Diving into home enlarging...
So I'm about to take the dive into home enlarging, but I'm having a hard time discerning what capabilities are available in different types of enlargers. I see there are dichroic heads and non that will require filters to do color enlargements(I think), basically I want to know if there one type of enlarger head that will be able to do b&w as well as color printing. If this is some sort of pipe dream that I have not realized please let me know as I would like to see what is needed to get his going. Thanks!
A colour dichroic head will also do black and white. Variable contrast black and white paper comes with a table which tells you what magenta and yellow settings to use.
"People who say things won't work are a dime a dozen. People who figure out how to make things work are worth a fortune" - Dave Rat.
Any enlarger can do both B&W and color. The question is how easily the enlarger can handle different types of filtration. Variable contrast (VC) B&W papers are sensitive to blue and green light and produce different contrast depending on the amount of blue and green light they receive. Thus, yellow (anti-blue) and magenta (anti-green) filters are used to block blue and green light, respectively. Color paper is sensitive to red, green, and blue light, so color enlargers use cyan (anti-red), magenta, and yellow filters to control the amount of each type of light that hits the paper, thus affecting color balance. (In practice, cyan filters are seldom necessary for color printing.)
Enlargers intended for color printing typically have cyan, magenta, and yellow filters built in. (A few models use red, green, and blue light sources instead of filters.) B&W enlargers typically either have no built-in filters or have just magenta and yellow filters (or separate blue and green lights). Most B&W enlargers, except for very old models, have filter drawers into which you can place filters of any color you like. You can get color filter sets to use with such enlargers, to use them for color printing; however, most people prefer true color enlargers, since adjusting a dial is easier than juggling filters in a filter drawer. Even if an enlarger has no filter drawer, you can use under-lens filters, although these can theoretically degrade the image quality more than in-enlarger filters.
There are also differences between condenser vs. diffusion enlargers, enlargers capable of handling different negative sizes, etc. As you're new to this I wouldn't worry too much about the details. Get something that handles the negative formats you use (and perhaps a bit bigger -- for instance, 6x6 if you do 35mm) and that has whatever built-in filters you want. If you later discover you need something more or different, then given the current marketplace, upgrading won't cost you that much.
FWIW, I posted this message about a free enlarger in the San Francisco area. I've no idea if you're even on the same continent as the person who's giving away that enlarger, but if you happen to be in that area, it's hard to go wrong with a price of $0!
Wow, thanks for the extremely thorough explanation, unfortunately I'm not in the San Fran area to get that enlarger but there are a bunch of deals around me too, I live in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. I usually shoot with Medium Format 6x6 so maybe I'll look into a 4x5 enlarger if the price is right.
Originally Posted by srs5694
Dichroic Heads are needed for Colour but will do B&W as well.
All the other alternatives are mainly aimed mainly at Black and White.
It is worth thinking long and hard about what you might want to do with your Enlarger – what film sizes & what print sizes
Enlargers are really simple devices and there is little to go wrong with them, so the age of an Enlarger is fairly insignificant.
It is worth investing in a decent enlarging lens – all your work goes through this one lens.
Most people start printing with Black and White before moving on to colour.
Getting the basics right with B&W is fairly straight forward and doesn’t need a huge investment in equipment.
To print in Colour needs rather more specialised equipment for print processing and needs to be done in complete darkness.
Don’t be put off; its great fun and great results can be obtained in surprisingly small spaces with fairly simple kit.
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srs5694 has pretty much nailed it. If you can swing the acquisition of a 4x5 enlarger, do it. These big machines were built with the commercial lab in mind. Accordingly, they are very sturdy and hardly anything ever breaks on them. Any repairs that might be necessary are easy to make because of their robust construction. The only problem you might have with the operation of a big machine like that will be in making small enlargements (smaller than 5x7 prints), because it might be impossible to get the enlarging head close enough to the baseboard to do so. A longer than normal lens works in these situation. When I want to make 4x6 prints from 35mm negatives with my Omega D4, I use an 80mm lens, usually intended for use with 6x6cm. or 6x7cm., instead of the usual 50mm lens normally used for 35 mm work. For small prints from medium format negatives, I switch over to a 135 mm lens normally used for 4x6 in. negatives. It all works out perfectly.
On the question of light sources, these can be broken down into two separate major types. There are diffuse light sources that spread the light from a lamp to evenly cover the negative with soft light, and condenser type light sources that collimate and concentrate the light from a lamp with little or no diffusion. There are several subtypes of diffuse light sources. Condenser type light sources are much simpler.
