Ollinger's Guide to Photographic Enlargers: Federal Enlargers
Ollinger's Guide to Enlargers

Federal Enlargers

Introduction

Federal enlargers ad 1944I gave Federal its own page for a couple of reasons; one is that they made a slew of enlargers and many are still available on the used market (at least in the USA); the other is that I've owned three of them over the years, so I know something about them first-hand.

Federal was based in Brooklyn, New York, and as usual with many defunct American companies, there's precious little information about it. They began making enlargers sometime in the 1930s (I have a World-War-II era magazine advertisement from them), and went under sometime in the 1960s (since they're listed in a 1962 enlarger guide).

The first one I owned was a later model, but I don't remember the model number. It was silver, handled 2-¼ x 3-¼" using a double-glass hinged metal negative carrier. It was double-condenser and the lamp was mounted on a small shaft that could be moved up and down to change the lamp height a bit. It used a single metal column and friction to move it up and down, and a set-screw on large knob held it in place. The weight of the head was offset by a tape spring that was mounted on the top of the column. Focusing was done by bellows and friction: a knob turned a wheel that rolled the lens stage up and down a small metal post.

Four things always pop into my mind about this enlarger: two that I loved and two that I loathed. I loved the negative carrier: even though it was double glass, which had to be kept meticulously clean or you'd end up with dust spots (and you'd end up with dust spots anyway), and it introduced me Newton's Rings. But it held the negatives flat, and I could put anything in it up to 2-¼ x 3-¼, which was a lot of real estate for modern film. Best of all, it had a focusing target: there was a little glass slide in the back of the negative carrier that was set at the film plane. So what you'd do is push the negative carrier in partially, focus on the target (which had writing and a couple of optical aids), and then push the rest of the negative carrier in and your negative was focused and ready to go. I wish I had that when I was doing color.

Two things that made me want to send to the scrap dealer, however, both involved elevation. To head didn't slide up and down the column that well, so making small adjustments to the head height was a pain in the butt; I often ended up cropping the photo by changing the easel settings than fight with the head again. The other dealt with the friction focus: the knob often turned hard, and there was a little bit of back-torque to it, so you'd get it precisely focused, let go of the knob and it would knock back out of focus a little. Critical focusing was difficult.

I got mine, as many people did, as a first enlarger, along with a bunch of stuff like trays, tongs, tanks, etc. Sold it later and got a Vivitar 356, which is a wonderful enlarger but mine could only handle 35mm. Bought another Federal from a garage sale for almost nothing, this time a smaller, bronze colored model, probably the Model 269 below, or similar. It was much smaller and lighter, but it was diffusion and I liked condensers (I'm pretty good at spotting), so it was traded or sold, and I ended up with another Federal, this time an identical version of the one I originally had. I kept that until I used it as a trade in toward an Omega D3; and I would have kept it if I'd had room to put it somewhere.

Federals didn't change much over the years; my late model silver jobs were pretty close in looks and function to the ones they were making before the war; that may be why they went out of business. They were big and heavy, no-nonsense machines; that made them great beginner and student machines, but limited them when it was time to grow. None of mine could take above-the-lens color filters (though my first one was modified to do it), but they could (at least the silver one could) swing 90-degrees to project horizontally; and if you wanted to clamp the baseboard down, you could rotate the head on the column and project onto the floor.

I have a few of Instruction Manuals and brochures available for download. click for manual


Quick Comparison

Model Country Era Format

Baseboard (inches)

Head Focusing Autofocus Column Ref Notes
135 USA Early 1960s 35mm 14x16 Double condenser Rack & pinion No Single post 1  
219 USA n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a No Single post    
230 USA n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a No Single post    
240 USA n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a No Single post    
245 USA n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a No Single post    
246 USA n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a No Single post    
250 USA n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a No Single post    
269 - Storeaway Jr USA Late 1940s 2-¼ x 3-¼" n/a Diffusion Bellows No Single post 2  
269-CL USA n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a No Single post    
279 - Storeaway Jr USA Late 1940s 2-¼ x 3-¼" n/a Diffusing condenser Bellows No Single post 2  
288 - Storeaway Compact USA Late 1940s 2-¼ x 3-¼" n/a Diffusion Helical No Single post 2  
311 - Storeaway Sr USA Late 1940s 2-¼ x 3-¼" n/a Single condenser Bellows No Single post 2  
312 - Storeaway Sr USA Late 1940s 2-¼ x 3-¼" n/a Diffusion Bellows No Single post 2  
314 - Standard USA Late 1940s 2-¼ x 3-¼" n/a Double condenser Bellows No Single post 2 Different standard lens than the 315
315 - Standard USA Late 1940s 2-¼ x 3-¼" n/a Double condenser Bellows No Single post 2 Different standard lens than the 314
330 USA n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a No Single post    
331 USA n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a No Single post    
345 USA n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a No Single post    
347 USA n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a No Single post    
440 USA n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a No Single post    
450 - Professional USA Late 1940s 4x5" n/a Diffusion Bellows No Single post 2  
450-CL USA 1940s & 1950s 4x5 18 x 24 32 watt 12" Circline Fluorescent Bellows No Single post 3  
470 - Professional USA Late 1940s 4x5" n/a Double condenser Bellows No Single post 2  

Quick Comparison Key

Era: It's nearly impossible to get actual production year spans; I've provided this simply to give an idea of when an enlarger was in production.

Focusing:

Autofocus: not to be confused with what we think of as autofocus today; these enlargers don't focus themselves. What they do is offer a sort of tracking control so that once the image is focused, it stays in focus as you change the elevation of the head for cropping.

Column: all columns are assumed to be vertical unless oblique is noted. Oblique columns (i.e. angled forward) are nice at higher head elevations because the image won't expand back across the column post when the head is at the top of the post. On smaller enlargers this wouldn't be a problem, but at larger magnifications (and with lenses with shorter focal lengths), this can become a concern.

Quick Comparison References

  1. Modern Photography magazine, October 1962
  2. Modern Photography magazine, December 1949
  3. email from an owner