Upgrading enlarger from MF to LF

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I am considering getting into the 4x5 realm at a entry level and as cheaply as possible. My darkroom enlargers are all designed to handle the 35 mm to 120 format. Is there any way short of purchasing new enlargers to utilize this format with my existing equipment. My desires to enter large format would not allow for a camera purchase and a new enlarger purchase. Please give me your thoughts on this subject and what you have known others to do in order to blend this format along with darkroom wishes.

-- Steve (Smkunder@aol.com), September 03, 1998


I know of no medium format enlargers which can be upgraded to larger format. Sturdiness and light sources are generally the reason.

So here's two suggestions:

1) Start with a view camera and a rollfilm back. This takes you sort of half way there. You can experience movements and composing upside down, but you won't get the big negative.

2) Contact prints. Your existing enlarger can be an excellent light source for contact printing. There are people who would think it's nuts to get into large format photography for prints no bigger than 4x5. It's unusual, but those little prints can be really jewel-like, and if you get good at dodging and burning tiny little contact prints, you can easily handle the rougher large areas when you start enlarging.

I attended a gallery opening recently for a show of photographs by Claire Yaffa. Most of the photos were smaller than 4x5 inches. She made very nice use of light and shadow, turning human bodies, plants, and other objects into interesting abstract shapes.

Unfortunately, I don't have a good suggestion for you to enlarge 16x20 prints from a 4x5 negative. Keep your eyes open. Omega D-2 enlargers pop up pretty inexpensively every now and then. They're old, but can be very usable.

-- mike rosenlof (mike_rosenlof@yahoo.com), September 03, 1998.

Another possibility would be to consider making a light-source back for the LF camera. If it's good enough for Ansel Adams...

Or go for 10x8, and forget about enlargers.

But my vote would be to save for a secondhand 5x4 enlarger. There are some real bargains around.

-- Alan Gibson (gibson.al@mail.dec.com), September 04, 1998.

I agree with the advice to consider contact prints, until an enlarger can be aquired.

I have a 4X5 enlarger, but decided as a personal project, to only create contact prints. They are made just as any fine print, dodged, burned, toned, spotted and dry mounted on 8X10 boards. It has created a very cohesive body of work, the image size and presentation is the same while the subject matter is very diverse.

While this solves your immediate problem of enlargment, it also allows the photographer to develope a system of photography that can be very useful. By only producing contact prints, the image that you create in the camera is exactly what you will get in the print, there is no room to let the image float in the frame, you can't crop in the darkroom.

While this process is not for everyone, I found it to be very informative and helped me to train my eye and mind to really look at my subject, when I was creating the image. I was included in a group show, displaying 75 of the 150 or so images I have created, and received very positive feedback on the print size and presentation style.

If you can find the issue No. 21, May 1998 of LensWork quarterly, Brooks Jensen has an article on his 100 print project that is similar to the one that I embarked on.

The bottom line, I feel, is not to let your equiptment dictate your way of doing your photography. Using your limitations to create new ways of doing things can be very instructive and help to develope a personal style that you won't see at every turn of the corner.

Good luck, large format is a big challenge, but once "mastered" is a lot of fun.

-- Marv Thompson (mthompson@clinton.net), September 04, 1998.

You could also shoot colour (neg or trans.) and let someone else do the printing!

I have always printed my own black and white, but even in 35mm have always let someone else print my colour work - I just find it too fussy to get into. Just starting in LF (4x5), I am going the route of trying contact printing in B&W until I can get a LF enlarger. But colour work is no probem - just the same as before.

Also, in the past, I have done some Polaroid image transfer work - in the size smaller than 4x5 - and the small images can look great mounted in a much larger matt (I am also looking forward to getting back into this again, but in 4x5 now). I think there are plenty of options until you get that big enlarger


-- Kevin Gibson (architek_data@hotmail.com), September 04, 1998.

All the previous suggestions are good, and will help you get into large format cheaply. When you want to make your own enlargments look around for a good used enlarger. Beseler, Durst, Omega and Saunders all make excellent enlargers and resale value is quite low. I bought a Beseler 4x5 enlarger in excellent condition last winter for $600, including negative carriers from 35mm to 4x5. I added a used Nikkor 150/5.6 lens for $375 a few months later. Take your time and look around. You'll find a bargai

-- Darron Spohn (sspohn@concentric.net), September 04, 1998.

The used enlarger market is showing lower prices all the time. At the last big photo swap meet I went to there were 3 Beseler 4x5 enlargers for between $300 to $600. From condenser to dicoroic color head models, one with a digital timer. Digital photography is making inroads and lowering the values of enlargers quite a bit in some areas. Take a very good look at the used market, newspaper ads, college ad boards and the like. After all, if you buy it as a used piece of gear from the dealer, he got it used first. Don't begrudge the dealer his profit but if it is just too much, watch for the bargains wherever you can find them.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), September 06, 1998.

I thank all of you who have posted ideas and I will consider them carefully. My desire to go to 4X5 format seems to be getting stronger I believe my first purchase will be the camera and lens, then a used enlarger down the road, after experimenting with contact prints. Any further comments will be greatly appreciated.

-- Steve Kunder (Smkunder@aol.com), September 08, 1998.

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