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Monday, 05 February 2024


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A fine essay, and even though I don't care about enlargers it is a joy to read fine writing about a technical thing. You don't mention Beseler, which I remember having a lot of prestige, and which was what they have in the community colleges around here, I believe. Long ago I had a Durst that had that nice modern styling but was just a consumer product.

Addressing your comment 'I do aspire to pare my belongings down before my beloved son has to shovel through it all, but that's one old artifact he'll just have to deal with. Sorry, Xander!' reminds me of a book from a few years ago that was adapted into a limited series on the Peacock streaming service. The book is The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter (The Swedish Art of Living & Dying Series) (ISBN 1501173243).

The point of the book is to help the reader make decisions now that will help loved ones when they are gone, but is relevant at any stage of life. Unlike the Marie Kondo idea of limiting the number of belongings, the idea here is helping one to be purposeful. Broadly speaking the practitioner divides things into categories of what they want to keep, what they want to donate/gift and identifying to whom, and what they want to dispose of.

My wife has suggested that we embark on this during this year, and I am wholly on board. Like you with the enlarger, I struggle about my aggregation of watches (avoiding the curatorial suggesting 'collection'). I like watches, but I neither have offspring that have interest, nor friends or relations that do. One of the main points in justifying a big spend is that of the heirloom quality. But with no one to receive it, it just becomes stuff to liquidate.


I still have a LPL 7700 with both condenser and colour heads up in my now partially dismantled darkroom.

I was advised by a guy in a camera shop in London, I guess about forty years ago, that the LPL enlargers were better than the Durst enlargers, everybody outside of professional labs seemed to buy. It was good advice, I think

It replaced a beaten up, early version, Leica Focomat 1C. I did lust every now and then for the modern Focomat V35.

It came down to Italy with me, and served me faultlessly in my purpose build darkroom, when I was doing professional performing arts photography. A solid heavy brute of an enlarger, that I was never tempted to "upgrade".

Equally faultless, like the LPL, are the Kindermann stainless steel film reels and tanks, which was the wet side of my darkroom equipment.

I spent too many long hours, often all night session, in the darkroom, to ever think about returning to film.

I have also recently scanned my negatives that I was interested in, before handing them over to our provincial theater that commissioned them, for their historic archives.

I digress, but looking at the modern digital colour work that is now commissioned for performing arts photography, my B&W work has a directness and atmosphere, that I find is somehow missing from my old monochrome work. Colour adds confusion and it is harder to see the essence of the performer. But I can do things with the scans with C1, that I could never achieve with the grand old LPL.

The LPL and all the rest of the darkroom gear are a reminder of an extremely memorable part of my life, when I go up to the old darkroom.

Truly some amazing enlarger esoterica! I can see you renting the experience of using the LPL…. Ha!

I had an LPL 6000. Can't remember the exact model, but it was white :-)

My recollection is that head moved up and down on some kind of spring loaded mechanism.

Mike, I think you gave an excellent answer to your spot quiz question. I’m 75 and the only VERY cheeky answer I could come up with is “soon it won’t matter”. I haven’t printed film since high school yearbook photography team. But 40 years ago I “inherited” a large Omega enlarger when my father-in-law passed. It found a happy home at a local science museum that taught classes. So, don’t worry about Xander. He’ll find someplace other than the landfill.

You're smart to keep that enlarger. Decent ones are very high priced, due to "supply and demand".

I got a somewhat decent one decades ago at Campus Camera in Kent, Ohio (just down the road from the famous university) and thought I paid a higher price than I should have.

That was when they still had loads of '50s and '60s cameras in the used display case.

The enlarger I bought was missing the safelight filter, so I dug through the old filters they had and found a giant Wratten filter that looked like it would work. (I could barely see the daylight through it!) The filter had to be four to five inches in diameter.

I used an electric soldering iron to cut the filter down to the required size, sanded smooth the sides and it's worked great. I think I only paid $2-3 for the filter.

That enlarger was much nicer than the plastic special by Patterson that I started on.

I would submit that the Durst 138s may have been the best engineered and thought out enlarger that ever existed. It was a floorstanding 5x7" enlarger that had an endless number of accessories. I had one that was fitted with a point light source and register pin carrier for making dye transfer separations. I would love to buy one again (and they pop up on Ebay) but, it's the size a refrigerator. You can learn more about them on the amazing esoteric used gear site/museum Glennview.com.

I've recently bought an LPL 7700 (along with a Durst F60, a Durst M650 and a beginner enlarger for next to nothing), paired it with a Schneider Componon and I'm off printing in the darkroom I just haphazardly built in my garage (I am lucky), so I am firmly in the section of readers who enjoy reading about these things.

