perhaps the Novex was sold by another, yet unidentified camera shop.
(left) Rear view of a Balda Baldi showing the 2 spy windows typical of 3x4cm 127 format cameras; (middle) interior of a Baldi showing the portrait orientation 3x4cm film frame; (right) top view of the Baldi
Comparison of a Balda Baldinette (left) and Baldi (right). Note the much smaller size of the Baldi.
The Balda Jubilette was a cheaper version of the folding Baldina, although the differences were small. The Jubilette did not have the parallax adjustment that some (but not all) Baldinas had, and it had a less fancy frame counter. However, it came with similar lens and shutter combinations, except the more expensive lenses such as Tessars and Xenons (which to be honest were rare on the Baldina also). There were a few slightly different variants: early versions had a shutter release integrated in the front door, on later versions it was on top of the body.
A Balda Jubilette with Schneider Radionar 50mm f/2.9 lens in Compur-Rapid shutter.
The 1951 Balda Baldinette was very similar to later versions of the Balda Baldina with a chrome top cover that spanned the full width of the camera. It had a similar wind mechanism with a small button next to the wind knob that needed to be pushed to reset the wind lock after each exposure. A version with uncoupled rangefinder was the Mess Baldinette, as pictured below. It had separate viewfinder and rangefinder windows, the latter had a magnification of about 1.5 for more accurate focussing.
The Baldinettes were available with Baldanar f/3.5 and f/2.8 as well as Schneider Radionar f/3.5 and f/2.9. A cheaper version of the Baldinette was the Rigona, the main difference being the Rigonar f/3.5 lens found on the latter. A Mess Rigona with uncoupled rangefinder was also available. A more expensive version, and the most well-specified 35mm folding camera from Balda, was the Super Baldinette, which had a coupled rangefinder and was available with top of the range lenses such as the Rodenstock Heligon, Schneider Xenon or Enna Ennit. It was also distinct in having two rectangular and one circular viewfinder window, whereas on the Mess Baldinette and Mess Rigona it was the other way round.
The Mess Baldinette was also sold as Hapo 35, including a version with three rectangular viewfinder windows without accessory shoe. The Hapo 35 had Enna-Werk Haponar lenses, which suggests that the Baldanar lens on the Mess Baldinette was most likely made by Enna also.
A Balda Mess Baldinette with Baldanar 50mm f/3.5 lens in Prontor-S shutter. The uncoupled rangefinder unit was mounted to the inside of the top housing and could be removed by unscrewing the front screw of the accessory shoe. Rather unusually, it operated by rotating the angle of the semi-transparent mirror and its construction differed substantially from the rangefinders on the Mess Baldix and Super Baldax below.
The 1954 Mess Baldix was the rangefinder version of the Baldix (after the German 'Messsucher' for rangefinder), a 6x6 camera that used 120 rollfilm. It had an uncoupled rangefinder, the knob on left of the camera (while facing it) was not a wind knob but the rangefinder wheel. After finding the right focus one needed to transfer the distance value to the lens focus ring.
Winding the film on this camera was rather unusual, one first need to turn clockwise as far as possible, then anticlockwise. There was a frame counter under the wind knob, so there was no need to use the spy window at the back. The (Mess) Baldix was available with various lenses, including a Baltar f/4.5, a Baltar f/2.9 and an Ennagon f/3.5, all of them triplets. The Mess Baldix was also sold as Hapo 66E by Porst.
A Mess Baldix with Ennagon 75mm f/3.5 lens. For sample images see here
Mess Baldix with the top housing removed, showing the rangefinder unit. Turning the rangefinder dial (removed in this photo) will move the long lever to which the semi-transparent mirror is attached. Also visible is the wind lock mechanism. The metal button is not the shutter release button but the door release. The shutter release is on the left.
Slightly different version of the Mess Baldix, with Balda logo at the top instead of on the front and an accessory with screws visible. The two different versions appear to overlap (based on Ennagon lens nr.) so I am unsure why two different version were made.
The 1954 Super Baldax was very similar in appearance to the Mess Baldix above, but featured a helical focussing mount and a coupled rangefinder. The distance dial knob was a depth-of-field indicator and did not set the rangefinder as on the Mess Baldix. The Super Baldax came with a slightly longer 80mm lens than the Mess Baldix, including a Baldanar f/3.5, Baltar f/2.9, Schneider Radionar f/2.9, Rodenstock Trinar and Enna Werk Ennit f/2.8. It was available with Prontor-SVS as well as Synchro-Compur shutter. It had a similar wind lock mechanism as the Baldix so there was no need to use the red spy glass at the back when winding the film.
