The Baby Balnet (ベビーバルネット) is a Japanese 3×4cm folding camera, certainly made by Fuji Kōgaku at some time in the 1940s.
No original document mentioning the Baby Balnet has been found yet. However the official list of set prices dated November 1941 has a "Balnet", placed among various 4.5×6cm cameras and attributed to Nomura Seisakusho, with no further detail.
The Baby Balnet is a vertical folding camera. The main body is very similar to that of the Baby Lyra, of which it is perhaps an evolution. The advance knob is at the bottom right, as seen by a photographer holding the camera horizontally. The back is hinged to the left. The name BALNET is embossed in the leather covering at the front.
First model: folding optical finder
The presumably early model has a folding optical finder. That version may have been produced in the early 1940s, but this is unconfirmed.
The only example observed so far is pictured in Sugiyama. It has a small black advance knob and a small body release, and its body edges are painted black. The lens is front-cell focusing and is reported as a Nomular Anastigmat 50/2.9. (The name Nomular might be related to Nomura.) The shutter gives B, 1–200 speeds; the name BALNET is inscribed at the bottom of the speed rim in plain capital letters and there is another marking at the top, perhaps reading Mars Kogaku Tokyo and indicating that the shutter was made by Mars.
Second model: top housing and rigid finder
The presumably late model has a chrome-plated top housing covering all the top plate and containing the viewfinder, slightly offset to the left. There is an accessory shoe to the right of the finder and a body release on the left. The advance knob is all metal and is larger than on the previous model. There is a single red window in the back, protected by a horizontally sliding cover.
The name BALNET is engraved at the front of the top housing and the serial number is engraved above the viewfinder. The folding struts are engraved with a FUJI.K TOKYŌ logo. The camera was certainly made after the war by Fuji Kōgaku, at about the same time as the postwar Lyra Six, to which it shows some design similarity. Surprisingly, the logo does not have the typical shape of the other logos used by the company: it only shows a cemented doublet lens scheme without the silhouette of Mount Fuji.
A few surviving examples are known. The best known camera has body no.2395. Its lens and shutter equipment is almost the same as the camera with folding finder described above: the lens is a Nomular Anastigmat 50/2.9, and the shutter has identical markings and B, 1–250 speeds. (That lens and shutter were perhaps made before 1945.) The camera has black-painted body edges.
Other cameras have a Balnet Anastigmat 50mm f/3.5 lens and a newer Balnet shutter (B, 1–200), with a pin for flash synchronization at the bottom. The position of the controls is unchanged, but the name BALNET is engraved on the rim in fancy letters and the front plate has a black and chrome pattern with no markings. At least one example has chrome plating on all the body edges, and another has black paint on the main body and chrome plating on the edges of the folding bed.
- "Kamera no kōtei kakaku kanpō happyō", November 1941, type 3, section 7B.
- Sugiyama, item 1032. In that source, the camera is attributed to "Fuji Optical Co.", a translation of Fuji Kōgaku.
- Example belonging to Mr Saji (who used the pseudonym Zaisu Ikon), pictured in Sugiyama, item 1278, in Camera Collectors' News no.38, p.27, and in Camera Collectors' News no.57, p.2. The body number is visible on p.27 of Camera Collectors' News no.38. In Sugiyama, item 1278, that particular camera is attributed to "Mars Optical Works" (actually the maker of the shutter) and to "Fuji Trading Co." (or Fuji Shōji, certainly related to Fuji Kōgaku).
- Example belonging to Katō Tomoaki, pictured on p.32 of Camera Collectors' News no.35 (the body number is reported as no.2205), and example observed in an online auction.
- "Kamera no kōtei kakaku kanpō happyō" (カメラの公定価格官報発表, Official announcement of the set prices of the cameras), November 1941. Extract of a table listing Japanese camera production and setting the retail prices, reproduced in "Bebī Semi Fāsuto 'Kore ha bebī wo nanotta semi-ki da'" (ベビーセミファースト"これはベビーを名乗ったセミ機だ", Baby Semi First, 'this is a Semi camera called Baby'), an article by Furukawa Yasuo (古川保男) in Camera Collectors' News no. 277 (July 2000). Nishinomiya: Camera Collectors News-sha. P. 27. Type 3, section 7B.
- Katō Tomoaki (加藤智顕). "Letter to C.C.N." In Camera Collectors' News no.35 (May 1980). Nishinomiya: Camera Collectors News-sha. P.32.
- McKeown, James M. and Joan C. McKeown's Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras, 12th Edition, 2005-2006. USA, Centennial Photo Service, 2004. ISBN 0-931838-40-1 (hardcover). ISBN 0-931838-41-X (softcover). P.328.
- Sugiyama, Kōichi (杉山浩一); Naoi, Hiroaki (直井浩明); Bullock, John R. The Collector's Guide to Japanese Cameras. 国産カメラ図鑑 (Kokusan kamera zukan). Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1985. ISBN 4-257-03187-5. Item 1032 and 1278.
- Zaisu Ikon (座椅子遺恨, probably a pseudonym of Y. Saji). "Besuto sanka (B-1)" (ベスト讃歌[B-1], Vest hymn [B-1]). In Camera Collectors' News no.57 (March 1982). Nishinomiya: Camera Collectors News-sha. P.2.
- Zaisu Ikon (座椅子遺恨, probably a pseudonym of Y. Saji). "Letter to C.C.N." In Camera Collectors' News no.38 (August 1980). Nishinomiya: Camera Collectors News-sha. P.27.
The Baby Balnet is not listed in Kokusan kamera no rekishi.
|Fuji Kōgaku cameras ( )|
|prewar and wartime models||postwar models|
|Baby Lyra | Baby Lyra Flex | Baby Balnet||Dianette | Pionette||Lyravit||Balnet Four||Comex|
|Bakyna | Semi Lyra | Lyrax||Lyra Six | Lyra Flex||Lyra (6×9)||Semi Lyra | Pioneer||Lyra Six | Lyraflex|