im setting up a darkroom for the first time - enlarger advice please

Discussion in 'Darkroom Developing and Printing' started by paw, Apr 17, 2005.

  1. paw

    paw Guest

    im fresh out of highschool and am setting up my own darkroom in by
    basement. i already have everything i need; with the notable exception
    of a enlarger. im fairly experienced using an enlarger but totally
    ignorant when it comes to recognizing quality. i was wondering what
    things i should be looking for, what brands or models are trustworthy
    and which arent, what features do i or dont i need, etc. I definately
    want something beyond the basic, starter kit kind of thing because i
    do intend to get years of mileage and work out of it, but am of course
    limited financially. im looking to ideally spend a maximum of 500 on
    the enlarger and im thinking used is probably the best idea. just in
    general what is the key to a good enlarger? what element overridingly
    makes an enlarger good or bad? im very curious to learn as much as i
    can before i invest all this money
    paw, Apr 17, 2005
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  2. paw

    PGG Guest

    I have 2 enlargers. One is a 70-year old beast (Omega DII) that I found
    at a garage sale for $50. I cleaned it up and it works just fine for my
    4x5 B&W negatives.

    My other is a nicer Beseler 23CII with a Dichro head.

    My advice is to get one with more capabilities than you think you might
    need. For example, I never ever thought I would get into large-format
    photography (4x5) so I thought the Beseler 23CII would be more than I ever
    need (the 23CII handles everything up to medium-format negatives). But
    then I got into large-format and luckily found myself the Omega DII. The
    Beseler 23C (23CII, 23CIII) enlargers are great if you don't think you
    will ever shoot beyond medium-format.

    My other advice is to get something popular so that parts are easily
    found. The Omegas and Beselers are the Chevy and Fords of enlargers.
    They may not be the finest, but there are tons of them out there and parts
    are easily found.

    With a $500 budget, you should be able to find an enlarger with a dichroic
    head if you ever choose to get into color work. These are very nice for
    B&W work as well.

    Have a look at eBay.
    PGG, Apr 17, 2005
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  3. I think the advice the last poster offered below is excellent.

    I have my original Omega B-22 with cold light head - does a great job on
    35mm, 21/4x21/4, even my Horizon 202 paroramics 24x54mm ( I built a custom
    negative acarrier)- all B&W.

    But if you got a color head, you could find the filter factors to change
    contrast with VC paper instead of printing through filters and constantly
    doing more test strips to get the exposure for each contrast level correct.
    It is so much more convenient!

    Likewise, I was given a 4x5 camera. Some are fairly cheap. I don't develop
    the negative, I just use Polaroid Type 55 which gives a B&W negative and
    positive.What fun. I don't use it too much because my only option with my
    setup is contact printing.

    So I too would suggest you consider that you might want to do 4x5 down the
    road, and that a color head might be very useful in B&W work as well as
    providing the ability to do color if desired.

    I think spending a bit more now on a bigger & better enlarger is cheaper
    than buying 1, selling it and upgrading. Don't forget to size your counters
    and ceiling heights accordingly!!
    Pieter Litchfield, Apr 17, 2005
  4. paw

    mmmmark Guest

    okay thanks for the advice. i have a few questions:

    -what is a "dichroic head"? also what is the difference between a
    colour head and non-colour head? i was under the impression that you
    only needed bulbs with different colour temperatures for doing colour.

    -also what affect does the colour temperature of the bulb have on black
    and white paper?

    -for an enlarger to handle 4x5 it has to be considerably larger or have
    a bigger carriage or what exactly? i dont totally understand

    -most "regular" size enlarges like the types you mentioned above can
    handle up to medium format, correct? or are there enlargers that can
    only handle 35?

    thanks a lot for your time
    mmmmark, Apr 17, 2005
  5. paw

    Nick Zentena Guest

    A dichroic head has dichroic filters built in. A colour head is normally
    understood to mean a dichroic. A non-colour head can make colour prints with
    the use of add on filters but just turning the knob is easier.

    Which kind graded or VC? Unless you're looking at an older cold light head
    then I doubt it's an issue with any head. VC paper needs both green and blue
    light. Green for low contrast blue for high. Some older cold light heads put
    out mostly blue light.

    It needs to put out light that covers the 4x5 negative at the negative
    stage. It's the head that matters.

    You can find 35mm only enlargers. They mostly tend to be low end consumer
    models. In today's market no excuse going with budget models. The high end
    stuff is often no more money.