I also enjoy almost everything else!

I'm proud to say that I had what was probably the worst enlarger ever made. I had just gotten out of the Army and was working on my first commercial newspaper (The Southeast Missourian of Cape Girardeau, Mo.) The paper didn't have a photographer. When they absolutely had to have a picture, a guy from a local photo shop (remember those?) would run out and shoot it. I had a PX-bought Spotmatic and the Army had taught me how to print. I bought some trays, chemicals and the enlarger and started doing photos for the paper. The paper paid me $5 for each photo printed. Anyway, there was a company in the back of photo magazines that sold all kinds of cheap photo crap. You know, like the lens attachment that would snap on the end of your own lens, but had a 45-degree mirror in the end, instead of an opening, with an opening in the side, so you've be shooting at a 90-degree angel to what you apparently were shooting. I think I paid something like $45 for the enlarger, all plastic. But, it was good enough, if not good. When I told the editor that I was going to quit to go back to college for a master's degree, he sent me a list of more than 100 houses that I could photograph for a special section on construction that they ran every year, with all the new houses in the circulation area. I made something like $600 for two days of shooting all over the countryside. Arrive in a cloud of dust, spend ten seconds shooting the house, depart in another cloud of dust. $600 was a big deal in 1968 -- more than a month's pay. I was forever grateful to the guy. Somewhere along the way, and not very far along the way, I tossed the enlarger in the trash.

Amazing that NOS enlargers are so exorbitantly priced, while one literally can't give LN enlargers away!

Also, didn't cold head enlargers also cut down on contrast significantly?

I had a simple double condenser LPL 66 enlarger for B&W printing that looked like this:


Had years of fun until I started using VC papers and changing filters on the head became a hassle. I sold it and bought the Kaiser 6x6 with multigrade head. Dialling the grade on the Kaiser is such a breeze.

I do not have enough information to disagree with your assessment. Truth be told, I would love to have an LPL VCCE enlarger. However, I have had to “make do” with two Beseler 4x5, one with condenser head, and one with dichroic (which gets used most of the time). I do not need TWO big Beselers, or the adjustable stand for one that’s in the attic. But, just like you, I would hate for my circumstances to change and try to acquire anything near what I already own in the future.

I started darkroom printing with a Testrite enlarger. It was a toy. Upgraded to a hobbyist level Lucky. Bought an Omega 6x6. Still not pro grade. Went through a few B22s on the way. Then an Omega D5, and finally to the Beselers. Given what I have had to use in the past, the Beselers are like driving a Lexus.

No argument concerning the LPL/Sanders 4x5 enlarger. When I bought one, I was concerned that there was no ability to adjust the lens or negative stage to ensure that they were parallel to the easel. Turns out it was all exactly right from the factory and has remained so for the last 30 years.
Compare and contrast that with my Super Chronmega E, which required a lot of work during setup. Since my main landscape camera was a 5x7, this is the enlarger I used the most. It too is a solid piece of professional gear.
In addition to these enlargers, I still use a Durst A300 35mm only enlarger, which I purchased in 1974. It is absolutely built like a tank and features a very good autofocus system. It was much better than the Leitz focomat that I had used in high school.
Sad to me how much these cost new yet how little money they command used.

That LPL was definitely on the "lust for" list. My current/last/unused enlarger was Fred Picker's Zone VI 5x7 enlarger with the dual tube cold light head (blue tube for high contrast, green tube for soft -- all on VC paper of course). I further fine tuned the set up with a "soft" developer and a "hard" one. Prints would get their start in the hard developer until the blacks were well started, and then finish in the soft developer until the greys were where I wanted them. No idea where I got the idea for this, or even if the chemistry was valid. But man, did I love the output of that thing.

No b&w print from an inkjet printer ever came close. Not, I think, because the tech couldn't produce the results, but because there were so many variables to master in the digital realm.

If film photography is having a renaissance among younger photographers, having a darkroom can't be far behind. This sort of thing seems to happen just when the stock of new and even used equipment has all but disappeared. So LPL having gone digital is likely a sign.

My parents frequently had a darkroom in my youth. I certainly never achieved any sort of mastery of printing but I treasure my time in those darkrooms. The enlarger always stood tall, sort of dominating things. And developing a negative and turning it into a print smacked of alchemy, sort of a dark art, everything bathed in the glow of the safelight. Magic was at work.

Good of you to remind us a bit of all this.

This is an appropriate continuation of a conversation I had earlier today with my new-ish BFF, “Hippy Hank”. Hank is a Vietnam vet who, of course, saw a lot of sh!t but is remarkably sane. Later on Hank shot 4x5 as well as smaller formats, including Widelux. And he developed a method of developing by inspection which involved a glass tray and the green safelight mounted below the tray, activated by a foot switch. He even processed 120 by inspection, cutting frames apart as necessqry.

