Balda Jubilette

This camera dates from the very late 1930s – the model was introduced in 1938.  The camera is very similar to my Balda Baldina – the Jubilette was a cheaper option but it is still well made.  The Compur shutter has a serial number that should be able to date the camera but the serial number is anomalous – ‘0016596.  The ’00 signifies the size of the shutter – size 00 – and the next five digits are the serial number.  Usually, the number on Compur shutters will have seven digits starting with a ‘4’ or ‘5’ (‘4’ for 1938, ‘5’ for 1939 or the war years).  Occasionally, Compur shutters are known with five digit serial numbers.  One thought is that the serial number refers to a batch of shutters specially made for Balda rather than being a part of Compur’s standard serial number system.
Balda Jubilette
Balda Jubilette, folded
lens:  Baldar
focal length:  5 cm
apertures: f2.8 to f16
focus range: 0.5 m to infinity
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: Compur
speeds: 1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/300
flash: not available
film size: 35 mm
The camera is a folder of a fairly standard design. The lens standard is opened by a button on the top of the camera – the lens snaps forward with some vigour into its operating position. The struts holding the lens and lens board in position are nicely chrome plated and both the lens and the lens board are held rigid.
Balda Jubilette
Balda Jubilette in the open position, seen from the top.
As the shutter is a Compur, the cocking lever moves clockwise (which is upwards when holding this camera for use). This is the opposite direction to Gauthier (Prontor) shutters which cock anti-clockwise. The shutter release button is on the lens board by the hinge.  On later versions of the Jubilette, this was moved to the camera body.  This is on the left of the the camera and needs to be operated with the left hand. I prefer this arrangement as it allows more space for my right hand to hold the camera steady. Several of my folders have the lens board hinged on the right which leaves my right hand being very cramped.
Balda Jubilette
Camera from the front, ready to use.
The lens is a Baltar (it was de rigueur to end a lens name with the letters ‘-ar’ – Nettar, Novar, Elmar, Radionar, Tessar, Skopar, Frontar and so on) which was made for Balda by one of the independent lens makers.  Balda did not make their own lenses and may have used more than one manufacturer to make their ‘own label’ lenses for them.
The controls on the body follow the Baldina layout. In the middle of the top is a very small reverse Galilean viewfinder – it is slightly to the left of centre. On the left of the top is the rewind key – this dates the camera to an early Jubilette as later versions had a rewind knob rather than key. On the right of the top is a frame counter. This counts up – so it tells you how many pictures you have taken and needs to be set to zero when you load a new film. This counter is covered with a yellow plastic disc (probably celluloid given the age of the camera). Beside the frame counter is a small brass button which releases the lens board.
Balda Jubilette
Balda Jubilette in the open position, seen from the bottom
Blog copyright by John Margetts, 2014
On the base of the camera is the film advance knob – it is opposite the frame counter on the camera top i.e. on the right-hand end of the base.  Beside the film advance knob is a small button which must be pressed and released in order to free the advance mechanism inside the camera. This button is not sprung (at least not with my camera) and drops down under gravity.  This is important as it means that the film must be advanced with the camera held the right way up: the button dropping down again locks the advance mechanism when one frame has been advanced, if you hold the camera upside down (which makes turning the knob easier) you can advance right to the end of the film.  Note: examining photographs of Balda Jubilettes on Google has lead me to think my camera is missing a spring and a top to the button. The button that I have is threaded inside – indicating that a screw-on cap is missing and I suspect that a coil spring used to sit between the missing cap and the camera body. On the other end of the base is a 3/8 inch tripod boss. This has a large adaptor in it with my camera reducing the boss to 1/4 inch Whitworth which is the modern tripod standard.
Balda Jubilette
Balda Jubilette – rear view
The back of the camera is a hinged door. This has the maker’s name embossed in the leatherette (Balda plus a small logo) and in the centre of the back is an aluminium plate printed with a depth of field table (Tiefenschärfentabelle). The catch for the back is spring loaded and a little bit too small for comfortable use with my large fingers (but a big improvement on my Voigtlander Vito II which opens itself). Fastened to either end of the catch is a small carrying handle which is a bit too small for practical use. The front of the camera has the model name embossed in the leatherette (Jubilette). In the front of the lens board is a hinged peg which acts as a leg to stand the camera on when taking self-portraits.
The body of the camera is made of steel – demonstrated by the fact that it is starting to rust in places. Inside, the film guides and covers over the mechanics are made from brass sheet painted a semi-matt black. The take-up spool is also painted brass.
Focussing is smooth but has the disadvantage of having the distance pointer beneath the lens. This means that you have to turn the camera to set the focus – not a major problem on an entirely manual camera. Worse is the aperture scale – the white paint in the stamped figures has almost entirely gone making the scale very hard to read. Even worse is the position of of the adjusting pointer. This is very close to the lens board. Getting your finger in there to adjust the aperture means you have no chance of reading the scale. This fault lies with Deckel (the maker of Compur shutters) as they must have known their shutters would be used on folding cameras.
The body of this camera is identical to that of the earlier and more expensive Baldina. It is the details that are cheaper: the viewfinder has no parallax adjustment (although this was available as an extra), the lens is a Baltar  triplet, the frame counter is more functional (it lacks the Baldina’s cover and ornate pointer), the exposed metal is painted black rather than being chrome plated. On the plus side, it has a body shutter release (although I think the Baldina also had one by 1938) which is much easier to use than the extended lever on the shutter housing that my 1935 Baldina has.

