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

Meopta Enlargers

Introduction

Meopta is a Czech company that manufactured a variety of enlargers over the years. There were surprisingly popular in the West despite being an Iron-curtain country for most of their production life.


Quick Comparison

Model Era Format

Baseboard (inches)

Head Focusing Column Ref Price Notes
Axomat Ia Early 1960s 35mm 16 x 23" Single condenser Rack & pinion Oblique post 1,2   split-line rangefinder focus
Axomat 4 1981 35mm 16 x 22" condenser ; Dichro head available     3 Condenser $159; Dichro $329 Film advances without removing carrier; supplimentary filters increase colorhead filtration by 100CC available
Magnifax 3 1983 6.5 x 9cm 16-½ x 21 condenser     4 $295 split-line rangefinder focus
Opemus 4 x 4 Mid 1960s 1-5/8 x 1-5/8" 15-½x 24 Single condenser Rack & pinion Oblique post 2    
Opemus 6 x 6 Mid 1960s 2¼ x 2¼ 15-½x 24 Double condenser Rack & pinion Oblique post 2    
Opemus IIa Mid 1960s 2¼ x 2¼ 15-½x 24 Double condenser Rack & pinion Oblique post 2 $110 split-line rangefinder focus. Reviewed in Modern Photo, Jan 1968
Opemus 5 1981 6 x 6cm 15-½x 22 condenser ; Dichro head available     4 Condenser $179; Dichro $349 split-line rangefinder focus; converts to copy camera with repro unit ; Reviewed Darkroom Photo magazine Nov 1980 (Vol 2 #7)
Proximus Early 1960s 35mm 13-½ x 18 Double condenser Helical Single post 1   split-line rangefinder focus

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:

  • Bellows means that the lens stage is connected to bellows that expand and collapse, and the bellows are typically moved via a wheel using friction (as opposed to using rack & pinion gears).
  • Helical focusing means a collar around the lens is turned, and the lens housing is threaded so that the lens moves up and down.
  • Rack & Pinion means that the lens stage moves up and down via a knob that turns gears.
  • Tube means that the lens is set into a tube that moves up and down (as opposed to bellows).

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.

References

  1. Modern Photography magazine, October 1962
  2. Modern Photography magazine, February 1965
  3. Darkroom Photography magazine, Vol 3 #5 (Sept 1981)
  4. Darkroom Photography magazine, Vol 5 #5 (July 1983)

Model Notes

Opemus IIa

The following unsigned review appeared in Modern Photography magazine, January 1968.

Specifications: Meopta Opemus lla enlarger. Construction: all metal, single post. Negative Size: 35mm and 2¼ x 2¼. Lens: 50mm f/4.5 Belar and 75mm f/4.5 Belar. Focusing: manual rack and pinion with focusing bellows. LIGHT SOURCE: 150-watt No. 212 opal lamp. OPTICAL SYSTEM: double condenser. Other Features: adjustable glass negative carrier with rangefinder focusing, filter drawer, 15 x 22 baseboard, red safelight filter, horizontal or vertical enlarging position, correction device. Price: $109.95.

Few are the photographers who can steal the space required for a large darkroom - and it doesn't matter if they live in an apartment or a house of their own. The Meopta Opemus lla may have well been designed for the tight little darkroom. It stands only 29" high to top of its angled column but you can make a full 11 x 14" print on the baseboard. And if you need something larger, you simply swivel the head 90° and project on a wall. For apartment dwellers it can be disassembled in minutes by unlocking two large knobs--one each at the baseboard and lamp housing assembly.

The Meopta is a small but precision machine. The rack-and-pinion system for both the lamphouse and the bellows focusing system works smoothly. More important for the color printer, there's hardly a light leak from its dark red glass encased lamp housing. We spent several long printing sessions with the Meopta and can report that its heat dissipating system (convection) really works. The machine never gets too hot to touch comfortably.

One of the really big features for the man in a hurry is its rangefinder focusing system, which is actually part of the adjustable negative carrier (more about that later). Pull the carrier part way out, and two lines are projected on the easel. Line up the two lines by rotating the bellows control knob and the negative is properly focused. We have always been exponents of various optical critical focusing devices, but we could discern no difference in sharpness with prints made using a separate focuser or the rangefinder to determine sharpness. And the range-finder was a whole lot faster to use.

The glass negative carrier has four controls that are used to position movable borders. You can drop or mask (for 35mm or 2¼ x 2¼) in the carrier rather than letting unwanted images spill over the easel's border.

Illumination tests indicated some light fall-off at the right edge of an 11 x 14 print at f/4.5. At f/5.6 this fall-off became barely discernible and at f/8, totally nonexistent.

Over-all print quality at f/8 was as good as you could ask from the machine. The same condensers are used for the 75mm f/4.5 for 2¼ x 2¼. evenness of illumination was as good with the 75mm as with the 50mm.

