Monday, 9 November 2015

Classic Leitz enlarger for 6x9- thats not A Focomat!

The Vasex 1 enlarger is my latest acquisition in Leicaland. Coded VYBOO this is the 1936-1939 machine which covers formats from 35mm up to 2 1/2 x 3 1/2 - slightly larger than the traditional 6.5x9 nominal size, presumably to cater for plate users.As I measure the aperture it is about 2 3/8 x 3 1/2 .This is a product which can be thought of as wholly Leitz, rather than Leica. Although it appears in all the Wetzlar literature of the time alongside the Leica camera the company did not market a 6x9 camera,other than a few plate cameras long before this period. They had however supplied a (very) few 105mm Elmar lenses for the format in the immediate pre-war period, additionally, it is said that the first Elmar long lenses for 35mm were derived from larger format products.Against this background and the desire to cover the professional darkroom it was by no means strange that 'general' products should emerge.However the Vasex appeared around the same time as the autofocus Focomat for the same format and inevitably the Vasex was not revived after the war whereas the Autofocus Focomat was,albiet with rather different marketing to the amateur market.

In fact two versions of the machine exist,the model styled '11'  was of a heftier build with a vast column and larger base board to appeal to trade users.(Code VYOOS)

Considering the paper specification,without regard to the superb build quality,it might be alleged that there is little on offer which could not be found in one of the many British amateur enlargers of 25 years later in the economy period.However detailed examination reveals the heavy plating,the intricate wiring and the, still useful, clamping for the masking frame.The condenser set of two different glasses is mounted in a machined sleeve with threaded brass retaining rings derived from lens construction.No variable condensers were ever considered necessary.Focus is arrived at by a coarse setting of bellows length which is then locked and fine focus arrived at using the classic brass helix found in Leitz products over about 50 years.The film carrier is identical to the Focomat 11 and has two glass plates which I was pleased to find to be of exactly the same size, and with the same edge profile, as Durst 6x9 from the recent past.This enlarger has been well looked after with even the film trough covering in good order-one of the first things to go.

There are some final points which may be of interest to those really into detail, and these are-

The red swing over filter is mounted on a universal rod that permits updating to Ilford MG filter holders rather than using a lens mounted Ilford holder.

The condensers can be replaced by an Aristo / Zone V11  cold light unit intended for Beseler enlargers  without modification. This means I can fit my last  v54 type Aristo Multigrade head with no modification to the head, which is not true of Omega and others which need a slim electronics
container to fit.

The head will accommodate a dedicated 35mm condenser cell from the US Kodak Precision enlarger of the same period, if  smaller condensers are felt necessary.These have a slightly green tinge which can only increase contrast with current emulsions and are of generous diameter.

The inside of the head is black and not the silver finish of small machines in the range that gives a little extra diffusion for the small formats. The bulb that appears in the original listing is 75w 120v, so I may be running one through a transformer as they are readily available from US. The 240 v version at 75w, readily available in UK today, is of course a little less bright(Wikipedia suggests that the 120 v bulb is 1.4 times brighter) Interesting to see that the enlarger came with a 240v 150w bulb!

I don't have the original 95mm f4  Leitz lens (Code VOORT) but the thread is 39mm and a fine TTH 50mm lens was fitted when it came.Of course I would fit a VOORT if I came across on  and have several of the 50mm version in Nickle (Code VAROB) which appear earlier in this Blog.I do have modern 90mm and 100mm lenses, but shall keep looking for the real thing.A red filter is being added.

Above all,if you find one of these, do fit an efficient modern electrical earthing system, not relying on friction between heavily painted parts! An Earth wasn't felt necessary at the time this came out of the Wetzlar factory and it seems to have pre-dated the dubious column earthing screw of some models.

General view of the head-                                                                    

 The focusing helix-
The Base Board and clamps
 The superb condensers
 Head counter balance

August 2017 addition:-  I have always regarded this as the VASEX in Leica Code Words speak. However last night I was leafing through the 1937 Morgan and Morgan (US)  Edition of the Leica Manual and found an illustration of the VASEX described as the VANOS.  This alternative name does not appear in the Laney guide ( Hove 1994)  and is a mystery to me.  Perhaps the arrival of the Hays Code,  enforced from 1934,  made any reference to  ***ex  rather difficult in the US market!

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