Jubilette in use.

In many ways, this is an archetypical 35mm folder. My Voigtlander Vito II is much the same size and has a similar too-small viewfinder. The biggest problem I have with cameras of this date is the viewfinder. I just cannot use them while wearing my glasses. Without my glasses I cannot see the image through the viewfinder although I sometimes think that having to concentrate on general outlines and shapes improves my composition – perhaps looking at the details gets in the way.
I have been using cameras with self-cocking shutters lately and I keep forgetting to cock the shutter – this does nothing for hitting that ‘decisive moment’! I also press the door opening button on the right hand end of the top of the camera with my right fore finger instead of the shutter release button on the left. If I was using this camera exclusively, that would soon sort itself out.
I have had two problems with camera; both are probably a result of its age. The first is the shutter release mis-locating itself when the lens door opens.  This might have been down to my slightly depressing the shutter release button when opening the door. It can certainly be cured by closing the lens door and opening it again.
The second problem is the mechanism that ensures that you wind on exactly one frame – this is exactly eight sprocket holes. The shaft with the sprockets has eight sprockets on it, so advancing one frame needs the sprocket shaft to rotate exactly one revolution. When Balda designed this camera they had to work around patents owned by Leica, Zeiss Ikon and Kodak (and probably others) so they could not use an obvious and sensible system. The system that Balda designed involves pressing a button as soon as you start to advance the film and then immediately releasing the button and allowing it to ‘pop-out’ again while you continue to wind-on the film. On my particular camera it is necessary to give the camera a sharp slap to get the button to ‘pop-out’ again. I am not sure if the button is supposed to be sprung or if the camera relies on gravity – either way, it does not work without encouragement. This is not a major problem but it does slow things down a bit. See note in blue above.
What has surprised me is that I have found the depth of field table on the back of the camera to be quite useful. The results of using it can be seen in the close-ups of flowers below.

In conclusion, this camera is still very usable. It has no bells or whistles and requires the user to think for himself but for me that is no bad thing.

Sample pictures:

First a few pictures that show how well this 76 year-old camera still works.  Focus is good (it is a scale focus camera so I did not really know this until I saw the pictures), little distortion (the arch in the first picture is bowed itself – it is not the lens), and colour rendition is fine even though the lens design pre-dates the use of colour film.  I am very pleased with these.

Balda Jubilette
Lincoln Stonebow
Balda Jubilette
Coloured primroses – distance for the focus was guessed together with a small aperture.
Balda Jubilette
Bright Lincoln street – no flare


Balda Jubilette
Barge on the Witham in Lincoln
Balda Jubilette
Musical tight-rope walker in Lincoln city centre – a small amount of flare from the white wall.
Now a few pictures that are not so good.  First, this lens will not cope with photographing into the light. The lens is not coated at all (as was usual in 1938) and is showing significant flare.  As with using all old cameras, I need to follow my father’s advice when I was ten or so – “always keep the sun behind you.”
Balda Jubilette
Sunny day in Lincoln.

This next picture shows what often happens when you use the first film in a very old camera.  Winding the film causes a small amount of static electricity on the film’s surface.  This static electricity attracts any dirt lurking inside the camera, showing here as many black specks in the sky.

Balda Jubilette
Lincolnshire field with a dirty sky.

This last picture shows how difficult it can be guessing close distances.  The thing to do here would be to carry a yard-stick and accurately measure the distance but that is not how I work.  I guessed and relied on the depth of field keeping everything in focus. It did not work here!

Balda Jubilette
Berberis flowers.



Author: John Margetts

I am a keen photographer who also collects cameras. I am retired with about 50 years photography experience.

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