The Kodak Precision Enlargers and most of their accessories were created prior to 1940, since they are often referenced in the original Kodak Reference Handbook, published in 1940. The Precision enlargers predated most of the enlargers that were developed after WW II, some of which, as brands continue to be made today. Today, wet darkrooms tend to be the providence of those with antiquarian tastes or for those that have them set up and who do not want to replace that investment with equally expensive scanners and printers and the associated cost of materials.

The designers of the Kodak Precision Enlarger targeted both manufacturing and user flexibility. A common base, post, elevation arm and suspension system--in Kodak terminology, "the stand"--can be fitted with either of two different "Assemblies" that comprise a lens board, bellows, focusing mechanism, negative gate and lamp housing. Assembly A is optimized for small negatives up to 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 and uses condensers to reduce exposure time and to increase contrast; Assembly B has a simpler diffuser head, allows negatives to 4 x 5 and has special frame above the negative that is cooled by an exhaust fan. Smaller negatives can be mounted in the Precision B glass negative carrier but the diffuser head requires longer exposure time than the condenser head of the Precision A.


Precision Enlarger Stand

Assembly AAssembly B


Construction is generally lightweight with many of the metal parts in cast aluminum. The post and focusing rods are plated steel. The reflectors in the head are aluminum which is both light and dissipates well the heat generated by the bulb. (I am not sure in which direction the design influence flowed between enlarger designers and science fiction film production designers, but the similarity between the Assembly A lamp housing and the cosmic drive units for flying saucers is striking.) The sprung weight of the Assemblies is distributed well by the offset arm. A strap spring that recoils into the pod on the post top suspends the weight of the "assembly" and works smoothly and reliably. The modular design allows for quick assembly and disassembly for storage or shipping. Even with the larger Assembly B, this is not an enlarger that must be advertised on eBay, for local pickup only and I've imagined a portable 4 x 5 Precision B with coollight lamp housing described on the Kodak Coollight Enlargers page . While Assembly A may look to be substantially lighter than the larger Assembly B, the smaller model is a condenser enlarger with large condenser lenses below the lamp housing. While Assembly B has no condensers, it does have two glass panels below the lamp housing and a fan motor to dissipate heat that could buckle the negative. To help deal with the larger mass of Assembly B, focusing is done on two rods.

The 67mm square lensboards fit either assembly, so if you have a small darkroom and want only one base/post unit, it is quite feasible to have both assemblies and swap them pretty quickly to switch between the condenser unit and the diffuser unit, while using the same set of lenses. Lens boards can also be shared with the Kodak Flurolite Enlarger. Lens boards will just accomodate the ~50mm diameter mounts for 160mm lenses. You can make or have made replacment lensboards from 60 mil aluminum stock. Most Kodak lensboards I've seen have been drilled, but not threaded, so in lens planning, make sure your lenses have retaining rings. Kodak routinely supplied drilled boards for 50mm through 100mm Enlarging Ektars and 50mm through 161mm Ektanons. The Ektars are excellent and the Ektanons, especially the large ones are adequate for B&W in the magnifications you are likely to use. Then there is nothing to prevent perfectionists from fitting the latest Schneider or Rodenstock.

Negative carriers are unique to the two either assemblies. The A assembly uses either a series of glassless carriers or a combination carrier with glass and masks. The B assembly uses a glass-based negative carrier with adjustable metal masks. Both assemblies have a filter frame for 2x2 filters, but this is under, not ahead of the lens and therefore in the image path.

The offset arm that holds the assemblies has a standard 1/4 in tripod mount, so the base and post can be used as a copy stand. Kodak Medalists have removable backs, extension attachments and Kodak cut film holder adapters and, in Kodak publications, are often shown mounted on the Precision stand. Of course 2 x 3, 3 x 4 and 4 x 5 press or technical cameras can be mounted on the enlarger base/post/offset arm structure and used for copy work. Each Precision bellows assembly can be fitted with a cast adapter plate allowing attachment of any of several a film back adapters. The A Assembly can accept adapters for either 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 Graflex or 6.5 x 9 cm Kodak (Recomar type) cut film holders. The B Assembly can take adapters for 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 Graflex duplex holders or 9 x 12 cm Kodak holders. A special 6.5 x 9 cm ground glass panel slides in to the film back for composition and focusing. There are film adapters for both A and B backs allowing the use of 35mm and 828 film. The 35mm adapters included the body of a Kodak 35 on a sliding plate with a ground glass focusing frame; the Bantam version had one of the original folding Bantam bodies and the ground glass frame. The focusing mechanism on the Precision's front standard is a coin-in-slot design similar to the one used on the Kodak Master View 4x5 model.

With a special 90° tripod bracket, either bellows can be used with the Film Back Adapters and Recomar-style film holders as a basic view camera. This design seems rather simpler than the later Flurolite camera focusing rack for remounting the bellows structure on a tripod. The Flurolite front standard focusing mechanism may be smoother than that of the Precision A. Because of the structure of the Precision front and rear standards and bellows neither front nor rear movements are allowed. Lenses can be installed in a Tilting Lens Mount, a special lens board with an adjustable "tilt wheel" that was designed to be used with special tilting legs that held a Kodak easel. Mounted as a camera. the Tilting Lens Mount would allow front tilt and/or swing in some combinations. A set of lens adapter rings for Kodak lenses were included. I've never seen one of these and have no idea how tedious front movements using this device would be.

The Tilting Lens Mount and tilting legs for the Kodak Enlarging Easel can be used to achieve some post-production perspective control during enlarging. Film cups were available for the A Assembly to allow safer use of uncut roll or 35mm film. I've seen specialized condenser buckets on eBay, but the condensers for three Type A Precisions that I have are all labelled to indicate that they work with all film sizes; no contemporary documentation, including the Precision manual, makes any mention of optional condensers and describes the supplied condenser as "Universal." Kodak also offered a special sliding lens board accessory that allowed mounting selected Weston exposure meters on a reflex housing so that photo cell of the meter could be moved into the light path after focusing. Enlarging papers could be calibrated to work with the film speed setting on the meter.

As the name suggests, these enlargers were carefully made of high quality materials. I have replaced a couple of cords, partially so I could install grounding. The nickle-plated columns can rust; all but one in my experience could be buffed up and waxed to slow future rust. I've never seen a bellows with pin holes. The lamp house domes are often skuffed, but an hour with a buffing wheel and compound can have them shining. The cast aluminum parts were painted with a crackle finish. Dingy, dusty examples need a good alcohol rubdown and I have refinished a few parts with a similar crackle spray paint.

These enlargers were designed and sold long before variable contrast papers and home-based color printing were introduced and certainly aren't as convenient to use as more modern enlargers with color heads that can be adapted for micro-adjustable filtration for both color and B&W work. With a filter adapter fitted to the lens, however, B&W VC printing is quite feasible, though not as efficient.

Both Assemblies are solid in use. Bessler and Omega users might miss the girder-like solidity, but clamping the Precision's baseboard to a countertop or other solid base seems to make it stable for me in anything less than Richter 4 conditions. The choice between condenser and coollight designs is a matter of personal preference or even a choice made for individual negatives. Forget automation, though an independent densitometer is useful. Precisions are a nice alternative to more modern small enlargers that are often limited to 6 x 6 negatives.


11/12/2010 21:16