What to look for in a cheap enlarger?

Discussion in 'Darkroom Equipment' started by filmamigo, Jul 17, 2008.

  1. filmamigo

    filmamigo Member

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    I would like your collective advice on what I should look for or avoid in a first enlarger. There seem to be lots of deals out there, ranging from a few hundred dollars to "take it away for free." But I don't have any experience to know what makes and models to look for or avoid. Just because I don't want to spend much money doesn't mean I want a boat anchor.

    For context, I have used a B&W darkroom throughout highschool, and then got into filmmaking. I have only come back to photography in the last couple of years, and would like to set up my own B&W darkroom. I'm really starting from scratch, and don't have the knowledge or experience to make good choices at this point. As for what I shoot these days, it's mostly 35mm and 120, with a little 127. At some point I would LOVE to get a Speed Graphic.

    Thanks in advance for any tips.
     
  2. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Start with something like a 4x5" Omega or Beseler. These systems have been around a long time, so there are lots of them out there with plenty of accessories available for cheap, so you can grow with them.

    There's no reason not to get good lenses in today's market. You can find 6-element lenses from Nikon, Schneider, and Rodenstock that are excellent, and even APO lenses at a fraction of their original prices (except for Apo EL-Nikors, which are rarities).
     
  3. Barry S

    Barry S Member

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    Even on a budget, you can go deluxe these days on used darkroom equipment. First off--get a 4x5 enlarger, there are so many out there that they don't cost much more than smaller format enlargers. The best thing you can do is find someone getting rid of their whole darkroom for a good package price. Accessories like negative carriers can be expensive and add up quickly. Search craigslist so you can avoid shipping charges and don't be afraid to make offers--it's buyer's market. I got an Omega 4x5 with colorhead, carriers, lenses, analyzers, and as much equipment as I could carry away for $250. Omega gear is great because it's bombproof and accessories are easily available, but Beseler and Durst are also great. Also, ask around--you may find an enlarger and other gear for free. A lot of people just want to reclaim the space in their basements.
     
  4. Davesw

    Davesw Member

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    Filmamigo,
    I have a Omega entry level unit looking for a good home. it is in the box right now ready to ship. It would come with a 50 and an 80 mm lense
    a 135 carrier and a 6x6 carrier. Free to a good home if you will reimbuse for shiping after you get it.
     
  5. jeroldharter

    jeroldharter Member

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    I agree. Get a late model Beseler 45 MXT ($150 - 300), a Beseler 45 VXL (slightly more expensive and much larger) or the equivalent Omega.

    The easiest light source to use initially is the dichroic lamphouse for either enlarger.

    Negative carriers are widely available.

    Spend a lot of time cleaning and aligning.

    Get a good lens. I have purchased a number of lenses (who can resist) for good deals like a 50 mm Nikkor f2.8 for $19 and a Rodagon 150 mm for $49.
     
  6. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    Surprisingly its actually difficult to give away good solid well built enlargers. Believe me I've tried.

    OK mine are only 35mm, but for free and mint they look like new. I have given away a 5x4 to an APUG member as well :D

    There are so many enlargers redundant & for sale, it's so bad it's certainly hit production of new enlargers for six (for the odd US APUG member - Out of the ball park)

    Unlike a few years ago where budget was the major influence on choice, buy better than you need in case you move up formats.

    Ian
     
  7. srs5694

    srs5694 Member

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    Others have given good advice; however, I've got a couple more points. First, you don't say how much space you have. Although going up a size (to 4x5 in your case) is often a good plan, if you don't have much space, that could be a problem. In that case, it might be better to start with an enlarger that'll only go up to your current top size and plan on upgrading later. With any luck you'll have more space by then. If you've got the space now, though, by all means get something bigger than you need. Note that it's often hard to judge the size of an enlarger from a photo on the Web. Get hard measurements if at all possible, or go to see it in person if it's local.

    Second, I recommend you get a color model. The color filters can be used to adjust contrast on variable contrast B&W paper, and having them guarantees you'll be prepared for color printing in the future, whether or not you want to do it now. In today's market, the added cost of a color enlarger is minimal to nonexistent. OTOH, most color enlargers are diffusion models, and some people prefer condenser enlargers. If you know you're a condenser fan, that might be a reason to go with a B&W condenser model. If you don't know the difference or don't care, though, a color model makes more sense, IMHO.
     
