Cold light or not.......... that is the question

Discussion in 'Enlarging' started by Doug Bennett, Apr 6, 2004.

  1. Doug Bennett

    Doug Bennett Member

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    Well, I'm hoping to answer some questions with this thread, although I may just end up more confused.

    There seems to be great disagreement about the value of cold light heads. The opinions range from "cold light heads are indispensable, they make my prints glow in the dark", to "I'll print the same negative on condensor and on cold light, and I'll bet no one can tell the difference."

    I currently print with an Omega B-22 condensor enlarger. If cold light heads weren't so expensive, I'd just try it and see for my self.

    Obviously, trying to sort out this wide range of opinion is difficult. What are your thoughts, fellow APUG-ers?
     
  2. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Doug,

    I accepted the theory about cold light heads proposed by Ansel Adams and others for many years. I next went to a diffusion VCCE head on a Saunders enlarger. More recently I purchased and am using a Durst condensor enlarger. My experience is that there is a difference and quite a noticeable difference in favor of condensor enlarging.

    I won't go so far as say that all condensor enlargers are better then all cold light or diffusion enlargers. I will however say that a well designed condensor system will render a result more to my liking then a well designed diffusion or cold light source. There are two well designed condensor systems. Those are Devere and Durst.

    I might suggest that you read the information regarding light sources that is posted on the Jensen Optical (USA Durst distributor) web site. I found this information to be quite informative at the time that I was questioning matters for myself.
     
  3. victor

    victor Member

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    doug... there is differance are very noticable. each of them has the character of its own. i think that people that say that they can make the print similar on both mean that in terms of tonality range and contrast they can reach the same. that is true more or less. but the real point is not only the tonality - the real point is the somehow richer and smoother feeling of diffused head, and the more drawn-like-with-light of the condensor.
    generally i can say that the enlargement should be sufficient to sense it - say at least 8x10, on 35mm camera and the 16x20 on the 69 format. that is because the texture of the negative (the grainuality) is more spaced on the condensor (the streight lighting).
    i love them both. it is a point of how i love the print to look like and on which paper.

    i defenetly a gree with donald about the good disigns - it is very important.

    donald - another outstanding disign of condensor head is the kaiser enlarger.
     
  4. DrPhil

    DrPhil Member

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    My perception has always been that there were major differences in the quality of condensor enlargers. I had a besler condensor head and felt that it was worthless. However, the durst heads are highly rated. I currently have a zone vi cold light head and find it to be quite nice. I won't say that it makes my prints sing; however, it's far superior to the condensor head I used to have. If I was to buy a new head I would probably get an Aristo VCL 4500. I'd love to be able to switch grades with the flip of a switch.
     
  5. Les McLean

    Les McLean Subscriber

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    Enlargers don't make a print "sing", the judgement applied by trhe printer does that.

    I have used cold cathode enlargers in my own darkroom for over 20 years but have used diffusion colour enlargers and condensor enlargers many times when I have done printing workshops and as far as I am concerned there are four significant differences especially between cold cathode and condensor.

    1) Condensor is at least one stop higher in contrast than cold cathode. I process my negatives for cathode and when I print my workshop negatives on condensor I always have to print on a lower grade. The condensor print also tends to look sharper, this is a result of higher contrast and increased grain.

    2) Condensor prints show more grain than either diffusion or cold cathode, I am told that this is because of the way that condensors scatter the light.

    3) Cold cathode does not show the blemishes quite so much as the condensor. I am not saying that it eliminates them, I have heard that claim but don't subscribe to it. Again, I have been told that this is because of the way that the condensors scatter the light.

    4) Cold cathode will produce a smoother gradation through the tonal range than the other two light sources.

    I think that the choice of light source is a purely personal thing, and would never claim that one type out performs any other. I happen to prefer the tonal quality produced by cold cathode which is why I use one but I have seen some exqusite prints made on both other types. The late Larry Bartlett used a Leitz condensor enlarger and his prints where quite beautiful and did "sing" I believe that the printer behind the enlarger drives it and if he knows what he is doing he will produce quality prints from any one of the three types, but each with slightly different characteristics.
     
  6. photomc

    photomc Member

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    This is one of those areas that can turn into a can of ..... something. My take on this, having used both condenser and diffusion is closer to what Les said above. It is the printer, not the enlarger.

    The same discussion might occur between unrelated endeavors, such as guitar players..some would prefer a Strat, others a Gibson, still others a custom job. In the end a great guitar player will make any quality guitar sound great.. just as I would expect Les to be able to make a great print with just about any quality enlarger. He adapts his technique to the equipment, but the final print will sing because of the master printer..not the enlarger.

