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Monday, September 14

Which enlargers to keep?

The 1C. I should have crouched down a little
so the light behind was like a halo...

With our house now on the market, we'll be faced at some point with finding somewhere else to live. We can't really start looking for another home until we've sold this one so it's impossible to say where we might end up. We have a few locations in mind within about a 20 mile radius of my home town of Dundee - or we might even end up back in the city itself.

What I can say for certain, though, is that the next house will be a lot smaller - something like half the size of the one we're in now. This has repercussions in many areas of life, including the size of my next darkroom. It might be in a small bedroom, the garage if there is one or a custom-built shed in the garden.

It's unlikely, however, that I'll be able to find a home for the four, yes four, enlargers currently living in my 14ft x 7.5ft darkroom. They are a Leitz Focomat 1C from the early 1970s, a Leitz Focomat V35 from the '80s, both for 35mm, a Durst L1200 for 5x4 and a Philips PCS 130 with the PCS 150 Tri-One colour head for 6x6. The first three are on the bench (not in the footballing sense, obviously) and the Philips occupies a corner of the room where it sits on the floor beneath a pile of trays, a print washer, books, etc.

Great engineering and a lovely crackled finish.

I don't have to decide yet which ones to keep but each can put up a good argument for retention which makes it potentially difficult to choose. However, I've been thinking about it on the basis that I'll probably have space for two.

One that will definitely make the cut is the Focomat 1C, possibly the best bit of engineering amongst the whole of my darkroom and photography kit. It doesn't have a filter drawer for multigrade filters but I'm OK with holding them beneath the lens so that's not a huge problem. It's an enlarger that just works so well. Everything about it is positive and well-made, smooth and precise. For graded paper, it's just perfect. I've got possibly the best Focotar lens for it as well, the 50mm f4.5 with the large front element known as the LFE.

If I could have just the one enlarger, this would be it. I'd concentrate exclusively on 35mm (apart from the odd roll in the Rollei TLRs for scanning) with the Leica M2 and my OM outfit. In fact, this still makes a lot of sense to me whenever I think about it. Too many cameras and too many formats can get in the way of creativity and a sense of purpose in photography. It's a blessing and a curse to be able to stand there and ponder not only which camera to use or which format but which camera within a format.

The Leitz 1C cover, relatively few of which have survived, sells on Ebay
for around the same price I paid for the enlarger.

Further simplifying things would be sticking to a graded paper such as Ilford Galerie. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this approach beyond limiting the kinds of subjects I can write about for the blog. But one enlarger, one paper, Tmax 400, the M2 and OM2. Hmmm…

Breaking into my reverie, though, are the 6x6 cameras I've got. I love my old Rollei TLRs and will never part with them and it seems ridiculous not having the means to enlarge their lovely negatives, doesn't it? Same goes for the SL66E. I also love the square format. If one were to somehow fall into my lap, then I'd be happy to pick up a Leitz Focomat IIC which is made to the same standards as its 35mm sibling but handles up to 6x9 negatives. The IC, IIC, M2 and OM2 and the Rolleis. Can't beat that, really.

From the same drawing board: the IIC as photographed by Ed Buziak and the
Forth Bridge as photographed 130 years by some old guy,  probably in a hat.

But, IICs don't grow on trees. I haven't seen one for sale within a reasonable drive of my home and I've been looking for a while now. So my second enlarger, at least in the short-medium term, is likely to be either the Philips PCS or the Durst L1200. Some darkroom workers reading this will be thinking well, that's not a hard decision: it's got to be the Durst. It's not as easy as that.

The Durst is a fine machine and can also do 5x4, remember? But it's very large and heavy and it's not my favourite enlarger. As for 5x4, I can't see me being a big large format user, if you know what I mean. Basically, I'm too lazy. I love producing big negatives and printing from them but I can't be bothered with all the palaver that surrounds setting the camera up to take the photograph.

I feel it's something I should be doing and try my best to get enthusiastic about it but the truth is I prefer the convenience of 35mm and 6x6. Maybe if I had big exhibition prints to do it would be different or if I were 25 years younger.

The Durst L1200: Industrial rather than aesthetically
pleasing. But still very capable.

I'm saying this knowing that I've got a 5x4 Speed Graphic and the half plate/5x7 Kodak Specialist II in the darkroom. My thinking at the moment is that I'll hang onto the big Kodak but just do contact prints from the half plate negatives onto 10 x 8 paper, in which case I wouldn't need the large format enlarger.

Alone but not forgotten. I have a soft spot for the Philips.

The Philips, although not in the same professional class as the L1200, is very nice in operation and the Tri-One colour head system is a great idea for black and white multigrade. Essentially, it allows the user to dial in whatever contrast filtration is necessary whilst keeping the exposure time constant throughout.