  8. filmamigo

    filmamigo Member

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    Lots of good and useful advice. I don't have an enormous space, I'm planning on putting in a sink and small counter in a basement utility room.

    Davesw, thanks for the kind offer - I left you a PM.

    I love APUG. This place has such a generosity of spirit.
     
  9. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

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    If anyone else in the UK wants to give away a 5x4 enlarger, I think I know where I could put it!

    When I do get one, I have a Saunders/LPL 6700 which I will give away.


    Steve.
     
  10. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Don't be afraid to be picky. My current definition of "cheap enlarger" is the following kit:

    * Vivitar VI with dichro head, all negative carriers included
    * Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Rokkor-C.E.
    * Electronic Gralab timer
    * Beseler rotating base and drums
    * And plenty of other little things I forgot.

    The kit was mint. Flawless, not a single scratch. How much, you ask? 100$. I sold my redundant El-Nikkor 50mm, and almost paid myself back.

    So don't even bother picking up a kit with missing pieces, broken parts, misaligned, or rusty bits. I see plenty of people selling their crap for 500$ because "that kit cost me at least 1,500$ when new". Well, tough luck. The market value of enlargers has plummeted. Go for name brand, get the biggest you can afford to pay/use, and in the best possible condition.

    500$ is pretty much the highest you should ever budget, and at that price you could actually get a really, really sweet kit (e.g. a mint 4x5 dichro enlarger, including the lenses, processing accessories, etc). Unless you're going for a 10x10 brute. But as was said above, most people will let you take their kit for much cheaper because they need the space.

    Oh, and if you need a cheap cold light for your setup, you know where to find me! :wink:
     
  11. srs5694

    srs5694 Member

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    Let me toss out another point of view on this: A beginner (and I realize the original poster has used darkrooms before, so this may not apply to him/her) may not know what features are likely to be useful, so seeking out the best, most pristine, perfect enlarger with all the trappings may be pointless -- if the individual eventually learns that s/he needs features X and Y but that beautiful enlarger lacks those features, it's going to be replaced anyhow.

    Thus, there's something to be said for picking up the cheapest thing that more-or-less meets one's initial needs. Plan on using it for a few months to learn about print-making. With hands-on experience you'll get a better feel for what sorts of features are important to you. Watching Internet discussions on enlargers for comparison will also help; for instance, if you see discussions of fine-focus adjustments and you're having problems focusing, you'll know to look for an enlarger with a fine-focus knob. After gaining experience with the cheap enlarger, you can go buy something that's suited to your needs. In today's market, that first enlarger can be had for very little money, so the extra investment need not be a big one.

    I don't think that deliberately getting a "training" enlarger as I've described is always the best way to go, but it's an option that's worth considering, particularly for newbies who have no idea what to get.
     
  12. Snapshot

    Snapshot Member

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    What to look for in a cheap enlarger? Low cost. :wink:
     
  13. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Most enlargers have only one important feature: on/off. I don't think an newbie needs to bother with accessories like fine focus knob either, but my point is simply to get a sturdy, working enlarger, that has various negative carrier sizes. And getting a dichro head is such a bargain nowadays that it's worth the investment.
     
  14. filmamigo

    filmamigo Member

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    My experience in high school was very basic. Simply making serviceable B&W test strips and prints from 135, and I couldn't tell you what paper I used, what chemicals I used, what make or model the enlarger was, whether it was a condenser or diffuser (?) I really am starting from scratch. I'm reading books, and trying to soak up info on APUG, but my starting level of information is really low. So all of this information has been invaluable.
     
  15. srs5694

    srs5694 Member

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    If you're starting (almost) from scratch, you should probably not get too hung up on certain details. People sometimes get into very heated discussions about condenser vs. diffusion enlargers, brand-vs-brand issues, etc. (So far the discussions in this thread have seemed pretty calm, but you may run into more emotional discussions elsewhere.) Most of these things are issues that are subjective, in the sense that one person may prefer one thing but another person may prefer another; but without experience, there's no way of knowing which you'd prefer. Thus, there's no point in getting too hung up about them.