We also tested the Meopta restitution ring. This device is substituted for the regular lens mount--used for correcting unwanted converging lines--in building shots, for instance. It consists of a ring that can be angled to about 20° by rotating a set screw. You also tilt the enlarger head or baseboard to retain over-all sharpness. It works, but you settle for smaller than 11 x 14 prints. The full 35mm negative cannot be printed with the 50mm lens. You must use a 75mm lens.

In general, the Meopta proved to be a sensibly designed, well engineered machine.

Opemus 5 and Meochrom Color Head

The following unsigned reviews appeared in Modern Photography magazine, March 1979. It's been edited slightly for brevity.

Specifications: Opemus 5 enlarger, accepts negatives to 2 ¼ x 2 ¼ in. (6x6 cm), condenser illumination, No. 212 enlarging lamp, negative carrier, built-in masks and interchangeable glassless inserts, slit-line rangefinder focusing system, adjustable negative positioning stops, interchangeable lensboards, inclined 28" high upright, wooden 15" x 22" baseboard, friction drive lamphouse elevation and focusing, 6 in. bellows extension. Other Features: Red filter, filter drawer. Price: $179.

Specifications: Meopta Meochrom color head, CCO-150 filtration in cyan, magenta and yellow, color coded illuminated dials, 12-volt, 100-watt halogen MP5 lamp, 12-volt power supply adjustable to 110 or 220 volts. Price: Color head: $209. Opemus 5 enlarger with color head: $349.

Meopta enlargers are, and always have been for as long as we can remember, machines designed to offer a lot of performance for relatively little money. Traditionally, they have been rugged, well-designed units that made up in toughness what they may have lacked in finesse. And they were always extremely simple machines. Their unadorned "plain vanilla" appeal, however, never meant that they weren't versatile. It was just that their versatility was added on. With an extensive line of accessories you could convert plain vanilla into a veritable banana split, with add-on copying devices, film magazines, copying lights, even foot switches and timers for the lights as well as extension tubes and a sheet film back with sheet film holders. You might start with the basic package, but if you ever wanted the whole works, conversion was easy, fast and relatively inexpensive.

The latest in a long line of Meopta products, some predating World War II, is the new Opemus 5. The more things change, the more they remain the same. Meopta will never give up some things, nor should they, and the model 5, like all previous models, sports that highly chromed upright, slanted forward at a rakish angle and calibrated from 0-50 in 10mm increments.

In case you haven't noticed, wooden baseboards are rather hard to come by these days due to the high cost of lumber. Most manufacturers have gone to a compressed fiber product which, inch for inch, is less rigid than wood--so the Opemus 5 baseboard is a plus any way you look at it. The upright is held to the baseboard by a heavy casting that uses two screws to hold the upright in place. More about these and their problems later.

The basic enlarger chassis consists of two castings; one rides the upright, the second keys into the first. The second casting also holds the focusing mechanism, bellows and accepts the negative carrier and either a regular or a color head. But no matter which head is used, the basic method of achieving even illumination is by means of double condensers. Let's start by fitting the standard lamphouse to the chassis by means of two knurled screws, and plugging the head into a timer.

Now let's remove the negative carrier and insert a negative. No simple carrier this. It comes equipped with glass inserts, which we quickly removed and replaced with 35mm glassless inserts. The glassless inserts slide easily into place and are cut out along the sprocket area of the film so frame numbers may be easily read. A pair of pins can be either pulled forward to allow easy, accurate positioning of 35mm film or pushed back for positioning 120 film. The carrier also has built-in adjustable masks. This allows the image to be masked down to cover the precise area to be printed, reducing internal flare within the enlarger that degrades print quality.

At the extreme rear of the carrier is a "slit rangefinder." Once the negative is in the carrier, place the carrier halfway into the enlarger, and you'll see two bright lines not quite lined up. Adjust focus until the two lines become one line, and shift the carrier so that the negative is in place and, lo and behold, it's sharp as a needle. This feature works well, but we still did all the tests by manually focusing the image itself on the baseboard. We rate the carrier fairly high on versatility and ease of use. One annoying detail, however: One mask was adjusted rather loosely and would slip closed as we placed the carrier in the enlarger. It was easily readjusted, of course.

Now that we have a negative in place, let's make a print. The height of the head is controlled by a friction drive at the right side of the upright. It is not counterbalanced, so a bit more effort is needed than one might anticipate. Four screws control the tension, and the first instinct is to loosen the screws to allow freer movement. Resist this temptation at all costs--loosening the screws will only cause the entire unit to slip until the screws are properly readjusted.

