Diffuser or Condenser
To help re-establish my street cred in the analogue silver printing world, can I ask a question that has probably been asked before on this forum, but perhaps not in this way. Given two negatives of an identical subject, but one exposed and developed to suit a diffuser enlarger and one exposed and developed to suit a condenser enlarger, which would you prefer to print on? For me it would probably be the condenser to give that snap to the print that only a condenser or point source can do.
Diffusion. Way less dust hassles most of the time. Handy to buy as a dichroic to dial filtration in and out, since most of todays paperas are multi-graded.
I do have condensor enlargers as well. One has option for point source, but I have read up, and they have too much of a pain in the ass to align issues to make me ever try it.
If both negs are exposed and developed to suit the enlarger, light source doesn't makes any real difference. I have and use both, the differences are minor to say the least. I would use a diffuser so i don't have to fiddle with a filter drawer.
Diffuser VC, Color head, dust. A good photo is a good photo.
I don't depend on a condenser to give "snap" to a photo.
I've used condenser head in school, but it didn't jump out at me and proclaim it's awesomeness. Instead I had to put grubby filters under it.
I like dichroic color heads, which would be diffusion. The contrast adjustment and less dust is valuable to me.
Condenser enlargers are more economical. More lumens at the baseboard for Watts in the bulb. Smaller power supplies, less heat, less expense. The drawback is that darkroom dust can be very well represented in your final prints. Also, continuously variable filtration is not easy to implement, thus usually not offered.
Diffusion/Color head. Not only the dust problem but the ability to dial in a filter value between suggested grade values.
I would also choose diffusion.
Originally Posted by Bruce Osgood
Btw there are some hybrid diffusion/condenser enlargers (kaiser) that permit full VC control.
As others have said - less dust showing in the print, more even illumination across probably any format size, focus remains stable (most of these cold lights have a heating element to maintain bulb temperature and performance), and highlights print more easily. Read up on Callier effect (no relation) for why this is so. And the contrast difference is not linear, so development adjustment is probably not really a perfect one, so contrast adjustments are probably needed anyway.
What I did experience when switching from condenser to cold light (at the time both were used with graded paper, so filtration didn't enter into things at the time-for me) was that I could add 15% - 20% to my film development time, to bring highlights up, along with better mid-tone separation. I looked at it as a way to increase tonal range in the negative.
I had heard about the "snap" thing too, but never saw it. Grain is also less pronounced, in my experience - a good or bad thing depending upon your "grain politics".
I use all 3, point source, condenser and diffusion, both cold light and color head. I like point source for some
35mm for a gritty look, grain really stands out but very sharp, cold light for 4X5, condenser for 6X6 and 6X9 and a color head for multigrade RC. If I had to chose just one it would be condenser, I print on graded paper most the time. I dont have any issues with dust and I can spot quickly spot a print.