Enlarger Recommendations

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I have started looking around for a used 4x5 enlarger. The last darkroom I had set up years agao I used a Beseler 23C. I would like to hear comments on the Beseler 45MX/MCRX/MXII/MXT line up and also the Omega D2/D5/D5XL. I would start with a condensor head with an eye towards an Aristo Coldlight possibly down the road. Any comments on ease of use, rigidity, etc. on these models? The Omega uses a variable condensor for various focal lengths. With the Beseler do I need multiple condensors or does the upper bellows provide adjustment adequate for 35mm to 4x5? Are there any model variations to avoid in either product line? It appears a D2 could be had for $300, a 45MX for around $500 and a D5XL for around $800. What's my best value? Thanks

-- Dave Schneider (dschneider@arjaynet.com), September 02, 1999


I've been using a beseler 45MXII for a few years now, first with an old Aristo D2 head, then, more recently with an Aristo VCL-4500. I love that head, by the way. The enlarger is pretty bullet proof. If I had any criticism of it at all, it would be that the lens panels require enough force to install to make routine alignment a good idea. It's really not that much of a bother though and considering the plentiful supply of these enlargers at reasonable prices, I whole heartedly recommend them. In answer to your multiformat question, yes, the upper bellows allows you to accommodate 35mm to 4x5. Of course, with a cold light, you don't need to adjust a thing. Just collapse the bellows leave it. Good luck in your search!

-- Robert A. Zeichner (razeichner@ameritech.net), September 02, 1999.

I have an Omega D2V which I converted to a Zone VI cold light about 3 years ago, have never had a problem, you can get them with base mount or wall mount, mine is a base. Changing len's is not a problem at all. Pat

-- pat j. krentz (krentz@cci-29palms.com), September 02, 1999.

I used to own a Berkey Omega Universal Pro-lab 4 X 5 variable condensor enlarger. It was fitted with the auto-focus cams and I had no problems with it at all. Straight forward and easy to use. You can see them in labs every where.

Three years ago though, my wife found a Beseler 4 X 5 (don't know which one, but it's light blue and gray and the supports are in the back) 4 X 5 condensor enlarger with a multitude of accesories for a good price, so I sold the Omega - I don't need two 4 X 5 enlargers crowding up my 6' X 8' X 6' darkroom!!!

The Beseler is a variable condensor in that the upper bellows provides adjustment for all formats from 35mm to 4 X 5 as you suspected. The Omega required you/me to take a condensor out of the housing and reposition it for the desired format. The Omega takes the standard 6" X 6" VC filters in the lamp housing without cutting them to fit, which you do on a Bes. The auto-focus was nice but I usually checked it anyway. The motorized column of the Bes is nice but it ain't necessary. I could do a 20" X 24" on the Omega base with a 150mm, but I never needed to. On the Bes, the best I can get is a 16" X 20" but it's cropped a little. Then again the number of times I've needed to do either I can count on two fingers.

Essentially the question can only be resolved by experience - how you use it and how you relate to it, they're both good products with their adherents and detractors. For me the Beseler gets the vote as it seems more stable and is expandable to 8 X 10 with the Alan Ross designed cold light head adaptor. Also, Beseler makes a "negatrans" for 35 mm which is a very nice accessory if you do a lot 35mm work, and they also have a negative carrier for 4 X 5 that holds the film tightly - I forget what they call it, but it ain't cheap.

-- Sean yates (yatescats@yahoo.com), September 03, 1999.

One other thing to keep in mind if you eventually get a cold light. If you work with variable contrast papers, you might prefer relamping with the new Aristo V54 designed for work with these papers. The older models are high in blue and the contrasts (the filters are designed for tungsten sources) don't work as one would expect (you can work around it if you're willing to calibrate your system - print step tablets and use additional filtration to fill any holes in the contrast range).

I purchased an old, used D2 (with the sliding chassis) with a cold light. Works very adequately. Quite solid and well made. Make sure you have enough left over in your budget for a good enlarger lens. Good luck with your purchase. And happy printing.


-- N Dhananjay (ndhanu@umich.edu), September 03, 1999.

I have used the Bessler 45MCRX enlarger for longer than I would care to remember because I can't possibly be that old. It has been a wonderful friend. Yes you can change your format easily by a knob adjustment. Also you can go in between formats which is sometimes a plus. The D2's are wonderful as well but I have found that I was always worried about dust on the condensers. But if you are going to do really large prints you might consider the D2 beause of the wall mount adapter. Very sturdy. When I make really large prints with the Bessler I have to pull the enlarger forward to the edge of the printing table and weight the back plate with cinder blocks and enlarge off of the floor. Sometimes scary If I'm manuvering the enlarger alone. I was interested in a previous response however. Could someone please tell me about the 8x10 adapter with an Alan Ross cold light attachment for the Bessler 45 MC?? Where I might find such a beast? About how much would one expect to pay for an adapter such as this?