    This is so much like the debates over Nikon vs Canon; Beseler vs Durst bs Omgea, it is not the equipment, but how well we learn to master what we use. Some folks just think in terms of cold light heads, others condenser and still others diffuse light ..I have a Beseler/Minolta 45A that makes no sense at all to me, but many prefer it.

    Just my rambling and that's all...
     
  7. Flotsam

    Flotsam Member

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    If, as Les says, there is a full grade difference between cold cathode and condenser enlargers. (I've never used a cold light head). It isn't surprising that a photographer going from one to the other would be initially disappointed with the results from his negatives. After all, we all do those boring film tests to tune our negs to our own methods and equipment. I have a feeling that once someone adapts his whole process to the characteristics of the light source of his enlarger, the difference in results will be fairly subtle.
     
  8. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    That would initially seem to be the case. However my results don't indicate that to be true. What I have observed is that the light in a well designed condensor system is collimated (aligned along an axis) and that does bring certain conditions to bear in the print. The first is that as Les indicated grain becomes more apparent and that negative defects become more noticeable. The reason for this is because the light being collimated moves through the negative density in very perpendicular fashion. This condition also brings some pretty nice characteristics as well. Those being that print sharpness is markedly improved. The local contrast is also enhanced. Since local contrast is acknowledged as being the characteristic that causes the glow in a print, I find this a enjoyable addition to my process.

    I don't readily accept most of the theory and conjecture of those who may not have tried all aspects of a process. That would include testing the paper used for exposure and development charactersistics and following through to the light source and ultimately the camera negative characteristics.This is the only manner that would appear to offer the means from which to draw valid conclusions. I indicated that I don't readily accept conjecture today...this is one of those areas.

    Les mentioned that the manner in which light is scattered in a condensor light system... That would more accurately be stated that it is in the diffusion light source that light is scattered. That is the reason for the smooth gradation, less noticeable grain, and negative defects that were mentioned. Those characteristics occur because a diffusion light source tends to smear the demarcations of local contrast and density border regions due to the scattering of light in that source.

    Obviously if one has not tested and developed their negatives to the light source and the paper that is being used then a valid conclusion is impossible to obtain. Conjecture remains just conjecture.

    I have no axe to grind in this matter other then what I find to be true in my considerable experience of over twenty years using all types of enlarger light sources with the exception of a point light source. I don't agree that the same result is obtainable with the two light sources if the negative is tailored to the light source. That would only be true if the quality and condition of the light being presented to the negative was the same.

    Having said that, I recognize that everyone should use what they find to deliver the result that they want.
     
  9. dr bob

    dr bob Member

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    I agree with everything Donald stated. Over many years, I have seen, time after time, "well-known-authorities" stating that there is minimal differences in the two systems . I find the condenser system(s) less "fussy" to use and maintain but it really depends only on ones personal preferences.
     
  10. noseoil

    noseoil Member

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    Donald,

    Have you noticed an increase in contrast in the condensor head with respect to highlights? Have you changed development times around this contrast, or is the better condensor design giving about the same contrast as you would find in a decent diffusion head?
     
  11. photomc

    photomc Member

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    dr bob, you have got it. Donald may be correct (it would take a team of experts years and there would probably never be final conclusion) a WELL made condenser may produce a better image - to the collector/potential customer in does not matter one bit.

    So, are you making images for yourself or for a market? While I will agree you should make the best image possible, that would mean learn how to use the tools you have decided to use. You don't have to stay with them, but I think it is a mistake to always listen to what authority xxx says and stop using product y because they use product x.

    It's like dr bob and Donald have both stated..it really only depends on personal preferences.

    Besides, these discussions are always a great way to find out what others are doing.
     
  12. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Tim, There is an increase in both overall and local contrast when using a condensor head. I don't find it to be anywhere near the one paper grade that has been reported by others. The noted increase is, from what I have been told, to the scattering of light in a diffusion head actually reducing contrast.

    It is not that the condensor head creates more contrast. If you think about it contrast is already there on the negative thus it can not be created. It is just that the condensor head more accurately represents the contrast.

    I have made a slight adjustment in my development times. Nothing earth shattering in nature.

    I find myself printing at fairly high contrast settings on some of my condensor prints...for instance the Dock image that is presently posted in the gallery was printed at grade 3 1/2. The negative density range was 1.10 on that image. The other image (Wood Detail) that I have posted has a negative density range of 1.30 and was printed at grade 2 1/2 on my condensor enlarger. According to the Negative by Adams...those should be showing chalk and soot tonalities.

