Before We Begin

Getting Started

The Process

The Process II


Print Drums

Temperature Control

Tips / Miscellaneous


Photographic Enlarger

An enlarger is basically a highly specialized slide projector. It is carefully aligned and facilitates fine adjustments for magnification, light intensity, light duration, and light temperature. There are several things to consider when choosing an enlarger. For colour printing, you’ll want an enlarger fitted with a dichroic colorhead. This means that the head, or lamphouse (the light source) of the enlarger is fitted with a set of colour filters that are controlled and adjusted by you. It is possible to make colour prints using an ordinary b&w enlarger through the use of CC or colour compensation filters, but this is far less convenient. Moreover, colour heads can be used for black & white printing. If you are printing on VC/Multigrade paper, simply dial in magenta for more contrast, or yellow for less contrast!

Beseler 45 MXII with a Dichro DG head

In addition to having colour control, you must also consider which formats you wish to print. With prices the way they are for what used to be extremely expensive and specialized equipment, I recommend buying an enlarger you can ‘grow into’. If you’re only thinking about printing 35mm film now, but someday might foray into the world of medium format, for example, I would suggest seeking out a medium format capable enlarger. Likewise, if you think you will be printing 4x5” film some day, you know what to do! Most 4x5-capable enlargers can readily handle 35mm film as well; which brings me to the next topic:

Enlarger lenses!

The following is a list of ‘normal’ lens lengths for enlarging differing film formats:

35mm  (24x36mm):    50mm

120 film: (6x4.5cm):   75mm
120 film: (6x6cm):      80mm
120 film: (6x7cm):      90mm
120 film: (6x9cm):      105mm

4x5”                          150mm

You might see a trend here. The shorter the focal length, the higher the magnification. Additionally, the typical focal length for an enlarger lens closely matches the camera lens 'normal' focal length of each respective format.

Can you mix and match lenses between formats?

Sort of. You can print the smaller format with the longer lens, but never the larger format with the shorter lens. If you use a longer lens, however, the image magnification is reduced, and so you have to lift the enlarger higher than normal to print at the same size you would be printing with the correct lens. This effectively means that your maximum print size is reduced.

There are a number of solutions to this problem -- certain enlargers can be adapted for wall projections where column-to-baseboard height is inadequate. Another solution is to create a table with a trap-door to allow for floor projections.

The following links might be useful for those still brainstorming enlarger setups:

Trap-Door table design and darkroom floorplan

Image gallery of DiY Trap door Table

I made the table using an off-cut sheet of MDF and some 2x4's. Total cost of materials including screws and hinges was less than $20!


Omar Elkharadly, 2010