Thursday, 29 March 2012

Zodel Baldalux*

Baldalux 6x9 folding camera
The Baldalux is a mid-range workaday 6x9 format folding camera, and I hadn't previously thought about writing a blog post about it until recent results from scanning a number of negatives I had shot while in Berlin last summer (although the posts on Delta 3200 and Verichrome were illustrated with images shot using the camera). The images made me re-evaluate the camera. I often like to have a 6x9 folding camera with me when travelling for landscape shots, and I've used my Agfa Record I camera for this purpose in the past, but the Baldalux has features to make me favour it over the Record. Some of these features are pretty mundane, such as having the original ever-ready case, and the fact I've got a yellow push-on filter that fits the lens; it does have a better shutter though, and although I haven't done any meaningful comparisons, the Baldalux's Radionar lens seems to perform better than the Record's Agnar.

The Baldalux was manufactured by Balda-Werk Bünde, the West German company arising from the pre-war Balda, which was based in Dresden (the East German plant became Belca). Like a number of German camera makers, Balda-Werk Bünde products were often rebranded for sale by other distributors and export to other markets, and so appear under different names. This is the case here, although the camera model being called Baldalux clearly points to its origins. My camera has 'Zodel reg.' stamped on the leatherette on the front of the camera (I've seen other examples on the web where the lettering here is Baldalux - one wonders whether the superfluous 'reg.' was just added to make the text a better visual fit). It also has a fading water-slide transfer label for Wallace Heaton, obscuring the Balda-Werk Bünde branding. Zodel was a brand name used by Wallace Heaton, a London based distributor, to rebadge their cameras. I also have a 6.5x9 plate camera from the 1930s with the Zodel brand.

Wallace Heaton label covering Balda-Werk Bünde stamp
Looking at examples on the web, there are some production variations, although all seem to have a Schneider Kreuznach 105mm Radionar lens in either a Prontor-S or Prontor SVS shutter. Some have differences in the plate around the lens, with examples having a depth of field scale. My camera by comparison has a very plain front plate. It also came with the original 6x4.5 mask, allowing for 16 exposures on a roll of film. Some websites mention a 6x6 mask, although this would require a different arrangement of red windows on the back of the camera. It has frame lines in the viewfinder to indicate the 6x4.5 format, which are actually rather thick and do intrude on the viewfinder, which is very small, even for a camera of this age. I did remove the top plate to clean the viewfinder (as suggested by Flickr member fulvue) making it slightly easier to use. There is also a brilliant finder mounted to the lens, which can be rotated 90 degrees for both horizontal and vertical pictures, which seems to be quite a late date for this kind of finder, being more common on pre-war cameras.

A piece of card stops the double exposure prevention from working
Another feature is the double exposure prevention, with a window on the top plate indicating 'O' for unexposed, and 'E' for exposed. However I have disabled the double exposure prevention. Shortly after I started using the camera, this began not to work very well: after winding on, it would spring back to the 'exposed' setting, preventing the shutter release on the camera from being depressed (although the shutter can always be tripped by the lever around the lens). I taped a small piece of card inside the mechanism to block it, making a non-destructive alteration to the camera. I've yet to accidentally double-expose a frame, but I'm sure that this will happen.

Roadworks, Berlin, shot on Ilford Delta 100
The first photographs I'd taken with the Baldalux I had shot with the 6x4.5 mask, and I was impressed by the sharpness of the image. The Radionar lens is a triplet design (I believe the red triangle on the lens mount denotes coating), and while the centre of the image is very sharp, towards the edges of the full 6x9 frame there is a noticeable softness, however this does perhaps add to its vintage character.

View from the Teufelsberg, Ilford HP5 with yellow filter
Klosterstraße, Berlin, shot on Ilford HP5
Bahnhof Berlin Oranienburger Straße, Ilford Delta 3200 with 6x4.5 mask
*I'm not actually sure that the camera was referred to as 'Zodel Baldalux', I've been searching online to no avail for old Wallace Heaton Blue Books which might show the camera.