New Darkroom, wondering about the Beseler MXT : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I found this forum for the first time yesterday and this has to be the greatest web site I have ever come across. Thanks to everyone for all the amazing thoughts and ideas!

After years of using a public darkroom (I managed one in Chicago for 6 years) and using my father-in-law's darkroom for the past three, circumstances have finally allowed me to build my own in the basement of my home. My brother-in-law is currently constructing the walls, the plumbing, the ventilation, etc., and I have just finished obtaining most of the equipment from ebay - timer, easel, print washer, safelight, etc. The final buy will be the enlarger. My father-in-law has a Beseler MXT with an Aristo cold light and the results I have obtained with it blew away anything I got with the condenser enlargers at the public darkroom. So I am planning on going with the MXT and cold light just because of the good luck I have had with it. After reading a few of the threads here yesterday, though, I realize that there is more than one good company that makes enlargers. So now I am wondering if the MXT is the way to go . (What if the motor blows out?) Can anybody tell me anything negative they have experienced with the MXT, or if they think there is a better brand for that type of enlarger. Also, I was going to buy it new, but am not sure if it is wiser to buy a used one. I don't even own a 4x5, I use a Hasselblad, so I could probably get by with one of the smaller enlargers, but the sturdiness of 45's has me convinced that is the way to go. Anyone think I should just buy a 67 instead? One last thing, where is the best place for me to purchase a new enlarger? I usually order from Calumet, but they have been disappointing to me this past week. They told me it would be 1 to 2 months before they have any MXT's in stock, and they are also out of high intensity Aristo Cold lights. Oh yeah, can anyone let me know their preferences for the cold light, high or low intensity? I found that the high intensity light greatly increases contrast with VC papers, and I find it more difficult to do complicated dodging and burning because of the shorter exposures, but it allows me to use a small aperture setting without having to set the timer to 2 or 3 minutes.

Thanks to everyone who can help!

-- James Webb (, December 13, 2001


I have a Besseler MX series 4x5 enlarger and like it a lot. I think some people prefer the Omega, and it may be a bit sturdier. I've found for non-commercial/institutional use, the Besseler is more than adequate. I don't know about the cold light decision, I have one, but it is a Zone VI that came with the enlarger (used).

If the motor blows, I suppose you could crank it up and down with that little knob, but that would make 2-3 minute exposures seem to fly by. Mine is pretty old and well used and the motor is still going strong, I would think that should be one of your least major concerns.

I use mine with 35mm and 6x6 negatives also and I like the way it works. If the price isn't tremendously different, I feel you're better off getting the 4x5. If you ever decide to get a 4x5 kit, you'll already be ready in the darkroom. It's expensive to purchase new, sell and repurchase.

For used equipment, check out Midwest Photo Exchange. I've seen used MX 45s in their flyer from time to time.

-- Andrew Cole (, December 13, 2001.

Just a couple of observations Mr. Webb.

I have used a MXII, main difference is a tapered bellows I believe, for 25 years. I have used a Beseler condenser head, Zone VI cold light and at present am using a Zone VI VC head. I contact 8X10 negatives that tend to be a little on the dense side (gotta love those highly technical terms!) and the times are in the 30 to 45 second range for the soft light exposure and an additional 5 to 10 seconds for the hard light. I guess I don't know if that makes it high or low intensity (it gets a little hard to see through those 8X10,s sometimes). I do some printing for a local pro of the high school teams in 645 format. She has negatives that run from 5 seconds to 25 seconds depending if she is inside with flash or out in the sun. (I know these times are not entirely relevent but give you an idea.)

As to used I can't see a down side except maybe finding one. I occasionally go to Iowa City Iowa where the university is and at a small camera store they have one on ocassion. I am not sure how to age a Beseler (I believe they date to the 50's) except that they go from green to blue to black, MX, MXII, and MXT. If someone knows different I stand corrected and humbled by thier knowledge! A little digging might uncover one, maybe an ad in the classifieds. I had a friend call one night wanting to know if I wanted an Omega enlarger, no charge. Well the price was right! I went over to his house and it turned out to be an old 4X5 enlarger in need of some tlc and a cord. His neighbor had aquired it some where along the line and was going to set it out for fall junk pick up. It's now on semi permanent loan to a friend along with the Zone VI cold light head. The point is they are out there and not everyone is either aware of thier value or cares.

