Balda Baldessa

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Balda Baldessa

For the past half-century, I have written about cameras and camera makers. The evolution of two distinct groups, the post-war Japanese and the prewar German, follows a clear pattern. Manufacturers within both groups follow a pattern as if fate was preset for them.

Balda, a camera maker who has been active for about fifty years in the middle of the 20th century, is a typical example of the German camera makers group. It was established in 1908 near Dresden, a city that had become Germany’s camera-making capital. The founder, Max Baldeweg, lent his name to the company and entered the camera universe in 1924 with a slew of box and Klapp models. Balda continued to churn out further variations of the same styles until WWII, ending camera making when production was converted to military optical. With the war ended, Dresden had found itself on the wrong side of the border, under the auspices of the Sun to the Nations, Uncle Joe. As was with most other DDR privately owned camera makers, it was nationalized, and production resumed under the prewar brand name, then the name changed to Belca and promptly brought under KW wings, and after that, fell into the Pentacon abyss, existing no more.

As with other camera brands, Wirgin et al., the founder set up a fresh shop in Bunde, West Germany, as far as possible from the dividing line. The new company was aptly named Balda-Werk Bunde. They continued with legacy models and in 1954  added monoblock models, both viewfinders and rangefinders. I wonder how the transition from Dresden, which the Allies had flattened, to a new location was; what dies, moulds, tooling, and drawings survived the war, and how the transfer logistics were under the East Germans’ watching eye.

Balda’s list of 200-odd camera models contains some early post-war cameras made in the DDR. After a mid-century attempt to gain a solid foothold in the industry, yet it was considered midmarket quality. The company slowly declined towards the lower end, making point-and-shoot and Instamatic-type cameras in the 1970s. There were a few attempts to punch higher, but the overlook remained low. Like other midmarket German camera makers, Balda sold under its own name and made cameras for local and export distributors, such as Hapo at Porst, Revue at Foto-Quelle, Argus, Bauer, Birnbaum Boots, Jensen, and Muller. Naert, Wallace Heaton, Peerless and even Voigtlander. It stayed afloat until the mid-1980s when it bid farewell to camera-making.

True to the mid-market German camera makers’ portfolio, confusion was added in both directions: the same models under different names and the same name for various models.

I have two Balda cameras, a Baldessa and a Baldina.

The Baldessa was a line of cameras made from 1958 to 1967. A few were made of plastic, and most were metal, with the Baldessa F having both versions. All had bottom winders, and except for the first model, all had a front-mounted trigger. The Baldessa line was a mix of viewfinders and rangefinders, with or without meters, some meters coupled and others uncoupled. The Bessamatic models were automatic; I have no camera in hand to vet how automatic they were.

The table below was compiled from several sources so errors could be carried forward. As usual, the number of versions is the number of sources. The most popular model seems to be the Baldessa Ib, for which I have recorded the most transactions.

Baldessa Ib

The Baldessa is an interesting, quirky camera. It is not intuitive; quite the opposite. It seems the designers looked at the common conventions and continued in reverse.

  • The all-metal body is compact and cartoonishly rounded, a design that followed with most of the Baldessa models.
  • The top has the film speed dial for the meter.
  • The black panes are ASA and DIN. With 6-6000 Asa values, there were high hopes in the 1950s.
  • The red printed pane shows the EV/LV values derived by the film speed.
  •  A needle in the half-round pane in front of it points to the selected EV value.
  • A cold shoe at the other end is all the top holds. In models without a meter, the top is bare other than the shoe. One exception is the Baldessa Standard, which has a top trigger.

The front is where the action is.

  • The selenium meter lens, viewer and rangefinder pane are set within a frame at the top.
  • The viewer is exceptionally bright and large, with an easy-to-see focusing patch and clear parallax marks. Uncommon in that generation of cameras.
  • A serrated and easy-to-use thumb dial moves the lens assembly for focusing in Prominent style. My model is marked feet; assume it is a US (UK?) model. DOF is marked on the dial mount, but the markings are too small to be useful.
  • A front-mounted trigger, a popular style in German models, was simpler to make, with fewer moving parts.
  • The aperture dial is closest to the body, moved by a black plastic tab.
  • The shutter speed dial is in front of it, with typical speeds offered at the time, heavy on slow speeds to match the available film. See Regula Cita, having the same arrangement.
  • The black tab can lock both dials together or allow each to be set independently. Press the tab and set the dials as needed.
  • The EV/LV values marked red are further down on the aperture dial. Set the chevron on the shutter speed dial against the EV recommended by the meter needle. If both dials are locked together, you may toy with the settings while keeping the recommended EV.
  • Green marks on the shutter speed dial cannot be set; they are a memo showing how long it will open when locked into B against a given F stop.
  • The lens is typical of the era, 2.8/45, and is marked Balda-Werk Bunde, evident to the origin of West Germany.
  • A lever by the trigger selects between X/M synch settings and V for self-timer.