Condenser lamp houses typically contain a single tungsten lamp and a set of condensers or lenses to focus the light onto the negative stage. There may or may not be a filter drawer designed to accommodate variable contrast or color printing filters. Only the very oldest and most basic enlargers do not have this feature. If you prefer this sort of light source, I urge you not to overlook this though. Working with variable contrast filters below the lens is clumsy at best and demands that you keep the filters clean and blemish free. Using filters above the lens is not nearly as fussy.
The diffusion type lamp houses come in several different varieties. All, with the exception of cold lights which use fluorescent tube lamps, use some sort of tungsten halogen lamp, a light mixing chamber, and a set of filters designed either for B&W variable contrast or color printing. Light from the lamp is directed through the filter pack, into the mixing chamber where it is bounced off reflective surfaces, and out through a sheet of opal plastic or glass. Dichro or color heads, are the most common type of diffuse light sources, and can be used for printing onto all types of B&W papers, both graded and variable contrast, and for color printing. For printing onto graded B&W papers, simply dial out all filtration. For printing onto multi-contrast or variable contrast papers (same thing, different terminology), varying amounts of magenta and yellow filtration is used. Consult the tech sheets for your paper for starting point recommendations, and note that exposures will usually need adjusting as you vary filtration. Diffusion type lamp houses designed specifically for variable contrast papers are relatively rare, and cannot be used for color printing. They do, however, attempt to minimize or eliminate exposure compensation when changing grades. I can't comment on how well this works, but I'm willing to bet that it's not perfect. Even less common are the types of lamp houses that use a combination red, green, and blue lamps or filters. This additive color correction system is contrary to subtractive color correction system that is the standard for color and variable contrast printing, and can be more difficult to manage. These additive systems are also more complicated to implement and maintain properly. I'd avoid them unless you like being an inveterate tinkerer. Cold lights using florescent tubes are best avoided too. They may offer some advantages for a few workers, but for the beginner they offer none and can introduce other problems that need to be managed.
Of the two major types of lamp houses, I personally prefer using the diffusion type outfitted with dichro filters designed for color printing. True, you may not be able to exploit the extreme ranges that your paper is capable of delivering due to limitations in the filters' design, but I haven't found that to be a consideration. If I really need a grade 00 or grade 5 to get a negative to print well, it's not a good negative and not worth wasting time and resources on. A good dichro color head will easily deliver the equivalent of grades 1 through 4 with virtually any variable contrast paper currently on the market.
The most obvious advantage offered by a diffuse light source is the suppression of small dust specs and other blemishes on the negative. Some claim that they do not deliver a print that is as sharp as can be had from an enlarger with a condenser lamp house. Well, maybe. The diffuse light source certainly suppresses edge effects or Mackie lines, and also suppresses apparent grain a little bit. I think edge effects and Mackie lines look kind of stupid on a print anyway unless the effect is used for aesthetic reasons.
I disagree. All that's needed for color, beyond that needed for B&W, is color filters (in the enlarger or as a separate filter set), color chemicals, and of course color paper. There are additional color-printing tools available (drums instead of trays, color analyzers, color viewing filters [which are distinct from color printing filters], etc.); however, these things are optional extras, not necessities. Some people, myself included, even prefer developing color prints in trays rather than in the drums that are more commonly used in home darkrooms for this purpose.
Originally Posted by Martin Aislabie
I admit its been a while since I did any Colour processing - so I will defer to your greater knowledge of both the colour process and the necessary darkroom equipment
Originally Posted by srs5694
When I do Black and White, I just process at more or less the darkroom ambient temperature
However, the last time I did any RA4 processing, I remember having to do it at 38C, for which I needed heated trays and chemicals together with water tempering baths.
This equipment needed to achieve and maintain everything at the 38C process temperature was extra and additional to that needed to process B&W.
It was that extra equipment I was referring to
Sorry for any confusion
It's possible to do RA-4 processing at significantly lower temperatures than the 38C you mention. Some (non-Kodak) RA-4 kits are explicitly designed for this, with ~1-minute development times at room temperature (say, 20-25C). The last I checked, the kits that are marketed for this type of use are a bit pricier than their 38C competitors. Even standard RA-4 developers, such as Kodak's, can be used at room temperature, but you'll need to extend the development time, probably to the 2-3 minute range depending on the exact temperature. I'm not positive, but it's possible some filtration changes would be needed, compared to using them at 38C. FWIW, I've never bothered raising the temperature of my RA-4 developer and I'm perfectly happy with my results. I've used two or three different brands of commercial kits and at least one mix-it-yourself formula. Depending on the season, the temperature in my darkroom ranges from 20-30C. I adjust the developing time accordingly.