Ollinger's Guide to Enlargers

Super Chromega C review

This article originally appeared in the magazine Modern Photography, September 1973, in the Modern Tests section, pp.116-117. A previous owner of the magazine razored out part of the second page, so I don't have the final paragraph of the review.


MANUFACTURER'S SPECIFICATIONS: Super Chromega-C Dichroic enlarger. FEATURES: Accepts negatives from Minox to 2-1/4X2-3/4 in., stepless dichroic filtration from 0-150 density in cyan, magenta and yellow, interchangeable light multipliers for 35mm and smaller or separate unit for larger than 35mm negatives, single 150W, 21V quartz-halogen lamp with integral dichroic reflector, built-in, solid-state voltage stabilizer with line voltage input 90 to 130V, 45 in. column, 18 x 26 in. baseboard. PRICE: Less lens, with CC-type 2-1/4 X 2-3/4 in. light chamber, infrared filter, voltage stabilizer, $499.50.

Most color enlargers on the market are professional type units covering large formats. All can be adapted to accept smaller format negatives all right, but once scaled down to, say, 35mm or 2-1/4 X 2-3/4 in. proportions, they're generally not too convenient to use, especially by amateurs. Perhaps even more important, their prices range around the $1,000 mark or more.

The new Super Chromega-C, therefore, fills an important gap, providing quality on par with many professional machines, and at a price and format range more in line with the needs of home darkroom workers. When you first examine this machine, you may get the impression that its construction has been oversimplified, but this is far from the case. Let's take a closer look at the mechanism itself and then analyze its functional qualities.

The Chromega-C's upright is a slightly angled single post in the form of a V-shaped girder. Its height is 45 in., allowing easy 11 x 14 in. enlargements on the baseboard (from 35mm negatives using a 50mm lens). To make larger prints, you can swivel the upright for floor projection. Lamphouse elevation is controlled by the traditional rack and pinion with a locking lever. The cranking action on our test model was very smooth.

The most important and interesting part of a color enlarger is its color head, and the Chromega-C is no exception. Omega has included very wide range dichroic filters on this machine—to 150, in 3 colors. Many similar enlargers have filters that range up to 100, which will take care of most negatives. But if you're the type who comes up with really unusually balanced negatives or creative color projects, the Chromega's wider filtration range will prove quite useful. One thing very nice about this filter system is Omega's arrangement of both yellow and magenta filter scales at the bottom of the lamphouse. This is quite an important feature for color printing, because these scales are the ones most often used. Ordinarily, in normal printing, you do not touch the cyan filter control. This intelligent design is especially convenient once you turn out the lights.

Another excellent feature is the "white light for focusing" control. If you have some experience in color printing, you know how difficult it is to focus with color filters in place in fromt of the light source. Even with white light you may have some difficulty focusing masked color negatives such as Kodacolor-X. Heretofore, you had to remove all filters manually in order to focus the negative precisely. With this machine you just flip a lever on the right side of the lamphouse upwards, and the filters move out of the way. That's it! Once set, the filters retain their combination when you snap the lever back for printing after checking the focus.

Old Chromegas offered some difficulties when you changed lamps or tried to clean the lamp-house. Omega redesigned these features for easy maintenance with the larger Super Chromegas. Fortunately, these improvements have also found their way into the new Super Chromega-C. To change the lamp, you open the top of the lamphouse, and find a low voltage, high output halogen lamp in the left chamber. Just pull out old lamp and push a new one in.

On the right side, there is a little box which also pulls out quite easily. This small retangular device is the light mixture box, a must for color enlarging. And, guess what, you don't need to clean it laboriously for dust free printing—it has a built-in dust proof shield. The box is not only easy to maintain, it also works efficiently as a light multiplier to enhance the intensity of the light for brighter illumination. Its performance is similar to a condenser, but its light output is of the diffused rather than specular illumination. As with condenser systems, you have to change light multipliers when changing formats to properly cover the entire negative area.

Basically, this enlarger comes with a-2-1/4 X 2-3/4 in. format (CC-Type) light box. For 35mm or smaller negatives, you have to purchase a separate appropriate CA mixture box ($22.50). This enables ready fast exposure times with 35mm black and white negatives, and comfortable exposure times of under 30 sec. for 11 x 14 in. prints with normally balanced 35mm color negatives.

Does this mean lamphouse temperature must be very high and the noise and vibration of the fan-type blower unbearable? Absolutely not. Modern's editors used this enlarger for an extended printing session and found the Super Chromega-C to be one of the quietest and vibration free machines now available. In the darkroom you can hardly notice the cooling fan is on, yet lamphouse temperature never rises to the danger point. Our heat tests at the negative carrier showed a slightly higher temperature than some other color enlargers. But even during 30 sec. exposures, the rise is only 15 to 20°F. above the ambient temperature. In other words, it measured about 80°F. in our cool 64°F. darkroom.

The temperature at the negative creeps up a bit more if you leave the light on for several minutes, however. Our test figures ran like this: after 3 min., around 100°F. and 120°F. after 6 min. These temperatures aren't really high enough to cause film damage, but you must keep them in mind since negative buckling can wreak havoc with pinpoint focusing. When dealing with very dense negatives and their consequently long exposure times, our advice is to prewarm the negative before focusing, then to expose the paper before the negative cools down. This way you can be assured of the sharpest possible prints.

The second function of the light box is providing evenness of illumination. Our standard Lektra PTM7a meter showed only ¼-stop light falloff at the extreme corners of the 11 x 14 in. printing format, compared with the center of the field on both CC and CA light multiplier boxes-an excellent performance.

Directly under the lamphouse, is the negative holder and the bellows. The parallelism of the baseboard and negative holder was quite good; perfectly parallel laterally and only 1/3 of a bubble off in the front to back direction on our Omega alignment level. That means you probably won't notice any parallelism discrepancy even in critical work.

To insert the negative carrier, you push down a large lever to the left of the bellows to raise the lamphouse in the traditional Omega style. Focusing is equally traditional, employing a friction type support rod extension used on Omegas for many years. But this time the rod is single instead of double. In practice, it works quite well in keeping the lens-board perfectly parallel to the baseboard.

What about resolution? This enlarger comes with no lens. You can install any lens you want in either Omega-type flat mount or Leica thread. Modern's editors tried the Omegaron 75mm f/4.5 for both 21/4 x 2V1 in. and 35mm formats. Here is the result.


As you can see, our optimum results were obtained at ƒ/8. There was almost no noticeable focus shift with this lens. Therefore, you can stop down to your heart's content without worrying about loss of sharpness.

But many experienced darkroom workers claim color enlargers give slightly soft looking results when used to make black and white prints because they use a totally diffused illumination system. To check such assertions, we tried the Chromega-C with 35mm Tri-X negatives. This format with its attendant high magnification, and critical requirements in both sharpness and contrast provides the acid test. To judge the results, we made the same print with an excellent 35mm condenser type Durst enlarger fitted with a Schneider Componon lens. There was very little difference in the test prints made with the two different illumination systems. In fact, you really have to dig in with a high magnification loupe to see any differences at all. In the Chromega-C print, the grain looks slightly softer and scratches or dust spots on the base side of the negative printed slightly softer. That's about it.