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?
"If You Push Something Hard Enough, It Will fall over" - Fudd's First Law of Opposition
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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...
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.
That is called grain. It is supposed to be there.
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.
Originally Posted by Flotsam
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.
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.
I love the smell of fixer in the morning. It smells like...creativity!
Truly, dr bob.
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?