    So in summation...The condensor enlarger does more accurately represent the information on the negative. It does not create contrast since contrast is already on the negative. Finally take the information that people report with a "grain of salt"...as Fred Picker used to say "Try it"...Good luck.
     
  13. Doug Bennett

    Doug Bennett Member

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    BTW: at the start of this thread, Donald directed me to an article on the Durst USA website. While the article is heavily slanted toward condensor enlargers, it none the less made for interesting reading. The article was well hidden in the website; here is a link that I hope will work: http://www.jensen-optical.com/PDF_FILES_TANK/COLIMATED LIGHT VS DIFFUSED LIGHT.pdf

    Very true. But what I have learned from this thread is the tremendous difference between condensor enlarger design/quality. I wasn't aware that there was such a difference; I think my Omega B-22 may have to go!
     
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  15. David R Munson

    David R Munson Member

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    While there are definitely differences between the two, I think it is important to remain realistic about the importance of one over the other. Get your working methods down, and either can produce excellent prints. But some people make it sound like if you're not printing with a cold light head, you can't produce exhibition quality prints. This is absolute bollocks, of course - my person experience has pointed out that I can produce some thoroughly high-end prints on my grumpy Omega D2 condenser in a temporarily converted laundry room with blankets taped over the door. Some people take it to heart, though, that condenser enlarging is somehow intrinsically inferior to cold light, and seem willing to do everything short of taking out a third mortgage to get a cold light head. Regardless of the difference, great prints can be made with either type of light source. The difference can be important, but it's nothing to panic over if you don't have the "right" one.
     
  16. MichaelBriggs

    MichaelBriggs Member

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    Great prints have been made with both systems.

    IMO, some of the arguments in Jensen article piece (link provided above by Doug) are nonsense. Comparing shadows cast with sunlight to shadows cast by diffused fluorescent light completly ignores the enlarging lens. After arguments have been made to persuade many readers that sunlight and shadows shows the collimated light sources are superior, the enlarging lens is finally mentioned and conceded to have some role in the process. There is also use of moralistic words rather than technical terminology, e.g., diffusion density isn't "washout", nor is it "flare".

    For a truly excellent and scientific comparison of diffusion and condenser sources, try to find a copy of "Controls in Black-and-White Photography (2nd ed)" by Richard J. Henry. It is out of print but can be found at the internet used book search sites.

    If you want to compare sharpness from the two types of enlargers, be sure to carefully match the contrast of the prints. A more contrasty print will be perceived as sharper.
     
  17. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    Dead ON!!! There are a number of "cracks" in this article ... one in that he assumes that every lamp merely radiates in all directions - the last time I looked, the EYA Halogen lamp in my D5500 has a built-in parabolic reflector. That serves to "directionalize" - collimate to some extent - the output from the filament. *After* this "raw" light (from either system) passes through the enlarging lens the rays (see "ray trace") follow the same paths anyway ... otherwise there would be no definite focal plane.

    The REAL reason to collimate is not to affect "sharpness"; it is to provide even illumination across the focal plane.

    I've worked with optical systems with adjustable collimation. To set these up, one removes the projection lens and works the adjusting screws (or whatever) until the lamp filament projected to the focal plane is *centered* and in the best possible focus. That will insure the most even illumination possible over the plane of focus.

    A system with condensing lenses - IMHO - n.b. - is NOT clearly and absolutely superior. It is more complex, heavier, more expensive - "feistier" in many ways - and possibly delivers "brighter" light (tad more efficient).

    While I doubt the "superiority" I don't think there is an "inferiority" either. It is a matter of ... aesthetics, tastes, superstition ... whatever... a LOT like everything else in photography.
     
  18. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    I certainly don't want to start a war over this matter. It has been argued consistantly over many years. In fact I argued the side of diffusion sources for many years. That was before I tried both systems.

    My results indicate that a well designed condensor system gives not only greater sharpness in the print, it also gives improved local contrast in the print. I think the only way that I became convinced was to try it.

    If local contrast and sharpness do not exists to a degree when they are presented to the enlarging lens the enlarging lens has no ability to create what is not there. The argument about the enlarging lens really doesn't have a bearing in this matter so far as I can see. The enlarging lens has no capability to impart a characteristic that does not exist prior to it's involvement in the process. Use a crappy enlarging lens and you will get crappy results with either enlarging system. Use a better quality enlarging lens and you will get better results with either system. The type of light that is passing through the negative equates to "junk in junk out" when it comes to the lens.

    So far as I see it based upon results from both enlarging systems in my darkroom the Durst condensor system is far superior to the Saunders VCCE system in terms of sharpness and local contrast. It is also inferior to the Saunders VCCE or an Aristo Cold Light head that I used for years before in terms of apparent dust and scratches on the print. I find that, in my experience, the increased sharpness and local contrast comes at a price.

