Balda Baldi

This is a small (very small) folder from Balda. It measures 100 mm by 80 mm by 35 mm (closed) or by 85 mm (open). This is slightly smaller (by 20 mm) than the 35 mm Balda Baldina of the same date. It takes 127 film – no longer made and very difficult to get hold of: it is currently (29-5-2015) available from with whom I have never had any dealing – and is a half-frame camera. That is, it takes two pictures on one standard frame which is 40 mm by 60 mm. That gives us an image measuring 30 mm by 40 mm. In 1939, this camera was advertised by the importer at £7-12-6. The cheapest version cost £4-7-6 and the top of the range version cost £10-17-6.


The camera is made out of pressed steel. This is shown where the paint has worn and the steel has started to rust. The body of the camera is covered with leatherette – this is now threadbare and very thin. The leatherette has also shrunk in places and has come away from the metal around raised parts leaving significant air bubbles between the leatherette and the metal. The edges of the camera are bright plated – I suspect with nickel – and the rust is showing through this plating in places. When new, the leatherette was embossed with writing – presumably the maker and model – but only small parts of the writing are left, far too little to read. The only sign of the maker now is the word ‘Balda’ on the fascia of the shutter. There is also the legend ‘Made in Germany’ embossed on the leather handle.

Outwardly, it looks much like a 1930s Balda Baldina or Jubilette and I suspect that the later 35 mm cameras are based on this camera. The top plate  has only two items – the film advance and the viewfinder.


Text and pictures (C) John Margetts, 2015


The film advance is different to all other roll-film advances I have come across. Firstly, it is on a ratchet which can be clearly heard when turning the advance the wrong way. When you do this, the take-up spool inside does not turn.

Balda Baldi, side view

Secondly, there is a mechanical stop which prevents the advance knob from turning more than one complete turn in either direction. This means that after advancing the film, it is necessary to turn the knob the wrong way before you can turn it the correct way to advance the film I suspect that this is a way of automatically advancing the film without looking at the red windows. Once I source some film I shall find out for sure. The top of the advance knob is marked ‘DRGM’ which stands for Deutsches Reichsgebrauchsmuster – it signifies copyright protection rather than a patent and was much cheaper to obtain than a patent, lasting just three years.

Right next to the film advance knob is a small nickel plated button. This is the lens (not shutter) release button. Pressing this causes the door in the front of the camera to spring open. This is designed to fully open by itself – the springs are quite strong – but my particular camera needs a bit of initial help. It is 80 years old so perhaps this is to be expected.

The viewfinder is exactly the same as on the Balda Baldina  except that the image is in portrait format – a consequence of this being a half-frame camera. The nice touch is the provision of an anti-parallax device. This is in the form of a wheel with a distance scale under the rear of the viewfinder. If you turn this wheel to the focus distance, the viewfinder is tilted so that it points at the subject rather than always pointing at the horizon. This should mean that portraits avoid having the tops of their heads missing.

The base plate is entirely clear except for a central tripod boss. This is the original 3/8 inch Whitworth thread with a 1/4 inch Whitworth slug in it so it will fit modern tripods.

Balda Baldi, closed, front view

When opened, the lens is held rigidly in place. The lens itself is a Meyer Gorlitz Trioplan – clearly a triplet and seems to be of the Crooke’s Triplet design. It has a 5 cm focal length (focal lengths were usually quoted in cm up to 1940 and usually in mm after 1945). Its maximum aperture is f/3.5 and the minimum is f/16 – actually a very usable range, my own photography is usually between f/5.6 and f/11.

The shutter is a Compur offering speeds up to 1/300 seconds. There is no flash synch or self-timer. As is usual with old leaf shutters, the slow speeds are way off – 1 second is very close to 3 seconds. Mind you, that is only 1.5 stops and so is well within the exposure latitude of film. The shutter also offers B and T. B is where the shutter remains open while the shutter release button is depressed and T opens the shutter when the release button is pressed once and closes the shutter when the release button is pressed a second time. On this camera neither B nor T works at all but there is a possibility they will free up when the shutter has been fired a few dozen times.

