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The Baldina and Super Baldina were a series of cameras manufactured in Germany by Balda Werke from the mid 1930s to the mid 1950s. These cameras can be very confusing to the collector, as the basic original camera body was enhanced and marketed under more than a dozen different names by two different manufacturers (both of which used the name Balda for a period of time). To further complicate matters, the name Baldina (and Super Baldina) was used on two very different series of camera bodies. The cheaper variants tended to have 3 element front cell focusing lenses in Prontor shutters, while the more expensive varaints had 4, 5 or 6 element unit focusing lenses in Compur shutters.

In addition to marketing cameras under their own brand names, Balda sold their cameras to the German distributor Porst, who re-branded them as the Hapo 35, and to the American firm of Peerless, who re-branded them as the Rival 35; there may have been others as well. Balda did not make their own lenses — the Balda Baldinars, Baltars and others were rebranded lenses from third party optical houses, usually as a lower cost option.

Pre-War Baldas were well made, and most continue to function well. Some of their engineering was, admittedly, less than elegent. The pre-war Baldina's film counter was inconvenient to use, and the rangefinder on the Super Baldina was rather clumsy looking at best. The owner's manuals of the post-war Rigona, Baldinette, and Super Baldinette warn "Do not press the body shutter release unless the shutter is cocked. If you do so, the mechanism will be disturbed" (these statements themselves are a bit disturbing!) Also, the Super Baldinette's front cover will not close when either the synch lever is in the "M" position or the lens is not at the infinity position.

Pre-War cameras by Balda, Dresden

Baldina (folder)

The Baldina is a 35mm folding viewfinder camera made by Balda in Dresden, before World War II. Introduced in 1935, the Baldina bears a strong resemblance to both the Welta Welti of the same year and the original Kodak Retina (type 117) introduced a year earlier.

The Baldina has a parallax compensating viewfinder, a frame counter, and on the better lenses, unit focusing. There is no double-exposure prevention. There are significant variations in the shutter release mechanism. The camera was originally made with no body release and a film advance key; subsequent models have either a body release on the top plate or a release in the hinge of folding bed itself; they have a double-exposure prevention interlock, and a film advance knob.

Production of the Baldina appears to have continued until at least late 1941. There is some evidence that the specification of wartime cameras was affected by availability of parts: one camera, with a Schneider lens made in November 1938, has a number of unplated brass parts (advance knob and shutter release), perhaps reflecting the difficulties of wartime production.

Production resumed after the War in both East and West Germany (see the sections below).

The choice of lens/shutter on the Baldina included:

  • 3 element lenses, with front cell focusing:
  • 5 element lens, with front-element or helical focusing:
    • Schneider Xenar 5cm f/2.8 with Compur 300 (this five-element Xenar was made for a short time for small-format cameras[1]
  • 6 element lenses, with unit focusing:
    • Rudolph Kleinbild-Plasmat 5cm f/2.7 with Compur-Rapid 500[2]
    • Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 4.5cm f/2 with Compur-Rapid 500, a rare version sometimes called "Night Baldina" (Nacht Baldina)
    • Schneider Xenon 5cm f/2 with Compur-Rapid 500

Jubilette (folder)

Beginning in 1938, a simplified version of the Baldina was introduced as the Jubilette, in honor of Balda's 30th anniversary. Most, if not all, were equipped with three-element lenses:

These are all front cell focusing lenses. The Jubilette may be seen with or without a wheel to tilt the viewfinder for correction of parallax error (the brochure shown here offers it as an optional feature, costing an extra two Marks over the basic price of RM 50) and the shutter release may be on the top plate or in the hinge of the folding bed.

Super Baldina (folder)

The 1938 Super Baldina is a version with a coupled rangefinder. The rangefinder is of the split-image type, and in a separate eyepiece from the viewfinder. The viewfinder has automatic parallax correction, coupled with the focusing lever, quite an advanced feature for the time.

The Super Baldina exists with a black finish (earlier version) or a chrome finish (later version).

The choice of lenses on the Super Baldina included:

The camera was available with a Compur shutter to 1/300 second, or optionally with a Compur-Rapid shutter to 1/500 second. The Super Baldina with Trioplan lens in a Compur shutter sold in New York in 1938 for $58.50 US (equivalent to $850 US in 2007).

Post-War cameras by Balda/Belca, Dresden

After the War, cameras were again produced in the Balda plant in Dresden (then East Germany) until 1951, when the name of the factory was changed to Belca as a result of legal action by Max Baldeweg.

Baldina / Beltica / Multina (folder)

The pre-War Baldina was produced until 1951 when the camera was renamed the Belca Beltica (first model) when the factory name was changed to Belca. Note that Belca subsequently used the Beltica name for two versions of an entirely different 35mm folding camera.

