Question for Saunders LPL 4x5 Enlarger Owners
I'm seriously considering getting a new enlarger for use in my black & white darkroom and I decided upon one of the Saunders LPL 4x5 enlargers. But in speaking about this prospective purchase with a friend, whose knowledge about photo eqpt has never been suspect, I was told to avoid this enlarger because the Saunders LPL enlargers have no provision whatsoever for adjusting the alignment between the negative stage, the lense stage and the baseboard. I just can't beleive this, as these are such a popular a seemingly well engineered enlarger. Anybody here on APUG use the Saunders LPL 4x5 enlarger and can you tell me how you align the enlarger, or if it is at all possible to align the enlarger. Also, would be curious what system you use for the alignment procedure, I have used the adjustable level on my ancient D-2V, but have seen some very hi-tech enlarger alignment systems out there. Thanks in advance
Craig, I own the 4550 VCCE XLG model. To be honest with you I have not found it necessary to align this enlarger in the time that I have owned it (four years). I don't know that it has provisions for alignment or if it doesn't have provisions. These enlargers are generally recognized as being one of the most rigidly designed enlargers of recent vintage. I also own the Omega D2V and it is not comparable to the Saunders in anyway.
I have a 4500-II, and your friend is correct in that there is no way to align the stages, short of shimming them - and I'm not even sure if you can shim them. However, they are rarely out of alignment, if ever. Bruce Barnbaum has 7 of them (yes, seven), and I believe John Sexton had a couple, or perhaps as many as four. Ray McSavaney, to whom perfection is just barely good enough, has a 4500 XLG. I think if these guys use these enlargers and are happy with them, then I think you will be too.
The enlarger is very well made, very sturdy, and it's construction ensures that everything is in alignment. Its design precludes going out of alignment. You don't have the flexibility of adjustable stages (say for perspective adjustment), but that lack of adjustability ensures that everything is always in alignment.
While it leaks a bit of light around the negative stage, that's a minor problem when you consider the quality of the enlarger itself. The light leaks are easy to fix. Not even an issue, really.
Pick one up - you won't be disappointed.
Regarding alignment, if you mean making sure the head is aligned to the base, I use mirrors. One in the negative stage pointing down, with a hole. One mirror on the base. Look through the hole and adjust the column until you only see one hole, and not a curving line of holes. This really only makes sense if you wall mount the column, as I have done. If you mount the enlarger on the supplied base, then use the same procedure, but shim the base. Shouldn't be an issue, really.
Firstly, the LPL 4x5 is a superb enlarger. I have a 4500II, wall mounted. The build quality is first rate and the ergonomics make use pleasurable. My only "negative" comment would be that the fine focus extension should be standard, not an option. I still have my D2V workhorse, and although a very functional, competent enlarger, the LPL was a quantum upgrade. So enough of the gushing commercial.
Secondly, the enlarger can be aligned in all three planes:
Baseboard - shims on the column base
Lens board - silvertape shims
Neg Carrier - adjustment screws on the masking plate.
I recently wall mounted the enlarger. The LPL wall mount brackets allow for alignment adjustments. I check alignment with 2 mirrors, one with a hole drilled. I removed the the base board, trued the column on the wall mount with carpenter levels. Levelled my enlarger station platen with carpenter levels. Checked alignment with mirrors, minor tweak to get straight reflections. Checked negative state, spot on. Checked 3 lenses mounted to boards, mounted to head. 2 spot on, 1 needed a slip of tap on one side to be spot on. Total time, and begrudging assistance from an 18 year old daughter, about 15 minutes.
Checked a couple of months later on format change to LF > MF, (Changed lense & board. Still spot on. Switched back...spot on. Never, never, was I able to align the D2V so quickly. Nor did alignment stay so reliably set. I still use the D2V w/coldlight occasionally. It is a great piece of equipment, but the LPL is better in every useful way.
Well everyone, Thank you so much for the positive comments and advice, looks like you all have helped me decide to go with the Saunders enlarger. I may even consider purchasing a previously owned unit off of that rather large auction site, there seems to be quite a few for sale there at any given time.
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When I bought my 4550XLGVCCE machine last year, there was a really good sale on them at B&H (the enlarger and a 4 bladed 11x14 easel thrown in for only a hundred dollars more than the 4500II if I remember correctly). I just tried their website to see if it's still on sale, but the site is down at the moment....still, it'd be worth checking if you want a new one. ( www.bhphotovideo.com )
The enlarger is a tank btw; the column is specifically matched to the head which is why it comes permanently aligned. If you buy the baseboard, it too is very rugged with a steel girder reinforcing it underneath which also keeps it 'true'. Good luck.
I own one and really like it. however, it is not as easy to align as my omega which has adjustment screws where required. a shim is a fancy word for piece of paper or tape or toothpick shoved into the right place. If you do this for the lens, for instance, you have to realign whenever you change lenses. primative and not at all in keeping with the design and quality of the rest of the enlarger. the enlarger column and head are factory aligned. Mine was perfectly aligned at the negative and baseboard, but out at the lensboard stage. a folded up piece of business card fixed that problem.
The other negative aspect of the enlarger is that it leaks a lot of light compared to my other two enlargers - plan on painting your wall black or using some black masking tape to cover the light leaks.
Don't want to sound too negative about the Saunders. it's really well engineered and constructed. the controls are smooth and the micro focusing knob is a nice feature.
for alignment tools, the Parallel from Versalab is excellent. accurate and fast to use.
I have one (sold a Zone VI which I did NOT like to get it). I love the LPL.
Yes alignment requires shims. I've never felt a need to do it. Shimming would be easy just because of the way it's built.
I have a 4500D. I had the base stolen a few years ago, I just happened to have the head and column in a separate place. I'm considering having someone build me a new base so I can use the enlarger once again. When I was using it, I found it to be excellent, although I only did Cibachrome on it.
If space allows, wall mount the enlarger. The potential benefits are:
- More rigidity, More adjustment options, Reduced limitations on print size.
Just my thoughts!