Rangefinders (Fixed Lens)

Balda Baldessa 1b – a mini-review – By Cameradactyl (Ethan)

Balda Baldessa 1b

I love cameras, big and small. I build a bunch of pretty large ones at cameradactyl.com. But when I go out lugging a 4×5 or 8×10 I also like to take along a tiny camera in my bag.  One of my favorites is the Balda Baldsssa 1b.  I think it is one of the most underrated cameras ever.  I bought it years ago as part of a lot, not knowing what it was, not really interested in it, I probably paid around $5 for it.  It surprised me, and I love it, although it is not without its quirks.

Before I bought this camera I had never heard of Balda, or their cameras.  The Baldessa 1b, I consider to be their best, although some might argue with me.  It’s a pocket sized rangefinder (I put it in my jeans pocket with no case) with a 45mm 2.8.  The lens is a little long for me – I prefer a 35mm, and a little dark compared to some of the classic fixed lens rangefinders of the 1970’s.  Its controls and operation are strange, I think it was produced before everything became pretty standardized across camera makers, although I think that there are some Agfa cameras from the same era that operate pretty similarly.

The film wind is via a fold out key on the bottom left of the camera, the focusing is done with a wheel on the top right of the camera face, right next to the shutter button, which is clever, but far from the muscle memory I’ve built up with just about every other camera of this sort I’ve ever used.

Balda Baldessa 1b

The wind key flips out on the bottom. It takes some getting used to, but its pretty fast to use.

The Balda Baldessa 1b has an uncoupled EV light meter on the top, where the wind and shutter would be on a ‘normal’ camera.  The entire film back comes off to reload it, and it takes me about 5 minutes every time to get the last roll out and a new one in.  Somehow the film chamber was designed with extremely little tolerance to wiggle a canister in or out.

Balda Baldessa 1b

The whole film back comes off to change the film, which is not the annoying part, its that it takes forever to wiggle the film canister in or out!

The viewfinder is dead center in the camera, I miss it almost every time I raise the thing to my eye, and wind up looking at the back of the case, pulling it away from my face, checking where the hole actually is, and re-aligning.

A super cool dude takes a picture with his eye lined up perfectly with the middle of the camera.

OK, these things are strange, and make it not the fastest to shoot with, particularly if you have a collection of other cameras that all function in pretty much the same way – wind and shutter on top right, focus around the lens…  But there is some charm to this thing.  My light meter works.  You set the aperture and shutter speeds around the lens barrel, and can rotate them together, much like the exposure system on a Hasselblad.  It has a leaf shutter which is quiet and accurate.  The viewfinder is just slightly dim, but nice and contrasty.  It’s well made, all metal, very compact.

Balda Baldessa 1b

Uncoupled light meter on the top right. shutter button and focusing wheel on the face of the camera on the right.

My favorite thing about the Balda Baldessa 1b is the lens.  As I have said, I would prefer a slightly wider lens usually but I love how sharp it is.  Now I’m not one for going on and on about how sharp my lens is or how many megapickles my camera has, I just try to take pictures of interesting things, but I really like how this lens renders things.

I generally shoot the Balda Baldessa 1b outdoors, around f8-16, and there its sharp and contrasty.  It’s not the camera for you if you’re looking for buttery bokeh or soft portraits.  I love how it makes landscapes and environmental portraits look.  It’s a favorite camera of mine to throw in the top of a backpack, or wedge in the pocket of my jeans.

Rocky Mountain National Park. June 2018.
Shot on expired Agfapan, developed in lukewarm dogpiss.

My Mom gets her Lifetime Senior pass to the National Parks on her birthday.

 

Rocky Mountain National Park. June 2018.

 

Hiking with mom.

An Elk-Jam, shot from the drivers seat, while waiting in traffic/ and/ or creating traffic. Expired Kodak Gold 200.

I hope you like the pictures that I took with th Balda Baldessa 1b on a recent family vacation in Rocky Mountain National Park, and the few that I snapped of the camera itself, just with my iPhone, so you can get an idea of how funny its laid out.