    One other item that hasn't been mentioned: bulbs. Most enlargers use fairly common screw-in bulbs, similar to household light bulbs. (Enlarger bulbs don't have writing on them and they're designed to produce very even illumination, though.) Some use more exotic bulbs, though, such as the 14V 35W MR11 bulbs used in my Philips PCS130/PCS150. The exotic bulbs can be expensive -- the bulbs for my enlarger cost $13-$30 apiece (or more from some gougers!), and the enlarger takes three of the bulbs. This can add up to a significant cost, so you should check on this detail before buying a "bargain" enlarger -- spending $100 a year on bulbs for a $10 enlarger makes it much less of a bargain! Fortunately, most enlarger bulbs don't need replacing that often. I've replaced one of my enlarger's three bulbs in about two and a half years, for instance. This makes my own bulb costs about $5-$10 a year, which is probably still high by enlarger standards, but not ridiculously high, particularly compared to the hundreds I spend on film, paper, chemistry, etc.
     
  16. Whiteymorange

    Whiteymorange Member

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    I know. I just sent 7 of them to the dump because, after advertising them as free to a good home, not one person who could come and get it actually showed up.
     
  17. WarEaglemtn

    WarEaglemtn Member

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    Some very good advice. Even if you don't have a lot of room the Beseler and Omega 4x7 enlargers will be worth getting. Right now it is a buyers market and as you have seen 'get this thing out of my garage' is happening most everywhere. Got a pristine $3000 Durst for under $300 awhile back. Timers, lenses and the whole package. More than worth it.

    You won't go wrong with a solid 4x5 enlarger and if you watch a bit you can easily get the whole darkroom in the package. Stuff you fine you don't or can't use can always be donated to goodwill/salvation Army or similar or given to another photographer if you can find one setting up a darkroom.
     
  18. B&Jdude

    B&Jdude Member

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    Ouch, that hurts, Ian! 7 enlargers to the dump! Meanwhile, us folks way out here in the middle of nowhere (Ozark mountain area of North Arkansas) have to buy everything on FleaBay because there are no locals who are either giving away darkroom stuff or selling it for peanuts. It seems that there are always enough folks on the Bay who either can't get equipment locally or are unaware that they are bidding $200 for things that most everyone else is giving away or throwing away. Maybe I should start scavaging at the dump a little more often.

    EuGene
     
  19. djkloss

    djkloss Subscriber

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    I agree here. The other thing I found with the Omega D2 color enlarger is that you have more control over short exposures. With my DII condenser, some times I couldn't get a short enough exposure because the light was too bright. I'm sure there are ways around this though.

    It is so nice to be able to just dial in the filters with the color enlarger instead of messing with the 4x4 ones that the condenser uses. and the timer that goes with the D2 is really nice. and the foot pedal. All on ebay.

    Good luck! And get the Speed Graphic. It's loads of fun and dirt cheap!

    Dorothy
     
  20. darinwc

    darinwc Subscriber

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    I am going to go against the wind here and suggest if you are only using 35mm and 120 (645, 6x6, or 6x7. not 6x9), you should buy a medium-format enlarger.
    here are my reasons.
    1. Availability. You will have an easier time finding a high-quality enlarger in medium format, and shipping will be cheaper and more likely (often 4x5 elargers are pickup only)
    2. Usability. 4x5 enlargers are beasts to handle. The older ones often have a bit of rust making them extremely hard to move and the newer ones are overbuilt/oversized. I have a 4x5 enlarger and a 6x7 and I much prefer working with the 6x7 enlarger for smaller negs.

    What enlarger should you get? No need to skimp get the best you can find. I would reccomend Durst or Saunders/LPL. I also like the newer Omega/Chromega models, while not as fancy as the Saunders, they are solidly built, simple design, and easy to find parts/accessories for.
    I havent used a Durst myself and they have many models to choose from, but Im sure others here will help if you have questions.

    I dont care for the bessler medium format enlargers myself. I had a bessler dichro 67s and it was allmost the same size as my 4x5 enlarger. it did not seem very precise, and it generated a ton of heat. (if you look at the head, it has a projector type bulb that emits light into the mixing box, but theres only a postage-stamp opening to let light in. So it seems to me like there is alot of wasted energy and excess heat) Others may have differing opinions.