Tim Layotn's 8x10 Heiland LED EnlargerTim Layotn's 8x10 Heiland LED Enlarger I use a Beseler 45V-XL with the 8x10 conversion kit along with a Heiland LED Cold Light with the Splitgrade and Comfort controllers to create all of our big silver gelatin fine art prints for our collectors as well as our fine art photography print customers.  We make silver gelatin enlargements up to 40" x 60".  

I recently added a new Heiland LED Cold Light head system with the Splitgrade and Comfort controllers to work with my Beseler 45V-XL enlarger to produce our smaller prints (20"x24" and smaller) as well as our different types of large format contact prints.

Before starting with the Heiland LED system in 2018, I printed with regular tube-based cold light heads and variable contrast optical filters for over thirty years.

The Beseler 45V-XL and Heiland system together was a game-changer for us and we love this combination so much that we purchased a brand new Beseler 45V-XL along with another Heiland system to make our smaller prints too. 

The Heiland LED Splitgrade system allows us to work with great precision and create very consistent and repeatable prints down to 1/10th of an f/stop and paper grade.  This means our prints are very consistent no matter how much time has passed between editions and this was never truly possible before.   

Heiland LED Cold Light on New Beseler 45V-XL EnlargerHeiland LED Cold Light on New Beseler 45V-XL Enlarger The time that we have saved as a result of using the Heiland LED system with the Splitgrade and Comfort controllers cannot be fully appreciated until you experience it first hand. 

What used to take us hours, can now be accomplished in minutes and with a finer degree of control and creative possibilities. 

It does't just stop with the time savings.  The ability to control the tonality of our prints down to 1/10th of a stop is an amazing advantage that I never had before. 

If you have ever considered purchasing a Heiland LED cold light system, but haven't because of the price, I can assure you that if you are truly a darkroom printer, that pain of the expense will quickly fade because this gear is incredible to work with. 

I also have the Splitgrade and Comfort controllers as well as the B&W LED Safelights.  Just to be clear.  I am not compensated by Heiland in any way.  I am simply a customer that loves their products. 

We are able to produce stunning split-grade silver gelatin prints on fiber as well as RC papers that will make the most discerning collector take note. 

All of our silver gelatin prints are always selenium toned for an enhanced richness as well as archival permanence.  We can work with films ranging in size from 35mm up to 8"x10" and make prints ranging in size from 8"x10" up to 40"x60".  We could technically make prints even bigger, but the practical side of things makes 40"x60" a great place to stop.  

Free Darkroom Diary by Tim LaytonFree Darkroom Diary by Tim Layton

 Heiland LED Cold Light & Splitgrade System Overview

Heiland Splitgrade ControllerHeiland Splitgrade Controller The Splitgrade system is like having access to 22nd-century technology in our 21st-century darkroom.  Before using the system to create our large scale prints, we would spend one or two days to get to a working print that I was happy with.  Now, we frequently get to a working print within 5 minutes!  

The LED cold light source and the Splitgrade controller work together as one system in order to realize this benefit.  The additional and optional Comfort controller just makes the adjustments and fine tuning easier because of the knobs versus using the up and down arrows on the Splitgrade system.  It may seem that like that isn't a big deal until you print 8 hours a day and make frequent fine tune adjustments. 

The Splitgrade controller has special software that drives the entire system.  I am able to make a working print that has excellent shadow detail and highlight values in a single exposure because the controller drives the LED light source to output the yellow and magenta light for the right amount of time down to 1/10th of an f/stop for the variable contrast filter and also for the exposure time. 

The ratio of the two simultaneous exposures works in concert with the paper I am printing on to control the overall contrast of the print. I've never had access to that level of precision in over thirty years of making split grade prints the traditional way. 

Heiland Splitgrade ControllerHeiland Splitgrade Controller The process to make a working print is now simplified as follows:

  • I load my negative into my enlarger and dial in the working aperture of my lens.  You no longer have to leave the lens open for focusing and then close it down because of the power of the white LED focusing light source. 
  • Next, I compose the image on my easel and check for critical focus. 
  • I select the paper on the Splitgrade controller interface that I will be printing on which is almost always Ilford MGIV Fiber-Classic, but sometimes I do make RC prints too.  I simply select that paper on the controller.  Many other papers are pre-programmed into the controller and you have the ability to set up your own.
  • We are able to make test prints on RC paper and then when we want to make a gallery print on fiber paper, we simply select the new paper type and the Splitgrade controller's computer automatically performs the calculations required for exposure time and contrast differences.  This is an amazing benefit. 
  • Using the special light-sensing probe, I scan the projected image on my easel looking for the darkest and lightest tones.  I simply press the record button on the probe in these two areas and the controller records the values. Based on my paper type and the measured values, the controller calculates a suggested contrast grade and exposure time to make a technically good print.  It literally takes less than a minute and there is no need to make test strips any longer and waste your time, chemicals, and paper!  

Tim Jr With 8x10 Enlarger & Heiland LED Splitgrade SystemTim Jr With 8x10 Enlarger & Heiland LED Splitgrade System

  • Next, I turn off the focusing light and press the print button which initiates the controller to sequence the different exposure times for each grade.
  • I then develop and evaluate the print for any adjustments.  I am able to change the grades by 1/10th of a stop versus being forced to work in much larger values with the traditional optical variable contrast filters and I can also adjust for the exposure time in 1/10th of an f/stop for an amazing level of control.  This level of fine tuning is what helps make my fine art prints stand out.  It is like a painter has a paintbrush the thickness of an eyelash.   
  • I can setup burning in times at any grade I wish down to an amazing 1/10th of a grade versus huge 1/2 or full grades when using traditional filters for doing split-grade printing. 

The time savings in addition to the ability to accurately reproduce prints at a later time is critical to my personal fine art workflow, as well as for my customers that I make prints for. 

My first print is oftentimes perfect with no manual adjustments required and those times when I do want to make adjustments to meet my creative vision, it is very simple and fast.  The system allows me to incorporate a very wide range of contrast, unlike my previous abilities. 

We are able to focus our time in the places that matter such as compelling and emotional subjects and make high-quality negatives that print well. 

As a large format analog fine art printmaker, I am grateful that companies like Heiland continue to develop such innovative solutions for the darkroom photographer. 

I can only imagine what Ansel Adams and his peers would have said about having access to a system like this.  The system is ready to use when you receive it with no calibration or adjustments required.

Tim Layton Holding "New Life" Wild Horses of Missouri B&W Silver Gelatin PrintTim Layton Holding "New Life" Wild Horses of Missouri B&W Silver Gelatin Print Tim Layton Jr. Holding "New Life" Wild Horses of Missouri B&W Silver Gelatin PrintTim Layton Jr. Holding "New Life" Wild Horses of Missouri B&W Silver Gelatin Print

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