As far as the motor blowing out I haven't had a problem and it has made a few trips up and down the column! There should be availabiltiy of parts and assemblies, it has been around for a while.

-- Marv (, December 13, 2001.


I use an MXT and once the wire cord got caught between the baseboard and the wall while I was raising the enlarger head with the motor. It was dark and had I not stopped the motor in time, the cord would have snapped off the motorised unit. Close shave! Just a little caution here.


-- Aaron Ng (, December 13, 2001.

Of course, if you get the MXT you will be prepared and all set to go when you see the light and move to making 4x5 images. ;-)

-- Donald Brewster (, December 13, 2001.

James: The Beseler is a good machine, I can't comment on better than an Omega never having had an Omega. I've had two of the Beselers. One came out of a garage where it was extremely dirty and the motor was dead. Some WD40 and it worked great until I sold it 5 years later. The motor seemed to me to be very high quality and, if you think it about, it doesn't really run much compared to most 120V motors so I'm not surprised they have a lack of problems. The paper manufactureres claim you can use yellow filters to modify older cold lights so that they work well with current VC materials. I tried really hard to make that work and no matter what the contrast was untameable. I called Aristo directly (great service, interesting woman who answers the phone) and they sent me a tube and I relamped the cold light with their V54 tube and it works great with Ilford filters. If you use the #2 filter for a "normal" negative (unfiltered light from the V54 doesn't seem to be really truly normal to me) it does decrease the printing speed a bit all by itself which is your concern. I'm not absolutely sure about it since I sold them both years ago, but I think some of the older MX's have side braces that can interfere with the easel, so you might check that out. These do show up often on Ebay, I think in practice old is as good as new, and while a medium format enlarger like a 23C would be adequate we all hope you move on from that little tiny square negative, and the MXT would let you do that with just the purchase of a negative carrier and a longer lens. If you will never go bigger than 6X6, the Omega B22XL (longer column) is remarkably inexpensive on Ebay and can be easily lamped with an Aristo head. I've had mine since high school (uh...32 years ago) and I still like it and use it for 35mm and 6X6. It will not handle a 6X7 negative though, which the 23C will.

-- Kevin Crisp (, December 13, 2001.

Since you've got the space, I strongly suggest that you go with a 4x5 enlarger. In addition to enabling enlarging of 4x5 negatives in the future if you ever want to, you'll reap the great benefit of very even illumination for your roll film originals. Many 6x7 enlargers exhibit significant corner falloff, especially when printing with higher contrast papers/filters.

-- Sal Santamaura (, December 13, 2001.

And one more thing on "cords," it gets really exciting when the gears of the lift come in contact with the power cord draped across the vertical track. Just so you know. Kind of a high maintenance flash bulb.

-- Kevin Crisp (, December 13, 2001.

Hey, we've got three of those monsters here in our of them is on a drop leaf table (for making bigger prints) with a high-intensity Aristo coldhead....this does make a difference for pretty large prints, but I wouldn't worry about it too much for smaller ones....we occasionally pull this thing out into the middle of our huge darkroom and tilt the head back & make murals this way as well....

The other 2 have color heads on them, and are younger...the older units have a tapered bellows on the bottom stage (lens stage)...these don't quite offer you all the alignment controls of the newer really big deal, but in it's old age, we wound up retrofitting a new bellows & lower stage to the one with the cold basically couldn't be aligned after a certain point.

Don't worry about the motors, they'll last for a long time, but they can also leak oil sometimes, so be careful....the enlarger can/will jump the tracks sometimes, the chasis frame can get bent if mishandled and then you're really out of luck, alignment-wise....but all in all, it's a real workhorse of an enlarger.

-- DK Thompson (, December 13, 2001.


I would not hesitate to go with the 45MXT. I have had several years of experience with this enlarger and some of its earlier incarnations. (Note to Marv -- I started out on an old blue one in high school in the 80's and it probably 20 years old back then!) I have found the MXT to be durable and reliable. Complaints? The focussing mechanism isn't too terribly precise -- the rack and pinion tends to jump a bit when examining the image with a grain magnifier. Other than that, no gripes. As other posters have noted, leave room for growth and go with a 4x5 enlarger. Enjoy!

