Saunders/Beseler enlarger/ variable contrast : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I swore I would never buy another Saunders enlarger because you have to ship them back to the company to be aligned. Anyway, this is how I handled it when I dropped my Saunders enlarger, and it went out of alignment. The thing is, the Saunders LPL 4500 VCCE is a really decent price, this being the kind of enlarger I want to work with. But, it seems that a common complaint is the light leaks. Now I think the best enlarger for me would be the Beseler MXT motorized column and base with a variable contrast diffusion head. I understand its very easy to align. My question is, any negative feedback on this particular head? I know its not cheap. I might look for the column and base used. Please don't tell me to go with an Omega. I just don't like their enlargers. I'm pretty much set on the Saunders or the Beseler. Thanks for any feedback on this.

-- Raven (, September 11, 2000


1. I agree with you about Omega.

2. I bought the Saunders LPL 4500II. I don't regret it. I bought it because a) it is cheaper than the Beseler after you add the baseboard, or wall mount kit, the light source, and a lensboard to the Beseler, but most importantly, it's the only enlarger I tested at the store that worked absolutely smoothly through all functions.

3. I don't plan to drop my enlarger, so I don't think alignment will be a problem. In any case, to align it you would shim the column, shim the lensboard, and shim the negative stage. All this doesn't seem to hard on this enlarger because all are readily accessible.

4. My column came with a nick on it, and Saunders sent me a replacement at no charge and didn't even need for me to ship the old column back. These people are into customer service. I really like that in a company.

5. All enlargers leak light to some extent. The Saunders is average to better-than-average on this count. If it is a problem for you you can use the usual fixes. It isn't a problem for me.

6. The Beseler is a fine machine, and, if you like the way it works, is AOK. It does have a feature I haven't found on any other enlargers: a focus lock.

Good luck!

-- Charlie Strack (, September 12, 2000.

I own a Saunders also and prefer it to the Beseler. I have used both. All enlargers leak light. We just have to face that and work around it. Printers like Sexton et al routinely use fabric, material used in swimming gear, etc. to black out the sides and back. Frankly, I have never had much problem with the Saunders leaking light; I have painted the wall and ceiling about my enlarger flat black, and I installed some black mat board on the counters on either side of the easel. One other item: the light source in the Saunders vc and dichroic head is very even, much more so than another enlarger with the diffusion/cold light head. I imagine the same is true with the vc heads. Some people avoid that problem by putting a 5x7 or 8x10 vc head on an enlarger for printing 4x5 negatives. That way, the falloff in light is outside the circle that covers the 4x5 negative For price and quality-assuming no dropping of the unit--you would be hard put to beat the saunders.

-- Bob Moulton (, September 12, 2000.

I use the Beseler MXT/Aristo VCL 4500 combination and like it a lot. However, as someone else said, all enlargers leak light out of the box. You have to tape, glue, paste, whatever to stop the light leaks, even with a Durst I'm told. Some time ago they did modify the MXT to make it easier to align so if you're buying one used make sure you get the newer version. I have that version and still don't find alignment real convenient but apparently it was impossible with the earlier version and in any case is a lot more convenient than shipping it back to the factory. I've seen John Sexton use one of the Saunders models and it looked like a nice piece of equipment. I don't think you could go too far wrong with either but personally I wouldn't buy an enlarger that I had to send back to the factory to get aligned. Most enlargers go out of alignment from normal use over a period of time, not just from dropping them.

-- Brian Ellis (, September 13, 2000.

Not all enlargers leak light! My Durst L1200 Multigraph does not leak any light at all. Sure you can see a bit of light about the negative stage, but no light is evident on the walls or ceiling near the enlarger.

With the Saunders LPL you can get a sunburn with a long exposure.

-- Bill Smithe (, September 13, 2000.

If it leaks light around the negative stage, it leaks light. Leaking light doesn't have to be so strong that it casts a shadow on your darkroom wall to fog your paper. How have you tested for light leaks? The method John Sexton teaches is to turn all the lights off (including the safe light) and sit in the dark for ten minutes. He says it takes that long for your eyes to fully adjust to the dark. Then turn the enlarger light on and look all around the enlarger very carefully. In particular, put your head on the easel and crank your neck around so that you can look up at the area in which the lens board is located. There's a good chance that you'll see quite a bit of light leaking out from above or around that area and shining down on the easel. That's what your paper is seeing and it isn't good.

-- Brian Ellis (, September 14, 2000.

Raven, this is another question like the one which took up lot of energy from medieval scholars who spent a lot of their time trying to determine the sex of angels. However. I agree with Brian Ellis. It is pretty useless discussing if something is perfect or , near perfect if both condition produce the same results. I read so many entries on this forum which tend to discuss, at length, minute and not important detail arguing for argument's sake. I've owned many enlargers, some were better some were worse, I always managed to produce good prints within the possibilities of my negative, camera and darkroom. I visit many exhibitions and to see the original prints of the great photographers has been curing me from eccessive technicisms. Many of these prints are questionable but the pictures are fantastic. One can spend hours on end trying to perfect one's equipment but how long does one actually spend in taking beautiful pictures? It pays a lot more to do that than investigating the supposed effect of these leaks on your prints. With affection and no offence intended. Andrea

-- andrea milano (, September 16, 2000.

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