Clean / Align an Enlarger & Slavich Unibrom FB Paper | Darkroom Knights Part One


Hi everyone, Azriel Knight here, and Happy New Year, welcome toy first video of 2021, and I wanted to kick off this new year with something pretty special, it's going to be a mini series right here in my dark room, let me explain the details. Over the next week here, in the darkroom, I am going to be printing off my favorite black and white photos of 2020. At the end of the week I will put them all together and create a limited edition box set which you can purchase. It's not going to be just straight printing though, there's going to be a whole bunch of stuff that you're going to find absolutely fascinating I think. First off is I'm going to be using a different enlarger almost every single day. I actually own six different enlargers, and right now I'm working on borrowing a seventh. If that doesn't work out, I'll just use one enlarger twice. No big deal. But in addition to that, I had a bunch of darkroom paper donated to me by the Reala Peter, so I'll also have a different paper every single day. And in addition to that, I will be using several different paper developers. Now right now I've only got Dektol, expired Dektol, and Ilford Multigrade, but I’ve ordered more, they should be here before this series ends. Also real quick here, you can hop onto Instagram and choose which paper I develop with each day. Uh, this box set idea was actually inspired by seeing Ben Horn do his yearly box set, and I thought I should probably do the same thing. Now, originally I was only going to show this to my exclusive video Patrons who watch my AVS series, if you're not familiar, I have a show called Azriel's Variety Show, where I just do a bunch of different stuff out of the month that my Patrons might find interesting.

[AVS Theme Music]

Um, I do a little bit of book reviews, I do some, you know, rummaging around in my closets going through old equipment, I do some thrifting, I show my thrift store finds or, you know, online Kajiji finds, or Craigslist if you’re in the U.S. So if you're interested in that hop onto my Patreon and at the seven dollar level you can watch those. But I thought enough of you would be interested in seeing this process of me creating this box set that I would film it for the rest of you, for everybody. And I thought why not create a process where I do a different enlarger, a different paper, a different developer, and of course a different photo each day. Now the only thing that's going to stay consistent, is that all of these photos are going to be printed on 5x7, so if I've got an 8x10 paper, I'll be cutting it down to 5x7. I'll begin by telling you what enlarger I used that day, and I'm going to show you the process of cleaning and aligning it. Now, I've done some eyeball alignments before, but I found an interesting article online alluding to a how to align your enlarger in this September 1996 issue of Popular Photography. I'm going to be going through it step by step, then I will show you how to mix whatever developer I'm using that day. Sometimes It'll be easier with the liquid stuff, sometimes it'll be more complicated with powders. After that I’ll do a test strip, and I will give you my thoughts on that strip and how I come to the conclusion that is my exposure after that I will make my first print, and get it dry, and have a really solid look at it, then I will determine if there's dust, if there's an exposure issue after drying, if there's a composition problem, if there's an issue with the borders, or a fundamental issue with the negative itself, I actually printed something last week and I realized that my Pentax 67 needs to be serviced unfortunately, so I don't know how many of my medium format photos are going to make it into this limited edition box set, but there's at least one so far. I'll talk more about that too when I get to it. I will print off probably about 12 prints maybe 15, because generally speaking not all of my prints make it to the final cut, sometimes there is an issue. Um, I don't know, I don't always wash properly. It's definitely going to be a learning curve with fiber based prints, and yeah, whatever the least amount of copies of a certain type of photo is left, so if one photo only has six copies, then my final box set will only have six limited editions box sets, so to speak. And just like a Fortknight of Film, you're gonna see the whole journey. The ups, the downs, the stress, the anxiety, all of that. And I again, I'm super excited, I haven't used most of these enlargers in years, a few of them I've never used, but yeah, with all that being said, let's get started.