Now let's move the lamphouse to the top of the upright and focus the image for maximum sharpness. What's that you say? Using a 50mm lens on the 35mm format you can only get a print 12" wide? Well there's a simple answer. You placed the upright too low in the baseboard bracket during assembly. Raise it as high as you can and tighten the screws as tight as you can. Now you can make 14"-wide prints with no problem. Well, almost no problem. Combine the slippery chrome finish with the small area that the baseboard bracket grips and you'll find the upright slowly slides down through the bracket until it sits on the baseboard and you are back where you started.

The solution to this dilemma is simple. Not pretty, but simple. We fitted a C-clamp to help those two little screws to hold the upright in the high position. Now 11 x 14s on the baseboard are no problem. Focusing is also accomplished without a hitch. The friction drive on the right side is smooth, simple and without any slip or play.

To change lenses you just loosen a retaining screw and remove the circular lensboard. A flat board is supplied for 80mm lenses and a recessed board for 50mm lenses. All you need do is to make a few prints to realize that this is a fast and efficient machine. Exposures from our standard negative ran about 10 sec. at f/11 using llfobrom 11x14 paper.

Since an enlarger is basically a projector in which alignment and evenness of illumination are considered primary, we consider these tests to be of paramount importance. Evenness of illumination with the condenser head showed that illumination corner to corner was near perfect, with less than Ve stop variation. The illumination from center to corner was less impressive with just over a 1/8 stop error. This figure was obtained using a 50mm lens on the 35mm format. When we switched to 2¼ and an 80mm lens we got virtually identical results. We believe that fact that no supplementary condensers are used to optimize light distribution accounts for the falloff at the edges. The double condensers may well be designed to a compromise point in the hope that it will serve both 35mm and 2¼ equally well. It. in fact, does achieve just that end, but we would prefer less discrepancy between center and edge illumination, and we recommend that Meopta go to supplementary condensers for different formats to correct the problem.

Alignment tests showed near-perfect alignment laterally with less than 1/8 bubble length error. However longitudinal alignment showed a 3/4 bubble length error, which was easily corrected by shimming up the baseboard casting 1 mm or so.

Now let's take a close look at the color head. To install it, remove the two retaining screws, lift off the standard head, drop the color head in place, replace the screws and that's it. Once the color head is plugged into its power supply, you're ready to go. We inserted a standard negative and proceeded to make prints using Ektacolor type 74RC paper and 300 chemistry. A Beseler PM2M analyzer was used to quickly arrive at the proper filtration, and the first 11x14 was on the button at a very fast 9 sec. at f/8. Color saturation was good and the overall clarity of the image told us that both UV and IR filtration were effective.

The color head is easy to use since it's marked in 5CC increments from 0-150. The only source of inconvenience was the lack of a white light capability. This means that you either must focus with a filter value in place or crank all three dials to zero to get maximum brightness on the easel.

When we checked evenness of illumination with the Meochrom color head, there was no change from the results obtained with the standard head. Of course this is hardly surprising since the same condensers are used in both cases. It is only the light sources that differ, once more pointing up the wisdom of a supplementary con denser system.

This is a very cool running color head with exposures twice that of reciprocity limits still not producing any heat increase worth noting. The temperature tests using the regular lamphouse were equally impressive. Here, too, the very good heat insultating qualities of this machine are evident--only a 3.8°C rise in 120 sec. using the not very cool 212 lamp. The reason seems self-evident--it's that thick, heavy piece of heat-absorbing glass located just above the condensers that seems to be able to protect anything below from excessive infrared (IR) radiation.

The basic chassis contains a filter drawer at the right side of the lamphouse. A piece of groundglass is also supplied, but all it seemed to do was to cut down the light and very little else. If it was supplied to produce a "diffusion " effect to the illumination, then its position above the condensers is not exactly the best place for it. Also supplied with the enlarger are three dichroic filters: cyan, magenta and yellow, each having a value of 100. Should you find that your maximum filtration of 150 isn't enough, you just slip the proper filter into that filter drawer and you have a base of 100 in the needed color. Terrific idea, especially for us printers who can't seem to get enough yellow filtration (and that seems to be almost everyone these days).

Incidentally, there are two series of enlarging lenses available from Meopta for the Opemus. The Meogon f/5.6s are six-element designs and represent the best Meopta can provide. The Anaret f/4.5 lenses are low priced, and while not up to the performance of the Meogons, we found them perfectly adequate for non-critical work. Unfortunately these lenses fit no known thread other than those in Meopta lensboards, so if you want to use Schneider, Rodenstock or Nikkor enlarging lenses you'll have to order the proper lensboard when you order the enlarger.

To sum up, we feel that the basic Opemus 5 with a low priced Aneret lens and appropriate glassless carrier inserts is an almost unbeatable value, especially for the beginning photographer who wants a lot for a little. As skill develops, the color head can be added and lenses upgraded. And its still a good (if less convenient) color machine using the standard lamphouse and acetate filters in the filter drawer.