-- Matt Long (, December 13, 2001.

I've used the 45MXT for years without any problem. I bought it well used. It is a battleship. I definitely recommend the 4x5, even if you don't think you will need it. VERY stable. I use the high intensity V54, and had same positive experience with Aristo. You can find them all over the the web, try ebay, call Midwest Photo. Many available, with the current advent of digital.

-- John Sarsgard (, December 13, 2001.

The Beseler would be my second choice, and it is a fine machine. Nothing to complain about with it.

As far as light sources, if you want cold light go for the Aristo V54 VC tube, which has green and blue light present so you can print VC if you like.

If for some reason you burn out the motor, Beseler can provide a replacement.

My first choice is what I have: a Saunders/LPL 4500-II. I think it works more smoothly and effortlessly than the Beseler. These have, however, diffusion light sources only. But they give the same light character as cold lights.

Check out Adorama for mail ordering it. They've got decent prices, & quick service. B&H is good, too.

-- Charlie Strack (, December 13, 2001.

Try B&H for the 45MXT. I know they have them in stock and their prices are consistently better than Calumet, although their sales help is not as good. But since you already know what you want, B&H is reliable.

-- Ted Kaufman (, December 13, 2001.

Sorry to be contrary here, but I strongly recommend you do not buy the MXT. For a few hundred dollars more you can get the Beseler V-XL which is a far superior machine. The problem with the MXT is that the negative and lens stages cannot be aligned properly or permanently. I owned one for ten years and always had to fiddle with it. On the V-XL, which I purchased afterwards, the lens stage and negative stages can be aligned positively and permanently. Save yourself years of frustration. They both take the same light sources and accessories.

-- David Kaufman (, December 13, 2001.

I second David's recommendation to get the VXL.

-- Andre Noble (, December 13, 2001.

Saunders makes nice enlargers. So does Beseler. So does Omega. I've used all three, and they worked fine for me.

I agree that getting a 4x5 is a good choice. You may want to see what sort of deals come around. I have an Omega 4x5 with a color head. Got a great deal on it from a place that was going digital. (My wife hates it when I find those kinds of deals.) That's why I have an Omega.

If I hadn't purchased the Omega, I would have a Beseler 45 MXT with the drop-top table. I moved into a new lab (molecular biology, not photo) and there was the Beseler and table (and an Omega B-66 along with 50/2.8 and 135/5.6 Nikon lenses) stuck up on top of the pipes running along the ceiling. The previous occupant didn't want them, so I got them. Selling the Beseler more than made up for buying the Omega.

For me, the choice came down to what good deals were available when I was buying. You may want to look around and see what sort of deals you can find. I think buying used is a very good way to go. Very little of my photo equipment was purchased new.


-- Dave (, December 13, 2001.

Go used. If you're careful, you can get a 'good as new' enlarger for much less than you would pay for new. If you're in chicago, it should be easy to find a shop with good used equipment. Ebay is another good place to check, although shipping could be an issue with a large item. Good luck. The Beselers are made to last forever.

-- Jay wolfe (, December 13, 2001.

Someone mentioned the focus control of the 45M binding and jumping. I had the same problem, and managed to all but eliminate it.

The lower standard (where the lensboard lives) travels on a track that is geared on the front and rides on Teflon pads on the back. The uneven travel is caused by the contact surfaces not being clean. The best way to fix it is to remove the whole shebang from the rack. Normally, it can only travel so far down because there's a screw that protrudes through the gear rack from the back. Remove the screw, and the lower standard will ride right of the rack (it will just be hanging by the bellows). Clean all the accumulated crud off the metal and the Teflon and lubricate it with some dry powdered graphite. Smooth as a baby's binds, no jumps.

Don't lose the screw.

-- Kevin Bourque (, December 13, 2001.


I had an MXT for 8 years. I loved it for most of that time. However, it apparently got "warped", because from one day to the next it would never align properly again. I worked on it for months without success. Also, the focusing would jump. I hated getting rid of it, but I had to. I bought a Saunders/LPL 4550 XLG. I've really enjoyed it, both the alignment and the secure focusing.