[Intro Music]

Now before we get started with the cleaning and alignment of my enlarger, let me introduce you to it, the Beseler 23C Series 2. This has been my main enlarger since at least 2015, maybe 2016. I guess that would make it closer to five or six years I've been using this one exclusively, but I thought one of the best ways to learn about this enlarger was to go through some of the old advertising that I came across. So I've got here various copies of popular photography from 1974 to 1978, and I'm just going to show you and read straight from some of the advertising. Popular Photography from November 1975, the ad calls the "Beseler 23C the immoveable object. Our Beseler 23C is a legend for it's incredible stability and vibration free printing performance. The enlarger's rigid double post cantil-cantilever design has prompted Camera 35 to compare it to the Brooklyn Bridge. Modern Photography compares the 23C to a Sherman Tank. All we ask is that you compare it's solid frame to any other medium format enlarger. Ultra rigid construction, razor sharp prints, that's Beseler." The December ad says, "No other medium format enlarger has all these important features, provides fastest corner to corner illumination, standard lamp house is instantly interchangeable with an optional color head, prints any neg up 2-1/4"x3-1/4" without condenser changing, built like a bridge, widest versatility, number one in the dark." July 1976. So here we see the original 23C goes all the way back to 1956, and it says the 1976 Beseler 23C which is the one that I have, and I think it's actually more like 1974, 75, because we see ads dating back to there with this particular model, but, you know, they want to, they want to be modern and hip, so 1976. Says, "why tamper with success, ever since we introduced the Beseler 23C 20 years ago, many other enlargers have come and gone, yet today like yesterday this tireless workhorse remains one of the most popular enlarger models in the world. We've made some small improvements and refinements over the years, changes with updated technology, which add to the efficiency and quality of your darkroom work, but you find fads or gimmicks on the all-business 23C. What you will find is an abundance of functional features that make your job easier to perform with professional results. We urge you to consider the 23C seriously as the best enlarger investment you can make for your darkroom. Who knows, in 1996 your 23C may still be the top enlarger around." Yeah, try 2021 buddy. "Write to us for the details on the 23C." I like that, I like when they say in the future. An ad from 1977, a color one this time, which is really nice, you can see that it is the same color as mine, pretty simple, "Beseler 23C the 2-1/4x3-1/4" Classic, the best medium format enlarger available at any price". And the last ad I have here is from February 1978, it says "our reputation is enlarging" so this one actually features the 23C as well as the 67C, says "the Beseler 23C, tens of thousands of photo buffs have selected the 23C for its rigid vibration free double post construction. Its cone of light illumination system, oversized condensers, wide choice of negative formats, fast printing speeds, optional diachronic color head, counter balanced lamphouse elevation, color printing and poly contrast filter compartment, extensive accessory system, and much more. Features that have made the 23C a classic in its own time." There you go guys, I hope you found those ads interesting, I know I did, let's move on the cleaning.

I don't know about you guys but I really enjoy looking through old advertising, it's probably why I own an extensive back issue collection, but anyway, lets get on to the cleaning aspect of it, and I'm going to show you the tools of the trade here. Condensed air, pretty obvious, this will be a first step. I don't wipe dust off initially, I blow it off, because it's very easy for dust to turn into sandpaper if you wipe too hard. I'll be wearing gloves throughout so I don't get fingerprints on any of the glass components, I have a whole bunch of microfiber cloths here, and as well as a lens pen for those sensitive areas and crevasses. And I may or may not use a little screen cleaner, this stuff if supposed to be, you know, good for LCDs so I can't imagine it being too bad for a condenser lens, it's important to note that I'm not going to be completely taking this apart, I'm just going to get a few of the main components off, and get them dusted off, and totally spotless, less for cosmetic purposes, and more for the purposes of getting the negative completely clear.


