Category Archives: History

Balda – a brief history

Max Baldeweg founded Balda-Werk in 1908. His first factory was in Dresden Germany. He was making inexpensive 35mm and medium format folding cameras for the mass market, and he also  made for others to rebrand.

The first was the 1935 Baldina … kinda looked like the Welina and Retina … and he continued on that trend, hey whatever works (sells).

In 1946, Max fled to West Germany. The factory in Dresden, East Germany, was nationalized and in 1951 changed the name to Belca-Werk. He started again with Balda Kamera-Werk located in Bünde … and continued on where he left off.

You will find many of these Baldxxxx cameras, including some 126 and 110 cameras … that somehow avoided being named Bald (and some of the early box cameras).


Kodak Aktiengesellschaft

If you have ever handled a Kodak Retina you will soon realize this ain’t your Grandma’s Kodak camera. Whats up with that ?

In 1932 Eastman Kodak realized that they needed to step up … so they did something about it … they hooked up with a German. In the 30’s kodak was making new “six” series cameras which still had the look of the previous camaras it was making in the 20’s … they soon found that could not compete with what was coming out of Europe in the higher end market. So, if you can’t beat them … get someone on your side who can.

Hmmm, those Germans … well it was one, Dr. Nagel.  August Nagel founded Contessa, and co-founded Zeiss-Ikon, then split to make his own company. Nagel Camera Werkes was located in Stuttgard Germany. Dr. Nagel was into cameras that used rolled film … hmm. Eastman Kodak decided to buy his company to produce high precision 35mm roll film cameras.

Nagel was tasked with making a precision cameras equal to the other European cameras but at a lower price point. They started with some cameras that Nagel aready had on the market and were rebadged with the Kodak brand.

What Nagel developed in 1934 was to be known as the Retina. A bellows folder with cross-struts support, made of metal and designed to use Dr. Nagel’s daylight loading cartridge … a pre-loaded single use cartridge of 35mm format roll film … ummmm, that sounds familiar. This was a camera very unlike anything that Kodak had produced … as I mentioned at that beginning, you know this is a different animal as soon as you pick it up.

Nagel would go on to producing a number of various Retina models and other high precision cameras for Kodak. Dr. Nagel died in 1943, and Kodak AG continued to make his type of cameras after WWII all the way up to 1960.



Holy Schmidt-Spiegel Batman … its the Minolta 500mm reflex !!!

The Minolta Maxxum AF 500mm f/8 Relex lens was brought out in 1989, and is a Schmidt-Cassegrain catadioptric lens.

In 1672, Laurent Cassegrain designed a telescope using two mirrors to reflect incoming light to the eyepiece. This design corrected spherical aberrations and also made the telescope shorter. Later on the Catadioptric system was created, and his utilized both refraction and reflection … corrective lenses and mirrors.  In 1930 Bernhard Schmidt redesigned the mirror shape and added an aspherical lens to correct for coma, and astigmatism aberrations. The Schmidt-Cassegrain design is currently one of the most popular telescope design used today … and it also caused many camera lens manufacturers to use that also. Almost everybody made one (well not really), but Minolta was the only one to incorporate it into their Auto Focus system.

The Maxxum 500mm reflex is a stubby barrel of a lens. Due to the way it is designed it can produce donut or crescent shaped bokeh … which probably explains why this lens is not more popular. As I mentioned before, this is an AF lens which can support centre point focus … and since this is a gear driven lens, the body has a direct influence on AF speed. You’ve got one aperture size of f8 so it can cause the AF to hunt … IQ is pretty good on this lens … you just have to know how to work the bokeh … overall I really like this small handful lens.

Kodak … I’m not going to be historical.

Kodak, or should I say The Eastman Kodak Company … was established by a guy named George Eastman, and that’s all I have to say about that (there is soooo much info on the history of Kodak, that I can’t be bothered to repeat it).

When he was 24 years old he thought the photographic equipment at the time sucked … too big, too many, and soooo slow. Luckily for us he was ambitious enough to seek a better way … and in 1884 he submitted patent #US306594, and the world wasn’t the same after that.

Though you may think that Mr. Eastman was the originator of roll film, that isn’t true … the “film” we know of today was invented by someone else. Rev. Hannibal Goodwin submitted a patent for celluloid film in 1887.

Anyway, back to the camera … the Brownie … specifically the Brownie Hawkeye. Intro in 1949 and production ran for 12 years. It’s your typical box bakelite camera of the times with a simple lens, simple shutter, and just simple.

… and just in case you wanted to know, the patent for bakelite was submitted by Leo Baekeland in 1906.

Riken !! Ricoh – some history

The current company that we know of as Ricoh started out as Rikagaku Kogyo, which then spit off to become Riken Kankoshi Co. Ltd. in 1936 under the leadership of Kiyoshi Ichimura. Initial products … paper, sensitized paper. In 1937 they started distribution of Olympic cameras made by Asahi Bussan. In 1938 the company name changed to Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō K.K. and started developing their own cameras and lenses. The company continued to evolve into other types of products, distribution of other cameras through subsidiaries. After WWII was the start of their real push into the camera market … then they all merged to became the Ricoh we know of today in 1963.

Riken No. 1 was sold in 1939 named as Gokoku (not Okoku) it was a 127 format camera, but with the looks of a Barnack camera … even with a collapsable lens, and a fake rewind knob. The Richol models continued this design, and then they start making cameras of all kinds like the Ricohflex TLR (1950), 35mm rangefinders, SLR’s and todays digital cameras (oh, and they are pretty big in the photocopier business) … not to mention their acquisition of Pentax.

My first encounter with Ricoh was when I got a job at Japan Camera. They had Ricoh SLR cameras everywhere, which was different than the other camera stores … I soon found out that Japan Camera was the exclusive Canadian distributor of Ricoh.

When I had a Diacord L for a bit (fixed a sticky shutter) and I found the IQ of the Rikenon lens was really good. I got rid of it as I was not too keen on the knob winding, but I think I would replace my Minolta Autocord for a Ricohmatic 225 if I could ever find one without an over-inflated price.