Leedal was the American importer for an Italian company (I don't know the name) which made higher-end equipment. They are supposedly very good, but they rarely advertised their enlargers and I never heard of them until I started making these lists.
||19-3/4 x 23-½
||Factory-set lens, carrier with masking blades; magnetic baseboard. Price varies with lens.
||6 x 9cm
||23-1/2 x 29"
||3-lens turret, masking blades, magnetic baseboard. Price varies with lens.
||5 x 7"
||28 x 39"
||Three different light sources rotate in head; tilting neg carrier and lensboard; magnetic baseboard; price varies with lens.
||6 x 9cm
||24 x 26"
||Tilting negative carrier and lensboard; magnetic baseboard. Reviewed Darkroom Photo magazine May 1980 (Vol 2 #3) (see below)
One of the better-kept secrets in in the world of enlargers concerns a line of professional-quality autofocus enlargers built in Italy. Imported by America's Leedal Corp., they've been selling for less than half the price of their competitors . What's the problem? Well, that bargain-basement price tag is still over the heads of many photographers . .. $600 and up.
One look at the three large crates in which Leedal had packaged their preproduction version of the L-69 quickly connvinced me I was confronting something more than a bathroom-setup enlarger. Assembly was a bit of an adventure, since the instruction manual (in ltalian) never arrived on my doorstep. Once I got the hang of things, however, the L-69's clever design began to unfold.
First, the baseboard. Made of formica-covered, inch-thick wood, with a pair of beam-type runners raising it from the table, this monster measures nearly 24x26 inches. Four Allen bolts sturdily mount a heavy cast-metal base the baseboard, and this base receives the column, holding it precisely vertical.
The base-and-column arrangement attracted my attention immediately for a number of reasons. Most importantly, the assembly is offset on the baseboard, giving the entire enlarger a pleasant, if unsettling, asymmetrical look. In addition, the column, which weighs in at more than 20 pounds, is unlike any I've seen. A hollow tube with traditional toothed track running up the outside locks into the base, but the cranking mechanism and the enlarger head both line up on a vertical metal "yardstick" which is marked with magnication scales for 50mm, 75mm, and 100mm lenses.
The crank for raising and lowering I head gets a "power assist" from thin, two-inch-wide metal tape hidden between column and "yardstick." This tape winds around a spring-loaded rod, pulling the head up as it goes. And how tall is that column? A full 45 inches from the baseboard to the top: more than enough to make 20x24 prints from 35mm negatives!
Using Your Head
Like the rest of this enlarger, the black-and-white condenser head is designed with precision and longevity in mind. Mounting it on the column quickly clears up the asymmetry mystery. Rather than fitting in front of the column, the head mounts to one side, thus ensuring better balance and less strain on the column, while still placing the projected image square in the center of the baseboard.
The core of the L-69's condenser head is a solid aluminum casting into which the negative carrier is mounted. Above this casting, a sheet-metal case encloses a bulb, the condensers, and a mirror mounted at a 45-degree angle to bounce the light from the bulb to the condensers. One condenser set is included with the enlarger: others are available as options.
The L-69's head can be tilted to correct perspective or make wall-size prints, and the lens stage also adjusts from side-to-side, with a scale on one side to guarantee proper return to center. Above the negative carrier, a filter drawer accepts standard CP filters for color printing or multiple-contrast papers. And although the L-69's color head hadn't arrived in America when test time rolled around, Leedal assured me it's equally as intelligent as the rest of the enlarger, with 200-unit color filtration and features to match.
The Smaller Things
The excellence of the L-69's overall design is borne out in the all-important smaller areas, where day-to-day printing can become a pleasure or a headache. The large, solid negative carrier is a double-glass sandwich type, using anti-Newton glass to prevent those frustrating gremlins. Don't want glass? A flip of the locking plates, and the glass comes out. Negatives of any size up to 6x9cm fit this carrier, and four masking blades allow you to crop precisely without touching your easel. With the negative carrier locked in place, twin knobs on either side let you separate the two glass surfaces, making minor adjustments to negative placement a snap. A twist of either knob, and the negative carrier locks back into place. Finally, the 45-degree mirror design of the head keeps the negative absolutely cool even after 30 minutes or more of 75-watt power.
Raising and lowering the head on the column takes no energy at all, thanks to the "power assist" design. Once at the proper height, a locking knob keeps things tight, though I found the head remained completely stable even when the lock was off. Focusing, too, is easy and precise, with a solid feel and absolutely no play or slippage once you've reached critical focus. A below-the-lens filter holder for multiple-contrast filters is there when you need it, but out of the way when not in use.
Tilting the head for wall-projection printing is no problem at all; loosen a knob under the head, tilt the assembly then tighten the knob to lock. Turning the head around for floor projection is a tougher problem, however. When I tried it, I quickly found that the L-69's offset design wasn't offset enough to enable floor printing on the side; the head and column had to be turned all the way around, and this made the entire enlarger unsteady enough that it threatened to fall over. If you plan to floor-print, counterweight that baseboard!
Coming away from the Leedal L-69 after several long evenings with it, I jotted down some notes which I'd like to share with you. They constitute my overall "feel" for the enlarger, my sense of what it would be like as the focal point of a darkroom.
Solidity! This enlarger is built; like the Rock of Gibraltar, it will survive the slow erosions of time. There's not a trace of plastic on the L-69 except for a few knobs. Head casting, column, base, even the crank for raising the head: all are made of heavy, solid aluminum.
Permanent Setup! After lugging that huge baseboard into my darkroom, sweating and swaying that column into its base, and locking the head in its proper place, I wouldn't want to break down the L-69 and set it up more than once a decade . .. especially since getting the column properly aligned requires strong muscles and some patience. The L-69 is clearly designed for the photographer who plans to give it a permanent or semi-permanent home, and it has a few finicky requirements as to proper locale. Of course, the table's got to be more than 26 inches deep and 24 inches wide; but there's a further hitch. Because the lamp holder extends as much as 6 inches behind the head, you've got to provide it with lots of extra space. And if you plan to floor-print, set that enlarger table way away from the wall; I wouldn't recommend wrestling the entire enlarger 180-degrees every time you want to swing the head out into unobstructed space.
The Problem with Prototypes! Testing a prototype is a love-hate affair. On the one hand, it's very exciting to sense a mind at work on the same problems you've cursed in your own equipment for years; on the other, you're faced with so many pesky bugs, all of which, you're sure, will disappear long before the first buyer sees that new piece of equipment. The L-69 was no exception: the case of the lost Italian instructions, washers that never arrived, Allen wrenches that worked on most of the parts. And that incredibly frustrating 250-volt plug, awaiting only the $1.10 adapter no electric supply house bothered to stock! These were hassles that bear on the prototype and not on the basic design of the L-69, so I report them only to remind you that testing new toys isn't all fun.
Overall, I'd rate the L-69 as a solid, intelligent piece of equipment designed for years and years of serious printing. The basic enlarger lists for $480; the color head is tentatively priced at $345. For more information write to Leedal, Inc., 1918 South Prairie Ave., Chicago, IL 60616.