Oh, that went as planned, you know, I mean like, I said I blow the dust off of it each time I use it, however this next part I am a little bit nervous about. And that's the alignment. Now, according to this article, it basically says that, you know, if you stop down it'll cover up misalignment issues, but, you know, we're--we're going to be doing a test with everything wide open. So the horrible truth about enlargers, an alignment problem can sometimes go undetected for months, because normal printing aperture often provide enough depth of field to mask it. When the day comes however that you try to print at your lens's maximum aperture, misalignment will rear its ugly head. Your picture's center will be sharp, but one or more edges will unacceptably fuzzy, no matter how much fiddle focusing you try. You should check your enlarger's alignment, one, when it, when the enlarger is new, two, when it's been moved or suffered some physical trauma, or three, when it's exit, when it's experienced radical or rapid temperature shitfs. Even though my enlarger hasn't experienced those, uh, the last alignment type I did like I said probably not the most professional alignment, it was mostly eyeballed. Okay it explains here how to make your own test negative. Start with an exposed and developed strip of film that's slightly longer than your frame size. For 35mm try a piece of film leader, place it in your negative carrier, emulsion side up, using a razor blade or hobby knife, scratch lines across the outer edges of all four sides. Use the carrier's edge to keep the lines parallel, remove the strip from the carrier and use a knife and a straight line edge to scratch two intersecting lines that connect opposite corner of box to form an x. So here is what I need to make.


Okay, here is my exposed strip. And I'm going to just toss it into my drying cabinet, this is probably the first time you've seen the drying cabinet, unless you're a member of my Patreon exclusive level, and this was handmade and donated by the Reala Peter. Thank you Peter, man this thing is just absolutely crazy. It's got a car filter up top, and a fan, so it's only going to take about a half an hour to dry this thing, but I want it completely dry before I put it in the enlarger. Okay folks, it's been about 40 minutes, my test strip is done. So the next thing I gotta do is cut a piece off, put it in the holder, and then make the Exacto Knife cuts, so hopefully that goes well. I'll be honest about two things, one I went through the negative completely in a couple parts, I don't know much that will impact, and then I really don't know how this is going to work. Okay, I went back and I scratched it all to hell, so I could actually see the lines when I hold it up to the light. I'm sure you can see a difference now, so hopefully this works. Now, what do I have to do next, focus the test negative so the center of the X is sharp, and make an enlargement at your lens's maximum aperture, being sure not to over expose. If the scratch lines are all sharp, your enlarger is in alignment, and you can stop reading here. If the center is sharp but all the other lines are fuzzy, the negative probably popped out after focusing, do the test over allowing more time for the negative to become thermally stable. Now the only thing here is that I'm going to be using a glassless carrier, and all that scratching of the negative made it not flat, so I'm kind of wondering how that is supposed to give me an accurate result. If the negative is all warped and everything. You can align your enlarger with a simple homemade system using a carpenter, carpenter's level or you can buy an off-the-shelf kit. Carpenter’s level. I have the negative, I had to some additional scratching, it's not the flattest negative in the world, that's for sure. But, I think I've got a decent outline now as well as across, and you can see here that it's definitely projecting light through the scratch for the most part. Yeah, so the next step is to set up all my trays and everything, today I’ll be using Ilford Multigrade and I'm going to show you how to mix that up. It's really simple.

Alright, so Ilford Multigrade is a liquid paper developer, and even though it's Ilford Multigrade, it will work with virtually all RC and fiber-based papers. Don't worry about using it with whatever non-Ilford paper you're using. And that's straight from the source, I double checked, just to make sure and that's what their official literature says on this. So you can do one part developer, nine parts water, or one part developer 14 parts water if you want to save some money, but for today I'm gonna be doing 1+9, and the easiest way to work that out is with a liter, you use 100mL of Ilford Multigrade, and 900mL of water.

