Ilford Multigrade Enlarger Head

I recently acquired a new enlarger for my darkroom – a De Vere 504 no less.

It’s a complete monster, it really is huge.

It’s the floor standing model and must be at least 8 feet tall, prints 35mm through to large format 4×5 negatives and is more than capable of producing prints a lot larger than I care to do at the moment.

Weighing in pretty hefty, its two person lift for sure.  The guy who sold it to me, wow I thought he was going to start crying as he helped me load it into the car! In hindsight I now see why he began to appear slightly emotional…

The Ilford Multigrade 500H Enlarger Head – wow this thing is incredible!

The Ilford 500H Multigrade Head on the De Vere 504 enlarger.

Before jumping ahead, it’s maybe worth a really over simplified view of how contrast control is achieved with Ilford multigrade papers…

The paper emulsion is made up of several layers, but I find it’s easer to think of it like this:

  • A low contrast layer of the emulsion is sensitive to green light.
  • A high contrast layer is sensitive to blue light.
  • By mixing the intensity of blue/green light in our exposure we can vary the contrast of the print. This is usually done by the use of gel filters in the enlarger either above or under the lens.

Make sense?

The multigrade head in a nutshell lets you set the contrast grade by way of the enlarger timer/control unit. Press the button for the grade you want to use,  job done!

No messing about with filters – it just works. 

The Ilford 500C controller/timer. This lets you set the contrast grade and exposure time for the enlarger. It makes cool beep sounds and it lights up red so very easy to see in the darkroom!

So how does it work?

This magic is achieved by having two separate lamps in the head producing a green/blue light source which are mixed together with the appropriate intensity required for the contrast grade – one lamp for the low contrast emulsion on the paper and the other for the high contrast emulsion.

More detailed information on contrast control for Ilford papers can be found at Ilford’s site.

It doesn’t stop there…

Contrast Grades 4 and above

Ilford multigrade papers require you to double your exposure time when jumping up to contrast filter 4 and above. This is only a minor inconvenience I’ll admit, but the multigrade head can do this with no exposure changes – so when you are 10 seconds at grade 3, jumping to grade 4 or higher is still 10 seconds for the equivalent exposure. Awesome stuff.

It may sound like its a bit of a luxury really and I suppose it is. It’s not achieving anything I couldn’t do before without it but it makes my time in the darkroom a far more productive and enjoyable experience.

To top it off it’s got a snazzy footswitch for starting the exposure off hands free. Beautiful.

Its is a shame that these appear to be no longer produced and quite frankly I fear for the day mine stops working, they really are great pieces of kit. Maybe with the resurgence in film photography and darkroom printing one day we will see these back in production?





1 Comment

  1. Nice.
    The only way to go.
    lzo your work is outstanding.
    Lots of feeling, & interesting dramatic results. The 4 prints- my favorite is 4.
    Thanks for the rundown on the enlarger info too

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