The Multina appears to be an East German Baldina with a Carl Zeiss Jena coated Tessar and a pre-War Compur-Rapid shutter.

Determining the origin of any particular post-War Baldina may be difficult, but it is likely that the East German Baldinas were fitted with the following East German lenses used on the renamed Beltica:

Another possible lens on a post-War East German Baldina would be the Meyer Trioplan. Note that post-War lenses were usually coated and designated in millimeters; pre-War lenses were usually uncoated and designated in centimeters.

Post-War cameras by Balda Bünde

After the War, Baldas were also manufactured at Max Baldeweg's new Balda Kamera-Werk in Bünde, West Germany. The quality of cameras produced in Baldewig's new factory does not appear to be on the same level as the pre-War products. Noted British author and camera expert Ivor Matanle felt that "If you happen to locate a Baldinette or Super Baldinette that has been little used, it is pleasant to own, but I would not recommend Balda cameras of the fifties as sound cameras for long term use... The post-war [rigid] Baldina and related series of rigid cameras of the fifties are not particularly well built, and often give trouble when some thirty years old."[3]

Baldina (folder)

The first Balda Bünde camera is essentially the pre-War Baldina with a Balda Baldanar 5cm f/3.5 lens in a Prontor 300 shutter (and possibly others as well.) Thus, these later versions of the original Baldina had the distinction of being produced by two different companies in two different countries. In 1950, the western Baldina received a satin chrome top plate covering the width of the camera.

Baldalette (folder)

In 1950, the Baldalette, basically a Jubilette with a body mounted shutter release, was introduced. The lenses for the camera included a 50mm f/2.9 Schneider Radionar.

Baldini / Central 35 / Hansa 35 / Rival 35 / Studiophot / Pinette (folder)

The Baldini is essentially the pre-War Jubilette with a new name. In 1950, it received a satin chrome or black enameled top plate that covered the right half of the camera and contained the viewfinder, frame counter, and an accessory shoe. It was also sold as the Central 35, Hansa 35, Rival 35 and Studiophot.

Lenses included:

  • Schneider Radionar 50mm f/3.5
  • Schneider Radionar 50mm f/2.9 (Studiophot)
  • Balda Baltar 50mm f/3.5
  • Balda Enna-Baldanar 50mm f/3.5 (possibly the same lens as above with a different label)
  • Balda Werk Bünde Jos Zacharias Regensberg 50mm/2.9 Xenostar Anastigmat

This last lens appears to be a re-badged Zeiss Jena lens used in yet another of Balda's OEM re-branding efforts. Josef Zacharias opened a photographic specialty and optical supplies store in Regensberg, Germany in 1908. They are still in business under the name Fotohaus Zacharias.

The Rival 35 shown above is a re-branded later version of the Baldini. The lens is an Enna Werk München Ennagon 5cm f/3.5 (three-element, front-cell focusing) in a Prontor-S shutter (1-300 plus B, synchronised), which may be the same lens as the Balda Enna-Baldanar listed above. The camera lacks any identification as a Balda, foreshadowing Balda's production of cameras marketed by Minox, Voigtländer, and others. The use of an Enna lens may be a hint as to the manufacturer of Balda-branded lenses. The Rival 35 was marketed in the USA by the Peerless Camera store chain. This name was also used by Peerless on versions of the Baldinette and Mess Baldinette.

Baldinette (folder)

A subsequent model (1951) with a redesigned chrome top plate cover was called the Baldinette. In 1953, the Baldinette sold in the USA for US$40 (equivalent to US$317 in 2009). Copies with red and blue leatherette are known, but very rare.

Lenses included:

  • Balda Baldanar 50mm f/3.5
  • Balda Baldanar 50mm f/2.9
  • Balda Baltar 50mm f/2.9
  • Schneider Radionar 50mm f/3.5
  • Schneider Radionar 50mm f/2.9

The above five lenses are listed from least to most expensive.[4]

  • Isco Westar 50mm f/3.5

Rigona (folder)

The original Rigona is a version of the Baldina or Baldax cameras for 127 roll film. After the War, Balda-Werk Bűnde produced the 35mm Rigona, a lower-cost version of the last model Baldinette, like the original Baldina and Jubilette. The lenses and shutters were cheap items compared to the Baldinette. The factory referred to the camera as the Baldinette Rigona, but the camera itself was labelled just Rigona. The major identifying feature of a Rigona was its Rigonar lens; in the first half of the 1950s, the Rigona sold for 25% less than the cheapest Baldinette (which had a Baldanar lens of the same aperture).