Darkroom Enlargers & Accessories

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Choosing a Darkroom Enlarger

One of the key components for printing photographs is a darkroom enlarger. The enlarger is the main component that allows you to produce prints of varying sizes from a negative. When equipping a darkroom, besides the enlarger you'll need various accessories such as developing trays, timers, negative holders, and easels. A darkroom enlarger is comprised of several components including a baseboard, vertical column, enlarger head, filters, and enlarger lens.

Enlarger Baseboard

The enlarger stand, also called a chassis or baseboard, is a sturdy rectangular base with a column that supports the enlarger head. The column may be vertical or slightly raked, to limit interference when processing large prints. Some enlargers have a column with girder construction for greater stability. The baseboard dimensions determine the maximum print size possible. The enlarger head attaches to a carriage that slides up and down the column for enlarging the image. Some types have rack and pinion mechanisms for precise adjustment of the head, while others incorporate a counterbalance weight to ease head adjustment.

Selecting Enlarger Lamphouses

The lamphouse, or enlarger head, contains a light source for exposing the film. There are two types: condenser heads and diffusion heads. Condenser heads produce bright parallel light rays that increase contrast and ease focusing. Diffusion heads deliver a diffused light that reduces contrast and is less sensitive to grain, dust particles, and marks on negatives.

Black-and-white printing requires white light, whereas color printing uses yellow, magenta, and cyan filters. These filters may be placed in a filter holder, or you can use dedicated color enlarger heads fitted with variable color filters.

How to Select Enlarger Lenses

The enlarger lens focuses the image from the negative onto the photographic paper. The lens screws into a threaded lensboard fitted to the bottom of the lamphouse and is secured by retaining rings. Because enlarging lenses don’t have focusing capabilities, there’s a separate adjustment fitted to the enlarger head for focusing the image. The focal length of the lens should be greater than the diagonal measurement of the negative to project the full image. For example, the diagonal measurement of 35mm film is approximately 43 millimeters, so you should use a 45mm or 50mm lens.

Essential Enlarger Printing Accessories

No darkroom is complete without a range of darkroom enlarger accessories. Enlarger and darkroom timers ensure correct exposure and developing times. Focus finders are useful for checking that you have the correct focus before printing. You use contact printing frames to load a batch of negatives for easy printing of contact sheets, while a variety of gray scales help determine correct exposure.