Let me toss out another point of view on this: A beginner (and I realize the original poster has used darkrooms before, so this may not apply to him/her) may not know what features are likely to be useful, so seeking out the best, most pristine, perfect enlarger with all the trappings may be pointless -- if the individual eventually learns that s/he needs features X and Y but that beautiful enlarger lacks those features, it's going to be replaced anyhow.
Originally Posted by mhv
Thus, there's something to be said for picking up the cheapest thing that more-or-less meets one's initial needs. Plan on using it for a few months to learn about print-making. With hands-on experience you'll get a better feel for what sorts of features are important to you. Watching Internet discussions on enlargers for comparison will also help; for instance, if you see discussions of fine-focus adjustments and you're having problems focusing, you'll know to look for an enlarger with a fine-focus knob. After gaining experience with the cheap enlarger, you can go buy something that's suited to your needs. In today's market, that first enlarger can be had for very little money, so the extra investment need not be a big one.
I don't think that deliberately getting a "training" enlarger as I've described is always the best way to go, but it's an option that's worth considering, particularly for newbies who have no idea what to get.
What to look for in a cheap enlarger? Low cost.
"The secret to life is to keep your mind full and your bowels empty. Unfortunately, the converse is true for most people."
Most enlargers have only one important feature: on/off. I don't think an newbie needs to bother with accessories like fine focus knob either, but my point is simply to get a sturdy, working enlarger, that has various negative carrier sizes. And getting a dichro head is such a bargain nowadays that it's worth the investment.
Originally Posted by srs5694
Using film since before it was hip.
"One of the most singular characters of the hyposulphites, is the property their solutions possess of dissolving muriate of silver and retaining it in considerable quantity in permanent solution" — Sir John Frederick William Herschel, "On the Hyposulphurous Acid and its Compounds." The Edinburgh Philosophical Journal
, Vol. 1 (8 Jan. 1819): 8-29. p. 11
My APUG Portfolio
My experience in high school was very basic. Simply making serviceable B&W test strips and prints from 135, and I couldn't tell you what paper I used, what chemicals I used, what make or model the enlarger was, whether it was a condenser or diffuser (?) I really am starting from scratch. I'm reading books, and trying to soak up info on APUG, but my starting level of information is really low. So all of this information has been invaluable.
My other camera is a Pentax
If you're starting (almost) from scratch, you should probably not get too hung up on certain details. People sometimes get into very heated discussions about condenser vs. diffusion enlargers, brand-vs-brand issues, etc. (So far the discussions in this thread have seemed pretty calm, but you may run into more emotional discussions elsewhere.) Most of these things are issues that are subjective, in the sense that one person may prefer one thing but another person may prefer another; but without experience, there's no way of knowing which you'd prefer. Thus, there's no point in getting too hung up about them.
One other item that hasn't been mentioned: bulbs. Most enlargers use fairly common screw-in bulbs, similar to household light bulbs. (Enlarger bulbs don't have writing on them and they're designed to produce very even illumination, though.) Some use more exotic bulbs, though, such as the 14V 35W MR11 bulbs used in my Philips PCS130/PCS150. The exotic bulbs can be expensive -- the bulbs for my enlarger cost $13-$30 apiece (or more from some gougers!), and the enlarger takes three of the bulbs. This can add up to a significant cost, so you should check on this detail before buying a "bargain" enlarger -- spending $100 a year on bulbs for a $10 enlarger makes it much less of a bargain! Fortunately, most enlarger bulbs don't need replacing that often. I've replaced one of my enlarger's three bulbs in about two and a half years, for instance. This makes my own bulb costs about $5-$10 a year, which is probably still high by enlarger standards, but not ridiculously high, particularly compared to the hundreds I spend on film, paper, chemistry, etc.
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I know. I just sent 7 of them to the dump because, after advertising them as free to a good home, not one person who could come and get it actually showed up.
Originally Posted by Ian Grant
Some very good advice. Even if you don't have a lot of room the Beseler and Omega 4x7 enlargers will be worth getting. Right now it is a buyers market and as you have seen 'get this thing out of my garage' is happening most everywhere. Got a pristine $3000 Durst for under $300 awhile back. Timers, lenses and the whole package. More than worth it.
You won't go wrong with a solid 4x5 enlarger and if you watch a bit you can easily get the whole darkroom in the package. Stuff you fine you don't or can't use can always be donated to goodwill/salvation Army or similar or given to another photographer if you can find one setting up a darkroom.
Ouch, that hurts, Ian! 7 enlargers to the dump! Meanwhile, us folks way out here in the middle of nowhere (Ozark mountain area of North Arkansas) have to buy everything on FleaBay because there are no locals who are either giving away darkroom stuff or selling it for peanuts. It seems that there are always enough folks on the Bay who either can't get equipment locally or are unaware that they are bidding $200 for things that most everyone else is giving away or throwing away. Maybe I should start scavaging at the dump a little more often.
I agree here. The other thing I found with the Omega D2 color enlarger is that you have more control over short exposures. With my DII condenser, some times I couldn't get a short enough exposure because the light was too bright. I'm sure there are ways around this though.
Originally Posted by srs5694
It is so nice to be able to just dial in the filters with the color enlarger instead of messing with the 4x4 ones that the condenser uses. and the timer that goes with the D2 is really nice. and the foot pedal. All on ebay.
Good luck! And get the Speed Graphic. It's loads of fun and dirt cheap!
I am going to go against the wind here and suggest if you are only using 35mm and 120 (645, 6x6, or 6x7. not 6x9), you should buy a medium-format enlarger.
here are my reasons.
1. Availability. You will have an easier time finding a high-quality enlarger in medium format, and shipping will be cheaper and more likely (often 4x5 elargers are pickup only)
2. Usability. 4x5 enlargers are beasts to handle. The older ones often have a bit of rust making them extremely hard to move and the newer ones are overbuilt/oversized. I have a 4x5 enlarger and a 6x7 and I much prefer working with the 6x7 enlarger for smaller negs.
What enlarger should you get? No need to skimp get the best you can find. I would reccomend Durst or Saunders/LPL. I also like the newer Omega/Chromega models, while not as fancy as the Saunders, they are solidly built, simple design, and easy to find parts/accessories for.
I havent used a Durst myself and they have many models to choose from, but Im sure others here will help if you have questions.
I dont care for the bessler medium format enlargers myself. I had a bessler dichro 67s and it was allmost the same size as my 4x5 enlarger. it did not seem very precise, and it generated a ton of heat. (if you look at the head, it has a projector type bulb that emits light into the mixing box, but theres only a postage-stamp opening to let light in. So it seems to me like there is alot of wasted energy and excess heat) Others may have differing opinions.