-- jacque staskon (jacque@cybertrails.com), September 04, 1999.

For many years I was a die-hard "Omega man." I worked in many pro labs in NYC and never saw anything but Omega D-series and a few Dursts. I personally owned a D2 and absolutely *adored* it. Unfortunately, I got out of photography for a while and sold my entire darkroom. Then, after I moved to CA and got back into shooting, I saw a used Beseler 23C w/Dual Dichro color head in a local camera store and, like an idiot, I bought it. I uttery HATE the thing! The illumination is extremely uneven (I had to make a special dodging tool to edge burn every print) and it is a pain in the ass to keep aligned. (Who ever heard of a tilting lens stage on a modern enlarger? A useless and troublesome feature!) Thanks to my many years of experience in the darkroom I am able to make decent prints with the godawful thing, despite the fact that it is a peice of crap. But as soon as I can possibly afford to do so, I am going to dump this f**king Beseler and buy a used Chromega D. A word to the wise.


-- Peter Hughes (leonine@redshift.com), September 04, 1999.

I bought a used Omega D-6-a monster of an enlarger, made my own light housing for an Arista D-2 cold light with a V54 tube, and a base so I could put it in a corner. It's wonderful-solid as a rock after I put a top brace on the pole and secured it to the wall.It has a fine focus adjustment.It's all I ever want. George

-- George Nedleman (gnln@thegrid.net), September 04, 1999.

Applauses, Peter, applauses!

-- Jan Eerala (jan.eerala@itameri.net), September 04, 1999.

I should have pointed out that the condensor head on the Beseler 45 pivots so you can project onto a wall and get prints larger than the 16 X 20 I seem to be limited to. There's so little space in my converted walk-in cedar closet that I have to sit the enlarger on the floor and can't really take advantage of this feature.

-- Sean yates (yatescats@yahoo.com), September 04, 1999.

Peter's comments on the Beseler 23c are irrelevant to the Beseler 4x5 series. I've owned and used both, and used Omega D series. The Beseler 23c is an excellent B&W enlarger if you add a cold light head. The dichroic head is useless. The Beseler 4x5 series is a completely different enlarger.

All the enlargers you listed in your question are excellent. The D2 is the oldest design, but they still work and accessories are atill available. I prefer the Beselers but that my be because I learned how to print on a 45 MCRX.

-- Darron Spohn (sspohn@concentric.net), September 06, 1999.

I use and like the MXT (with an Aristo 4500 VCL). The motorized head is a very nice convenience feature. Once you get used to this it's hard to use an enlarger without it. I do find it a little difficult to align the negative stage even though I have the latest version that is supposed to be easier to align. With respect to using the upper bellows to adjust for different formats, Beseler sells a little gizmo that can be attached next to the bellows and that tells you exactly how far to raise the bellows for each format. Brian

-- Brian Ellis (beellis@gte.net), September 08, 1999.

My comments on the Beseler 23C may be irrelevant to the 4x5 series, or they may not. First of all, I seriously question the integrity of a company that would produce a head so poorly designed as the Dual Dichro. (Note that the Dual Dichro head fires the light straight downward, whereas the Chromegas fire it sideways into a mixing chamber--a much better design!) Secondly, why fool around with an enlarger that may be good or may not be, when you can have the proven industry standard (Omega D-series) for roughly the same price? I must reiterate that in all my years as a printer in many of the finest (well, most reputable anyway) labs in NYC I never saw a single Beseler in use--only Omegas (primarily) and a few Dursts. That was not accidental! Finally, I have done some preliminary tests with my Beseler 23C, removing the color head and replacing it with the original condenser head, and the problem with uneven illumination persists, suggesting that the problem is not with the head but lies somewhere else. A cold light head may work better or it may not, but am I really going to invest the money to find out? I don't think so.


-- Peter Hughes (leonine@redshift.com), September 10, 1999.

After spending most of the day face to face with an enlarger for more than twenty years, I would rank De Vere as the king of these apparatus. A little slow for fast professional working, but very solid and built with a wonderful precision. Of course, it is not made anymore.

I have worked with several Beselers, Dursts and Omegas. What surprised me most with Beseler was it's sensitiveness for vibrations, though it's four point fastened. Also I had the same problems with the Omega Prolab series, though I think it may not disturbe in non- pro working. Today I'm living with one 10x10 De Vere and two 4x5 dicrohead Fujimotos. The 4x5 DichroMoto is reliable and sturdy, only the filmcarriers are childish, I had to rebuild all of them. If I now wanted just one enlarger, I would search for a used De Vere.

-- Jan Eerala (jan.eerala@itameri.net), September 10, 1999.

I wonder if anyone reading this discussion has had a similar experience to Peter's. I have been reading his comments with interest (here and on several other discussion pages); but so far no one else seems to have had an equally poor experience with a Beseler. I have a Beseler 4 x 5, and it seems okay to me.

-- Michael Alpert (alpert@maine.maine.edu), September 16, 1999.

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