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Thursday, 01 February 2024


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It’s been many years since I used or took any interest in enlargers, but you got me wondering what else I might find in the “Museum of Cool Stuff”. How about the very first Apple Mac? (The one with the tiny B&W screen and no hard drive). Or what about my egg-beater hand drill that my father bought for his work as a carpenter before WW2? (I’m waiting for one of my grandkids to ask what it is, and I will tell them it’s a cordless drill 😆). Any other suggestions?

My first enlager was a Focomat 1 but after I had some success in the commercial and advertising space I upgraded to a V35. You could buy two different "heads" or light sources for that enlarger. One was a color head with three dials for color wheels and the other was a unit set up to work with multi-grade papers. You could dial in contrast settings to mimic specific paper grades. The V35 sat right next to an Omega D-5 in my commercial darkroom since much of our ad work was done on 4x5 sheet film and two and quarter square, medium format film. All black and white. I always wanted a IIC but didn't have the extra counter space for a third enlarger. The multi-grade head for the V35 was a great time saver and one didn't have to worry about dust on multi-grade filters sitting under the lens... Great stuff.

Now please do a post on Leica Pradovit slide projects. I can send you a couple if you need to revisit them first.... They are right over there in the closet.

did folks who peeked into tiny converted powder-room think you repurposed the float from inside your toilet?

[I don't know, but I had to re-re-model that powder room when I sold the place! Did everything myself except attach the mirror to the wall. Would have needed four hands for that. --Mike]

I only ever owned one good enlarger, at the end of my darkroom career (a Omega D5XL). My darkroom in my parent's basement had a Durst M35, which was 35mm only and pretty wimpy, I got some decent prints from it but it never impressed me as a good tool.

The college photo co-op darkroom was better, that had some Besseler 23Cs and a 45MX.

But the real win was the alumni publication office darkroom, which had an Omega D3. So I'm familiar with the kind of autofocus the Focomat II provided. It saved considerable time especially if doing a lot of custom cropping, since while you had to fine-tune the focus at the final size, I could nearly always short-circuit the resize-refocus-resize-refocus loop; you could just run the head up and down until you got the size you needed.

(I've been remembering that as a D2, but research tells me that wasn't auto-focus, and the D3 was. I'm absolutely clear on the auto-focus, so that's what it must have been.)

I think the Focomat Iic was produced from 1956 to 1983, not the 5 year span that you mention.

I also believe, although I have no documentation here to substantiate it, that the Iic was not actually manufactured by Leitz, but was only designed by them. In any case, it was (is) a sturdy piece of machinery. I never had a Iic, but I've had a Ic that I inherited from my dad in 1962. It also has not fallen apart. A friend here in Vancouver had a couple of IIc's, one with the standard head and one similar to one specced for the Canadian military from Leitz Midland that had a point source light. That was high contrast to put it mildly, and film grains were definitely imaged individually. I don't know about the IIc, but the Ic had an intermediate diffused/condenser light. Of course, you have to use and develop your film for your enlarging setup to achieve optimal results in any case, so it's less important which type of light source you have as long as you're working with it in mind.

A friend in Oxford, England spent a fair bit of the COVID interregnum building and outfitting his custom teaching darkroom, in which he has at least 2 Iic's and 3? - 4? - 5? Ic's. plus some DeVeres, Dursts, etc. Oxforddarkrooms.com. It's very impressive. Prices for enlargers can apparently can be very, very reasonable especially if you have some patience and the ability to go pick the item up.

[I couldn't find good information online about the history of the IIc. The internet is great for things that are happening now, but it's generally poor for history.

The bit about table tennis highlights a problem of copy editing. We knew the game as ping-pong, and never called it "table tennis." So which is then proper in this case? I changed the post, but I'm not willing to simply say "my brother Scott's table tennis table," as that would not really be accurate either, even though it's correct. This is a common issue in copyediting. On the other hand, copy editors are generally people who love to debate about precisely this type of thing, so no harm, no foul.

A final issue in your comment--about your friend's teaching darkroom. We actually had faculty meetings about an issue in some of the schools where I taught. It was felt that by making the school darkroom too fancy and well equipped, students might be encouraged to believe they couldn't work unless or until they were similarly equipped and outfitted. One school actually build its darkroom to mimic a more crude, extemporized space, to help make the point that most photographers (even some very famous ones) do work in less than ideal surroundings. --Mike]

I still have a Focomat Ic that I bought at an estate sale for $30 mint along with the lock down easel.
Great machine. Someone told me that Robert Frank printed The Americans on a Ic.
Wonder if that's true.

