Skip to main content

The Beast...

Recently my wife's workplace was getting rid of some old darkroom equipment and offered it up to anyone who would cart it away. I told her I was interested but someone beat us to it. However for some reason they declined to take it in the end. I suspect it was due to the size of it. I call it 'The Beast'.

For the last year I have been in possession of some of my grandfather's (he was called Cushy short for Cushman) 4x5 negatives. He was an avid photographer and made a living from cameras and photography. I remember his interest while I was growing up and still have his Nikon F. He is part of the reason I took an interest in film photography back in 2009.As a result of this I wanted to print some of his negatives but I lacked a 4x5 enlarger. This is where The Beast comes in.

So since last summer I have been perusing ebay looking for a 4x5 enlarger. They are not common, often expensive and very big. So finding one cheap less than £50 and close enough to pickup (shipping would be costly and most sellers can't be bothered.) was nigh on impossible. Bargains in Scotland wouldn't do me any good. So the price was right for this one and the location reasonable. I often dithered as I was worried about the size and did not really have room for it in the utility room where my Meopta Opemus 6 is located.

My wife and I drove to London this weekend too pick it up and we brought it home and set it up.

The Beast
The Beast front view
The Beast is a Durst Laborator 54 Universal Camera. It was made in the 1970s. It is a 4x5 enlarger; it is old and very heavy. It has not been used in some time (PAT stickers said it was tested in 2009.) and so is a little stiff and rusty. I cleaned it up and oiled various parts and it works pretty well now.  The only manual I could find for free online was written in German and so I had to use online translation to decode some of the operation.

The enlarger supports all formats from 35mm to 4x5. The unit came with Durst Schneider - Kreuznach Companon lenses (50mm, 80mm, 105mm, 135mm, and 150mm) and a full set of flawless condensers.

It also came with 2 sets of 4x5 film holders for use as a repro camera. I am not sure if I will use this feature but it is available. Basically you place the film holder where the negative holder goes, remove the condensers, place the illuminated copy on the baseboard and then open the dark slide for the desired exposure (calculated using a conventional light meter I presume).

The Beast is a proper production unit and shows the magnification on the front of the base as you adjust the enlarger height. There is a focus variator that allows one to adjust the focus compensation for the height of the easel. When using a 150mm lens it has an autofocus feature that adjusts the bellows in proportion to the enlarger height. This can be bypassed with all manual focus. A nice set of masks adjusted with dials showing the dimension on the front and side below the negative holder.

For my split contrast printing I do not have the 12cm x 12cm filters required and could find no online bargains. Instead I took out the red filter under the lens and use it to hold my filters. The unit came with a an old Philips 2010 enlarger timer with a 3 digit LED display and very simple operation. Not as good as my automated arrangement on my Meopta Opemus 6 but quite satisfactory given the price.

I made a test print and it worked like a dream. Not too hard to operate and figure out.