Zone VI VC 8x10 enlarger : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Hi all.

The next toy on my list for 2001 is the Zone VI 8X10 VC enlarger by Calumet. I'm curious about the accuracy of some of the claims Calumet makes about the enlarger.

I emailed Ilford to ask them and they have not responded. It's not that I don't believe Calumet's claims about the structure of VC paper emulsions; I'm just curious about their claims regarding the effectiveness of their dual cold light grid.

Anyway, here's what Calumet says on their web page. If anyone has practical experience with this enlarger or the general design; your input is most appreciated.

"Here’s how it works. Variable contrast papers are made up of two different emulsion layers: a low, or soft contrast layer sensitive to green light, and a high, or hard layer sensitive to blue light. The variable contrast head features two light grids, one green and one blue, each with its own rheostat. Print contrast is controlled by varying the intensity of these “soft” and “hard” grids. This system allows the ability to adjust contrast within the high and low values independently, and in one exposure. Because there are two different tubes projecting two different spectrums of light, it’s like making two exposures in one, each hitting and effecting the two layers in the paper’s emulsion."

-- Jason (, December 01, 2000



I have the 5x7 version. The 8x10 uses the same frame and concept. Which part of Calumet's claim do you think is in question? Have you ever tied "split printing" with your current system? This is the same concept. It does work. I am not sure that I get the same contrast range as I did with filter system, but that has not been a problem for me. I do think that you need to calibrate the system with your papers and developers to get the full benefit.

-- Ed Farmer (, December 01, 2000.

I had the 5x7 version, and the dual-grid head worked flawlessly. You probably loose a half or whole grade at each end, but if your negatives are that bad, perhaps you shouldn't print them? You could use separate filters for those grades anyhow, if you had to. I never missed them.

The heads have no "normal contrast" reference, so you can't rely on a fixed starting point. I just switched to using equal blue & green (hard & soft) for my starting point, and added/subtracted if I had too much or too little contrast. It was easier than calibrating since I was printing mostly new negatives, not ones that already had a printing formula.

This said, I sold the enlarger and bought a Sauders/LPL to replace it. My difficulties with the Zone VI were these:

1. It was extremely difficult for me to print from smaller format negatives. While being an excellent 5x7 and 4x5 enlarger, it was a mediocre 2-1/4 enlarger, and a downright poor 35mm enlarger. (With 35 mm you were wasting 95% of the light illuminating the negative carrier, not the negative. Focusing & composition was near impossible for me, and printing times were incredibly long.And the lens bellows didn't like being compressed that much, so the rack & pinion slipped.)

2. Focusing and composition were difficult even at 4x5.The eye is most sensitive to yellow light, and there is no yellow in green nor in blue.

In short, the claims Calumet makes for the light source are accurate. The claims they make about this being the best enlarger regardless of format size, I take strong issue with. I've come to the conclusion that 1 enlarger really can't effectively cope with all formats from 35mm to 8x10.

For your use (8x10), I doubt you would have any complaints at all. But I strongly encourage you to actually use one of these before you spend 3 to 4 thousand. If you are in the US, I'd even recommend flying to a Calumet site to check it out, or ask them for a local reference.

-- Charlie Strack (, December 01, 2000.

I have the Type I Zone VI enlarger. As I understand it from Calumet, the Type I is brighter, probably because the transformers are in the control panel, versus in the head. The control panel is large and heavy, suggesting that the transformers are heavy duty.

As for small negatives on a Zone VI Type I or II, by purchasing the Zone VI Beseler adaptor (e.g. intended for the Beseler color head), it's very easy to adapt an Omega D2V condenser head to this enlarger. It's a matter of gluing a long 3/8" thick, 1/2" wide piece of rubber around the metal housing for the condenser so that the head can be raised to insert the negative carriers. It works perfectly, using the arm that raises the normal Zone VI head. Atleast, this solution works for me, because for smaller negatives, I prefer condenser enlargement. While I've not tried it, there may still be the option of getting an Arista high intensity head for diffusion enlargement of smaller negatives. If this works, it would require the Arista Beseler adaptor, in addition to the Zone VI Beseler adaptor. Circular color VC filters could be inserted above the diffuser by lifting the head out of the housing. Again, I've not tried this.

