Complete Noob. Help! What do I have here?

Discussion in 'Medium Format Cameras and Accessories' started by cparrish, Apr 3, 2013.

  1. cparrish

    cparrish Member

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    Hi everyone. I am brand new to this forum. I'm actually not an enthusiast at all. I'm just a lowly auto mechanic helping his grandmother clean out her attic. We recently ran across a camera I'd like to know more about. I've done some online research but since I know absolutely nothing about cameras (seriously, nothing) I don't know what to make of what I have here. The camera is in new condition. It looks like it's from the 40s or the 50s. I can tell it wasn't really used at all though. It's either a Belfoca, or a Balda Fixfocus 6x9. The front is marked with the Belfoca script on one side and "MECHANIK DRESDEN" on the other, but the back has only one sliding red port (I have no idea what it's called, feel free to educate me) where every Belfoca I've seen in pictures had two. Additionally, I have the original instruction pamphlet (I'm sure it's original, the camera has been in the family since new) Which shows a picture of the same camera, but with a Balda script on the front instead of the Belfoca script, and strangely, a label has been placed on the front cover which says "BELFOCA 6x9 cm", but when I hold the cover up to a bright light, I can see that underneath it used to say "FIXFOCUS 6x9 cm". Below the model name, the front cover says "BALDA-WERK - VEB - DRESDEN" A stamp on the back of the instructions says "Agents: Ercona Camera Corp. 527 Fifth Avenue New York, N.Y." The shutter is apparently a Prontor-S with settings at 1,2,5,10,25,50,100,250, and B. The lens says the following: "E. Ludwig 749652 Meritar 1:4,5 F=105mm". It appears to still work perfectly. It even still had some really ancient film in it. Like I said, the thing is basically brand new. There's not a mark on it. There is no wear and there are no scratches. The leather band on the side is still flawless and reads "Made in Germany" so obviously I'm suspecting it was manufactured for export.

    I'm assuming the Fixfocus and the Belfoca were basically the same thing and this is some kind of bastard camera manufactured around the time the names were changed. This is where I'm hoping some real experts can step in and educate me. What do I have here? Is this something special? Is it junk? Is it worth anything, if so how much? I'm not sure whether we'll want to sell it. My grandmother says she remembers it from when she was a kid so if it's not worth much we'll probably just hang on to it, but we'd at least like to know more about it.

    Thanks in advance for any insight you may have!
     
  2. cparrish

    cparrish Member

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    600px-Baldafix_folding_camera.jpg It looks almost identical to this, but in nicer condition, and with Belfoca instead of Baldafix on the front. And obviously the shutter and lens are a little different. And mine is in much nicer shape.
     
  3. elekm

    elekm Member

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    I don't know this camera specifically, but you have a 6x9 folding camera, which uses 120 film (still available). You should wind the film to the end, and if it's black and white film, you should have it processed and see what photos are still on there.

    If it is like the one in the picture, I would think the value would be between $30 and $50 at most, and that's because you have the original instruction manual. I'm not sure how much that would be in British pounds or whatever your native currency is, depending on whether you live in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, etc.

    I think this was made after World War II and was exported from East Germany. I think it's from the late 1940s or early 1950s, but others will be able to provide much better information.
     
  4. BMbikerider

    BMbikerider Member

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    Belfoca - The Camera Site


    Have a look at this site. It more or less describes your camera exactly and give a lot of the background you are asking for.

    The meritar lens was used ona number of East German manufactured cameras, notably the Exacta and Practica/Practina models and was shall we say of dubious performance when used with 35mm, however the 6x9 format is different matter and it will be quite respectable. As the previous answer says 120 film is still readily available and this gem should be used.

    As it states 'Fixed Focus' this means it may not prove to be used at any distance less than say 10-12 feet with the lens wide open, however if it is closed down to F8 or F11 then it will be able to be used from about 8 feet. If yours is as good as the one in the link it really is very nice. Move the cursor over the 1st image and it flicks over to another view of the camera from the rear.