    Nick Zentena, Apr 17, 2005
  6. Partially correct answers below
    From B&W World - "The term "dichroic" refers to the type of filters that is
    used between the light source and the negative; they are interference
    filters (as opposed to coloured glass or gelatin filters), where the
    transmitted colour and the reflected colour are opposite. e.g., a yellow
    interference filter shows a blue reflection, hence the term dichroic,
    "two-colored". They are used in colour heads (Yellow, Magenta, and Cyan
    filters) and for b/w variable contrast heads (Yellow and Magenta filters),
    where you change the paper contrast with the light colour. "
    The degree of filtration can be dialed in for each filter to insure you get
    the color balance you want. In addition, these same filters may be set to
    change the contrast grade for B&W variable color paper.
    The filtration (as mentioned above) has an impact on contast if variable
    contrast paper is in use. I use a "cold light head" which is actually a
    flourecent tube. Other B&W enlargers use a frosted or a clear incandescent
    bulb. The choice of buld TYPE is more a function of your preference -
    diffused vs. condenser lighting. It is often said that condenser light
    sources (using lenses to "condense" the light) produce sharper prints but
    more dust shows up. Diffuse sources minimize the need for retouching and
    may produce a lower contrast result (without filtration) In any case, if
    various colors of filter are added above or below the enlarging lens, the
    change in in contrast.
    A 4x5 will necessarily be bigger all over. In addition, since a lot of 4x5
    negatives are used to make significantly larger prints than 35mm will allow,
    4x5 enlargers tend to have taller masts so that they can produce large
    There are a few 35mm only. I wouldn't recommed this to you. At a minimum
    you should be able to do 35mm and 2 1/4 x 2 1/4. Who knows - you might want
    a Holga someday! I'd suggest Googling on the major players in used & new or
    go to a photo catalog web site like B&H or Porters to get a feel for what's
    out there.
    Pieter Litchfield, Apr 17, 2005
  7. paw

    Rod Smith Guest

    I'm in the process of setting up a darkroom and was asking questions like
    yours just a few weeks ago. Thus, I'm by no means an expert, but the
    answers I got are relatively fresh in my mind. Other posters have given
    one class of answer, and I'll give another (which is by no means
    contradictory to what you've already been told, just different):

    For quality, look at general construction, particularly rigidity of the
    frame. A wobbly frame will result in blurry prints, particularly if, say,
    your floor shakes because you live beneath a roller coaster, like in
    _Annie Hall_. This is obviously easier to assess in person than from eBay
    ads. Another quality issue is the lens, which of course is even harder to
    judge from an ad. Common well-respected lens brands include Nikon, Fuji,
    and Rodenstock, but if somebody with more experience gives you lens
    advice, take it over my vague report. Fortunately, most enlargers take the
    same types of lenses (M39 screw mount), so replacing a bad lens is
    possible. Used lens prices on eBay are also pretty low, particularly if
    you're willing to watch a while for a good bargain.

    For brands, the ones that seem to be most recommended are Durst, Omega,
    and Beseler. Others, like Leitz and (I think) DeVere, can be even better
    but are likely to be very expensive. As with all products, of course,
    specific models vary in quality.
    In the used enlarger market, $500 will go a LONG way. (If you meant US$500
    -- if you're using another currency, it might or might not go as far.) If
    you check eBay, you'll see many that go for less than a tenth that. If you
    decide to buy on eBay, be aware of the cost of all the extras that are
    often included with enlargers -- timers, trays, tongs, safe lights,
    easels, etc. Picking these things up piecemeal can be costly and tedious.
    Physical rigidity and the quality of the lens would be the top two
    elements. Moving beyond that you get into personal preference and
    convenience features -- condensor vs. diffusion, color heads, control
    placement, heads that can tilt or swivel, etc. These may be very important
    for specific purposes, but most of them aren't really basic quality

    The main difference is between condensor and diffusion enlargers. The
    condensor design uses a bulb whose light passes through a condensor to
    focus it on the negative, and from there the light passes through the lens
    to the paper. They have heads that are tall and usually bulbous. Diffusion
    enlargers, OTOH, bounce or otherwise diffuse light before it passes
    through the negative, then the lens and to the paper. Diffusion heads are
    usually boxy. Condensor enlargers have a reputation for producing slightly
    sharper images, but they also tend to make dust and scratches stand out
    more. Most enlargers marketed as color models have diffusion heads.
    Different people have different opinions about which is better.

    A dichroic head is basically a sub-type of diffusion enlarger that's got
    filters fitted to it for color work. (You can theoretically do color work
    with any enlarger, but if it doesn't have built-in filters, you'll need to
    use filter packs.) Dichroic heads can also be handy if you use variable
    contrast B&W paper, because you can dial in the amount of yellow and
    magenta filtration you want, rather than use discrete filters.
    I haven't investigated bulb temperature in any depth. Variable contrast
    B&W papers have different sensitivities to different light wavelengths,
    though, so bulb temperature might be important for them -- but then, you
    should be able to add filtration to compensate, if indeed it has an
    It needs a bigger negative carrier, which in turn means that it needs to
    be bigger generally. Some enlargers can be converted to handle bigger
    negatives than the base model, typically by replacing part or all of the
    head. Also, you generally need a longer enlarger lens to handle larger
    format negatives. The general rule of thumb is to use a lens that's the
    same focal length as a "normal" lens for the film format -- for instance,
    50mm for 35mm film. If you use a shorter enlarger lens (say, 35mm for 35mm
    film), you get light drop-off in the corners, but you can create
    enlargements with the head closer to the paper, which might enable you to
    make larger enlargements than is otherwise possible. Longer lenses may
    lose a bit of sharpness and require the head to be higher on the column
    for a given size enlargement.
    There are 35mm-only enlargers. If you only do 35mm and see a good deal on
    a 35mm-only enlarger, you could certainly get it. If you later start doing
    larger formats, you could then upgrade the enlarger. Given the way used
    prices are now, this is a perfectly reasonable approach, IMHO. OTOH, if
    you've a choice between a 35mm-only model and one capable of handling
    multiple formats at similar prices, go for the more capable model, all
    other things being equal. The extra capability won't hurt, and it could be
    helpful. If you know you definitely want to do medium format work, be sure
    that anything you buy can handle that size. (It's OK if it's missing a
    lens, as those are easily replaced, but watch out for missing negative
    carriers, particularly for old models -- those can be hard, and
    surprisingly expensive, to replace, based on what I've seen at B&H and on
    Rod Smith, Apr 17, 2005
  8. Actually, better yet to get one that can do 6x9 (that's 6cm X 9cm, or about
    2-1/4" x 3-1/4"), like the Beseler 23 C that I have. This is a bigger negative
    using 120 roll film, with a rectangular frame (with the same proportion as a
    35mm negative) instead of a square frame.

