Condenser or Diffusion Enlarger

alexmuir

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If there is a condenser model that you fancy, and it’s a good price, I don’t see any reason to avoid it. Diffusers usually have colour or Multigrade filters built into the head which can be convenient, but you can use separate filters, either above or below the lens, on condenser models.
Alex


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Ian-Barber

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I have read that condenser enlargers are prone to show more dust. Have you experienced this
 

Alan9940

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I've never owned or used a condenser enlarger, but it's my understanding that if the film is developed appropriately for that light source, you couldn't tell the difference in a print between condenser and diffused. I imagine that the condenser glass does have to be kept as clean as possible. That said, I prefer cold light heads. I have a VC module in my Leica V35 enlarger, but still prefer the Aristo head on my 5x4.
 

David M

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Ilford give, or used to give, different recommendations for processing film for each kind of enlarger. Some people claim that condenser enlargers give more contrast and some say not. LF users easily circumvent this by controlling development time.
Fay Godwin thought her prints improved when she switched to diffusion. Excellent work may obviously be done on either.
As for three-dimensional dust, imagine the difference between illuminating a object with either a spotlight or a floodlight. The condenser casts a sharper shadow, whereas the diffuser's light creeps around the sides and reduces the size of the dust's shadow, and its sharpness. This process may also reduce the visibility of grain.
 

Alan9940

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Are you using fixed contrast papers with your cold-cathode head Alan?

Mike
I haven't used graded papers in years, but back when I did I used a standard Aristo coldlight head for those papers. For nearly 20 years I've printed on VC papers using an Aristo CL4500 head. This is a cold-cathode V54 tube (specifically made for VC papers, according to Aristo back in the day) with a filter drawer immediately under the light source.
 

martin-f5

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I never would use a diffusion enlarger. Condensor enlarger prints are stronger in contrast and deep blacks.
Ok you never would see a difference if one works perfect on both of them.
Dust is more visible with condenser ones but you can clean your films. I think it depends on the enlarging factor.
I use there condenser enlarger, Fujimotos and an Omega. Love them so much.
 

martin henson

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Apart from the dust and more so scratches on negatives which condenser enlargers are unforgiving, diffusion colour enlargers allow you to dial in paper grades using multigrade papers rather than using under lens filtration, yes there is a drop in contrast after using a condenser light source, this is overcome by using stronger multigrade filtration. I used condenser enlarges for years, then switched to Diffusion enlarges, much much better. Never used any other light source so cannot comment on that.
 

David M

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We forgot to mention the ultimate condenser machine – the point source enlarger. Not a practical proposition for printing images, but it's example of the extreme limit of available devices. I found I preferred a diffusion source, but I'd also switched from an anonymous crackle-finish machine with a pantograph (and alleged auto-focus) to a De Vere, so having an enlarger that I really liked may have influenced me. Once you've experienced the waist level wheels, you never want to go back.
Surely the only change needed is to add a half minute, or whatever, to development times? I don't doubt that martin-f5 gets the strong blacks that he likes but I don't quite understand the mechanics of it.
 

alexmuir

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I have read that condenser enlargers are prone to show more dust. Have you experienced this
I have both condenser and diffuser types in my Darkroom. My 35mm model is the Leitz V35 which is essentially a diffuser, but also incorporates a condenser element. For 120 I use a Durst M601 in its condenser arrangement. I have an LPL 7451 for 4x5 which is a straight diffuser with a colour head. I don’t notice any significant difference with regard to dust or scratches between them. Clean, undamaged negatives are the way forward (not that mine always fit that description). The Durst doesn’t produce a startling difference in contrast from the other two. I don’t alter development to suit each enlarger, but simply adjust contrast filtration on the enlarger. There is rarely a difference of more than a half to one grade, which is well within the scope of filtration (or most graded papers).
Alex.


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Ian Grant

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I use both condenser and diffuser enlargers, like Alex I used a Durst M601 for many years first with condensers and later a second with a colour (diffuser) head. Yes there's a slight difference in contrast easily controlled by paper grade but there's also other subtle differences, grain is slightly less apparent and this seems to help tonality. Of course this is most noticeable with 35mm negatives with 5x4 it's less noticeable.

I have 4 condenser enlargers and 4 diffuser, although not all set up. While I prefer the diffuser enlargers I'm happy to use the others.

