Agfa Varioscop 60

Probably one of the longest built enlarger systems, the Agfa Varioscop 60 endured more than 60 years of production.

The Agfa Varioscope is a so called “autofocus” enlarger, which means that, once focused, you can change the enlarging ratio without the need to refocus. It’s built like a tank and was used a lot in Drugstorse in the golden age of analogue fotography for the quick print. It is a multi format enlarger capable of formats up to 6x9cm, and comes with two matched lenses, 60mm for 35mm film and smaller, and 105mm for all other formats. One weak spot of the Varioscop’s construction is that, for a proper working autofocus, you need to have matched lenses to the individual enlarger, as the control curves for the AF system are manually adjusted and matched to enlarger and lenses.

My lenses are designated “Solinar” which indicates a 4 lens tessar type design, later lensess found with Varioscops are called “Magnolar”.

I got my Varioscop from a school which decomissioned its darkroom long ago, and it probably set in the basement for decades… It got some rust on the metal parts, but after cleaning and some lubrication it is just working as it should!

The construction of this enlarger is nothing short of massive, it weights more than 25kgs. Just have a look at the condensor (a 35mm film canister next to it for comparison)


Leica VIOOH Viewfinder – Clean & Fix

If you are using Screwmount Leica cameras, and want to use focal lengths other than 50mm, sooner or later an external viewfinder will become part of your toolcase.
You have the choice between fixed focal length viewfinders and those that allow to select multiple focal lengths. Out of those, the Leitz models VIDOM and VIHOO are probably the most common ones. The VIDOM as the earliest incarnation has the disadvantage of a vertically inversed picture which can puzzle your mind (except if you are used to waist level finders…)

A huge improvement is the VIOOH, which, usining a prisma, shows the image correctly.

Leica IIIa with VIOOH Viewfinder

Unfortunately, not only your camera, but also these finders are many decades old and have been thoroughly used. So, they are in need of some cleaning. Also, a common fault is the chipping of the prism, which manifests itself like this:

Chipped Viewfinder

If you are lucky, it is like here just on the outer edge and not entering the image frame. It is is just a nusiance and not really a problem for normal use. Still you can improve the symptom, more on that later.

The first step is opening the shell of the viewfinder. This is easily done by removing the four black screws on the back. You can now take off the the backplate with the ocular lens.

Once open, remove the two screws on the right hand side to take out the prism block.
DO NOT remove the two small screws on the prism assembly, as they are used for adjusting the prisms, and you will have a very hard time getting them readjusted (speaking of personal pain here…)

for removing the prism remove these two screw

Take care when handling the prism, as it is somewhat fragile!

Now, the interior should be empty and you should have a good view on the inner lens of the optical system of the viewfinder. Usually, there is no haze inside the viewfinder optics, just dirt on the front lens and the inner lens. Use a rocket blower to get rid of any loose dirt that has accumulated in the past half-century. After that, give the lens a thourough cleaning with isopropyl alcohol and a cotton swab.

empty shell

Now clean all surfaces of the prism block. Any dirt on any glass surface of the prism will show and deteriorate your viewfinder image. I would highly recommend to wear cotton gloves when handling the prism, as it is small in surface and every fingerprint will show up later. Also note, that the prism has NO silvered surfaces, so you can also use an ultrasonic bath to clean it.

Don’t be shocked if some surfaces have turned dark and light transmission is limited:
This is not because of de-silvering, but because of the reflective change when liquid is in contact with a glass surface. Simply give it enough time to dry thorougly!

Prism not broken just wet

Dont worry, it will dry up and just be fine.

If you have a chipped prism, you can cure some of the symptoms by painting the broken surface with black paint. Easiest is using an edding or sharpie for that. Just paint the chipped surface black and take pecial care of all edges and borders. This is to suppress additional reflections.
chipped prism


If you got too much ink on the prism, it is easily removed with a cotton swab and some alcohol. Don’t forget to polish the surface clean again.

Carefully put the prism block back into the housing. When you have cleaned the ocular lens, reassemble everything.

all disassembled parts of  VIOOH

Looking through your viewfinder, the image should be bright and clean now!

As a bonus, here a scan of an old brochure (in German only, sorry!)

Enjoy shooting!

Cleaning a Leica IIIa Slow Speed Escapement

Time does not pass unnoticed with our precious cameras. I got a beautiful Leica IIIa from a friend. Built in 1938, it is now 74 years old, and I suppose most part of the past 30 years it  sat unused in some drawer or box.

Leicas are sturdy cameras, but the slow speeds tend to clog up with age and non-usage.

If you have a Leica IIIa or IIIb, as I do, you are lucky: The slow speed escapement is an easy plug in module that is fixed only with two screws from the bottom. No need for complete camera disassembly.

Let me give you a step-by-step instruction, (thanks to daz who explained it here)

  • remove your lens
  • remove the bottom plate of the camera as if you would insert a film
  • locate the two screws as shown in the image
  • unscrew them and store them in a secure place. The two screws are of different type: One has a flat head, the other one is with a slighty rounder head. Remember their location!
  • the escapement should fall right into your hands!
  • Take it out of the camera.
  • unscrew the two small screws that fix the black housing on the escapement’s base plate.
  • Soak it in mineral spirits or paint solvent/thinner to remove the old grease and any of its residue. You can also use an ultrasonic cleaning bath for this.
    It is recommended to exercise the escapement several times while it is soaked. To do this, gently move the engagement pin back and forth.
  • When clean, let all liquid evaporate. After that, apply some very light oil to all bearings.

This is how the slow speed escapement looks after cleaning and relubrication: Smooth operation like a watchmaker’s gem.

  • Put the black housing back on and put the escapement back into the camera
  • Here is the only tricky part: There is a little fork located under the shutter drum. The escapement’s engagement pin has to go into the fork. This may be a littlebit fiddly.
  • Before fixing the escapement back in the camera, I recommend to check the proper engagement of the shutter fork and the escapement. Just hold it tight with your hands and fire the shutter at any slow speed. If they don’t work, you probably did not locate the pin in the fork correctly. If you have done it right, you should hear the well known noise.
  • Simply fix the two screws back into their holes, and there you go!

All in all it takes no more than 30 minutes, even if you are not experienced in camera repairs – this was my first camera repair I ever did…

Enjoy shooting!