    Incidentally this link also provides further links to a VAST range of other cameras some very obscure and an insight into some from the old USSR and gives a brief description of them all.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 3, 2013
  5. EASmithV

    EASmithV Member

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    If you don't want it, i'll take it :wink:
     
  6. boswald

    boswald Member

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    If you post your location, I'm sure we can find someone near you who has experience with very old film, and they can process it for you. If there's anything there, you can have it printed. Just don't have it processed normally. If you are lucky it will be really curly, slightly fogged, and will have lost a lot of sensitivity. Unlucky, you've got nothing. But you might make your granny really happy.
    Good luck. It's a pretty good camera, just not that easy to use. Of course as a mechanic you will enjoy something understandable and menu-free. No batteries! What a concept!
     
  7. pbromaghin

    pbromaghin Subscriber

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    It certainly isn't junk, but probably nothing real special, either - a Ford, not a Lincoln. There's no real telling about the collector's market, but it might be worth $100-200 as a camera to shoot. Despite the fact that the shutter appears to work, it is probably pretty inaccurate, due to lack of use. It would need a Clean, Lube and Adjustment (CLA) service which costs around $100 to really make it sing. The Meritar is a very good lens and would take beautiful, high-quality pictures in skilled hands. The 6x9 format is a huge negative with level of detail no digital camera currently on the market can match, no matter the price. This type of camera is a challenge to use well and there are many people on this site who would love to try it out, just for the sheer fun of it. I happen to be drooling all over my keyboard, but am not in the market right now.
     
  8. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    We can fix that. :smile:

    That's an odd one, but I would tend to trust the body of the camera rather than the instruction book. The name "Fixfocus" suggests that it would have been, well, fixed-focus, but the Belfoca isn't---you should see a focus scale on the rim of the lens and be able to turn it to focus, right?

    The Prontor-S is quite a decent shutter, I think always from the postwar era---the fact that the lens is marked in mm rather than cm also suggests postwar. If the camera was early-postwar, that might explain a certain level of disorganization in things like the relabelled user manual, but I'm just guessing.

    As others have said, you can still get film for it and it should be well worth using. The older "triplet" lens design has some eccentricities that a lot of people like; this is also a camera that will make you do everything manually, which IMHO is a refreshing change of pace from auto-everything "you push the button, we'll do the rest" photography!

    Really old film is worth a shot at developing. Sometimes it works astonishingly well, sometimes there's nothing left of the image, usually you get something in between. Wherever you are, there should be members local to you who can help out with this stuff.

    I wouldn't be too quick to assume that the camera will need major rescuing to work well. In my experience a lot of neglected folders do just fine, especially on the faster shutter speeds (the slow-speed mechanism tends to gunk up over the years; here "slow" usually means "longer than 1/25 second"). It should be easy for someone to set you up to shoot a roll as a smoke test and see how it's working.

    Enjoy it! I love these old 6x9 folders personally.

    -NT
     
  9. pbromaghin

    pbromaghin Subscriber

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    Ntenny is right - the shutter isn't necessarily slow. As he says, the best thing would be to put in a roll of any ISO 100 film, color or B&W won't matter, and go out on a nice sunny day with the aperture at f/16 and the shutter at 1/100. If some clouds show up, change it to f/8. That way all you have to worry about is the distance scale. For best results, do this in early-to-mid morning or mid-to-late afternoon, avoid mid-day. You might end up hooked and keep it for yourself.
     
  10. cparrish

    cparrish Member

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    Yeah, I saw that site. And that's part of my confusion. The camera shown there is like every other Belfoca out there. It has two sliding covers over red lenses on the back. (still not sure what these are called). Mine only has one. Plus, if you notice, the Belfoca pictured on the site you mentioned has a shutter release button that looks completely different from the one I have. Mine looks just like the one in the picture I posted. Confused yet?
     
  11. cparrish

    cparrish Member

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    So as far as the film... Yeah. Wasn't thinking about that. I opened her up and exposed the film without thinking so no hope of saving any photos there. Oh well. But I finally decided to get some pictures of my own to show you what I'm talking about.

    Oh, and for the record, I'm in Boise, ID.

