Long Live The D2
A Darkroom Classic That Keeps On Ticking

Here's the whole assembly with accessories. If you shop around you can find a complete package like this for as little as $300 or $400. That kind of value is hard to beat in a bulletproof large format enlarger.
Photos © 1999, Jay Abend, All Rights Reserved

Ah, the Omega D2. Every time I walk into my darkroom and see my own well-worn enlarger my mind flashes back to my college days, where the university had about 30 D2s working hard every day. Many long hours spent putting together my first black and white portfolio were done under the negative carrier of a D2. My days as a UPI stringer involved banging off prints on a wobbly D2 and then slapping those prints on the scanner for beaming around the world. If you've been making prints for a while, you've used a D2.

In an age of modern electronics and digitally controlled color heads can a D2 still be useful? You bet your easel it can. While there are brighter lights in the enlarger world, D2s have the advantage when it comes to getting the job done without spending a lot of money. A used but still usable D2 can be bought from any number of Shutterbug advertisers for well under $500. If you're willing to pick up a well-seasoned example you can find them for as low as $200. Unlike modern enlargers, accessories for the D series are plentiful and inexpensive. I have found a number of accessories in the pages of Shutter-bug over the years, and have always gotten a bargain.

The lamp house has fins to dissipate some of the heat. You can smell a working D2 from across the street. The bulb gets quite hot, yet that's how it's supposed to work. My lamp house is just marked "D Series." The column says "D2."

Like buying a used car, buying a used D2 should be approached with caution. It will always be in your best interest to buy the cleanest and most solid example, with as many accessories as possible. I bought mine 10 years ago after it had served time at a community college. It came with 4x5 and 35mm condenser units, five film carriers, and three lens mounts. The seller even kicked in a nice chrome 150 f/5.6 Componon enlarging lens. The damage was only $250 out the door.

The beauty of a simple mechanical device like the Omega D2 is that 10 years later it still works as well as the day I bought it. I later added a gorgeous Zone VI cold light which does a nice job making archival prints. I tend to use the regular old condenser head for most commercial prints, only because I can pull a nice fast contrasty print. While the cold light suppresses dust and gives prints a warm creamy glow, sometimes for product shots I want a harsher, punchier look.

The big thing with the D2 is of course its ability to handle 4x5 film. Don't buy one for large format work unless you have the large format condenser included. Also, don't try and make 35mm prints without the smaller condenser, since you'll find the image very dim and the exposure times very long. Since mine came with several condensers and a bunch of negative carriers, I've been able to use mine for all of my work for years. I can make giant sized 20x30" prints on the baseboard, though the easel does hang off the sides. While I have a fancy and very expensive newer enlarger with a color head for printing on polycontrast paper, I still tend to always choose graded paper and my D2 when I'm printing for clients or myself.

The filter holder takes 41/2" filters. While you could use this setup for polycontrast or even color enlarging paper, it's probably better to use a D2 for regular old graded paper.

The D2 has a filter slot that will handle 41/2" filters. For a while I tried to use this setup to print with polycontrast paper, but it's just too much trouble, frankly. If you have to use poly, or really want to print color, then look into a dichroic head for the D2.

The D2 is an imposing beast, standing a full 5' tall. If you've got 7' ceilings in your darkroom, look elsewhere for an enlarger. Its sturdy double I-beam construction has become standard for many enlarger designs, and once you've got one of these things adjusted properly they are absolutely rock solid. When you figure that any decent new 4x5 enlarger with condenser light source, baseboard, chassis, and several lensboards and carriers will set you back around $2000, you can see what a deal these really are.

Since so many D series enlargers have been made over the years, there is a nearly inexhaustible supply of used lensboards, negative carriers, lamp heads, and replacement parts. A quick scan through the pages of Shutterbug will produce many, many sources for D2 accessories. If you make your living in the darkroom then get yourself the best tools you can find. If your darkroom use is more for your own enjoyment, then a classic enlarger like the D2 might just fit the bill.

For more information, contact Satter Omega, Inc., 4100 Dahlia St., Denver, CO 80216; (800) 525-0196, (303) 399-7493; fax: (303) 322-8152; www.omega.satter.com.

The condenser sets are integrated into large silver "bullets." Simply insert the right condenser set for your film type and choose the right carrier. Make sure you get several condensers, since the enlarger really becomes useful when you have all of the accessories.

You'll never break one of these things. It's built like a tank, from the cast iron crank assembly to the twin aluminum standards.

That's a 4x5 condenser set on the left and a medium format set on the right. With the right condenser you can get faster printing on smaller film sizes and even coverage on larger film sizes.

There are probably thousands and thousands of D series negative carriers out there at photo stores, so keep your eyes open. I have carriers for 35mm, 5x4.5, 6x6, 6x7, 6x9, and 4x5.