Equipment advice for a newbie
I'm looking to get into large format, and would need both the camera and an enlarger.
I live in Sweden, and the market for large format stuff is kind of limited. I could of course buy everything on the great auction site, but enlargers are HEAVY! And BIG! Shipping these stuff is expensive. So it might be a better idea to buy on the swedish market.
I have found a Beseler 45 MXII with three lenses and neg carriers from 35mm to 4x5, for around 900 USD. The fact that it's a complete kit makes it quite attractive, although the price is maybe not a bargain. An OK machine?
When it comes to cameras, I have found two options locally:
a Linhof Technika III with a 90 mm and a 150 mm, 16 holders, a polaroid back (unsure of which model) for about 900 USD. I think this is pretty steep for such an old camera with limited movements. I'm also worried that the bellows will crack and new bellows for Linhof seems rare and expensive.
a Sinar Norma 4x5m with a Rodenstock Sironar-N 150/5.6 and a Rodenstock grandagon 90/8, 4 double sided Lisco holders and wide angle bellows. I assume the standard bellows are included as well. Priced just under 700 USD. The Norma seems to be a charming and well built camera, with lots of movements. Spare parts and other stuff does not seem scarse.
My interest in LF is mainly due to the movements possible, not so much about neg size. I want to use and abuse movements for urban scenes, a few landscapes and portraiture. I'm leaning towards the Norma as it seems like a quite lightweight monorail, with LOTS of movements. It's also cheaper.
I could of course find cameras online, as shipping is not that expensive, but the above are attractive as they are complete kits.
what kind of head and what lenses come with the enlarger?
The Besseler is a good "mid-range" enlarger. As jb mentioned, a key question is what type of head (light source) it has, and whether that is optimal for the type of work you want to do. $900 USD isn't too bad a price if it comes with several lenses (50mm~ for 35mm, 80mm~ for 120, and 135-150mm for 4x5). The quality of the lenses is also an important element to consider. Buying locally would make far more sense due, as you noted, to the weight. You'd never be able to recoup the shipping charges should you sell it in the future.
As to the camera, you'll find that for most scenes a little bit of movement goes a long way. As such, either the Technika or the Sinar Norma would probably work for you. I'd think more about set-up time if working in urban environments. The Technika may have the advantage there. The Sinar Norma would provide greater flexibility, however. Both brands tend to hold their value on the used market, the Technika perhaps a bit more so.
[COLOR=SlateGray]"You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus." -Mark Twain[/COLOR]
Rio Rancho, NM
Ralph- but it's a Tech III, which has some particular funkiness about it, including the unique lensboards and strange movement controls. I'd go for the Norma.
If the Beseler 45 is within your budget, I'd go for it too. They are very solid, reliable machines, and any kind of part or accessory you might want can be found on the auction site for not much money, and spares should you need a repair are still being made. They aren't as versatile as some of the higher-end large format enlargers, but they're MUCH less expensive.
Before I start, this is my opinion, based on my experience. I had to say that, because folks in the US are likely to disagree with what's coming.
I have worked with several 4x5 enlargers. The Beseler 45 is the second worst, only the Omega D-series is worse. Compared to the others, I have worked with, they don't have the same rigidity (while trying to be diplomatic, I have avoided to use the word 'flimsy'). Sorry folks, just my irrelevant opinion. However, they are very popular and common in the US. I'm not sure why, but if people like them and they work for them, why not?
To me, better 4x5 enlargers are the Durst L1200 (very common in Europe), the Zone VI (not as flexible but built like a tank) and the LP ? (forgot the product description).
Now to the cameras. Unless you wont to stay in the studio, hands off monorails. They are too bulky. For landscapes a metal-field camera is very flexible. I now have a Toyo 45 II and a Linhof Technikardan. Both are very good, but the Linhof is sensitive and twice the price, but has more bellows-draw (better for portrait and architecture). The wooden-field cameras are also OK. To me, wood is not the ideal camera material, but they are very pretty and work well if kept well.
By the way, don't be fooled by large adjustment numbers, advertised by the camera manufacturer. The bottle neck of adjustments is the lens coverage. Most cameras allow for more adjustment than what the lens can cover. I opted for 90, 135 and 210 mm focal length.
To the price. $900 for a 4x5 enlarger is too much these days. I would not pay more than $500 for a mint version, and with enough time to wait, you might get one for free, if you are willing to go and pick it up. Expect to pay up to $1000 for a good 4x5 camera, used. Good 6-element enlarging lenses cost about $200 new, but for 4x5 you might have to pay more. You should get used ones for a fraction. Taking lenses are $800 and up, new, and about half that used. Again, mint only. Go for Nikon, Rodenstock or Schneider for enlarging and taking lenses, and you can't go wrong.
