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DE VERE 504DS Enlarger Review

A historic name in enlarging has come alive again, thanks to some digital tinkering to an analogue machine…

The Enlarging Picture

How does a company of 50 years standing making analogue dark room equipment stay alive in this digital world? Easy – make digital dark room equipment. So along came the DE VERE 504DS Digital Enlarger. About four years ago, John Boyce, a DE VERE man of 40 years standing, had two ways to go – up or down. (Boyce formed Odyssey Sales to sell and maintain DE VERE equipment when the British company folded more than a decade ago.)

With the digital revolution in full flow, the traditional dark room had started to disappear; but it emerged that photo paper was the best, lowest cost, and most responsive media to receive the out put from digital files.

The question was how to do this using existing dark room equipment, such as RA-4 processors, dark rooms, enlargers, etc. During the last few years, several output machines have appeared that work particularly well, but at a high capital cost and with high on going maintenance. Many have too much capacity for the mid-size lab or organisation. Also, to get the best results, special photo media has to be used as images are transferred via laser, LED, etc. So, what if the normal tungsten light could be harnessed so all existing RA-4 materials, black-and-white, multi grade, fibre, etc., could be used?

The DE VERE 504DS was born, bridging the gap between analogue and digital in the dark room, by merging existing and new technology. Using an LCD out put device to make virtual negatives from digital files, prepare images in Photoshop, merge printer and enlarger technology, employ Tungsten light to project the image, and – Hey! Presto! – digital images are produced in the traditional way in the dark room at less than half the capital cost of any other photographic device.

How it works

What Odyssey has done is replace the negative stage of an analogue enlarger with a sophisticated digital imaging system that uses a high-resolution Liquid Crystal Display to simulate a conventional negative. The enlarger’s computer systems convert digital files into “virtual” negatives that appear on the 504DS panel through which light can be projected. When the panel is active and the enlarger’s shutter is opened, the enlarger projects the file onto the base board in the same way a film enlarger projects a negative. This can be focused, sized, and cropped in the same way as a conventional enlarger. Contrast is controlled, both in Photoshop and on the enlarger, using dichroic filters.

One of the first users of the 504DS was Nick Gentily of Genie Labs in West London. After only a few days of using the enlarger, he reported he had found “a fantastic machine that fits our requirements exactly, and it’s a great value for money.”

Gentily uses the enlarger in his lab with a roll easel to produce run-off prints from digital files for adhesive-backed printing for the promotional industry. Also, he often needs enlargements bigger than the 11-by-14 inches his digital printer/processor produces. The enlarger fitted into his existing environment with no extra space or modification to his premises. Gentily also has discovered the enlarger can be used as an over flow unit when the digital lab is working to capacity, and also as a backup machine (although some what slower) when the lab hits the occasional problem.

Gentily’s experience with the enlarger is confirmed by Phillip Dean at Avalon Laboratory in Hampshire, who says, “We would be lost with out it.”

Catching on

The 504DS has now been installed in a wide range of locations, including specialist black-and-white users and a mobile lab specialising in aerial photos, medium-sized general labs, and photographers wishing to maintain control of their own work. The versatility of the DE VERE 504DS makes it an ideal machine for the lab entering or being forced into the digital area. It can cope with all sizes of print from 6-by-4 inches to 20-by-30 inches, serial printing with a roll easel, and as a machine for specialist uses for the black-and-white fibre user.

Lab owners around the world have been bowled over by the concept. This is what one U.S. manager says: “A digital enlarger is an enlarger. It isn’t any kind of printer. While it is a marvel of modern technology, it still works like all enlargers since the dawn of the dark room. It projects your file onto real photo paper, just like a film enlarger projects a negative.

“And, yes, we use real photo paper. It is not inkjet paper, or any kind of special paper. We are printing digital files directly onto real, honest-to-gosh silver gelatin fibre-base photo papers. In fact, we didn’t even have to buy any more paper when we installed the digital enlarger. We just started using the exact same paper we’ve been using all along. After fibre prints leave the enlarger base board, they are still hand-processed in trays.”

Boyce and his team, made up of some existing DE VERE die-hards, some family and new technicians, are busy travelling the world doing installations, exhibiting, and demonstrating. A permanent demonstration area at the their premises in Brighton, is available to anybody to use this enlarger to test the output with their own files; or files can be sent to Brighton, on disc or via e-mail, so prints from potential users can be made and posted back.

The 504DS is fast becoming a permanent fixture in the digital world as a cost-effective vertical output tool.

The DE VERE Digital Enlarger is a complete system that will enable the user to make color and black and white prints from digital images. The users of Fibre based paper love it. The quality is very good and the unit is simple to operate.