Being an old camera, the shutter needs cocking before it can be fired. The cocking lever is on the right side of the shutter housing when the camera is in use. As it is a Compur shutter, it needs to be raised to cock the shutter – moved clockwise while looking at the lens. Prontor shutters have the cocking lever move anti-clockwise while looking at the lens.

Balda Baldi, rear view

Lens focusing is by turning the front element only. This degrades the image slightly but the degradation is theoretical rather than meaningful. The focus range is marked from 5 feet to infinity but it will focus a bit closer than 5 feet. The fact that the lens is calibrated in feet shows us that the camera was an official import into either the British Empire or the USA.

The shutter release is on the top of the lens door and is strictly left-handed. This seems to have been fairly common once a body release was fitted and has the advantage of allowing the right hand to have a firm and steady hold on the camera.

The rear of the camera has the red windows to allow then user to see the frame numbers on the film backing paper while advancing the film. As this is a half-frame camera, there are two red windows and each frame number is used first in the left-hand window and then in the right-hand window. The windows are provided with a sliding shutter to prevent panchromatic film being fogged by light coming in through the red windows.

One last thing to note on the outside of the camera is the usual plated folding leg on the lens door which allows the camera to be used while placed on a table or similar. Used with a standard cable release (for which the shutter is threaded) this allows the slower shutter speeds to be used.

Balda Baldi, inside

Inside the camera is nicely designed with no surprises. On the inside of the hinged back is the pressure plate which keeps the film flat. It is significantly larger than the film gate – it measures 50 mm by 50 mm – so should keep the film nice and flat. The film gate itself measures 30 mm by 40 mm – this is significantly larger than a 35 mm frame. The spool holders are on swivels which makes loading the film much easier. The left-hand spool holder (for the new film) has a hinged base which drops away as the spool holder is swivelled out and then moves back up to place to hold the film securely once the spool holder is pushed back in place.

The right-hand spool holder is held in place by the film advance knob which needs to be pulled up before the spool holder can be swivelled out to receive the empty take-up spool.  There is a plated roller either side of the film gate to ensure the film is not scratched when winding-on.

The following is an advert from the 1939 Wallace Heaton Minitography and Cinematography catalogue (‘minitography was their term for miniature photography using 127 and 35 mm film):

Baldi 1939 007

Test film.

127 film is not so easy to get hold of. I bought a roll of Rera Pan 100 film which is new to me so this is a test of both the camera and the film.

The film was quite easy to load and the camera as easy to use as any camera of this date is.  The camera is a half-frame camera so I got 16 shots on a roll of film. – each frame is slightly bigger than a 35 mm film frame is.

 The film has ended up well exposed – a visual inspection of the negatives shows the light areas are nice and dark, the dark areas are nice and light and there is a good range of tones between.  I was not sure of the development time so I guessed on 18 minutes with ID11 diluted 1+3 – I based that on the development times for Fomapan for want of a better idea. My guess was clearly close to ideal.

The film was scanned for me by Snappy Snaps and the scans also have a good tonal range.  Alas, there are significant scanning artefacts (mostly dust and fibres) but nothing a session with Gimp will not cure.

The pictures here are much larger than the users of this camera would have expected in the 1930s and so the defects are much more visible. This particularly impinges on sharpness.


Author: John Margetts

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

2 thoughts on “Balda Baldi”

  1. Thank you for this article that I’ve found while researching my newly acquired Balda Baldi camera. Your explanation of the anti-parallax device screw on the viewfinder finally helped to make sense of that, as I was struggling to determine what that was for. I’m debating taking the viewfinder apart just to do a cleaning on mine, as it’s really pretty dirty. Just not sure if that’s a smart idea, when I’ve never worked on one of these before. It’s such a neat camera that I can’t wait to shoot with, as all other parts on mine seem to work very well. Happy shooting!

    Liked by 1 person

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