So if you do a test strip at grade 2 and decide you really need grade 4 you don't have to make any of the adjustments necessary with most other colour heads. You could do the test strip at grade 0 and the print at grade 5 if you want without changing the exposure time. The Tri-One has a built-in timer as well making the enlarger very efficient in use. There's also a bit of nostalgia in that a Philips PCS 130 was the enlarger I learned to print on in my darkroom at the family home 35 years ago, even though I couldn't afford the Tri-One system at the time.

The V35 is a great enlarger but there might be no
room for it.

And the V35? I love it, too, but it's not made to the same high standards as its predecessor 1C, although it's still a cut above most other enlargers. There wouldn't be much point keeping both the Leitz enlargers and being confined to the 35mm format so the V35 would have to go to make space for the 1C.

But if this all seems like a dilemma, just imagine what it's going to be like if I've only got room for one enlarger! I don't want to think about that, to be honest. Moving house is stressful enough without having to consider the nuclear option.


David M said...

If it were me, and I had to make the choice, I'd opt for whatever gave me the most flexibility in the future. You don't know how your ideas will change. You certainly take a mean snap on 6x6 and you might decide to abandon Leica-stroking and take up photography. As you don't have a De Vere, that means keeping the Durst – a very capable and professional machine. I think it looks rather handsome.
It will print everything you're ever likely to need, unless the ULF bug bites and then your problem will be laying out rows of enormous dishes and finding somewhere to put your UV lamp. It seems unlikely.
So, from an outsider's point-of-view, the choice is obvious.
Go for future flexibility. Allow for your own unpredictable personal growth and development.
If you want a "pet" enlarger for 35mm only, I'd keep the newer Leica enlarger. Very neat and compact.
You are more likely to find spare parts for both of these, too.
Best of luck, whatever you decide.

Jim Wolf said...

I only have one of these enlargers - a V35 with splitgrade. I also have an LPL 4x5 for larger negs, but don't use it a lot. I would be heartbroken if I had to give up the V35. No filters to fool with, the first exposure is always close if not perfect. But that's just me …

shooter said...

I have used the V35 and was impressed with it from a construction point of view, that said the best I used was the lowly Meopta Magnifax 4a, multiple formats built like a tank and never let me down. I had the pleasure of meeting the late and great Barry Thornton many years ago and he used the very same. I also carried out a similar test although not as scientific as Barry on their lenses.

A good friend of mine owned the V35 and I used it for a while, I decided to compare the results from the V35 and the Meopta and the lenses I had for that. These were the nikkor 2.8 (belting lens) a minolta, a meopta anaret and a schnieder. I used the same neg and paper etc admittedly I had to alter the exp times for the anaret but aside from that it was a level playing field. The results I got were very similar to Barrys, I was blown away with the anaret, it was a cracking lens and was the equal of all those I mentioned. I appreciate you can get duff versions of any of the aforementioned but I have to say all of them were superb and had their own unique qualities.

I was so impressed with this little test that the anaret was called into service often and never failed to deliver, the meopta was a superb enlarger and I have owned prior to it Durst, omega, and lpl enlargers, prior to the 4a I had owned the opemus 6 which was excellent a little agricultural yep but nonetheless a cracking tool for the job.

In summary if I had to plump for one enlarger again it would be the 4a multi formats and a steal even when new.

Paul Blanchard said...

It's strange how many enlargers are described as Universal or adaptable and yet most of us use several-usually one for each format. I suppose accuracy of construction is a large factor in this . Simplicity is a great thing and I have at last thrown out all but gloss paper and decided on the use of the residue of Graded paper available these days even if economic factors mean that the RC stock has to be worked through.

Herman Sheephouse said...

You know what - a Magnifax might do the trick - very capable from 35mm up to 6x9 - means you just have one enlarger and any extra money spent on sterling glass.

Anonymous said...

I was experimenting with different tools for a while too up to 8x10 which I contact printed. Over the years I've had the L1200, a Fujimoto, a V35, a LPL, a 2c. At one point the constant format change and trying to make the formats work for me drove me nuts. I am a 35mm guy, always have been. At one point I've sold everything except a couple of 35mm bodies and the Ic. Could not be happier (if you do 6x6 frequently get a 2c, it's even more rock solid than the Ic but a little bit more effort to handle). The Ic is solid as rock. The V35 is great too but has a lot of plastic which breaks when the softener evaporates. Especially the mixing chamber is styrofoam and will dissolve form one day to the other. There is a german company Kienzle Phototechnik who makes replacement parts for the Focomat and Valoy enlargers. Every metal shop should be able to make replacements for the Ic/IIc/Valoy. And don't let people tell you BS about the Focotar lenses, they are great. The older 50 and 60mm and the V-Elmar need to be stopped down a bit to be sharp corner to corner for prints larger than 8x10s. That's it, the prints are excellent. I've made razor sharp 16x20 prints with those lenses a friend of mine is going even larger and the prints are excellent.