Okay first test sheet is done, I've already had a look at it, I'm going to super honest with you, as always, and that is, I cannot really tell, so obviously on camera you're going to be able to tell either. You know what I, you know what you need to do, you need to take a picture like with a whole lot of texture, but it's the same pattern. I don't think this is going to be as accurate, but there might be something else I can use. I know I just went through all the trouble of showing you this long process of creating a negative and everything, but i actually think I've got something right here that's even better than creating that negative. I got these texture effects, and one of the texture effects is I can't see it on here but it's a dot screen so it's a pattern it's all the same thing just a series of dots, and I'm thinking if I put this in the carrier, and I sharpen it, then all the dots should be sharp. I'm going to toss one of these in the carrier and see how it looks in focusing mode. There's a bunch here, there's dot screen, there's gravel, there's tapestry, and there's drawn cotton. But in theory, it should be the same thing. Okay, so I pulled out the manual, and had a look to make sure that I knew where all the adjustment places were and, I pretty much had everything right, I put the dot pattern texture in, and noticed it was a little soft on the top and bottom, so I am now adjusting the, I want to find the technical term here, vertical adjustment screw in order to make sure that the bubble level is level, so I'm gonna do that now. There, that is squared off now. Okay, so I had a look at the focusing again, the top part was still fuzzy, so what I did to make sure wasn’t the actual sheet itself is I flipped it around to see if the bottom would be fuzzy, when I--when I did that, and sure enough, I flipped it around and the bottom was fuzzy. As far as I'm concerned, this thing is aligned now. That negative test tutorial, I don't know if I'm going to use that moving forward, I'm going to how you what I did to make sure it was aligned to my satisfaction. I placed the bubble level here, to make sure it was aligned properly this way, and as you already saw, I also placed it so it was aligned properly this way. Now there is another adjustment, right down here, so what I've also done is placed the bubble level right here to make sure that it's aligned properly and it is. If you want to be a real stickler you can also do it on the lens, and it's level there as well.

