Beseler 23CIII-XL ?
I only this spring began developing my own black and white film, but I've been making paper negatives (from pinhole cameras) for a few years. Naturally, I want an enlarger, and I've been casually looking for one. I will want to print 35mm and 120 black and white.
This week, an aquaintance in another state offered me an enlarger. She doesn't know if it works, but says she got it from an auction and that it's in its original packaging. It's definitely been used. It appears to be this:
Beseler 23CIII-XL Photographic Dichro Color Enlarger
I've done some research, and this doesn't look like a starter enlarger. It looks prety advanced. As such, I'm not even sure what questions to ask about its condition. First of all, is this too much enlarger for a beginner? If not, what are the most important things to ask about on this or any enlarger? I think I should ask about lens, lens boards, negative carriers, and bulbs. But what specifically? What do these things usually come with out of the box? I think this person knows less about enlargers than I do. The blind leading the blind, perhaps. Maybe I should just ask for pictures...
They are a great little enlarger. Be sure the bellows don't leak, and of course as you have already suggested knowing about the lens, negative carriers will be helpful.
What is the asking price?
They're a great, sturdy unit and have been a mainstay of school darkrooms because of their robust, simple design. They're very easy to get accessories and replacement parts for with only the most obscure items requiring extensive searching. The head you mentioned is versatile and will work well for variable contrast materials. They share lens boards with their larger cousin, the 45 series. I wouldn't be afraid of it and unless you go to 4X5 someday, you won't out-grow it. Post questions in here about parts and functions you're not clear about and there will be plenty of assistance.
One thing, take a few minutes when you're cleaning it up to file/emery board the bulb socket and bulb contacts. It's quite common that they have surface corrosion (not always real visible) and this can lead to very short bulb life.
If you never shoot larger than 2 1/4 by 3 1/4, the Beseler 23Clll XL will be an enlarger for a lifetime. I've even made murals with one using a hanging easel and the enlarger in horizontal mode. The Beseler 23 was my first serious enlarger and I still use one more than 40 years later even though most of my work is large format now, I still love to use the little Beseler when I get a chance.
I've not used the dichro head, but my first enlarger was a 23cII which i recently converterted to an XL chasis. Its a great enlarger to start out on, and a great enlarger to use. Very sturdy, very durable, nice enlarger. parts are still manufactured too, so if anything breaks, your set. Go for it!
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A 23cIIIXL was my first enlarger, although it was not the Dichro model. I see no reason for it not to be a great "starter" enlarger, and one that can grow with you as you become a more skilled printer.
Trust me, you will love that enlarger. It will do everything you ask of it and more. Dont be put off by the dichro head, that just makes it easier to fine tune the contrast you prefer. 23C's are hard working, last a lifetime, machines.
What is a master but a master student? And if that's true, then there's a responsibility on you to keep getting better and to explore avenues of your profession.
Okay then! This sounds like the enlarger for me. I don't think its owner wants anything more than to get it out of her house (i.e. it's free).
So I should ask about the condition of the bellows. I'll do that.
Worse case, the thing is stripped down -- has no accessories at all and a burnt out bulb. Is it still worth it in this case? Sounds like parts and accessories are readily available. Hopefully they're not too expensive…
Thanks for your patience with me.
In case it comes without a manual, here's mine that I scanned a while back:
Even somewhat stripped down, it's definitely worth it (you said free, right?). I don't have the color head, but this is the enlarger I have. If I hadn't added a 4x5 to my camera lineup this would have been all I needed. I now have two enlargers on my bench and use the 23CIII over the 45MX for most printing. It will last close to forever. I don't think there's a problem with having more than enough enlarger. I'd rather have been a beginner with this one than gradually getting better and outgrowing my enlarger.
Once you get it and have it unpacked, if there's someone near you who's familiar with these, it might help to have them look at it to see what you need. And Freestyle still has the bulbs for it, I'm sure (they had what I need).