A Super Baldax with Baldanar 80mm f/3.5.
The Baldina was the first non-folding camera produced by Balda-Werk and was introduced in 1953. It was a rather large 35mm camera with collapsible lens mount and helical focus system. It came in several versions, with bright frame viewfinder, light meter or coupled rangefinder. The latter were initially called Super Baldina, but later Baldinas like the one below all had rangefinders. It was available with a wide range of lenses, but most commonly a Balda Baldanar f/2.8 or Schneider Radionar f/2.8. Finding one with a Schneider Xenon or Rodenstock Heligon f/2 would be a real treat! These were high-quality cameras introduced to compete with for instance the Agfa Karat IV.
A later Baldina from around 1957 with coupled rangefinder, its lens tube extended.
The Baldessa range was introduced in 1957 and was a series of non-folding 35mm cameras of various specification. Early models were simple viewfinders, but rangefinders with or without light meter were soon introduced. They had a rather unusual film wind mechanism at the base of the camera in the shape of a large key that needed to be twisted 180 degrees.
The Baldessa Ib was the first model with rangefinder and uncoupled light meter.
Probably the most unusual feature was the focus wheel, which was situated below the light meter cell. Turning this wheel would move the whole lens and shutter unit backwards and forwards. Helical focus done differently! As the rangefinder was coupled to the focus, turning the wheel would also move the rangefinder patch, conveniently in the same direction as the wheel was turning.
A Baldessa Ib with ISCO Color-Westanar 45mm f/2.8. Note that the light meter cell is missing, I removed it to see if it can be fixed as it was dead. No luck so far!
Bottom view of the Baldessa Ib with it unusual film wind key on the right and the rewind lever on the left. The latter pops up when pushing the lever, that doubles as a stand, from T to R. The film reminder is integrated in the tripod bush.
The Baldamatic was a range of cameras with coupled light meters, but otherwise similar to the Baldessa range. The Baldamatic II was a rangefinder camera with a parallax-corrected frame projected in the viewfinder. Also visible in the viewfinder were the lightmeter needle, the matching needle used to set the correct exposure settings as well as a small window showing the selected aperture. The latter was adjusted using a setting wheel just above the shutter release button under the viewfinder window. Hence, all exposure settings as well as lens focus could be monitored without taking one's eye from the viewfinder. One could even wind the film this whilst looking through the viewfinder, making the camera fast and convenient to use.
A Baldamatic II with Color-Baldanar 45mm f/2.8 lens in Pronto-LK shutter.
The Baldamatic III was unique amongst all Balda cameras, as it was the only model with an interchangeable lens mount, a Compur Deckel mount. This was the same mount also found on the Kodak Retina IIIS and most Reflex models, as well as the Iloca Electric and the Voightlander Vitessa T (although each mount was slightly different so lenses could not be interchanged). Available lenses included a Balda-Xenar 50mm f/2.8, a Balda-Xenon 50mm f/1.9 and a Balda Tele-Xenar 135mm f/4.
The Baldamatic had a coupled rangefinder and, like other Baldamatics, a coupled light meter. A wheel under the light meter was used to adjust the exposure, the light meter needle was visible in the viewfinder. The camera had the same quirky design as other Balda cameras from that era: a T-shaped winder on the base that needs to be twisted like a key and a rewind lever that released by pushing a lever.
A Baldamatic III with interchangeable Compur mount and a Balda-Xenar 50mm f/2.8 lens.
Partially dismantled Baldamatic III showing some of the exposure control gears as well as the shutter unit. For a simple cleaning of the shutter, this is how far one needed to go to get to it!
Balda Supermatic I
The Balda Supermatic range was very similarly styled as the Baldamatic range but featured a shutter priority auto exposure mode. One would select the desired shutter speed and the camera would adjust the aperture according the light levels as measured by the selenium exposure meter. A parallax-corrected frame was visible in the viewfinder window, which also showed the aperture selected. The camera could also be operated in fully manual mode.
A Balda Supermatic I with the same Color-Baldanar 45mm f/2.8 lens as on the Baldamatic II above, but in Compur shutter.