Working with the Leitz Focomat V35 Enlarger

As I have previously mentioned I own two enlargers. One is the Devere 504 4×5 that I’m convinced is built to withstand a nuclear blast effect and continue soldiering on. The other is my Leitz Focomat V35 dedicated 35mm autofocus that I purchased after I bought the Devere. I love the Devere and truth be told I do use it most of the time, even for 35mm. Part of the reason had to do with my Zone VI compensating enlarging timer I used with it that seemed to develop a phantom problem that’s now gone. So I decided to go with the V35 for some new work I just printed – and I’m happy I did!

Let me cut to the chase. It’s a wonderful tool for making beautiful images. Is it perfect? No, but few things in life are. But now that I have reacquainted myself with the pleasures of using this finely crafted instrument I don’t plan on letting it sit idle for long! Mine has the standard black and white head to use with graded paper, a VC head and color head. In a previous entry I discussed why I use a color head for greatest control with variable contrast papers so I won’t repeat that here. Take a look, as I am convinced this approach is really the way to go.

The V35 was wildly expensive when manufactured. Lore has it that it became so expensive to produce and sell that this finally caused Leica to shut down production in 1995. If you were to take one apart and look at its construction, including the autofocus assembly, then weigh the associated necessary tolerances in the enlarger as a whole and its structural rigidity, and finally consider the stupendous Focotar-2 enlarging lens that is supplied with it you would see that the V35 was made with the same dedication to precision as an M series camera.

The great news for 35mm printers is that you can snag one of these beauties for as little as a few hundred dollars if shop carefully!

Some people complain that the V35 doesn’t compare with the previous autofocus models – the Focomat 1, not to mention the more rare and very expensive Focomat 2 (for negatives up to 6×9) that is considered by many to be the holy grail of enlargers. I cannot really tell you as I haven’t tried them, or even considered them for a couple of simple reasons: I like diffusion light sources which is what the V35 is designed for, the quality of the Focotar-2 lens; the huge expense of the Focomat 2 without a diffusion lights source (3rd party products are available); and the fact that I have the Devere 504 with Schneider Apo Componon HM enlarging lenses, equipped with easy to use below the baseboard focusing controls.

Yes the V5 has a heavy-duty precision injection molded plastic outer shell that covers all the inner mechanisms and wiring. I’m sorry if that bothers some, but perhaps trying one will help to get over this non-issue. And then there are the complaints that the Focotar-2 lens is not that great. Well for those that have purchased the lens separately for use with other enlargers … guess what … they only work optimally with the V35. Then, finally is the issue of Styrofoam. Yes, Styrofoam. I’ll admit I wondered about that too but found out that from one source that the reasons for its use inside the light chamber include its high reflectivity that contributes to high light output, and its excellent thermal properties that negate heat buildup at the negative stage. Ok, that’s good enough for me and I can now sleep at night!

So here are my likes and dislikes:

Likes

  • The exquisite Focotar-2 lens. It’s a 40mm wide-angle affair designed specifically for the V35. As such, it enables you to make huge prints on the baseboard if that’s your thing. Not an interest to me, but the lens sure is a beauty and produces great results.
  • Autofocus capability. I still check with my grain magnifier occasionally but I’m not sure why. Always spot on!
  • Ease of use. It’s autofocus and compact in size. And the nicely built precision negative holder is spectacular!
  • The wonderful and easy to use negative holder that incorporates one anti-newton ring glass surface. That’s all you need because it abuts another glass surface in the above assembly for an absolutely perfectly secured flat negative.
  • The bright illumination.
  • It’s rigid and vibration free.
  • Great precision overall. It’s a Leica (sorry I couldn’t help myself!) – just incredibly well built.

