The difference between a color head and a condenser is convenience. That's all - you can make quality prints on either.
Color heads allow you to adjust the contrast using the inherent color filtration. With a condenser head, you must use filters. You can get a wider range of contrasts with filters, but with a color head you don't have to buy separate filters. And some older enlargers (my Omega DII for example) don't have filter drawers, so you have to compromise with under-the-lens filters. I've never heard of anyone having to replace dichroic filters, but I have heard claims that conventional contrast filters have to be replaced periodically. Frankly, I believe that if you take reasonable care of them, they don't need to be replaced unless and until they become so old that they are fading. The bulbs in color enlargers tend to be more expensive halogen lamps while the bulbs in most condenser enlargers are less expensive incandescent, but in both cases they are special bulbs.
If you are going to print color, you definitely should consider the convenience of a color enlarger - color printing with filters is a real PITA. But for black and white, the choice is less clear. A dichroic enlarger is a convenience, but certainly not a necessity.
You can easily print from 35mm negatives using a 4x5 enlarger. You will need a different enlarging lens, a different condenser set (if you are using a condenser enlarger), and a different lens board or cone. And you will have go be prepare to swap out the lens (and condenser) to move between formats. Not a problem - just something that you have to deal with. Practically, I have found that I tend to concentrate on one format in a given printing session, so again it's not a big deal.
Ceiling height for 4x5 enlargers is potentially an issue. In my former darkroom, I also had a 7 ft ceiling, and that wasn't enough to allow my enlarger head to move to the top of the column. So I had to design my enlarging station to have adjustable shelves so that I could move the easel lower. In David Vestal's book, he has a picture of his darkroom in which he cut a hole in the ceiling to allow the enlarger to move higher. This is not a showstopper - just another opportunity to find a creative solution to a nuisance problem.
Originally Posted by Ian Grant
Thanks for the impolite reply.
Yes I have heard of dual filtration. However, the effects of the colour head do deteriorate with time. Hence, testing for the specific enlarger would be required, and would need to be repeated at regular intervals. So, yes it can be done, but rather cumbersome, unless of course acurracy and repeatability are not required. I have got much more controlable and consistent results since I started using external filters.
In addition, colour heads can't always give the same range as filters do.
I have a D6XL with a long column and it fits in a normal sized room (more like a closet actually) - normal ceiling height, and sitting at a comfortable level (I'm a tall guy).
Originally Posted by sun of sand
I use it for 4x5 mostly, but also medium format and 35mm occasionally (so far just a couple of rolls of HIE). It works great for everything I've done, though of course it's good to have appropriate lenses for each format (150 for 4x5, 90 for 6x6, and 50 for 35mm).
I have the colour diffusion head (chromega dichroic whatever) and the colour filters are handy for changing contrast. I had to position my safelight so I could read the numbers in the dark, but not a big deal.
I don't print colour but I like it for B&W. I'm not sure how the multigrade / VC filters work, but one thing I like is "dual filtraton" settings that come listed in a table with most papers... these let you change grades without changing paper speed (though you may have to run a short test to fine tune your exposure a bit). It beats running a whole new test strip once you decide you need more / less contrast.
I've never used the drop in filters, but I do like the idea of not having another thing (or set of things) to keep clean, and nothing gets in the optical path between my negative + lens & the paper which can only be a good thing
The universe is a haunted house. -Coil
I used a D5XL (a fancy D2) condensor enlarger for a few years but recently bought a DeVere 504 with a dichroic head. I like the dichroic head very much but there are both advantages and disadvantages
When you change contrast with a condensor enlarger, you have to take the filter out and put another filter in. If you start to do things like printing the shadows with one filter and burning in highlights with another, this can be a little tedious. With the dichroic head, you just dial in the different filtration. It only takes a second.
The major disadvantage with a dichroic head is that a change in filtration requires a change in exposure time. With a condensor enlarger, the times are more consistent. In my experience, if you changed filtration in the lower range, under 3.5, the printing times were pretty much the same. The same was true of 4 and up. However, with the dichroic head, the printing time changes with each change in filtration and it is not intuitive. You will need to do a test strip with every change or (and I highly recommend this), you need to do some calibration, or "speed matching."
I know, I know, everyone hates calibration, especially me, but if you take the time to do it - and it really is not that hard - you will be able to make a very simple calculation to find the new printing time with every change in contrast. It is worth doing it for the advantages of using a colour head. I have several articles on this that I would be glad to copy for you.
Supposedly a dichroic head is kinder with regard to dust. I can't comment on this yet - not enought experience - but it is looking like that might be the case.
The idea that condensor heads are sharper than dichroic heads is simply not true.
Ilford provides dual filtration settings that minimize the speed changes between grades for color heads. Not all the paper makers publish dual filtration settings though.
I recently bought a dichoric enlarger for 4x5 and I've been going through the calibration exercise, and my exposures are pretty consistent using the dual filter method from grade 1/2 up to 4, and no less consistent than when using Multigrade filters. Ether way, dichro or otherwise, some negatives will need fine tuning when changing grades.
I am also finding in my tests that the recommended dichro settings are about 1/2 grade lower than the equivalent Multigrade filter. And, as stated, the dichro head can't hit the extremes, like 00 and 5, though it's closer to hitting 00 than 5.
However, the convenience factor is great, and like Walter, I like having fewer things I need to keep track of and maintain.
Diffusion is a little more forgiving on dust and scratches than condenser heads, something I've recently been able to confirm.
As for sharpness, I would think that for the commonly available equipment, the lens is a far greater determinant of how sharp the prints are than the light source.
In comparing prints that I've done on the condenser enlarger, and the dichro so far, I haven't seen any difference in sharpness that is attributable to the lighting.
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Has everyone forgotten that the Omega D2 with Point Source head was available as a stock item in the 1950's.
It like many things it was found not to be all that it was supposed to be. It soon disappeared from the Omega catalog as lab technicians around the world using the Point Source light found it to be too close to the same quality as a good Condensor or even a diffusian/colorhead types of enlarging.
Photographers did not support it so it quickly went away.
It is amazing to sit here 55 years later after it was dropped from the Omega line to hear how wonderful it was. I owned and used one for several years before I dumped it and went with a Dichroic head. Still have it though it gets little use any more. I would not have kept it if it did not give me wonderful results. Never found it necessary to repalce anything other the bulb of all these years. It all cost me a bunch back then, but now they are available everywhere for next to nothing. I am not knocking the Point Source Head, or anything for that matter simply relating my own experience. Yours could vary, but they still discontinued it because of lack of interest and sales.
It seems that some of us really enjoy the re-invention of old gadgets from the past that failed in their own day!