For a change, I thought I would give some information about the two enlargers I use.
For negatives from 6×9, 6×7, 6×6, 6×4.5 and 24×36:
Meopta magnifax 4:
In comparison with many other enlargers on the market this was one of the best in terms of value for money, quality and especially handling. It may look rather functional but that actually is one of its virtues, it does the job with the minimum of fuss.
It has an interesting addition in the form of ‘split-line’ focusing which actually works very well. Especially for a test print when focusing is not needed at grain level. You just pull out the carrier halfway and see two lines, join them using the focus knob to get one line and everything is sharp. Another good feature is a neutral density filter which is good for reducing the light output, letting one use the optimum ‘ f ‘ stop on the enlarging lens.
It has a choice of three heads, B&W condenser, a Meograde for variable contrast paper and the colour head 3 for all film types, this is the one I use. There are two (more if you include specialist light sources) generally used types of light output, Condenser and Diffuser, I prefer the Diffuser as it uses a ground-glass screen in the light path producing a nice even light across the negative; condenser enlargers achieve this using condenser lenses. There is a debate about how each type produces different contrast levels for a given negative, but I personally have never noticed much difference.
The late Barry Thornton in his book ‘Elements: The Making of Fine Monochrome Prints’ 1993. mentioned that it was one enlarger he never regretted buying for both professional & personal use. As I had enjoyed reading the book and found it informative and entertaining; I looked out for one of these enlargers. Never in almost 20 years has it let me down.
For negatives from 6×6, 6×4.5 and 24×36:
Although this enlarger was built with the amateur market in mind, the Durst M605 is a strong, precise all metal design, built with the highest standards as was all their equipment.
It accepts negatives up to 6 x 6 cm and although the column is not tall, it is sufficient for making 12×16″ prints. A dedicated extension arm allows one to make 16×20″ prints but this needed to be purchased as a separate item. 😦
The enlarger head is of the diffuser type, the advantage of the diffuser head is the possibility of quickly switching from 35mm to 6×6 by just moving a lever and changing the lens of course. Enlarging lenses are a subject all of their own as the quality varies considerably and the most expensive are not always the best.
The other important feature you need is a glass negative carrier which both have. Don’t be confused by anyone telling you that glassless carriers are easier. Glass carriers require a little more dusting, but they hold negatives much flatter and that produces sharper images, especially with 6×6 or above. Plain glass is good, anti-Newton glass better; it avoids seeing the interference rings (Newton`s rings) produced when two flat optical surfaces are in close proximity, as they create interference effects associated with residual Fresnel reflection.
Both of these enlargers can be found on the used listings and at the moment are quite cheap. That may change in the very near future as more people take up or return to traditional film photography (as is the case with vinyl for example) and they said that was dead as well !