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  1. #1

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    What to look for in a cheap enlarger?

    I would like your collective advice on what I should look for or avoid in a first enlarger. There seem to be lots of deals out there, ranging from a few hundred dollars to "take it away for free." But I don't have any experience to know what makes and models to look for or avoid. Just because I don't want to spend much money doesn't mean I want a boat anchor.

    For context, I have used a B&W darkroom throughout highschool, and then got into filmmaking. I have only come back to photography in the last couple of years, and would like to set up my own B&W darkroom. I'm really starting from scratch, and don't have the knowledge or experience to make good choices at this point. As for what I shoot these days, it's mostly 35mm and 120, with a little 127. At some point I would LOVE to get a Speed Graphic.

    Thanks in advance for any tips.
    My other camera is a Pentax

  2. #2
    David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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    Start with something like a 4x5" Omega or Beseler. These systems have been around a long time, so there are lots of them out there with plenty of accessories available for cheap, so you can grow with them.

    There's no reason not to get good lenses in today's market. You can find 6-element lenses from Nikon, Schneider, and Rodenstock that are excellent, and even APO lenses at a fraction of their original prices (except for Apo EL-Nikors, which are rarities).
    flickr--http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidagoldfarb/
    Photography (not as up to date as the flickr site)--http://www.davidagoldfarb.com/photo
    Academic (Slavic and Comparative Literature)--http://www.davidagoldfarb.com

  3. #3
    Barry S's Avatar
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    Even on a budget, you can go deluxe these days on used darkroom equipment. First off--get a 4x5 enlarger, there are so many out there that they don't cost much more than smaller format enlargers. The best thing you can do is find someone getting rid of their whole darkroom for a good package price. Accessories like negative carriers can be expensive and add up quickly. Search craigslist so you can avoid shipping charges and don't be afraid to make offers--it's buyer's market. I got an Omega 4x5 with colorhead, carriers, lenses, analyzers, and as much equipment as I could carry away for $250. Omega gear is great because it's bombproof and accessories are easily available, but Beseler and Durst are also great. Also, ask around--you may find an enlarger and other gear for free. A lot of people just want to reclaim the space in their basements.

  4. #4

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    Filmamigo,
    I have a Omega entry level unit looking for a good home. it is in the box right now ready to ship. It would come with a 50 and an 80 mm lense
    a 135 carrier and a 6x6 carrier. Free to a good home if you will reimbuse for shiping after you get it.

  5. #5
    jeroldharter's Avatar
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    I agree. Get a late model Beseler 45 MXT ($150 - 300), a Beseler 45 VXL (slightly more expensive and much larger) or the equivalent Omega.

    The easiest light source to use initially is the dichroic lamphouse for either enlarger.

    Negative carriers are widely available.

    Spend a lot of time cleaning and aligning.

    Get a good lens. I have purchased a number of lenses (who can resist) for good deals like a 50 mm Nikkor f2.8 for $19 and a Rodagon 150 mm for $49.
    Jerold Harter MD

  6. #6
    Ian Grant's Avatar
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    Surprisingly its actually difficult to give away good solid well built enlargers. Believe me I've tried.

    OK mine are only 35mm, but for free and mint they look like new. I have given away a 5x4 to an APUG member as well

    There are so many enlargers redundant & for sale, it's so bad it's certainly hit production of new enlargers for six (for the odd US APUG member - Out of the ball park)

    Unlike a few years ago where budget was the major influence on choice, buy better than you need in case you move up formats.

    Ian

  7. #7

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    Others have given good advice; however, I've got a couple more points. First, you don't say how much space you have. Although going up a size (to 4x5 in your case) is often a good plan, if you don't have much space, that could be a problem. In that case, it might be better to start with an enlarger that'll only go up to your current top size and plan on upgrading later. With any luck you'll have more space by then. If you've got the space now, though, by all means get something bigger than you need. Note that it's often hard to judge the size of an enlarger from a photo on the Web. Get hard measurements if at all possible, or go to see it in person if it's local.

    Second, I recommend you get a color model. The color filters can be used to adjust contrast on variable contrast B&W paper, and having them guarantees you'll be prepared for color printing in the future, whether or not you want to do it now. In today's market, the added cost of a color enlarger is minimal to nonexistent. OTOH, most color enlargers are diffusion models, and some people prefer condenser enlargers. If you know you're a condenser fan, that might be a reason to go with a B&W condenser model. If you don't know the difference or don't care, though, a color model makes more sense, IMHO.

  8. #8

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    Lots of good and useful advice. I don't have an enormous space, I'm planning on putting in a sink and small counter in a basement utility room.

    Davesw, thanks for the kind offer - I left you a PM.

    I love APUG. This place has such a generosity of spirit.
    My other camera is a Pentax

  9. #9
    Steve Smith's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ian Grant View Post
    Surprisingly its actually difficult to give away good solid well built enlargers. Believe me I've tried.

    OK mine are only 35mm, but for free and mint they look like new. I have given away a 5x4 to an APUG member as well
    If anyone else in the UK wants to give away a 5x4 enlarger, I think I know where I could put it!

    When I do get one, I have a Saunders/LPL 6700 which I will give away.


    Steve.

  10. #10
    Michel Hardy-Vallée's Avatar
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    Don't be afraid to be picky. My current definition of "cheap enlarger" is the following kit:

    * Vivitar VI with dichro head, all negative carriers included
    * Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Rokkor-C.E.
    * Electronic Gralab timer
    * Beseler rotating base and drums
    * And plenty of other little things I forgot.

    The kit was mint. Flawless, not a single scratch. How much, you ask? 100$. I sold my redundant El-Nikkor 50mm, and almost paid myself back.

    So don't even bother picking up a kit with missing pieces, broken parts, misaligned, or rusty bits. I see plenty of people selling their crap for 500$ because "that kit cost me at least 1,500$ when new". Well, tough luck. The market value of enlargers has plummeted. Go for name brand, get the biggest you can afford to pay/use, and in the best possible condition.

    500$ is pretty much the highest you should ever budget, and at that price you could actually get a really, really sweet kit (e.g. a mint 4x5 dichro enlarger, including the lenses, processing accessories, etc). Unless you're going for a 10x10 brute. But as was said above, most people will let you take their kit for much cheaper because they need the space.

    Oh, and if you need a cheap cold light for your setup, you know where to find me!
    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

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