With these adaptations, the only thing that's not possible with the Zone VI is 5x7 color enlarging. But other than this, I've found the Zone VI to be a very good general purpose enlarger.

-- neil poulsen (, December 02, 2000.

Hi I also have a Zone VI 5x7 VC enlarger. I bought the original type I and then upgraded the light source to the newer type II. I agree with the previous comments regarding enlarging smaller negatives, I believe that this enlarger was primarily designed for 4x5. The VC head is very nice to use but the claims about independent control over shadow and highlight values is somewhat misleading. If you make an adjustment to either the blue light or the green light it does have an impact on both the highlights and the shadows, and you will have to adjust the exposure time I assure you. This is due to the nature of VC paper, and you cannot get away from it. For marketing purposes it sounds great but it does not work that way in reality. It is a great head for doing spit filter printing as it is very easy to turn off either the blue or green light and expose with the other. I wish you good luck with your decision.

-- Arthur Nichols (, December 02, 2000.

Dear Jason,

II own the Zone VI Enlarger 5x7 with VC head version II. and I think this is a brilliant enlarger apart from the method adopted to stabilise the light output. This question is much less problematic than the version II I owned before but its still there. There is a green LED in the VC head that tell us when the light output is stabilised. Most of times we use the "hard" and "soft" tubes with different intensities so they do not have synchronised stabilisation and the integrated method to evaluate the light output doesn’t work in terms of maintaining the same contrast print after print unless you make a " dry" exposure after the LED turned on permitting both tubes to stabilise completely.

In first promotional leaflet released by Calumet to advertise this enlarger (versionII) they announced that the VC head would have two individual cells for each tube but I was informed directly from them that they abandoned this approach after some problems in testing. It would be interesting if someone could give some more information about this matter.

-- Manuel Gomes Teixeira (, December 02, 2000.

Mr. Teireixa's comments are interesting. I'd always thought that they had independent controls on both the green and blue. Frankly, it would be better to leave off the control altogether (except for the sensor) and get the compensating timer. I think that this would help to compensate for the change in intensity as one adjusts contrast.

-- 31415926 (, December 03, 2000.

Calumet is incorrect when they talk about "layers" of blue and green sensitive materials. There are no such "layers" in VC paper. It's this kind of misinformation that leads people to waste a lot of time with split printing, i.e. thinking they can accomplish something different by making two exposures, one with blue light only to expose the blue "layer," another with green light only to expose the green "layer." In fact the blue and green sensitive materials are mixed together in the paper (i.e. there are no layers) and both are sensitive to both blue and green light, just in different proportions.

-- Brian Ellis (, December 04, 2000.

Thanks very much to all. Ilford did get back to me and I have attached the technician's response below. Note that it confirms what Brian posted with regard to the mixed emulsion as opposed to the layered structure. The technician does indicate that the dual grid (blue/green) should be effective in contrast control.

I had copied Calumet's description of the design of the Zone VI enlarger head and Calumet's description of vc paper emulsion which they say is layered (Green/Blue) sensitive.

From Ilford: " While this description of Multigrade paper is not technically fully accurate (our paper has 3 emulsions, and they are mixed, not layered), it is close enough to describe the process. The type of head you describe should give excellent results, although you may have to experiment some to find the proper contrast settings. Some cold light heads have a problem reaching the lowest contrast grades, but having a green light source should for the most part eliminate that problem. "

-- Jason (, December 04, 2000.

I used the Zone VI 5x7 for almost a year. I found it to be a fairly good enlarger. My only complaint was that it would go out of alignment almost monthly. I used a laser alignment device, would get perfect alignment at any one point along the column. It was however, impossible to get perfect alignment at both the top and bottom of the column simultaneously.

For the type of work I do, I could not accept this condition.

The cold light control panel was nice to use, although I found that the contrast range was a bit limited.

I sold the Zone VI 5x7 and bought a Durst Multigraphy 1200. My range of printable contrast is now increased, my enlarger does not need alignment. It is perhaps one of the finest enlargers I have ever used.

-- Bill Smithe (, December 04, 2000.

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