The Balda company of Dresden, Germany. founded in 1908 and having many restructures over the years put together a solid line up of great camera’s. Although being marketed as consumer camera’s they were capable of some very fine results in the right hands.
The company made cameras covering all the popular formats of the day from 110 and 127 to the more popular and currently available 35mm and 120 formats.
I picked up a 120 film Balda Super Baldax from my partners Grandmother recently. She was quite fond of this little folding camera as it was beloved by her late husband. I assured her that it would be well looked after and used.
Immediately I was taken aback by the great condition it was in. This camera was manufactured in 1954 and has had only 1 previous owner. that is fantastic.
I haven’t had much experience with folders before so I was keen as mustard to get out and shoot with it, my brother owns a Seagull 203A folding 120 film camera of a similar nature, and his shots are stunning so I know the style of camera can produce some rewarding images.
after a strip down, clean and re-assemble by me, I had it working in ship shape. I shoved in a roll of Lucky SHD100 and it went into the camera bag. When shooting I removed the “never” ready case as I always find they get in the way. However they are great for storage. Shooting with this camera is a blast and you get some great (read: strange) looks from passerbys. It’s so compact when folded it will easily fit in a cargo pants pocket or large rear jeans pocket. I prefer to hold it in hand where I can show it off.
Now at this point i’d like to get my main annoyance with it out of the way. The viewfinder is terribly small. So small it makes it hard to use and is a real pain out in the field. I am used to using waist level finders and bright SLR and rangefinder screens so this was a shock. Ok you do get over it and move on, it’s not impossible to use and the rangefinder patch was bright and useable also. The Balda uses two methods for frame advance, an automatic ratcheting knob that winds the correct amount, or if you are a little less trusting in your 60 odd year old camera there is the little red window in the back.I tried to use the window but as I mentioned earlier I was using Lucky film so there wasn’t much to see.
The ratcheted knob worked well and the frame spacing on my negatives were equal and a good distance apart. Using the camera is simple, all the settings are on the lens. Shutter speed and aperture dials as well as an EV scale at the bottom, the focus ring has a thumb knob to make focussing faster and more accurate. You cock the shutter on the lens ring after making all your adjustments and fire away! once the shutter has actuated this releases the ratchet on the winding knob to advance to the next frame. Easy.
The thing that surprised me most about this little folder was that the Lens was a Schneider-Krueznach. They make outstanding lenses seen on some of the best camera’s around, from field and technical camera’s to Rolleiflex TLR’s. The Schneider on this fellow is a Radionar 80mm f/2.9. it’s a triplet design so not as sharp as a Xenar or Xenotar wide open. The great thing about triplet lenses are that they are very sharp stopped down to f/8 or so but have lovely fall off and soft characteristics wide open, making them awesome as portrait lenses.
I grabbed this shot in broad midday daylight so had it stopped down to f/16 and got quite sharp results. Be careful stopping down past f/22 as diffraction will set in and rob your image of sharpness. I love the tonality that this lens resovles. Very nice.
This looks like it will be an awesome throw-in-your-bag style camera that is pretty compact yet yields great results on 120 film. definately a good travel camera for people trying to save space. I know this one will live in my pack for hikes and rides. Now I just need to test it’s portrait abilities.
If you have any questions or comments i’d love to hear from you, head on over to the contact page.