Sunday, May 09, 2010


My continued search for the ultimate printing machine.

When I first set up my darkroom and began learning how to make a high quality silver-gelatin print I worked with what I knew the Omega Enlarger with a very bright and hot incandescent light focused through a condenser system.  In reading Ansel Adams work on printing I was introduced to the cold light system.  The cold light uses a florescent light source that is cooler, and the bulbs last longer and produce an image that is not as sharp and contrasty as the standard condenser system which  gives the sharpest and highest contrast print which was very good for reproduction in Newspapers and Magazines at the apex of black and white journalistic photography.  The condenser system that "collates" light is bright and sharp and easy to focus on the easel but it has a few flaws like producing high heat which can make negatives buckle and it brings out all of the details in the negative including those you don't want like scratches, and imperfections in the negative.  Cold lights though also had issues.  The florescent light took time to heat up and could give varied light output.  One solution to this was to leave the light on during the entire printing session and just cap the lens when you wanted to shut off the light.  Eventually systems were designed with pre-heating that kept the bulbs warm so the lamp could produce a  consistent light output.  The next problem was that print contrast was produced through graded papers which became passe with the invention of variable contrast papers that used different colored filters to produce different contrasts.  The papers were designed to work with an incandescent light source which was more towards the red end of the spectrum rather then the blue of the early florescent light. My first cold light system called the Omegalite which was probably made back in the 40's used this system. It was hard to get graded papers and I preferred the versatility of the variable contrast papers so I went back to my condenser system.  Then I had an opportunity to buy a cold light that used a newer type of bulb that was balanced to work with filters.  I was to able find an old Aristo enlarger head that had a filter drawer and a pre-heater to keep the bulb working.  The bulb in the unit was broken and the replacement bulb was expensive but I invested in the new light and was very happy with it.  I knew though of the ultimate system which Ansel Adams used which was a light source made up of two bulbs, one green, one blue and a rheostat that controlled the output of both bulbs and could be dialed to different settings to give variable contrasts without filters.  The lights could be used in combination or alone in seperate exposures or split filter printing.  The systems though were way out of my price range.  Yesterday at Hollywood Camera Ed was selling a complete Zone VI enlarger with the dual light source, the rheostat control box, and a high end compensating timer.  The Enlarger was cheaper then what I paid 6 years ago for an old beat up D-2 but it was really big and required help in getting just the parts of it in to my darkroom.  I am going to have to build a stand for it and rearrange my darkroom, and I will lose all the versatility of my D-2 that I had bought all kinds of lens carriers and cool accesories for.  I am going to give the system a shot but I am not going to get rid of my D-2 just yet.  I want to see how this works for me.  I could probably sell or donate the system for a tax write off if it doesn't work out. 

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