New to Medium Format, Need an Enlarger for B&W Only

Discussion in 'Film and Processing' started by danac, Sep 20, 2021.

  1. I need an enlarger that will work with 6X4.5 sized negatives and doesn't cost a fortune. Only black and white will be printed. Will a 75mm lens work for this smallest of medium format negatives or do I need 80mm? The Beseler 67 condenser with a 35mm lens kit new comes to $800. I would need the bigger lens too. That's a lot more than I expected. Maybe medium format wasn't such a bright idea. I could buy used but have no clue what to look for. I prefer new though. I've been using a Beseler Cadet II for 35mm so don't really need a 50mm lens. Forgive me if this thread has already been beaten to death but I looked pretty far back and didn't see anything.
  2. Beseler seem a premium / cult brand in Europe.
    IDK who is still in business and always bought used.
    I'd avoid Dunco & Liesegang.
    PZO Krokus were sturdy. Meopta might work. Durst had a huge market share can be nice to work with. Omega?

    If "only BW" gets printed on Multigrade, it requires a filter tray or a dedicated head.
    Are light bulbs for condensor heads still sold in your part of the woods?
    In doubt: Buy used from a former user (not heir) and rely on your people skills. Make sure to get right lens negative carrier and condensor for your format, a modular enlarger rigger up for 35mm only is kind of useless.
  3. Durst and LPL (Branded Saunders in the US I believe) are two reliable and fairly modern makes. I have an LPL C7700 that I don't think could be improved upon in build quality or design. Dursts are a bit more variable and they made some budget models that weren't too good.

    Any dichroic-filtered colour head can be used to print B&W multi grade paper. You should never need a Magenta density outside of its range to get a grade 5 paper 'hardness' equivalent!

    IME the difference between a diffusing head and a condenser one is trivial - unless you're going to use a point-source bulb and fiddle about with its adjustment for each print size. The usual opal lamp used with most condenser heads actually gives a semi-diffused light that's only marginally different from a fully diffuse source.

    A 75mm lens is fine for 645, and for 6x6cm as well for that matter, but don't get a cheap version. I recommend a Schneider Componon-S or a Rodenstock Rodagon. El Nikkors are good too. Anything else is pretty much an 'also ran'.
    Last time I looked at Schneider and Rodenstock's catalogues, they didn't produce a 75mm enlarging lens anyway, only 80mm focal lengths are available in the Rodagon/Componon models. So if that 75mm lens isn't an El-Nikkor, I'd probably pass on it.

    There are also 60mm wide angle enlarging lenses available that cover up to 6x6cm, but these are rarer and more expensive.

    Just one peculiarity printing 645 - Because most enlargers only allow strips of film to run transversely across the negative stage, a 645 neg can only be printed 'upright' in portrait orientation. This can limit the maximum print size compared to 'lengthwise' formats like 6x7 and 35mm. So make sure your enlarger has plenty of column height and a sturdy build.

    P. S. I note your preference for buying new. However enlargers, by their nature, tend not to get abused. There are still loads of lightly used ones out there at bargain prices. Only waiting to go for landfill if they don't find new homes.
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2021
    William Michael and Jochen like this.
  4. AJG


    +1 on LPL/Saunders for medium format enlargers--the college where I teach has them and they work well. Beseler also makes good enlargers, but I would go for a 23C rather than the Cadet model you mentioned as it is much sturdier and better built, as well as having a wider range of accessories made for it over a long time in production with relatively minor changes. I would echo the above comment that a used enlarger is a relatively safe investment since any abuse is usually evident on casual inspection, unlike cameras which can hide problems. Enlargers are frequently available for cheap or free since shipping them is expensive.
    robert_bowring likes this.
  5. I would also go with a Beseler 23C. There are plenty of used ones around and it is easy to get parts and accessories for it. I have seen them given away for free on places like Craigslist. Just make sure they are straight and have not been abused.
  6. What about the new intrepid enlarger I have seen seem good and does 120 negatives. Contrast filters are built into the head and are adjustable.
  7. I like to say that every enlarger the world will ever need has already been produced, and then some. They have near zero value these days. I've found them at the dump and at flea markets for nothing or nearly nothing. I gave away a 23C and a 45. The only one I kept is an Omega 4x5 because it can handle anything. IMO, one to look for is the Omega B22. It works well and is extremely portable and easy to store. If you get a 23C, try to find a 23CII because the illumination is more even. FWIW, I like condensers for 35mm and medium format black and while. Filtered head not needed, just use a set of individual filters.
    Jochen likes this.
  8. Like most things, you can spend what you like. I expect as others have pointed out, you can get something almost free of charge if you look around. Sure it might not have all the bells and whistles that a Pro model may have, but if you have a decent lens, and keep the negative carrier parallel with the paper, you're most of the way there. I have a Kodak Precision, made just after the War, that I bought at least 25 years ago, with all the neg carriers, measuring cylinders focus finder etc. for about 25 quid if memory serves. It does everything up to 6x9, and I've never felt the need to change it. It's a bit antiquated, but built like a tank and I get satisfaction from using something older than me that was built to last. The prints I produce and good enough for me. My Grandfather produced half decent prints too, using the lens from his Contax in an enlarger he built from the body of a vacuum cleaner.
    Jochen likes this.
  9. Hey, I learned to print using an old filmstrip projector, though I did graduate to a mail-order Printz enlarger soon after. Anybody remember Printz products? They weren't half bad for the money and I think my enlarging lens was about $10.
    Gary Naka likes this.
  10. If faced with a choice between 6x6 and 6x7, go with the 6x7 option, otherwise you exclude some rather desirable cameras that you may be tempted by later...
  11. That's a tough one because it leave out a lot of decent enlargers if you don't need 6x7. Definitely look into the cameras though because I'm betting there's a noticeable quality difference between 4.5 x 6 and 6 x 7. In area, it's 27 cm^2 vs 42 cm^2. Don't try to use a 75 mm lens for that one!
    Gary Naka likes this.
  12. Since you are in the US, either Beseler or Omega are my two choices.

