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Leica V35: Leitz Focomat V35 Autofocus Enlarger
Leica V35: Leitz Focomat V35 Autofocus Enlarger
Published by Xpres
6th June 2011
Default Leica V35: Leitz Focomat V35 Autofocus Enlarger

I nearly sold mine a while ago, but was persuaded to keep it in the end and I'm glad I did. I've since bought another for the multigrade module and larger neg carrier. So here's some thoughts and info to help those looking.

The Leitz Focomat V35 enlarger... an autofocus 35mm enlarger suitable for colour or black and white depending on the model. It was an expensive peice of kit when launched in 1978 at £660 upwards and remained so until discontinued in 1995 when the full kit would have cost about £2500. This, the latest of the variable 'V' enlargers from Leitz, beginning with the 'Filoy' in 1927, were all built to extremely high standards and were expected to last a lifetime. They were promoted at the time as being the best of 35mm enlargers and these days they are still sought after. You'll pay at least £150 on ebay or upwards of £300 from a dealer depending condition and accessories.

Easy and quick to use it had the option of interchangeable black and white, multigrade or colour modules that simply plugged into the head. Accessories included a range of neg carriers with or without glass to cover the smaller formats through to full frame 35mm, and, although any timer could be used, Leitz produced the Focotimer and Focometer with analyser - but the latter would set you back some £900.

The AF feature was calibrated at the factory and worked almost straight out of the box, the user just adjusted it to suit his easel, as the enlarger was delivered ready assembled with everything in place, all that was needed was to fit it to the baseboard. Each enlarger was built around the Focotar 40mm f2.8 lens - the af would not work without it - and allowed from 3 - 16 times enlargements.

If you're thinking of getting hold of one there are a few points to be aware of while looking.

There are different versions.

After 1989 they were called Leica rather than Leitz.

The 'bulb' changed from the now almost impossible to get hold of Philips 6604 in very early models to a philips 13 139. You can tell by the label on the back of the head, or check the diagram in the link below. If you hadn't guessed you should look for the later lamps. Leitz offered an update kit so many older models may well have the newer lamps. If they don't, make sure it hasn't been used with an unsuitable replacement which may have caused excessive heat in the head resulting in damage. Any alternative needs to have a narrow projection angle and be able to loose heat backwards.

The mixing chamber also changed. After 1987 they were fitted with a double condenser which gave a more even illumination. Again you should look for these in preference to the older design although, to me, the difference isn't great. The link below shows how to identify the newer box, (there's a spot in one corner of the box base) and once again Leitz offered an upgrade. The box is made of polystyrene and plastic so make sure it is intact, in good condition and still white.

Although built to the highest standards and with the strength of a tank, the V35 needs to be looked after like any fine 'instrument' (as the manual calls it). Very rough, idiotic treatment will mess it up! In particular the mechanical AF which, although simple to adjust, is not at all easy to fix if damaged. (There are some links below to forum threads about AF problems and solutions.) Poor packaging for shipping and poor handling may also take its toll. Think about, and ask about, the provenance of the item you're considering. How many times has it been in the post? Or has it spent its life in one place in the darkroom and not moved? Signs of a hard life are not the same as signs of careless handling. A well used example may still work perfectly.

The more accessories included the better, of course, as some are hard to come by and also expensive. But, as the V35 was delivered as a unit 'ready to go' all that's essential is that there is a 'module' fitted, a neg carrier included and that the original lens is there. You can use a different lens but you'll have no AF. All the electrics are in the base of the column which can be connected with an ordinary IEC lead and you can use any timer. The base should be the original, a replacement may also cause problems with the AF. And of course, the bulb should light when you switch it on.

The Focometer and Focotimer were excellent bits of kit but not integral to the enlarger. Any timer or analyser will do, whichever you prefer.

There were several neg carriers available for the V35, the most useful is the 25 x 37mm full frame carrier. It allows the full frame to be printed, including borders, or you can mask them out with the V35's built in adjustable masks. People tend to hang on to it though and it's quite difficult to find... and pricey.

Some links:
A comprehensive look at the V35
What to look out for as a buyer
Allignment info
More alignment info...
A review from 1980
Another forum thread about V35


The enlargers often come with the original instructions, a glossy promo booklet and a brochure in comic book form on how to make your own enlargements.
Hove photo books also published 'The Focomat Manual' all about darkroom practice with the V35.
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By Dave miller on 6th June 2011, 12:30 PM

I have one of these, an old model brought second-hand and I think it worth emphasising a couple of points.
The Philips 13 139 lamp is expensive but has a narrow beam angle, if a standard reflector lamp is fitted the light fall off is quite dramatic, and as you point out overheating problems are then encountered.
The autofocus is a mechanical rather than electronic device that simply keeps the image in focus as the head is adjusted for image size. If found to be out of adjustment it is easily reset; at least that was my experience as confirmed in one of the links you provide.
I have the multigrade module on mine which didn’t work too well, being a bit sticky. It was easy to dissemble and clean but it has the build quality of a clockwork tinplate toy. “Adjustment” consisted of carefully bending bits of metal until it worked as I felt it should.
Now all I have to do is make much more use of it than I have so far.
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By Xpres on 6th June 2011, 01:59 PM

Thanks Dave, I've amended a couple of points in the article in light of your comments. I'll alter things for a while until we're sure it's as correct as possible and leave it alone.
I haven't fitted the multigrade module yet, hopefully I won't have to play with the toy too much!
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35mm, enlarger, film, focomat, leica, leitz, v35
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