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In film photography (and interestingly enough you can do this with digital) if you want to make a print by hand you'll need an enlarger.

What are some things that should be considered, especially when considering a used purchase (i.e., bellows, carriers, timers, chemicals, gels, and so on)?

  • black and white or color enlarger? the skill sets and equipment needed will differ somewhat for color. – chuqui Mar 7 '15 at 6:51
  • @chuqui I want to keep that open and general. I know most B&W enlargers can do color with the addition of gels\filters in the glass near the light source. – SailorCire Mar 7 '15 at 7:01
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So, it seems that when purchasing an enlarger you need to be aware of the following:

  • power supply
  • base
  • stand
  • head
  • bellows
  • lens
  • carrier
  • gels*
  • bulb
  • paperwork

Power Supply


After reading various online listings, it seems that enlargers do not use a standard three-prong (US) mains adapter. When looking at one, make sure that your enlarger comes with one and that it works!

Base


The base is what you'll put your photo paper on and most listings will have one. If your listing doesn't have one then you'll need to fashion something so you have a flat level surface to enlarge on. A think a vice could work if you're careful.

Stand


This is the connector between your head and base. It is a beam that allows you to raise and lower your enlarger. It should be with the base and should be considered inseparable.

Head


The head is the meat and potatoes of your enlarger. This contains the bulb, lens, carrier, and optional gels. If your purchase doesn't include this then you haven't purchased an enlarger.

Bellows


Some enlargers use bellows. Make sure there aren't any light leaks in them or else you'll overexpose your photograph.

Lens


The lens is what will allows you to focus your negative so that it'll be in proper view. You'll need an additional tool to check grain and focus by hand, but you can live without it, but your pictures might be a little fuzzy. The lens is similar to a camera lens in that it has a distance and aperture. It looks like many can adjusted.

Carrier


This is what you'll put your negative in. Your listing should include this! Make sure that it fits your film format (120, 135\35mm, 220)! They tend to be hard to come by as spares so if your purchase doesn't include one, be ready to spend a good amount on a replacement.

Gels


This is optional and also depends on your enlarger. If you're purchasing a black and white enlarger and you want to do color, you should get some of these. They aren't mandatory, but you should consider them -- otherwise you'll just be able to do black and white. There are some enlargers that have dials in the head that allow you to do color prints without the need for gels.

Bulb


You got to light up the negatives some how! Check for a bulb and if you're lucky it works. If not then make sure you can purchase a bulb.

Paperwork


Manuals are cool. They will help you with setting up, caring, and maintenance for your enlarger. They aren't mandatory, but they make life easier.

Final Thoughts


A final note, you'll still need:

  • trays
  • timer
  • paper
  • chemicals

before making prints.

The timer isn't like an egg timer, but instead will turn off the enlarger automatically after a fixed amount of time (3 seconds for example). You can build one with a 555 timer and a relay. So its nice to have, but not mandatory.

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