Hank no longer shoots with anything other than a smart phone, but earlier today we were talking film and film cameras, and I could detect the itch getting to him.

I never worked on an LPL - hearing your description makes me wish I had. For my own darkroom I settled on Beseler 45MX, adding a cold light head down the road since I wanted to avoid what Ansel described as “soot and chalk”.

As for the Simmons Omega D series, I used one for a few years in a pro lab and it was pretty much junk. Of course I got used to its clunkiness and the only redeeming feature was a turret lens mount that accommodated 3 lenses - 50, 80 and 135.

I always wanted to make enlarged contact sheets, but never had a carrier with glass - now I would love to do that. The community darkroom here has all Beselers, so maybe I should buy a 4x5 carrier with glass and bring it for printing sessions.

My Beseler now sits unused. Another enlarger I have is a Kodak 4x5. Who knew they made such a piece of gear? I saw it advertised on the local Craigslist and the listing stated if no one bought it it was going to the dump. Price was $20 so I bought it. I couldn’t bear to have it go to the dump IN ROCHESTER! The bellows was shot … and still is. If I ever clean out my basement I’ll build a darkroom and put it back in service.

A proper dichroic filter system for VC papers is one of the few things that would have really improved my darkroom experience that I never had. I did at least mostly get to use filters above rather than below the lens, though.

I got 16x20 enlarged contact sheets from one of my labs. Seemed to be done in one go on a single sheet of paper, I assume they used an 8x10 enlarger. Paper that big makes them hard to file, doing it in 4 steps in a 4x5 solves that problem, but is 4 times the work. I never actually tried it, and I worked with 4x5 enlargers most of my time in the darkroom. But doing "contact scans" of a whole roll in one pass is why I have 8x10 transparency capabilities in my scanner.

Best enlarger (at least that was/ is accessible to the average user): De Vere. Ergonomically vastly better than anything made by LPL, built to a significantly higher level of durable precision - better than almost all of the big Durst machines too.

I had an Omega D-2 for a while, until I tore down the darkroom and then started using mostly digital cameras. It was fine. I can certainly imagine more refined machines. But the thing was solid.

I eventually sold/gave it to a local friend of mine who was gonna use it to print medium format pictures of trains. But then he had more kids too, and never got around to it as far as I know. 🙂

Durst Laborator 138 for BW and Simmon Chromega for color
- those were the days!

The last and best enlarger I owned was the 670 LPL. I felt like I had finally achieved my goal of a well appointed darkroom by then. Nice archival washers, Saunders easel, Rodenstock and Schneider enlarging lenses, etc. Of course I almost immediately started messing around with digital and soon discovered I could make photos without all that stuff cluttering the small space just off the bathroom. The enlarger and etceteras went to a closet for a year or three before I found someone who wanted it all and I gave it away.

Per Vonnegut: "So it goes."

The best enlarger I owned was the Beseler 35 Condenser which cost under $300.00 in the eighties. I paired it with a Nikkor lens and also had a Seagull 11X14 print washer, all now worth triple what I paid.

The Beseler was small enough that it could be used in different orientations. I flipped the column so that it could project on the floor to make much larger prints. Yes, darkroom silver paper printing could be transcendent when printing good images but mostly it was a slog making contact sheets and 5x7 proof prints, most of which were not printed larger. After 16yrs. of processing film and making prints in bathrooms, and then 7yrs. in a shed I burned out and quit photography in 2000. My first digital camera was the first iPhone in 2007.

Two years ago I made a portrait of a niece with her two yr. old son. As I was setting up the scene her mother blithely said as she watched me make settings on my Nikon Coolpix A, “the smartphone is the camera of today,” to which I replied, “yeah well, I’m old style this way.”

Lord, how things change and stay the same.

One might think that enlargers were a nothing new mature technology.
Apparently, one would be wrong.



As I noted before, almost all of my enlarger experience has been with various Omega models. But when I lived in the Washington DC area, I used the rental darkroom at the excellent Glen Echo Photoworks; there I tried their LPL enlarger, and quickly realized how good it was.
Now in Tucson with my own darkroom again, I still use my ancient (but hot-rodded) Omega D-II. It's still sufficient for my needs, although I do admire the LPL ofone of my friends, for its quality and ease of use. I'm sorry (but not surprised) to find these fine tools to be orphans now.
"Fine tools contribute to fine work".

I have a 7451 VCCE and a 7700 (VCCE head on it at the moment). What's nice about this combo is they are very similar in operation so moving from one to the other doesn't require much thought.

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