The Balda Baldessa 1b can still be had for under $50 in working condition and under $100 in about as nice a condition as you can find a 50+ year old camera. I am hesitant to tell the world about it and drive the price up, but then again, I have too many cameras already…

You can find my small camera company CAMERADACTYL here: www.cameradactyl.com and instagram.com/cameradactyl
And my other posts for 35mmc here

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10 Comments

  • Reply
    Nick Lyle
    January 23, 2019 at 1:11 pm

    Sounds like a good one. I have a Balda Super-Baldina, which also functions much better than it’s slightly cheesy construction and peculiar details would leead you to expect. The rangefinder in particular is contrasty and effective, and it focuses by moving the whole lens in and out, instead of just the front element.

  • Reply
    Louis A. Sousa
    January 23, 2019 at 1:32 pm

    Delightful review, thank you!

  • Reply
    Gordon Palmer
    January 23, 2019 at 2:24 pm

    NICE! That first landscape is spectacular! The hiking picture with your lovely mum is almost 3D – What a great lens!

  • Reply
    Bernhard
    January 23, 2019 at 3:54 pm

    Thx for review

  • Reply
    Geoff
    January 23, 2019 at 5:02 pm

    It was about 60 years ago when I had a Balda, it had a 2.8 lens which I thought was wonderful, can’t remember what model but took great pix. Now have just acquired an Ambi Sillette with two lenses. Use it and then sell it, fight off the GAS.

  • Reply
    TBM3FAN
    January 23, 2019 at 5:44 pm

    This camera is from the heyday of quirky, and I feel well built rangefinders, out of West Germany in the 50s. Materials still in great condition today. Manufacturers like Balda, Braun, Voigtlander, and Zeiss. I have a dozen of their rangefinders from that time. The one you review I have along with the Super Baldina where the lens pops out and a Baldessa-matic. If you thought the back coming off the Baldessa was strange then check out Braun where the outer case slides down and off.

  • Reply
    Kevin Thomas
    January 24, 2019 at 1:12 am

    This is very similar to my Baldamatic III – one big difference is the Baldamatic III has interchangeable lenses. It also uses the wheel on the body to control the f-stop. The lensit came with is the 2.8/50, and it does a really good job. I did have one accident with it though – halfway through a roll I set it down and the back popped off! Fortunately it was sunset so I still got some good pictures off the roll. A very enjoyable, if quirky, camera to use – I suspect if I used it enough to get used to it I would find it quite ergonomic.

  • Reply
    Terry B
    January 24, 2019 at 11:53 am

    Lovely first image. Thanks for the nice overview of this little Balda camera. I came across a 1b in 2017 as I was lazily browsing ebay, as I do, for nothing in particular, when I hit on a listing offering one for £10, inc. case. The feature that attracted me was the wind on key as I have some 35mm cameras in my collection with unusual film winding as a theme. The posted images showed it to be in quite good cosmetic order, as far as I could tell, so I went for it, considering £10 was nothing to lose if it turned out to be a paperweight.
    I was highly delighted when it arrived. I was in perfect working order and in excellent condition. The Gossen meter is giving a strong reading and fairly spot, and the viewfinder is clear with a distinct and contrasty rangefinder spot. With its rounded ends I find it very comfortable to hold.

  • Reply
    Terry B
    January 25, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    Ethan, following on from your review I was prompted to get my 1b out of the cupboard to play with it again, and because of something I subsequently read about. First thing, I may be wrong about the meter being Gossen as this one doesn’t have the name within the plastic of the dimpled cell that many Gossen meters have. So it could be by the other well known maker, Bewi. I couldn’t remember the lens fitted but it turns out to be the 4 element Isco Color-Westanar.
    Now, what I’ve just learned concerns the viewfinder. The bright lines are parallax corrected. I’ve just checked, and this is the case. Having a centrally placed v/f means it is easier to accomplish than with the off-set v/fs of other cameras. So this little Balda goes one better than most.

  • Reply
    J. Lee
    January 26, 2019 at 8:42 am

    Fantastic images!

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