    The question that I never considered in all of my years of arguing diffusion light sources was "why does a diffusion source eliminate dust to a great degree and not effect sharpness to the same degree?" ...as I see it the enlarger or lens has no ability to differentiate between sharpness at one point and not another. If the enlarger light source is washing away the dust then it must be because the light is not passing through the negative as perpendicularly in a diffusion source. If it is washing away the effects of dust on the negative then it must by consequence be washing away local contrast and sharpness. This affects sharpness in my experience, in my darkroom, and on my prints.

    I don't know that I accept Ed's explanation for the sole consideration for collimated light sources. That may be one consideration based upon his experience. I find it difficult to accept that this is the only consideration. It is sort of like saying that the only reason for the use of salt in my diet is for electolyte balance in my body. There are other considerations as well, as I see it. For one my food tastes better with salt. Or for that matter it would be akin to saying that automobiles are manufactured for transportation only. That statement is very limited...it takes into account none of the attentuating and coincidental considerations.

    However, I think that everyone should use whatever they choose. I honestly hope that more people buy and use diffusion type enlargers. It will make my prints look awfully good by comparison. Good luck.
     
  19. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    Who said "sole"? - Or "Only"? I thought I made it very clear in the last paragraph that other reasons were there - and that I recognized them ... "Tastes good", "Feels good" ... aesthetics -- or whatever. And ... I checked ... the "IMHO" - "In My Humble Opinion" seemed pretty clear to me.

    I was trying to make the point that there was NO clear-cut winner **IMHO**; and that some of the arguments supporting "condenser" systems seemed a little weak. Did I miss something ... was "evenness of illumination" cited anywhere?
     
  20. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    I think that it was cited in your earlier post. Apart from you citing it, I don't think that anyone engaged in enlarging a photographic negative would consider that a debatable issue. It would appear that it must be a "given". For without that then all else is for nothing.

    I don't really care to debate this issue. I am happy that you are happy with whatever system you choose to use. Good luck to you.
     
  21. skahde

    skahde Member

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    I recently started to use an enlarger with a diffuse light-source after several years with a pure condenser (Durst L54).

    My conclusion so far is that both have their applications. If sharp grain is what you are after a good (!) condenser has an edge <g>. My snapshots on Tri-X simply have more snappy grain and appear sharper when enlarged with the condenser. Otherwise a diffuse light-source is easier to work with. I haven't found any pronounced differences with respect to better tonality besides a 1 Grad difference so far but keep looking. It is to early to draw any further conlusions.

    best

    Stefan
     
  22. Flotsam

    Flotsam Member

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    There has been mention of differences in the quality of condensor systems. I know that the function of a condensor system is to concentrate the light from the bulb evenly over the negative in it's carrier but beyond that, what characteristics would separate a "good" condensor head from a "not so good" condensor head?
     
  23. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    In addition to creating an even light source, there are other considerations that are even more important, in my opinion.

    The characteristics that seem to be of importance are the design and construction of the condensors themselves. Since these are in effect an additional optical system that affects the light quality prior to the light passing through the camera negative, one can see that the quality of this optical system is of importance. Involved with the design of these optical componants are such matters as the type of glass used, the optimal radius of the ground surfaces for the film format size, and the spacing of these componants.

    The condensors in a well designed system are responsible for focusing the light at the nodal point of the enlarging lens. This does not occur in a diffusion light source and may not occur precisely in a condensor system that is not properly designed.

    The cost of these condensors, as in most things optical, are expensive. I believe that I remember a figure of $25,000 on the condensor set for a Devere enlarger if one were to buy them today.
     
  24. Doug Bennett

    Doug Bennett Member

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    Thanks, everyone, for the replies. It's been most helpful.

    When I got serious about photography several years back, I did a lot of reading and research. Something that came up often was the opinion that as long as you've got a good enlarger lens, the rest of the enlarger was less important. Although the Jensen article was very biased towards condenser enlargers, it was a useful read, and certainly convinced me of the need to have a high quality, alignable condenser set. My current enlarger, an Omega B22, would appear to have no way to adjust the condensers or the lamp position.

    So, it's time to upgrade. Maybe that's where those elusive steely grays and luminous highlights are hiding! :cool:
     
  25. victor

    victor Member

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    donald - which devere is 25 thousend ?
    good there are dursts and kaisers ... lol, not that they are cheap but at least u can justify their prices.
     
  26. Flotsam

    Flotsam Member

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    In that case I don't think that I will purchase a second "back up" set just to keep on hand in case the first ones get fingerprints on them. :surprised: