Photo enlargers are used to produce photographic prints from film negatives and transparencies. Usually used in darkrooms, these machines scale up the images on developed films and are useful for changing contrasts in specific parts of prints. Most are vertically mounted, but industrial models used for enlarging large format film are horizontal. With many photographers switching to digital cameras, only a few brands still make enlargers, such as Beseler and Omega.
What's a Photographic Enlarger?
A photo enlarger is a transparency projector for turning developed negatives into enlarged prints. The main parts are the head, column, negative carrier, focusing stage (or base board), and wall mount. The head houses the light source and a lens or translucent material for adjusting the light. Most enlarger heads use incandescent bulbs or fluorescent tubes. The negative carrier is directly beneath the light source. The base board is a vertical mount for securing the equipment. The column is a moving shaft for adjusting the distance between the head and the easel holding photographic paper.
Types of Enlargers
The two major types of film enlargers are condensers and diffusers. A condenser uses a condensing lens to focus light when illuminating negatives. A diffuser enlarger has a translucent plastic or opaque glass between its light source and the negatives. These diffusion elements scatter light rays to produce a more even exposure and lower contrast than condensing lenses. Compared to condenser models, diffuser photographic enlargers don't emphasize defects in negatives.
An enlarger may also have a color or black-and-white head. While black-and-white heads can only handle black-and-white prints, color heads can handle both color and monochrome prints. To use either, you'll need darkroom enlarger head accessories, such as filter sets. Some color (dichroic) models have built-in filter mechanisms for changing the amount of blue, red, and green light exposed to negatives. You'll find Beseler enlargers with dichroic and black-and-white heads.
How Does a Photographic Enlarger Work?
An enlarger exposes a developed negative or transparency to bright, even light, and then imprints the enlarged image on sensitized photographic paper placed on the easel. Light from a bulb or cold tube hits a condensing lens or a diffuser, which in turn illuminates the film in the negative carrier. The exposed image on the film projects out of another lens beneath the carrier onto the photographic paper below. There are two ways to adjust the enlargement of these devices: by moving their heads up and down their columns, and by adjusting the bellows to vary the distance between the lens and the film.
Blow up film negatives exactly the way you like by getting your own darkroom enlarger rather than sending negatives to photo enlargers online. Browse B&H Photo and Video's various enlargers as well as a wide selection of darkroom enlarger accessories.