Again, just my opinion, that's all. Your experience may lead you to different conclusions.
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I agree with Ralph about the enlargers. I have a Durst 1200 that I bought for very little money from a lab that went out of business and it is the best enlarger I have ever used. I have experience with Omegas and Beselers and the Durst is far and away a better machine.
I also disagree with him a bit about the cameras. I use a 4x5 Norma and love it. It does everything I need and is just a joy to use. It is precise, has more movements than you'll probably ever need, and is not too heavy, although it is bulky compared to folding cameras. I don't think it weighs any more than a Toyo 45II or a Linhof. It is a modular camera that is compatible with most of the newer Sinar components, and it is easy to find things like bellows,additional rails, and much more. I use it with lenses from 90mm to 450mm. I carry it and all my gear most of the time in a wheeled cart in urban areas so weight is not a tremendous concern for me. I will often just put it over my shoulder with a lightweight lens installed, and a few film holders in a shoulder bag and walk around with it. I also on occasion will break it down and put it in a backpack for excursions into the field and it works well, but does take a couple minutes to set up, which I don't mind.
I think your decision will be based on the kind of photography you will be doing. I would urge you to take a good look at the Norma. If it's suitable for what you will be doing, I think it could be a great choice. In my opinion of course!
Both the Tech III and the Beseler are very overpriced by U.S. standards. The Tech III is a nice camera. Compact and rugged, it might be a good choice if you were backpacking, shooting landscapes. It's none too lightweight, however, and movements are limited.
The Norma, however, sounds like a good kit for the price, depending on its condition. As long as it suits your needs and you have no objection to using a monorail, you might want to seriously consider it. In the end it's your decision. Good luck!
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Anyone can appreciate a fine print. But it takes a real photographer to appreciate a fine negative.
Thank you very much for your replies!
I feel I have to stress that the market in Sweden is LIMITED. Very much so. Sweden is a country of 9 million. Perhaps 100000 people are photographers in the non-holiday/family sense. Perhaps 3-5% of these have ever used LF. The number of enlargers sold within Sweden is small, and the prices are inflated.
I have limited ceiling height in my darkroom, so I'm looking for a machine that is less than 130 cm tall. Most enlargers are taller than that, fully extented, but some have a column and baseboard that fits. The LPL 7451 has a 120 cm column, the Beseler seems to be 126 cm tall. The Durst Laborator 1200 is quite a bit taller than 130 cm, I believe. It seems to be a fine machine, though.
A friend of mine bought an LPL 7452 with a couple of Rodenstocks and lots of neg carriers from a photographer who went digital. He payed about 350 USD. Of course, I'd love to find a deal like that, but I'm not counting on it, due to our limited market.
Regarding the Norma/Technika. I don't think the size and weight will be an issue for me. The Technika seems overpriced and difficult to find parts for. I'll stay clear of it. The Norma seems like a good deal still, but I'll check around online to see if I find something that beats it.
I agree with the negative opinions about Beseler and Omega. Any Durst that takes 4x5 or larger film and has available the type of light source that you want is going to be a bargain these days.
It might not be a bad idea to buy a Durst that can use 5x7 in case you want to use even larger negatives.
I am not a large format user. I have a Durst S45..this is a varient of the 138 series. I have owned and used Beseler, Omega and Leica enlargers and the Durst is, in my opinion, the best of the lot. I believe that you may find the DeVere enlargers equally good.
Claire (Ms Anne Thrope is in the darkroom)
I can sympathise about the limited market. I live in Australia and find myself buying most things mail order from the US. Postage makes some things uneconomic to buy at any price unless I can get them as part of a larger order.
Anyway, about the Beseler, I've got a 45M which is older again and although it may not be as good as a Durst it is not junk. Junk would be the Astron enlarger that it replaced, no precision involved in that unit at all. I paid the equivalent of USD250 for my Beseler. It was from a University science department that had used it for enlarging Electron Microscope photos. If you know anybody who works in a University it may be worth enquiring to see if there is anything for sale.
The Beseler does have a couple of handy accessories, the negaflat carrier which grips the edges of a 4x5 neg to stretch it flat, and the negatrans carriers for 35 and 120 which feed strips of film through without having to remove the carrier. The negaflat does leave marks, but outside the image area. Pretty much anything you need for a Beseler 45 is available on eBay.
Something else to be aware of; if you are looking at condensor units make sure that they come with all the condensors that you will need. I often see people advertising for condensor sets for Durst 138s. The Beseler avoids this by varying the height of the negative carrier.