Now come the real exceptions.

  • The back is fully removable, which is common. The locking is different. There are two tabs to press on, so the back pops out.
  • The bottom is confusing. A lever handle at the right, bags to be used for cocking. It is locked in place.
  • In front of the body, under the lens barrel, is what seems to be a brace to keep the camera from falling forward. It sure does that, but it also releases the said lever, which pops out, swings on a hinge and reveals a finger grip, reincarnating as the rewind crank handle.
  • This brace/latch is marked ‘T’ and ‘R’. At ‘T’ it is locked, and ‘R’ releases the lever. I’m not sure what the ‘T’ stands for. I also appreciate using my wife’s initials, TR, on this camera.
  • A folding thumb latch, kind of oversized and out of place, is the actual film winder that also cocks the shutter. It differs from other camera models and will not be a contender for the human interphase mechanism award. Think here the designers dropped the ball.
  • A frame counter hides under the winder flap, with a protruding gear allowing it to reset.
  • The tripod coupler at the bottom also doubles as a film speed memo. It is challenging to set and impossible to read. I guess it is inherited from the models without a meter, as the film speed setting is on the meter in this model.

The camera on my bench is beautifully finished, and other than the slightly pitted top, it looks as if it just came off the shelf. The lens is clean, all speeds buzz and hum as should, and the meter needle is agile. A mark of honour for a 66-year-old camera considered to be a mid-range product.

It is an extraordinary camera, widely offered at an unjustified low price. I would highly recommend having one on the shelf, if just for the features.

Baldessa camera list

Year Type Trigger Body Bulb socket
Baldessa I early 1957 Viewfinder Front Metal
Baldessa I late 1958 Viewfinder Front Metal
Baldessa Ia 1958 Rangefinder Front Metal
Baldessa Ib 1958 Rangefinder Front Metal Meter
Baldessamat 1959 Rangefinder Front Metal Meter Yes
Baldessa F 1962 Viewfinder Front Plastic Yes
Baldessamat F 1962 Rangefinder Front Metal Yes
Baldessa RF 1963 Rangefinder Front Metal Yes
Baldessamat RF 1963 Rangefinder Front Metal Yes
Baldessamat RF/LK 1963 Rangefinder Front Metal
Baldessa [Standard] 1964 Viewfinder Top Metal
Baldessa F 1964 Viewfinder Front Metal Yes
Baldessa LF 1964 Viewfinder Front Plastic Meter Yes
Baldessa RF/LK 1964 Rangefinder Front Metal Meter Yes
Baldessa L 1964 Viewfinder Front Plastic Meter
Baldessa F-LK 1965 Viewfinder Front Plastic Meter Yes
Baldessa LK 1965 Viewfinder Front Metal Meter
Baldessa R/LK 1967 Rangefinder Front Metal Meter
Baldessamat F/LK No information

Baldessa Ib specifications

Camdex list number 4399
Brand Balda
Model Baldessa Ib
Manual Butkus
Format 35mm
Introduced 1958
Country Germany / West Germany
Qty made
Initial price 225
Currency DM
Type Rangefinder
Body material Metal
Mode Manual
Weight 590 gr,  Body with lens
Class average weight 650 gr,  Body with lens
ASA range Jun-00
Kit lens 2,8/45
Lens make Baldanar
Filter size 33mm
Lens mount Fixed lens
Mount size N/A
Shutter Leaf
Shutter make Prontor SVS
Light meter CdS, external uncoupled
Winder Thumb latch at the bottom
Lock No
Speeds B, 1-300
Mirror N/A
Viewer Rangefinder
DOF preview No
Exposure lock No
Exposure compensation No
Shoe Cold
External sync X/M
Sync speed
Timer Yes, mechanical
Battery, original N/A
Battery, replacement N/A
Battery voltage N/A
Integral flash None
Service / repair links See

2 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for a brilliant camera collector site.You have put a tremendous amount of work into it and it shows.It is my ‘go to’ site for photos and reviews.I live in Garforth,near Leeds in West Yorkshire and have been collecting and using a variety of filmcameras, mainly from the 1950s up to the 1990s,including 35mm viewfinder,rrangefinder and SLRs and a couple of TLRs.I also have a growing collection of digital cameras.An addictive hobby.Thank God for EBay!

    • Thanks for your note. I appreciate the sentiment very much. I guess we have the same interest, in my case, something to chew upon in old age. If you haven’t noticed, I am in Canada, so we both have HRH on our bills and stamps!

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