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old beseler enlarger

Jon Ess , Aug 21, 2004; 04:46 p.m.

hi guys

i'm in the process of setting up a darkroom in my bathroom; got an old beseler 23c II enlarger free from a friend....the thing's got to be twenty years old, maybe more. it seems to function pretty well, but while giving it a cleanup i've found that the condenser is in rough shape (i think it's the condenser - the glass apparatus under the bulb but above the lens, right?) i've cleaned both surfaces of the condenser, but there's a lot of junk that seems to be internal... a lot of 'spider-webbing', and dust-like marks that i cannot reach.

so i'm wondering if this stuff is going to have an adverse effect on my prints. does the condition of the condenser not matter since it is above the lens? if it does matter, should i try to clean it or have it replaced, and how would i go about this?

my initial rolls of film have been in very soft focus, so it is hard to judge any effect of the dirty condenser.

thanks for your help.


Jason Antman , Aug 21, 2004; 05:54 p.m.


The Beseler 23C-II is a GREAT enlarger. I use one and love it. I'm pretty convinced that it's at LEAST one of the best 2x3 enlargers out there. They're built like a tank and never quit. And they even do wall projection.

As to a cleanup, you want NO dust in it. So, what you do, you take the enlarger OUT of the darkroom, and vacuun it off, including opening up as much of the enlarger as you can and cleaning it. Be sure to clean out the bellows. And the color head if it has one.

The condenser CAN be cleaned. Raise the lighthead to the highest (2x3" / 6x9cm) setting. The name plate (which says Beseler) is hinged and can flip up. Now pull down on the upper bellows. It will pop off of the condenser. Pull the condenser unit forward and out. Now, prepare a sogft surface such as a few sheets of paper towel. In order to keep fingerprints off of the glass, a pair of CLEAN latex or cotton gloves helps. Hold the condenser unit upside down (with the flat metal flange down) over the paper towel, with your thumbs on the flass facing up, and your fingers on the transparent white plastic facing down. Push on the glass with your thumbs, the plastic should pop free of the metal housing. Very farefully lower the unit to the paper towel and allow the contents to empty out. First will be the plastic. Next are two convex pieces of glass. The first one the fall out, the one touching the plastic, will fall out with its convex side up, and the flat side against the plastic. That's fine. The next one though, the one that you had your thumbs on, will have the convex side DOWN, so you must keep a grasp on it to prevent it from rolling (and possibly cracking/smashing). Now just clean the glass off with a brush and soft microfiber towel, as you would a lens. If need be, use lens fluid. The plastic can be wiped with a wet (soft and lint free) cloth.

Once clean, reassemble.

That's the condenser unit. Now, I could give you more instructions, but I need to know what type of light head the enlarger has. There are two original types - a bare bulb and a color head. The color head is a large rectangular box that sits on the enlarger, and is marked as a Dichroic Color Head, Probably a "DGA". It has three dials on the front for CMY (cyan, magenta, and yellow) filtration. The other head is a very small piece that sits over the condenser and has a single incandescent lightbulb (as opposed to the halogen reflector bulb of the Dichro).

There are also aftermarket light heads, which are usually identified with a brand and model.

If you can post the type of head, I will reply with more detailed cleaning info for the head.

Oh, and if you send away to Beseler, they still sell parts and a reconditioning kit for the enlarger, which includes new springs, knobs, and some other stuff.

If you have any more questions, feel free to ask them here or drop me an email (using the email on my web site).

To directly answer your last question, it may or may not affect your prints. If it did affect them, it would most likely appear as a localized change in exposure.

Conrad Hoffman , Aug 21, 2004; 08:34 p.m.

SOP for condensers is, never work on them over a hard surface, wash 'em off with some mild soap and water, dry with a clean bath towel, then reassemble. Note that the Beseler condensers are not identical. One has a flat surface and one has slightly curved surface that looks almost flat. The flat surface goes towards the bulb, the slightly curved surface goes towards the negative. The hugely curved surfaces face each other.

Lester Gediman , Aug 23, 2004; 09:55 a.m.

I have the same enlarger and have used it exclusively for over 20 years. Got it used so don't have manual, but sure you can download one. Some other tips: Lamp housing rotates and can lock in horizontal position for large size projection. The lens bellows also can be tilted. If you use this feature, be sure to line up white vertical lines below knurled nut to be assured you are back to normal position. Top bellows (there are three bellows total) adjusts the condenser for 3 formats: 35mm; 2 1/4x 2 1/4 and 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 Markings are on right side rear of channei uprights. Tension adjustment for negative carrier is made at rear left of negative carrier (facing front of enlarger) There is a recessesd set screw that needs a hex head wrench for adjusting position of screw on cam. Alignment of the entire enlarger is important for critical work. Having the manual would be a great aid and help flatten the learning curve significantly.

Good luck!


Jon Ess , Aug 24, 2004; 03:19 p.m.

hey jason

i am posting here because i couldn't get your email to work ... i think it's a problem with my equipment, not yours .

thanks for all the detailed instructions. it appears that our enlargers are slightly different...on mine there are no plastic parts with the condenser, just the two elements and a metal ring that fits around the glass, inside the condenser housing. i had some trouble reassembling with that ring, but it finally came together. there is still a little dust inside the condenser,but it is a hell of a lot better than before, so i figure i'll leave well enough alone for now.

i also finally got a good look at the lens, and it is in pretty rough shape as well. it's a tiny schneider comparon 50mm f4. i know very little about enlarging lenses, so i'm wondering what i should do about this. there seems to be a lot of cheap enlarging lenses on ebay, so i should probably try to find something with the same focal length...wondering how to tell what will fit my lensboard though, since there are no size designations as with view camera lenses (copal 0, 1, etc.). any suggestions as to brands to look for?

also, the head is the simple bulb type, not the color head. i've wiped the housing down inside and outside, so there doesn't seem to be much more to do there.

thanks again!

Jason Antman , Aug 26, 2004; 11:23 a.m.


any time! I very much enjoy giving helpful advice to other photogaphers, God knows I've asked for my share from others!

Schneider is one of the best brands of enlarging lens. Remember, when you enlarge, your enlarging lens becomes as important as your camera lens. There are lots of cheap enlarging lenses out there, but I would not recommend them. I have one that's not exactly the best brand, but happens to be exceptionally good, and I have no complaints about it. However, this is likely not the situation with E*ay lenses.

If you can afford it, I would say to go with a Rodenstock or Schneider. Nikkor is good too.

Good luck.

Graham Hughes , Aug 26, 2004; 10:29 p.m.

If you're thinking of going with Nikkors, it should be noted that there are two EL-Nikkor 50mm lenses; one of them (the f/4) has only four elements and so is usually regarded to be soft in the corners; the f/2.8 is a six element lens and is competitive with everything out there.

I think the 75mm is also 4 element; everything else in their range is at the top of the quality lists.

With Schneider, the Componons are the top performers, if memory serves (I have a Componon-S, which is as good as I could ask from a lens). I don't know what Rodenstock's line of 6 element lenses is, but they too are very good. I think collected wisdom these days is unless it's an APO EL-Nikkor (which you'll be able to tell because it will cost multiple thousands of dollars), APO is not that much different than non except in price.

eBay can be a good place to get stuff, but you run the risk of the lens being substandard in some very important way, and these can problems can sometimes be hard to see in an enlarging lens (decentered elements don't look obviously different, for example). You could try KEH, or go for it on eBay but be careful.

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