Okay folks, finally getting to the meat of the episode here, I asked you guys which paper I should use, Ilford Multigrade 2, or something called Slavich Photographic Paper smooth double weight fiber-based glossy paper, grade three. And by a vote of 57%, you guys chose the Slavich, I believe it's pronounced "Sla-vic". Both of these choices are expired, both of them are unopened, as you can see it's sealed here, and this one's sealed as well. This is one of many papers donated by the Reala Peter, and he said that some of these papers are going to be fogged, but I don't think a sealed one is going to be fogged. That being said, for my first test, I'm going to put a sheet through without exposing it, just throw it straight into the developer, and then that way if it's fogged we'll know right away. Very happy to report that there is no fogging on this paper whatsoever. We are good to go, the first thing I need to do, is make 5x7s out of these, and I'm going to show you how to do that. Okay so this is my cutting board, and I have put pieces of tape down here at the 7 and 5 mark. I doubled up on it and the reason for that is I want to be able to push the paper, I might even triple it actually, but the idea is I want to be able to push the paper right up to the mark and almost have the tape hold it there. I've got this scrap piece of paper here I'm going to use as my example, so first to note is that you're only going to be able to get two 5x7s from a single 8x10. so you wanna cut your 8 down to 7, so taking an inch off, and then you're gonna take your 10 down to two fives. See how I--I have my fingers on there and I push, and it sort of hold it in place? That's what I want. And then boom, I've got two 5x7s. Ideally you want to be able to cut all your paper ahead of time, so you want to be able to kind of try and predict how many 5x7s you need. The other thing that's going to help you immensely is having a second paper tray to put all your finished cuts into. Of course, you're working in the dark, under red light, make sure that you're being very careful with your cuts. That being said, let's take a look at today's photo. This is today's photo, this was shot on Day 16, and it is shot on Kodak TMax P3200 on my Nikon FE, this is one of two shots that's going end up in the box set that were taken from Day 16, it was just a really good day for shooting, and I just really like the composition, and the contrast between the old buildings and the new, and the different textures, and I recently used this as my Patron mail out for January, it's--it's a beautiful photo, I sent off 5x7s, I kind of know what to expect, I used Ilford, now what did I use, I used Arista II RC Variable Contrast paper, and I think I used a two or three numbered contrast. Now this paper doesn’t require contrast filters, it's already pre graded, it's a grade three, so there's not going to be any filters needed, let's take a look at the negative. So here's my sheet of negatives for that day, and I took two shots of this scene, and the first one worked out better for composition for me. And you know, here's a close-up look through the loupe, and uh, here you kind of get an idea what kind of shot it is, I mean you've already seen it on digital, but you get a different perspective when you see the negatives as well. Next thing to do now is to blow the dust off the negative, and put it in the carrier and line things up with my easel. Just washing off my first test strip now, I did two, okay so first thing to note I did two second intervals. So 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14. To me, 14's out of the question, 12's out of the question, 10's a little iffy, 8 could be an 8. Could be a six. Most likely a 7. Now if you've done darkroom printing before, then you know that when things dry, the actual exposure becomes more apparent, the water sort of darkens everything. So, maybe the 8 will be light enough after it dries. So the next thing for me to do, is to put it in the print drier here. The last time you guys saw me use this print dryer, I had a lot of trouble, however, I have found a workaround with this thing, and that is to put it face up with a piece of cardstock overtop to prevent the felt from getting all over the print. So that's what I'm going to do now, usually takes about 10 minutes to get it dry enough to see the results though I think for my final prints I'll be drawing from more like 15, and that's on medium, so that's the next step. Here we are, feels pretty dry, it's a little curly, that's uphill battle I don't know how much I'm willing to fight, but the other thing to mention too is that this thing wasn't properly washed, and I honestly think that, wow that is tough. I honestly think that 6 1/2 seconds is what I'm going to try. As far exposure goes, 6 1/2 seconds worked out really well. I can tell that immediately just by looking at it, the drying however, not as great as I had hoped. I am trying to think if there's something that I can do to improve the overall quality of this. One thing I do have is a squeegee, and one thing I might try is squeegeeing the print when it goes on to the dryer, and then seeing if that helps flatter things out a little bit. I might try a thicker cardstock and see if that gives me flatter results. Okay folks, I used a heavier chipboard this time and I, and I squeegee as well and I did a set of four already and I got much better results, and I'm hoping that I get those same better results again. Yes. This looks much better. There is a slight curl to it, but then again, there's a slight curl to the drying bed. Medium high heat for 15 minutes, using a thicker chipboard, and squeegee seems to have literally got a lot of the kinks out of it. So what I've done after I've taken them off the drying bed is sandwich them in between two more of those chipboard pieces, and then I've placed a 15 pound weight on top. How well it works, I'm not to sure, will it hold its shape, won't it? I can't be certain, but what I'm going to do is I'm going to finish off the set and dry the rest and leave them overnight and see how that goes.

It's the next morning, and the prints have had time to dry, and as you can see, they turned out really, really well, I think I’ve got a working system for drying fiber-based prints. You can see here as I go through them that they're relatively flat and wrinkle-free. However, I've also got a separate stack from the same drying process that do have wrinkles on them, and I can't exactly pinpoint why some of them were flat proper, while others were wavy. The only theory that I have is because they were side by side, and the sides that touched perhaps because of trapped water or something like that, at some point I'm going to take the rejects re-soak them, and re-dry them, but for now I've got, I think, 11 prints to work with for my limited edition box set, which is plenty. I couldn't have, I couldn't have hoped for better results. I am so happy with the way these turned out. Especially with how little experience I have with fiber-based prints. So that's all for part one, I really hope you enjoyed this, this episode ended up being a little bit more lengthy than I thought I had to do some chopping, you know, there was an introduction to be had, and things to be explained, and things to be set up, so if you found this a little long, the future episodes shouldn't be as long. If you like what I do around here perhaps consider following me on Patreon, especially if you want to get these episodes a day early, you can also follow me on Instagram and Twitter, and until next time, stay classic.

[Outro Music]


Gabe Waldman