While digital photos have taken over film photography for the most part, there is still a significant portion of photographers who use film for artistic reasons. For most people, the dark room is just a black box that film goes in and pictures come out.

The enlarger is the backbone of any darkroom and is responsible for illuminating the film to create the final photo.

There are two types of enlargers:


Condenser heads use a lens to redirect the light directly onto the negative so that they go through parallel rather than scattered like they would normally. You can get sharper images by doing this and pull out more detail in low light photos. You can even up the contrast a bit for all photos developed using this equipment.


Diffusers use a partially opaque plate, usually made of glass, to give a diffuse spread of light over the negative. As you would expect with something that scatters light, the detail on the final image will tend to be lower than when using a condenser.

The method for illumination isn’t the only part of the enlarger, however. Filters play a key role in determining what colours, if any, get expressed in the final picture.

Color vs Black and White

Surprisingly, whether the image will be colour or black and white can be determined by the enlarger head. Filters can either be built into the light head for the enlarger or bought separately to give you more freedom on what colours you want to emphasize.

This is only a short overview of some of the parts of the enlarger, and with only this optical device, a photographer can make dramatic changes to how a picture turns out. It’s easy to see why some people still prefer film given the amount of control the development process gives them when they are working on artistic pieces.