    Durst while good (I have and use one), has two problems. #1, they are out of the enlarger business, #2, they were in Italy.
    What #1 means is, for spare parts, you have to search the used market.
    What #2 means is that spare parts are harder to find (and more expensive) in the US than in Europe.

    If you have no intention of printing color, I would go with a simple B&W condenser enlarger.
    That eliminates any hassles with the color head and power supply. KISS.

    The B&W enlargers with a built in VC head are nice.
    While they are like a color head, they are newer, so probably easier to maintain.
    robert_bowring likes this.
  13. I have a friend in town who has over 100 very nice old cameras. He also has a Beseler 23C II (the blue one) that he let me borrow today. It has a 50mm and 75mm lens. There is a 35mm negative carrier but that's all. I need to find a carrier for 4.5x6. It's two thin round pieces hinged together with a handle. He even converted it to a cold light. The enlarger was purchased by him in or about 1970. The instrument is in fine condition. I downloaded the manual since he really doesn't remember how to use it.
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2021
  14. A 6x6 will work, even better if you mask it off with some black paper. I've many an "emergency" carrier out of anything flat that I could cut- plastic, aluminum, Masonite or even cardboard.
  15. There are plenty of carriers around for this model. Both new and used. New are ungodly expensive. When I was teaching in a high school darkroom, students made their own carriers out of two pieces of mat board but dust was a real problem. If I needed something that I don't have today, I would cut it out of steel or aluminum plate material or file out a smaller carrier that I could pick up cheap.
  16. The borrowed 23C turned out to be pretty much an aged basket case. Folks, I am just an amateur hobby photographer. Compared to some of you I'm just a "fool standing on the corner." So I don't need a high quality enlarger. I'll never process color negatives and don't want to get into 6x7. The enlarger will be a much better fit for my small darkroom. Besides as stated before, I really cotton to new things and I don't mind spending the money. So I have decided to get a Beseler 67 Printmaker, a 75mm lens, lensboard and 6x4.5 negative holder. I don't need the 35mm kit as I have another enlarger for that.
  17. What's the lens?
    A cheap (i.e. any 3 or 4 element) lens will totally negate the quality of a decent 6 element camera lens, which the Mamiya standard 80mm lens is. Many, many 75mm enlarging lenses fall into that 'cheap' category. I see *rap like Wray Supars, Palars and Neotars being advertised on ebay for about the same price as top-quality lenses.

    Just the other day I was beaten on an ebay auction for a mint 50mm f/2.8 Rodagon. The winner got it for just over £26, including postage. Total bargain, and I wish them years of happy usage. My bid was only a whim - I have far too many enlarging lenses already.

    Anyway, point is that you can still get a great enlarging lens used for a fraction of the price of a rubbishy new one.
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2021
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  18. The lens that Beseler sells for the 67 Printmaker is an Omega El-Omegar 75mm f/4.5. I doubt that it is one of the better ones. It has a 39mm mount. If I purchase a better used lens it will have to be in like new condition. I just got my new-in-box Mamiya 645E with an 80mm lens plus a pristine 45mm lens from Japan today. I'd like to get the enlarger business settled soon.
  19. I think you're correct in that assumption. I don't know of any top-quality 75mm lens with an aperture of f/4.5. The good ones usually have either an f/4 or f/5.6 aperture.

    A quick search showed up this and this. Both currently found on ebay UK, but the latter is located in the US, and 'minty' enlarging lenses are common almost everywhere.

    The 80mm f/4 Rodagon is actually still available new, but it'll set you back over $500. Seems like a no-brainer to buy used to me.... But your choice.

    The 39mm Leica thread has been an industry standard for enlarging lenses for years. It's only very old Schneider lenses that you're likely to find in odd thread sizes. Even then, you can easily find adapters from their daft choice of 25mm thread to a standard 39mm.
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2021
  20. The "quality" lenses I just researched on ebay all looked as if they just came out of the bargain barrel at the local pawn shop. I will keep looking for a new-in-box or like new one. But in the meantime I ordered the Omega 75/4.5 with my enlarger etc.. I'm never going to do color. Enlargements will be no larger than 8X10. The lens was made for the Printmaker. And I need something right now. I have no doubt that my darkroom equipment will continue to grow one step at a time.

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