Beseler Dichro DG “Big Blue”

If you do a search on Google for the Beseler Dichro DG most likely you’ve ended up here because there is nothing else on the internet about this mysterious enlarger other than a few photography forums, some old darkroom pics of fellow analogoue purist’s setups and a few links to the much newer and more attractive slimmer Dichro 45s.

As much as I’d like to talk and review the slimmer and younger Beseler 45s, this blog is about the Beseler Dichro DG, or as I’ve come to know it as, Big Blue.

Big Blue is a humongous darkroom colorhead enlarger which sits on a throne of a chassis, the 45MXT, complete with two 200 watt halogen bulbs, a motor, transformer and blower/fan combo. If I hadn’t mentioned the words darkroom and enlarger, I’m sure any person would have thought I was talking about your dad’s soup’d up muscle car he raves about in his glory days of high school. To say the least, this ain’t your father’s regular darkroom enlarger.

The nickname is nothing to be taken lightly, IT IS A BEAST. Especially when you put the colorhead on the 45MXT the total weight is 50 plus pounds and is by no means portable. On the plus side, usually you can find them for really cheap at estate sales and since most sellers want to free up the space in their basements and get rid of them. They take up so much space sometimes they’ll just give them away or they’re tossed to the curb. However, if you search for them on eBay they’re usually rare to find and when they are being sold, the sale prices are astronomical. I found mine a few years ago at an estate sale for an out-of-business photography studio from the 1980s. During my perusing of the sale I noticed Big Blue hiding in the darkness covered in dirt. I picked it up for 15 bucks and wheeled out to my SUV where I performed a full lower body workout hauling it into the trunk.

Here is how I found Big Blue, notice the switch/cord on the base board.

The Setup

The DG is a 4×5 enlarger which means it needs a proper chassis to sit on, like the Beseler 45M. From my research, the M stands for motor which moves the enlarger head up and down for image size placement. There are various models such as the MX, MXT which affect the design of the chassis but all serve the same purpose. The setup is pretty simple: the DG plugs into the transformer, the transformer plugs into the motor, then the motor plugs into and through the timer which will plug into the blower/fan. If you’ve done all those steps correctly, the blower is the only unit that will be plugged into the outlet. In order to use the enlarger, the blower must always be on and the switch, located on the motor, must be turned on. I should also mention that if the motor stops working, you can elevate the head with a hand crank.

I should also mention that the Dichro has a black and white counterpart, which sits nicely on the 45MX. The 45 Beseler condensor head is just that, a 4×5 black and white enlarger. One thing I’ve noticed is that the 45 black and white enlargers don’t have a transformer; they have a volt meter which simply adjusts the brightness level of the incandescent bulb housed inside.

A page from a darkroom photography book featuring the Dichro DG

Feel that heat coming from the undercarriage

At first site Big Blue is intimidating and confusing to figure out how to turn on. There are a few key components that are needed in order to get the unit functioning and usable. One of the most important parts is the blower. When I first turned on the blower, I noticed it wasn’t blowing air into the head like I thought it should, it’s actually sucking the hot air out of the head thus keeping it from overheating. I thought having the blower would be a nuisance but it really isn’t loud at all, once it’s on it quietly hums away keeping the head cool and making sure the house doesn’t burn down.

The DG generates an insane amount of heat. It can get so goddamn hot you could probably cook an egg on it; and if you even try to use it for a few seconds here and there you will start to smell a burning smell inside. If you think you are going to use it in 3 or 5 second intervals you will be mistaken. Inside the lamp housing you will find not one, but two 200 watt halogen bulbs and the brightness is the equivalent of staring into the sun. So yea, with the amount of heat coming from the undercarriage a fan is needed.

Don’t look for too long or you’ll go blind

Contrast

One of the benefits of using the DG or any color head is you can print black and white without the need of contrast filters. Since all color heads have yellow, magenta, cyan dials, you can tweak the colors to match the specific contrast you desire. Ilford has a great help guide which comes with all their multigrade variable contrast papers and demonstrates the proper settings for each contrast grade.

This is a chart provided my Ilford for using their Multigrade paper. Ilford suggest following the Kodak settings for Beseler brand enlargers.

Big Blue is reliable however with all that being said it’s not my go-to enlarger. Honestly, it was made for professionals to print professionally and it was made to be used for large prints which I just don’t make a lot of. Although it is a 4×5 enlarger, it has the capability to enlarge smaller negatives. When I do use it to make prints I feel like I’m a 5 year old learning to drive a super car on an icy road in the middle of a snow storm; I’m using the wrong tool for the occasion. But hey, it’s fun to be a little reckless and get behind the wheel of a powerful machine.

If you have the opportunity and space to get one, do it. The Dichro DG-1 Big Blue is a work horse and would fit well in any amateur darkroom or collectors closet.