[Yes and that's the 1c that Ralph Gibson has. I've seen it. --Mike]

Our friends of the photography program at Cégep du Vieux-Montréal have put together an excellent video tutorial on using the Focomat IIc.

Just listen to the sound of the enlarger:


Mike! I have been over wanting to get back to film for over a year and you bring back the idea of a v35 enlarger or a Focomat II? I love my Beseler, which has been through more than a few head changes (let's have a moment to mourn the splendid, arcane, Minolta/Beseler flashtube insanity that remains the most brilliant high contrast black and white printing machine I've ever loved), but the V35 was absolutely
a newspaper photog's dream. I was able to use one for one afternoon and I can still remember the motions, just perfectly set up for my brain.

...And they just dropped the price of Tri-X....

Ah, Kienzle. I found out about them at one of the last Photokinas, in 2016. They still build a great range of enlargers, up to a wopping 12"x12"! They had it at show and it's obviously a beast.

At home I have two enlargers to get unpacked and setup in my updated room. One Focomat I and I think a Japanese frame, both adorned with Ilford Multigrade 500 heads. Those heads are great to use, especially with the RH Design Analyser 500 I have with it. I'm really looking forward to using that setup again.

A Focomat enlarger had a brief cameo in the recent film, "The Boys in the Boat," when the big race at the 1936 Olympics was a photo finish.

We used Focomat 1c enlargers in the newspaper darkroom where I worked. Wonderful enlargers. Larger formats were done with Omegas.

When I was setting up a home darkroom years later one of the former news photographers offered to give me a 1c he had bought from the newspaper when it shut down the photo lab. Unfortunately for me it had the long column and it was too tall to fit in my makeshift darkroom's low ceiling.

Not long after this, I was dragged by my wife to a garage sale. I protested but...well, wife. Wondering around the place I saw something familiar. I picked it up and walked around picking up pieces and found all the parts to a Leitz Valoy enlarger with 50mm Leitz lens plus a copy camera arm to fit the column. Total price: $7.00! 'Course when I took it home and plugged it in, it blew the circuit in the house due to the bad wiring. I rewired it and used it for several years. Not as nice as the 1c but really well built.

Unfortunately, as you noted, little of history is on the internet.

Only specialist websites, such as the HP museum (https://www.hpmuseum.org/ ), the Asahi Optical Historical Club (https://www.aohc.it/index.php ), the K-Mount page (http://kmp.pentaxians.eu/ ) and other similar sites have info about long-ago items.

I tagged along with a news photographer one day when I was in college. The newspaper had enlargers that had "Leitz" on the side and were auto-focus, but that's about all I remember about the enlarger she was using. That enlarger had a '40s vintage look.

Oddly enough, in a career that began in 1977, I've never used a Leitz enlarger. Two custom labs and my department at EK were all supplied with various Omegas. So when I set up my home darkroom around 1988, I bought a Korean-war era 4x5 Omega D-II. I still use it; it does the job as it always has. But as a Leica camera user for decades, I'll say that German precision manufacture can be a wonderful thing.

Similar to you, Mike, I view enlargers as tools and don't obsess over them, however, I must say that my Saunders/LPL 4500 enlarger is a joy to use. The fine focus control is silky and precise, plus it's built like a tank.


It was Kienzle that made the original Leitz Focomat IIc.


I had, actually still have a V35. Love it. Even though autofocus always worked perfectly I still checked it with a focus magnifier. I changed the color head for a Heiland splitgrade. A perfect working print at the first try always. It was a pleasure to use and a beautiful machine.

For a decade, starting around 1991, I worked in a medical research at a local university. Had a buddy that ran imaging for the histology department. One of his main duties was developing and printing large format negatives from the transmission electron microscope (TEM).

His enlarger was a Durst Laborator 138. That floorstanding beast had a turret of the best optics money could buy, a full complement of condensors, diffuse and a point light sources (latter used for the TEM negs), and negative carriers from 35mm through 4x5. Spent many joyful hours in there printing my personal work on that ne plus ultra of enlargers. Had some fun enlarging 35mm Techpan negatives with the points source to explore what I could achieve with my motley collection of Nikon glass.

Sadly, never had a chance to experience a Focomat. Perhaps it would have usurped the Laborator.

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