    But yes, don't get a 35mm-only enlarger. They're not as good and enlargers are
    so cheap nowadays that there's no reason to.
    David Nebenzahl, Apr 17, 2005
  9. paw

    mmmmark Guest

    ok, this is incredible, thanks a lot for your help. youve all really
    clarified the issue in my mind, i really appreciate it. there is one
    last thing that im not clear on exactly: could a condensor head be in
    effect turned into a diffuser by removing the condensor lens, or are
    there other factors to take into account? I dont imagine it could
    exactly resemble the character of a diffusion head, but is this
    accepted practice?
    mmmmark, Apr 17, 2005
  10. I substituted a cold light head (diffuser) for the standard condenser in my
    Omega B-22. But it wasn't free!

    I wonder if you just put a piece of frosted glass under the condenser if
    that wouldn't do the trick in most enlargers. I don't know - just
    Pieter Litchfield, Apr 17, 2005
  11. paw

    jjs Guest

    Poppy-cock. The Leitz enlargers are most excellent - 35mm all the way to
    jjs, Apr 17, 2005
  12. paw

    pgg Guest

    With my Beseler 23CII, I can use either a diffuser or the condensors with
    the color dichroic head. It takes about 10 minutes for me to switch

    With a standard condenser enlarger, without a dichroic head, you can
    purchase aftermarket "cold" light source that converts a condenser
    enlarger to a diffusion enlarger. There are other ramifications of using
    a cold light however. Many "fine art" printers swear by a cold light
    head, but some of the real experts on this group believe there
    is little difference except for a grade of contrast.

    With your budget, I would be looking for an enlarger with a dichroic head
    that handles at least a 6x9 negative. The Beseler 23C series qualifies as
    does the 45MX (4x5 Beseler), the Omega D5, etc.

    Consider ditching the dichroic head if you wish to save some money. You can usually add it later if you want, and really, if doing B&W only
    it isn't necessary. I also think that optical color printing is sort of
    disappearing in favor of digital (although I firmly believe that B&W
    printing at home, using an enlarger, is the way to go).

    As far as evaluating used enlargers, the Beseler 23C models sometimes have
    broken gears. Parts are available and can easily be repaired. Alignment
    is often out-of-whack. When you get an enlarger, you can align it using a
    simple method with $1 mirrors purhcased at Home Depot. Otherwise not much
    else can go wrong as long as the focus and movement is smooth.

    If a lens doesn't come with, budget $75 or so for a nice 6-element lens
    like a Nikkor, Rodenstock Rodagon, or Schneider Componon.
    pgg, Apr 18, 2005
  13. paw

    mmmmark Guest

    great, thank you, i understand now. im pretty confident about this now,
    i really think i can come out of this happy
    mmmmark, Apr 18, 2005
  14. Well, they're about the only exception.
    David Nebenzahl, Apr 18, 2005
  15. paw

    Rod Smith Guest

    Many enlargers have replaceable heads. In fact, some are sold (new)
    without heads, and you've got to pick the head (or heads) you want to use
    with them.
    There was a thread very recently about using frosted glass above the
    negative carrier for this effect. IIRC, some people said they'd done it,
    but the procedure had some caveats that I don't recall.
    Rod Smith, Apr 18, 2005
  16. The consensus: bad idea. The glass will be close enough inside the lens' depth
    of field that you'll likely pick up the texture of the glass in the print. Now
    if you can get the glass far enough away from the negative, that might work.
    The problem then becomes getting the illumination even enough so you don't get
    hot spots or dark spots.
    David Nebenzahl, Apr 18, 2005
  17. paw

    Rod Smith Guest

    That was the early consensus (if you call two posts a "consensus"), but
    then somebody (C. Falise) said he'd actually used such a configuration and
    it worked without problems on 4x5 negatives. The thread didn't go beyond
    that, though. Here's the original thread on Google Groups:
    Rod Smith, Apr 18, 2005
  18. I actually meant above the lens. My cold light head in an Omega b-22 has a
    frosted glass between the bulb and the lens. Why not do the same with a
    condenser? I don't hink it would focus above the lens.
    Pieter Litchfield, Apr 18, 2005
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