    Belfoca1.jpg Here she is.
    Belfoca2.jpg
    Belfoca3.jpg Very nice shape.
    Belfoca4.jpg Lens/shutter.
    Belfoca5.jpg The front of the Instruction booklet. Check out the BELFOCA 6x9 cm label stuck on it.
    Belfoca6.jpg
    Belfoca7.jpg
    Belfoca8.jpg Leather case. No markings. I doubt it is specific to the Belfoca.
    Belfoca9.jpg Now check out the back. Doesn't look like any other Belfoca, does it? Same with the shutter release.
    Belfoca10.jpg Seriously, look at the condition of this thing. It's like brand new.
     
  12. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    The windows ("red lenses") on the back of some cameras are there because they allow you to read the frame numbers on the backing paper for the film. You use those numbers to ensure that you wind the film the correct amount between shots, and to keep track of how many shots you have taken or have left. Some cameras have sliding covers for those windows, while others just rely on the darkness of the glass in the windows and the other light seals in the camera.

    120 film is designed to permit a variety of different sizes of negatives. It is 6 cm wide, but various cameras are designed to shoot negatives that are different lengths - 6cm x 4.5cm, 6cm x 6cm and 6cm x 9cm being three popular formats. To accommodate this, there are three sets of numbers printed on most backing paper - each set of numbers is a different distance from the edge of the backing paper. The red lenses are designed to reveal the set of numbers that coincides with the size of negative produced by the camera.

    A few cameras allow multiple formats. For example, some cameras have masks and other features that allow you, for each roll, to choose between exposing 8 negatives that are 6cm x 9cm each, or 15 or 16 negatives that are 6cm x 4.5cm each. Those multiple format cameras need separate windows for each format. If your camera only has one window, it was designed to produce just one size of negative.

    It is not unusual for there to have been several models of a particular camera made over a period of time, with only small differences in features distinguishing each model. Websites that collect information on the various models of older cameras rarely show pictures of all the different models.
     
  13. cparrish

    cparrish Member

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    Ok cool. I think that mostly makes sense. So the earlier Fixfocus models, and my particular Belfoca are only set up for 6x9, and no other formats, right? So then what I probably have is just an early production Belfoca. Nothing too special, just still carrying over a few of the parts from the previous Fixfocus model, and not yet set up for multiple formats? The altered instruction booklet is kind of ridiculous because it gives instructions for shooting with the fixfocus lens and shutter. Not terribly helpful with the Belfoca. Well, the question now is what are we going to do with it? We have no use for it. I suppose we'll sell it. Obviously there are differing opinions on its value. Anybody have any thoughts having seen the pictures and heard the tale?

    I'll probably put it up in the classified section in a while, after I've decided how much to ask. If anyone is interested in actually buying the thing, shoot me a message.
     
  14. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    That is one nice-looking folder! I agree that it's probably an early-production Belfoca. The history is confusing---VEB was a conglomerate that absorbed Belca sometime in the mid-1950s in Dresden, but by that time they would have been using the name "Belca-Werk" rather than "Balda-Werk". (The Prontor-S was introduced in 1951 and I think it was the usual higher-grade shutter on these cameras.) It might have been a transitional body of some sort, and maybe that back door with the single red window was cannibalized from something else entirely---I can't find any Belfocae or Fixfoci with that spiffy sliding cover.

    One caution---sometimes the reason an old camera looks brand-spanking-new is that it didn't work well! I've got an absolutely lovely 1920s Voigtlaender that clearly was unusable from the factory---the lens is misaligned in a way that makes it impossible to get anything in focus and that would require precision metalworking to fix. Hopefully you don't have that situation, but it would be good to run a roll through (I know we have members in Boise; step up, y'all) and check basic functionality.

    -NT
     
  15. JPD

    JPD Member

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    Nice camera. It looks like they used a picture from before the war on the front cover of the manual. The camera body is of the pre-war style, and for a couple of years after the war many east german cameras used vest german shutters, and later they used east german made shutters like Vebur and Tempor.

    VEB stands for Volkseigener Betrieb (Operation owned by the people), a legal form of enterprise owned by the state in East Germany. Balda-Werk in Dresden was nationalised after the war. The previous owner and founder, Max Baldeweg, lived in Vest Germany after the war and started a new company, Balda Kamera-Werk, in Bünde. It must have been around that time that the East German company had to change the name for legal reasons.