That said, I agree with other posters about buying most equipment used, and if the price is right, do it. My only fear about an MXT after the problem I had is in knowing whether or not the one you buy is aligned or can be aligned. This may not really be a common problem, but since it happened to me, it would be a worry.

-- Don Welch (, December 14, 2001.

Thanks to everyone for the great ideas about enlargers!

I will take a long walk and decide what to do. Used or new? MXT or VXL? Another brand? Lot's of choices, but fun to think about. I noticed when working on my father-in-law's MXT that the focus would frequently move, and also that his alignment was not very stable. He bought one of those laser gizmos, and when he proudly showed me how it worked, was surprised to find that his enlarger had already skewed its alignment. I don't notice it on smaller prints, but he mentioned that on larger prints the edges get soft if not properly aligned.

Thanks again to everyone for taking the time to reply, and enjoy the holidays!

-- James Webb (, December 14, 2001.

In my neck of the woods, there are more in-house labs going digital and commercial labs shutting down wet labs as well...I'd say to look for the newest used model you can find...avoid something that's seen too much use in a commercial lab though....if there are any state or university system surplus lots near you, you might want to go on a scavenger hunt through them....I was out at one of ours several weeks ago, and saw quite a bit of lab gear, processors etc... Fed surplus is the best, but it's hard for an individual to get access....the stuff is out there though, I picked up an old D2V years ago out of SC state surplus for next to nothing...I'd say go new only if you can't find a decent used one, and even then I'm not too sure if I'd buy one new... A new MXT runs close to a grand anyways, so you might want to broaden the search to other types like D2's etc., LPLs, maybe Dursts. Happy hunting....

-- DK Thompson (, December 14, 2001.

With respect to aligning the MXT, Beseler made changes at some point in the production of the MXT and the later version can be aligned relatively easily (the key word here being "relatively"). I bought mine about seven years ago and it's the newer version so anything that age or later should be o.k. If you want to pursue this, I suggest you call Darryl McNicholas (sp?), who wrote the manual for the Beseler MXT and is an authorized repair person, or Beseler itself, for the details. I spent a lot of time on the phone with Daryll discussing the changes Beseler made and how to align the newer version but it's been a long time ago now and I don't remember the details. Daryll often writes for Shutterbug and includes his phone number with his articles. If you can't find it and want to talk with him, let me know and I'll dig it out.

I respectfully disagree with the person who recommended the VCL. I've used both and the VCL, with its single column chasis, didn't feel nearly as sturdy to me as the MXT. It may actually have been as sturdy or even more sturdy, I didn't try to do any kind of scientific tests, it just didn't have the same sturdy feel to me as the MXT.

The only thing I don't like about the MXT is that when using a piece of 8x10 or larger mat board to dodge or burn, the board often bumps up against the chasis supports at the rear of the enlarger and it can sometimes be difficult or impossible to get the board in the desired position. This problem might be alleviated with wall mounting.

I use the Aristo VCL 4500 head and it works beautifully when coupled with the MXT and the Metrolux timer. It's an expensive combination but well worth it IMHO.

-- Brian Ellis (, December 15, 2001.

Brian...yeah, it's Darryl Nichols...he puts out the ColorBAT Lab manuals & tech sheets.....there's alot of info in these handbooks about Beseler products, Jobos and using additive enlargers, but he's not a Beseler employee...the handbook is sort of along the lines of a photolab tech manual. We've never had very many alignment problems with our newer MXTs...the old MXII was a different story though, but it's seen _alot_ of use anyways. The newer modles can be aligned in both directions on the lens stage, whereas with the older ones you can only get so much out of them....also, if you use a rotating lens turret, you might as well give up on trying to get perfect alignment as well...get some of those lensboards with the alignment screws in them as well....the MXTs are rock solid can get them in focus & leave them there all day....and they won't slip or budge...I do this in making mass PR prints...350+ prints off one stays in focus from beginning to end. BTW, the vcl4500 & metrolux is a great combo too....

-- DK Thompson (, December 17, 2001.

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