Dislikes

  • In my experience the light bulbs don’t seem to last that long. Perhaps it is the brand I have been using. As I was about to begin my recent printing session I turned the enlarger on, focused and … poof … the bulb blew. No problem. I had one left. Except that when attempted to remove it from its ceramic (I think) plug-in housing I seared my finger because the housing was so hot $#%^&*! So much for a decent fingerprint … I think the one on my left index finger is permanently altered! Note: I have found a source that charges $7 per bulb so we will see how these work out.
  • No intermediate click stops between main f stops on the lens. This perhaps makes exact printing repeatability more difficult.
  • The enlarger needs to be turned on to easily see all settings, including those on the color head (and other heads) and the lens. This is an annoyance for sure, but I have a homemade handheld mini safelight thingy that enables me to see the settings in the dark.

Bottom line – the advantages of this wonderful enlarger and lens crush the nits I have. If you want a dedicated 35mm enlarger with a diffusion source that happens to be autofocus and uses one of the best enlarging lens available, this is the one to have!

8 thoughts on “Working with the Leitz Focomat V35 Enlarger

  1. Robbie Bedell

    Hi Michael, There should be clicks on the lens. You might send it off to Don at DAG Camera. I think he could add the clicks for you! I used the V35 at two of the newspapers I worked for and always loved using them. I now have two 1cs which I also love to use…

    Reply
    1. Michael Marks Post author

      Robbie,

      Thanks for checking in and relaying your experience with this wonderful enlarger! I probably wasn’t clear enough and just did a small edit. What I was trying to say was that there are no intermediate click stops between the main stops on the lens. However, I will give Don a call about adding them and see if it’s worth doing. Funny about your experience with the V35 and current use of the 1c. I have a friend who worked at newspapers and the AP … same story!

      Best,

      Michael

      Reply
    1. Michael Marks Post author

      Robbie,

      I will probably call him for grins just to see. Wow … five! I have a 50mm Schneider Apo Componon HM is use with my Devere. It does have half stops!

      Best,

      Michael

      Reply
  2. David

    Hi Michael, thanks for your post on the V35. It is a wonderful machine. Regarding the light bulbs, I have fitted mine with a Heiland LED splitgrade system which, besides eliminating the bulb issue, means no fiddling with filter settings and provides easy rotaries to adjust contrast and exposure if the computed setting is not to taste. Very happy with this setup, and I can recommend it should you be tempted!

    Reply
    1. Michael Marks Post author

      David,

      Thanks for checking in and glad you liked the entry! Yes it really is a nice machine. I recently heard the Heiland LED light sources. LEDs are certainly great and I have used LED safelights for years. At some point I might check these out. Just watched a video Heiland put out that describes the three models they produce … basic black and white, color and split grade. One thing I would hate to give up is the way I currently work with a color head in conjunction with the Zone VI compensating enlarging timer … both on the V35 and my Devere 504. The color head gives my infinite control while still allowing my to think in terms of paper grades, the concept of which I have locked into my brain after years of use (each paper manufacturer provides information for color head settings to match specific paper grades). A probe that fits inside the light chamber of the enlarger and attaches to the timer allows me to do various test strips without having to ever change basic exposure. So fast and ridiculously simple that I would never want to change that! Maybe someday it will be impossible to get these wonderful timers or have them repaired (they also have a feature that allows you to dial in dry down factor), but I hope not anytime soon.

      Best regards,

      Michael

      Reply
      1. David

        Hi Michael

        I am not aware of the compensating timer, sounds good. The Heiland system allows you to easily adjust contrast and density, automatically compensating to keep either highlights or blacks where you want them. Not sure if that is similar?

      2. Michael Marks Post author

        David,

        Thanks for checking in! I am not familiar with the Heiland, but have read about the RH Designs timer that seems to do similar things but appears more complicated. The Zone VI is incredibly simple in function and operation. By having a photocell that registers the light inserted near the enlarger light source it compensates for any changes in filtration. No need for additional test strips/prints or worries when increasing or decreasing contrast when buring in! The only settings on the timer you need to think about are for duration of the exposure and drydown compensation when making the final print. There is a reason they don’t come up for sale too often and pretty much hold their value when they do!

        Best,

        Michael

        Best,

        Michael

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