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Thread: Diffusion vs. Condenser vs. Format vs. Paper

  1. #1
    Corran's Avatar
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    Diffusion vs. Condenser vs. Format vs. Paper

    I bought another enlarger last week and it came with a pretty much new Beseler 45 condenser head. My Beseler 45 came with an Aristo diffusion head and I have used that exclusively in my darkroom, though I have used a condenser in other darkrooms a few times.

    It got me thinking again about the differences and boy Google is full of a million opinions and thoughts, most of them useless. What I couldn't quite pinpoint, but read some interesting opinions on, is about what each head might bring to a negative, when considering the negative size vs. enlargement ratio and also the paper used, including VC vs. graded.

    I am wondering if some of you use both types for different prints/formats/papers, and why? Today I have been printing a 35mm negative onto a few different graded papers, and I think I'm going to pop the condenser head on to see how it changes the print. So yes, I am "trying it" as I know the first response always is when it comes to printing. But I just wanted to hear some thoughts on the head type vs. printing different negs on different papers. And I know this is the LF forum but this question relates to all formats and why one might want to use one head over another for LF as well as the smaller formats.

    And to be more specific, I've always heard condenser heads give slightly higher contrast. Is this true for graded papers?? I can't see how, but I am curious if it matters.
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  2. #2
    Gary Beasley's Avatar
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    Re: Diffusion vs. Condenser vs. Format vs. Paper

    As far as the neg image is concerned, with a condensor the highlights block the collemated light more efficiently than diffused light. This makes a diffuser print of the same neg have more detail in the highlights all else being equal. I also think shadow details might show more micro contrast but not sure, because dust shows up more readily with a condensor than a diffuser. Ive read from respected sources a diffused print looks more accurately like the contact print than a condensor print.

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    Re: Diffusion vs. Condenser vs. Format vs. Paper

    Long ago David Vestal ran a test where he printed the same negative(s) (can't remember off the top of my head how many he did) on his Omega enlarger with four different heads - point source, standard condenser, cold light diffusion head and dichroic diffusion head. He reported on this in detail in the 1/81 Popular Photography and summarized the results briefly in his book "Art of B&W Enlarging". The basic results were that the diffusion heads printed with slightly lower contrast and minimized the visible effect of scratches in the negative base (but dust still needed to be spotted, even with the diffusion heads). With a clean negative and once contrast was matched with suitable choices of paper grade, neither he nor the POP editors could tell from looking at the prints which was made using which head.

    EDIT: To quote from the summary in his book: "Once the contrast of the paper was matched approximately to the contrast of the projected image from each head... grain, sharpness, and highlight and shadow tones were rendered alike by all four heads. The prints looked so much alike that neither I nor Popular Photography's editors could tell by looking at them which print came from which enlarger head.... In short, the whole controversy [over special properties attributed to different types of head] is nonsense."

  4. #4
    Corran's Avatar
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    Re: Diffusion vs. Condenser vs. Format vs. Paper

    Thanks Gary and Oren.

    The Vestal article is here I found:
    https://books.google.com/books?id=rz...page&q&f=false

    I will read that here in a moment, but your end quote gets to the point. Good to know. I just put my condenser comparison prints into the fix. Looking at them and the ones I made with my diffusion enlarger I am certainly not struck with any difference in sharpness/grain either, but do notice the slight bump in contrast.

    It's interesting how many opinions I read stating something to the effect of condensers accenting sharpness and grain, here and elsewhere.

    Also it's fun to reference an article written before I was born .
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    Re: Diffusion vs. Condenser vs. Format vs. Paper

    Quote Originally Posted by Corran View Post
    Also it's fun to reference an article written before I was born .
    Bryan, I remember reading that article when it was published, which is why it came to mind. I still have that issue of POP, unfortunately not within easy reach just now.

    Feeling older by the day...

    I'll add, it's been a long time since I've printed with my 23CII condenser enlarger - an LPL4500II with color head long ago became my workhorse, and the 23CII has been banished to a couple of cinder blocks outside my darkroom to free up the dry-side bench top space it was occupying. But my impression of the differences between the two is consistent with Vestal's reported results.

  6. #6
    Corran's Avatar
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    Re: Diffusion vs. Condenser vs. Format vs. Paper

    The next thing I need is a color head for my Beselers! That's what I got the other enlarger for (45XL).
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  7. #7
    Joel Edmondson
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    Re: Diffusion vs. Condenser vs. Format vs. Paper

    Corran... I have owned and used condenser, cold-light and dichroic enlargers for formats from 35mm through 8x10 going back to 1960 and all I can say is that a careful worker can achieve outstanding results with any of them. Yes, smaller formats in particular seem to benefit from the qualities of condenser illumination and conventional wisdom holds that the thicker films (35mm) respond favorably to the collimated light and my own experience was that in those instances the prints did appear sharper (more contrast). After doing a considerable amount of work doing comparisons I ultimately chose diffuse light and for the last thirty years that is all that I have used. I think this is one of those instances where you make your choice based on your own preferences and forget about the arguments of the naysayers who proclaim the superiority of one over the other. By the way, I understand that you aren't seeking the "Holy Grail" of printing but the benefits of others' experiences.
    Joel

  8. #8
    ic-racer's Avatar
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    Re: Diffusion vs. Condenser vs. Format vs. Paper

    Nothing new in the discussion since 1947...(Minicam Photography, September 1947)

  9. #9
    Corran's Avatar
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    Re: Diffusion vs. Condenser vs. Format vs. Paper

    Thanks for your thoughts AJ. Indeed, I was only curious since this condenser head came along with the enlarger frame. Specifically it was the comments about 35mm with the condenser head that piqued my interest. I've been just fine with the cold head for years, but it's fun to try new things.
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  10. #10
    Joel Edmondson
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    Re: Diffusion vs. Condenser vs. Format vs. Paper

    You are right... I have recently been involved with trying to do some comprehensive testing of my 150mm enlarging lenses (which I have had for years) and have been completely surprised by the comparisons. Either of them - on the basis of viewing a print made with them have always been satisfactory. Comparisons with same negative, same degree of enlargement, same paper - development - ad nauseam - are glaringly different. Guess I am still not too old to profit from my mistakes and to perhaps overcome my innate laziness!
    Joel

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