In the early days of variable contrast paper, variable contrast papers were not very good. Today's variable contrast papers are great! Most photographers would not want to go back to printing on graded paper. Certainly it is a whole lot easier to maintain an inventory of variable contrast paper. If you print on graded paper, you need to have different grades in stock. I remember how difficult and expensive it was to maintain such an inventory.


Only want to print B&W? Using variable contrast paper? Prefer to print with a B&W variable contrast head? Having trouble finding a B&W variable contrast head? Ilford B&W variable contrast heads are great, but just try to find one in your format and with an adapter for your enlarger! There is an alternative; use a color head for B&W. Dial in Majenta filtration for higher contrast. Dial in yellow for lower contrast. You will have stepless contrast control. You will also be able to print color when you want to. You will soon learn to stop thinking in terms of paper grades or steps. You will soon learn how much filtration to dial in. You will be delighted.

You mean that is all there is to it? YES! It is that simple. Don't worry about what paper grade you are using. It is irrelevant! All that matters is the final print.

A customer asked me to find an 8X10 Ilford VC head for him. I did not have an 8X10 Ilford VC head at that time. I suggested he use a color head. He wanted the brightest head he could find because he was making large prints that required longer exposures. He was making such large prints from 5X7 negatives that he used an 8X10 enlarger in order to get the required distance from the negative stage to the easel. I sold him an 8X10 Devere 2400W color head. He expressed his satisfaction with it. Later, when I got in an 8X10 Ilford VC head I told him about it. He said he preferred using the color head for printing B&W because it was "stepless." With a color head you may adjust the contrast infinitely between grades. With an 8X10 Ilford VC head you are stuck with steps or grades.

This is not to say that an Ilford VC head is less desireable than a color head. Changing contrast on an Ilford VC head is accomplished with the push of a button. The exposure is the same from one contrast to another. Most people will find that the half grade steps offered by the Ilford VC head is sufficient for their needs. But the Ilford VC head is getting to be particularly difficult to find in some formats such as 5X7 and 8X10. It is not sufficient to find an Ilford variable contrast head in the particular format you want; the heads require adapters for your specific enlarger. Those adapters are increasingly scarce as are the Ilford heads themselves. For these reasons a color head is a viable alternative.

If you must have an Ilford VC head, I have one available for an 8X10 Durst. I passed up an opportunity to buy an Ilford VC head for a 5X7 Durst because it was expensive and it was actually a 4X5 head with an adapter for the 5X7 Durst that would have been too dim. So I made my own VC head for a 5X7 Durst. You will find those VC heads on my Durst Enlargers web page. I also have an Ilford VC head available for a 4X5 Omega D2/3/4/5/6. You will find that head on my Omega Enlargers web page.

PS A good starting point for printing a perfect B&W negative using a color head is 60 units of majenta. Color heads will vary. One man's perfect negative may be different than another man's. Customers sometimes come in to pick up an enlarger or color head from me. Sometimes they will want to see the enlarger in operation. I have a working darkroom set up with enlargers from 35mm to 8X10. I will set up the enlarger of your choice and demonstrate it for you. On several occasions I have judged the negative by sight, dialed in the appropriate contrast on the color head and come up with a perfect contrast print with the 1st try. You will find printing B&W VC paper with a color head easy too.

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