Ian
 

Alan Clark

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There are,of course, degrees of "diffusion" with a condenser enlarger. My Meopta Magnifax,which handles negatives up to 6 x 9 is a condenser enlarger. Its filter drawer, above the lens, has a removable bottom made from thick ground glass. This gives a degree of diffusion. If you remove it and use an under-the lens filter system, (same filters) the enlarger prints with a half grade more contrast.
With regard to dust, the four surfaces of a glass negative carrier are notoriously difficult to keep dust-free and routinely produces white spots on your prints. On my Magnifax the glass carrier is a must. It keeps the negative flat when the heat from the bulb is trying to pop it. But with my home-made 5 x 4 enlarger, which has LED bulbs which don't give off heat, I can get away with a glassless carrier, which goes a long way to reduce dust problems.

Alan
 

Stephen Batey

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My first enlarger (Photax Paragon, 1961) was bought as a diffuser enlarger; when I could afford to, I bought the condensers to convert it. I now have a Durst M805 (condenser) and LPL 5x4 (diffuser, as it's a colour head). My personal preference was for condensers, but if I had printed colour (other than Cibachrome years ago) I would have favoured a colour head and sacrificed the condensers. The same if I'd used variable contrast papers I think.

I just had a subjective feeling that the prints were sharper from a condenser enlarger, but this can be easily accounted for by slightly higher contrast and the effect of more visible grain which also increases the illusion of sharpness.
 

Ian Grant

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I still have my first enlarger. I used to pop into a radio and TV repair shop that had a Photography section in the 60's asking about second hand enlargers. In the end they asked me to leave a phone number. one day I had a call they had an enlarger for me so I cycled down.

They'd found a brand new Gnome Universum enlarger when having a clear up, made around 1947 (this would have been 1968). I asked how much and was told it's yours if you buy an enlarger lens from us, the case was damaged but the enlarger was fine. It's an enlarger in a box like the later Russian suitcase Leningrad enlarger. There's a semi diffuser with a single condenser just above the negative stage and an "etched" glass diffuser a few inches above that, takes a 12v 38W lamp, probably a car bulb - with a transformer. It doubles up as a slide projector.

The diffuser screen's been broken and lost, I plan to get some glass cut (circular) in the next few days to make a new one (+a spare), I still have the original instructions etc. I made 20x16 prints with this enlarger :D

Ian
 

David M

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Ian,
While searching AA (The Negative), I came across his suggestions for different development for both kinds of enlarger. These figures are for neg density above FB+F. He doesn't list developing times.

Diffusion
ZI 0.09-0.11
ZV 0.65-0.75
XVIII 1.25-1.35

Condenser
ZI 0.08-0.11
ZV 0.60-0.70
ZVIII 1.15-1.25

There's an enormous overlap between the two sets of values so we must conclude that despite sincere advocacy from both sides, it can't matter too much.
Illumination must be even across the neg, of course, whatever the system. Don't forget the lens.
 

Alan9940

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As an interesting aside to those values that David posted, lately I've been following Steve Sherman's technique of developing to a Zone VIII density of about 1.0, and doing split grade printing. This workflow provides a subtle, but clearly visible difference in what the digital world calls micro-contrast. I believe this particular print characteristic is revealed because you're actually using more of the blue light picking up those deeper tonal values. However it works, it's an interesting technique to play around with that I've only recently started doing.
 

KenS

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We forgot to mention the ultimate condenser machine – the point source enlarger. Not a practical proposition for printing images, but it's example of the extreme limit of available devices. I found I preferred a diffusion source, but I'd also switched from an anonymous crackle-finish machine with a pantograph (and alleged auto-focus) to a De Vere, so having an enlarger that I really liked may have influenced me. Once you've experienced the waist level wheels, you never want to go back.
Surely the only change needed is to add a half minute, or whatever, to development times? I don't doubt that martin-f5 gets the strong blacks that he likes but I don't quite understand the mechanics of it.
David,

When 'transmission'.electron micrographs it is almost essential that you make the prints using a POINT SOURCE enlarger (as opposed to the negatives exposed using a 'scanning electron microscope)to ensure that the fine detail from the extremely thin sections can be 'resolved' on the print made from the EXTREMELY thin sections. I spent many days making B/W enlargements from negatives for the electron microscopist when I was employed at the nearby Agriculture Canada Research Center.
The Point-light source light in a 5x7 Durst 138S was also used for making the occsional B/W negatives from microtomed sections of the 'slide-mounted' fixed and stained soft tissue.... usually far superior to what can be recorded when using a camera mounted on even the 'highest' quality bench-top microscope.

Ken
 
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