Gnome Alpha Enlarger? Anyone used one?
I've a possible chance at a Gnome enlarger -- for 35mm and medium format -- anyone had an experience with one?
It'd be my first enlarger -- I've been processing my own film for a few years but mostly scanning it, now I'd like to move into making 8x10s the 'normal' way.
Gnome was a long-established manufacturer of photographic equipment based in Wales and stayed active until at least some time in the 1980s.
The Alpha was one of Gnome's long-lived models, and if in good condition and properly set up, I cannot see how it can be lacking in performance in any way.
When you examine the unit, please check a few important things:
The lamphouse assembly was made from spun aluminium, and if they had received strong impact, they can deform somewhat and makes the light bulb fail to centre at the optical axis. Second, the enlarger was available as a diffuser type without condensers, but condensers were offered as optional extra; it would be to your advantage to find the correct condensers included as well.
At the time of manufacture, Gnome had a tendency to supply lenses of rather modest performance, and that is one thing you need to look into as well; replacing the lens with a more modern unit will enhance performance but you have to make sure that you have the correct screw fitting to do so.
Of course, like most earlier enlargers, I would give it a complete strip-down and give it a ground-up reassembly, making sure that everything is aligned correctly so as to ensure optimal performance.
I have a Gnome Alpha II enlarger, set up with a condenser. It's a solid bit of kit but I wouls echo the above - it took me a while to work out why I always needed to burn in one side of my prints! It's quite easy to fix, though. Move the lamp housing down to it's lowest level, stop down to minimum aperture and wiggle it about until the 'light blob' is central. Move the lamp holder back up until light coverage appears even. I use mine when I want a bit more contrast out of MG papers as condensers give about 1/2 grade more. It will also take negs up to 6x9.
Many enlargers of that period offered lamp position adjustments: the lampholder is at the end of a hollow rod held at the top of the lamp housing, making its height and lateral position adjustable.
Ideally, to make a condenser enlarger function to its full capacity, the light bulb needs to be a point-source type in a clear glass enclosure, and for every magnification, it has to be adjusted so that the image of the filament produced by the condenser is positioned right at the iris position. This is of course a very laborious job so the advent of the opal "Photocresenta" bulb helped to obviate this need somewhat. Still it is a good idea to have it adjusted properly though.
My method to adjust lamp position is not perfect but works reasonably well, and it goes like this:
First I make a dummy enlarging lens barrel out of a cardboard tube, with a scrap of writing paper stretched across the position where the iris is approximately located. First I set up the enlarger to my smallest normal print size and focus it properly. Then I remove the negative, take the lens off and replace it with the dummy lens barrel (Blu-Tack works wonders holding it in position). With the help of a mirror, I can then reach the rod which holds the lamp holder and adjust it so that the image of the light bulb fills the diameter of the dummy barrel. Replacing the dummy lens with the real one, I can thus be certain that it is indeed offering completely even illumination across the negative area.
I use a 1949 model Wasp 4X5 enlarger which I had rebuilt with careful adjustment so as to ensure correct alignment, replacing the modest Wray lens with even an old Componon, and a round of adjustment as described above, I get fully satisfactory result for a very modest outlay.
So, I collected the enlarger and set it up.
It needed to be completely rewired as the electric cable was in a bad state and the original owner had wired on a switch in true 'death-trap' fashion. Luckily, it was an easy job just completely replacing all the wiring with modern heat-resistant flex.
I've not had a chance to print anything with it yet but first impressions are: the Wray Supar 4.5 lens on it will just about cover 35mm through to 6x9 -- I can get the frame to fill an 8 x 10 sheet from 35mm film if I push the head all the way to the top of the column and 6x6 and 6x9 are easy. The lens seems in clean enough condition, however, it seems to have a 32mm or 32.5mm thread on it so if I wanted to replace it with a newer 39mm thread lens I'd need to make a new lens board.
I'll try a few prints with the lens and see what I can get. I suspect that things are not in perfect alignment, so we'll see.
Both condensers are present and there are holders for 35mm, 6x6 and 6x9.
Thanks for the advice re: aligning the bulb, etc.
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Oh, and just focusing the neg on a blank sheet of paper, they look acceptably sharp to the naked eye and there doesn't seem to be any light fall off at the corners.
The proof will be in the pudding...