The Online Darkroom Store

Thursday, September 25

A newcomer to the darkroom

I shouldn't have done it. I already had three enlargers and my darkroom was cluttered to the point of being largely unusable. But it was potentially such a great deal and it had a famous name and, and…I just wanted it! It was another successful bid at a local auction that saw the Leitz Focomat 1C crossing the Robbins thresh-hold and stopping briefly to pose for an arty iPhone pic in the hall before being whisked upstairs.

Of course, given the state of the darkroom, it had to hang about outside for most of the day while I set about creating some space for it. The three enlargers already in place were the Leitz V35, the Durst L1200 and a Paterson PCS130. Sadly for the Paterson, it wasn't glamorous enough to make the cut so it was decommissioned and stored in a corner of the room with developing trays and tanks piled high on its baseboard. It's actually a very capable machine with a light source that ensures the print exposure is the same regardless of paper grade filtration, a useful feature indeed. It'll not be going anywhere as, for some reason, they don't fetch much money at all. I saw one go recently on Ebay for, I think, £4.99. Criminal.

The Focomat 1C - a handsome beast.

With a sudden burst of creativity I also managed to find homes for the stuff that was littering the work surfaces in the darkroom and covering the floor so the 1C has had the beneficial side effect of forcing me to knock the room into some sort of shape for printing. This was something I was determined to do after Marty in the comments recently said he missed my "darkroom antics". And it's true: the blog has been more like The Online Scanner in recent months so thanks, Marty, for the kick up the bum!

So what's the Focomat like? In a word, it's superb. This one is in great condition with hardly a mark on it. It even came with the rare Leitz plastic dust cover and a German-made Hauck timer. It's a beautifully made piece of equipment dating back to about 1972, around the zenith of the machine age. Everything on it is made "just so" and it's unbelievably smooth in action.

An LFE (large front element) Focotar. The best or second
best of the three 50mm Focotars depending on how you
value sharpness against a flat field.

A new one on me - a Hauck timer. Seems to work just fine.

I was pleased to see that it had an anti-Newton attachment on the underside of the condenser. The condenser sits on top of the negative and some darkroom workers - not all by any means - have been plagued by Newton's rings. This was an accessory that not everyone bought. The 1C is an autofocus enlarger that requires careful setting up. A quick look at it revealed that some tweaking is required but it's dead easy to do and I'll get it fixed shortly.

The 1C was made from 1950-77 and featured three Focotars over the years. The first Focotar lasted until 1970 and was said to be very good for modest enlargements but apparently didn't have a very flat field.

Much to Phil Rogers' chagrin, I managed to find a space for the 1C. Phil quite
fancied it if the darkroom turned out to be too cramped.

The second Focotar was introduced in 1970 and lasted four years. It's the one I have. It's identifiable by a larger front element and is sometimes known as the Focotar LFE. This was sharper and did have a very flat field.

The final Focotar, which lasted until 1979, surviving the demise of the 1C, was the Focotar-2. It's reckoned to be sharper than my version but didn't have quite as flat a field. For my purposes - enlargements of around 6x9 inches on 10x8 paper, the LFE probably makes most sense.

A great triumvirate. I'll need to do them justice now.

When I collected the 1C from the auction house, there was quite a lot of dust on it so that had to be cleaned off with a damp cloth. There was also some light rust on the column which responded well to the old scrunched up tin foil and water rub down. I'll smear some vaseline on the exposed metal parts as recommended by Leica to keep them healthy. It's now on the bench in my darkroom looking almost new. Being a thing of beauty, I fully expect it to be a joy forever.

So with the darkroom looking quite tidy again and the floor cleared of tripods, camera bags and God knows what else, I'm itching to get back to doing some printing. Hopefully I'll have something to show you before long.


Omar Özenir said...

Very nice indeed! I'm another one of those looking forward to some darkroom magic now.


Herman Sheephouse said...

Yep - me too Bruce - the weight of the world is upon you.
Did you know that Leitz enlargers and lenses, unless used properly, are subject to Sheephouse's By-Law 10, Section 1B, Subsection C, which clearly states:

" . . . failure to use said device correctly and creatively, may result in confiscation."

Bruce Robbins said...

Very funny, Phil! If the two of you are waiting for "magic" you'd better be very patient...

Nasir said...

Why not get a De Vere 504 and be done with it? The industry standard workhorse enlarger that could be found in any self-respecting darkroom ever since I can remember :-)

Bruce Robbins said...

Almost got one a while back, Nasir. It was offered to me free of charge by a very generous reader but we decided between ourselves that a FADU guy who was setting up a darkroom workshop in the Lake District was a more deserving case so it went to him. To be honest, the Durst L1200 is all I need but I could also say that an OM1 is the only camera I need. Haha!

John Carter said...

I envy you, very much, we don't have enough water here to do both print washing and film washing. I'm afraid of the water California Gestapo. Still I wonder if it does any other formats?

Brucepalmbeach said...

The finacial times art critic said it best this Saturday "digital has so far failed to produce very beautiful surfaces just as it has failed to produce great sound."

Bruce Moskowitz M.D.

Bruce Robbins said...

I'd tend to agree with that, Bruce. I might be a bit strange but the feeling I get is that each technological advance takes us ever further from artisanship or craftsmanship towards a world that's increasingly impersonal and dominated by computer-controlled robotics. Soul-less might be another way of putting it.

John Robison said...

Wow, good deal. I never had a chance to even handle one of those. I have a very modest Durst F30 that was gifted to me but missing the lamp house cover so I improvised. Still don't get to set up the bathroom very often but now that winter is coming it will be cool enough to get in there.

MartyNL said...

A fine addition to any darkroom Bruce. I'm sure it will bring you a lot of pleasure.
I fully understand the perennial problem of keeping your darkroom clutter free. Unfortunately any available space soon becomes a magnet for junk and your once beautiful darkroom suddenly transforms itself into a storage room right before your very eyes...

Anonymous said...

These machines are really great!
I got one for free, first built type from the 50's. No dings, scraches nor dust. Just rotten cables and a defunkt swith on the side.
It was ment to be thrown away when a school fotolab was beeing cleared out.

The only thing missing is the Hauck timer.
Bruce, would you give me the timer's type number.
There seem to be many Haucks that wouldn't work with the original wiring, as this is ment to work with the timer acting as switch with the on-board socket instead of supplying the enlarger with electricity.

I recently discovered since music is available everywhere at any time I don't put on or listen to recorded music anymore at all. Only live performances stir my interest as the rest is really only distracting consumer din.


Bruce Robbins said...

Hi Nick,
Just had a good look at the timer but there are no numbers or letters anywhere to be found on the case. I'll need to research these timers as I don't know a thing about them.

Thomas A. Myers said...

Weight (with something fairly heavy) the projection surface on the base, rotate the base 180 degrees, test for balance and add more weight if needed, then project onto the floor.



Thomas A. Myers said...


In a silent darkroom, if you get deeply into the printing process,
you will hear the orchestra as the image emerges and deepens. Just listen.
Symphony of rich blacks, grays, and whites. Glorious.