Intrepid Compact Enlarger at a glance:

  • £280
  • Compact enlarger for 35mm and 120 film
  • Carriers for negatives up to 6×9
  • Print colour or Black & white
  • Variable contrast control for B&W
  • Makes prints up to 11×14”
  • Integrated safelight
  • LED head can be used for digital neg scanning

The Intrepid Camera Co., known for its affordable large format cameras, has now taken on the challenge of making darkroom printing accessible to a new generation of film photographers with the launch of its compact, feature-rich enlarger. The system comprises a compact head, control unit and a series of negative carriers. The enlarger head is built around an LED light source which, thanks to advancements in LED technology, generates an even spread of bright light that is capable of creating fantastic prints.

Intrepid Compact Enlarger prints

A selection of prints created using the compact enlarger

The enlarger is designed to print both 35mm and 120 negatives and a number of dedicated negative carriers have been created to cover 35mm and most 120 film formats including 6×4.5, 6×6, 6×7, and 6×9.

Intrepid Compact Enlarger for 35mm and 120: Major Components

  • Negative Carriers: Carriers are included for 35mm and 120 negatives (6×4.5, 6×6, 6×7 and 6×9)
  • Control Unit: This is the ‘brains’ of the enlarger – timer, focus light, contrast control and built-in safelight
  • Enlarger Head: The compact head features an LED light source that can be used for printing or scanning negatives

The brains of the enlarger

The innovation applied to Intrepid’s enlarger is not solely limited to the use of LED lighting but also in how it is controlled. The accompanying control unit serves as the exposure timer and focus light, but also lets you to switch between colour and black & white printing as well as negative scanning all at the push of a button. Significantly for black & white printers it has the option to dial in 00-5 contrast control in ½ steps without the need for above or below lens variable contrast filters. This means you can take full advantage of Ilford’s Multigrade papers as well as easily utilise techniques such as split grade printing.

Intrepid Compact Enlarger Control Unit

The controller unit clearly displays your current settings

For colour printers, the cyan, magenta and yellow dials let you quickly and simply alter the colour balance of your prints and fine tune your final results without the need for filters or a dichroic head. Another nice feature of the control unit is the integrated safelight which emanates ample light for a small darkroom. Meanwhile a USB port allows for future firmware updates with Intrepid hinting at plans to implement F-stop printing and other features into the timer.

It is worth noting that the buttons and dials on the control unit are not labelled. However, after five minutes of use I did not find this an issue, as operation is very easy and intuitive even for those new to printing.

Intrepid Compact Enlarger – What else will you need?

The main compromise of this compact device versus traditional enlargers is the lack of an integrated base board and column, and the stability that this provides. Instead, the enlarger has been designed to be used with a tripod or copy stand, with a standard ¼” thread on the enlarger head for easy mounting.

Intrepid Compact Enlarger on Tripod

Intrepid;s Compact Enlarger is designed so it can be used on a tripod

For testing I used a Negative Supply copy stand but as many photographers already own a tripod, they are a great option that requires no additional investment. Whatever you use it is essential to carefully level the enlarger head and easel prior to printing, to ensure sharp prints.

The practicalities of using a copy stand or tripod do limit the print size to a maximum of 11×14”, which should be plenty big enough for most people. Intrepid says the light source is actually bright enough to print much bigger or even project onto a wall for horizontal printing.

You’ll need to source your own enlarging lens, but M39 lenses are easy to find

The enlarger does not come bundled with a lens, but takes M39 thread lenses which are easy to come by and will allow you to select the lens most applicable to the format you are printing (generally 50mm for 35mm negs, or 80mm for most 120 sizes).

Negative Scanning

The enlarger head contains an LED light source which uses red, blue, green and white light, carefully balanced for both scanning and printing from negatives. The light is magnetically attached to the bellows and can easily be detached and used as a backlight for scanning negatives with a digital camera. The control unit also contains pre-programmed light settings that have been calibrated for scanning a range of popular film stocks such as Kodak Portra.

intrepid Compact Enlarger

The timer and enlarger head connect via a wire

The Intrepid negative carriers can be used to keep your film flat while the LED light will also work well in combination with other film carriers from companies such as Negative Supply which are better suited for quickly scanning strips of negatives.

Intrepid Compact Enlarger: Our Verdict

Following its success with large format cameras, Intrepid has once again identified a gap in the analogue market. This time the firm has applied the latest LED technology into a photographic enlarger and incorporated a feature set that was until now limited to expensive, bulky and heavy units.

Intrepid Compact Enlarger in use

The Intrepid Compact Enlarger in a 5’x5’ temporary home darkroom set up.

In doing so it has created a fun, easy-to-use enlarger that should also be affordable (based on its Kickstarter pricing). It has the potential to open up home darkroom printing to a whole new generation of photographer that don’t want to compromise on the quality of their prints, and particularly those wanting a temporary set up.

Amateur Photographer Testbench Gold - 5 stars

All images show a prototype of the enlarger that was used for this review