Durst's new benchtop mini RA-4 processor

Les tests the 1990s successor to the 1970s RCP - and finds that inflation has left the price almost untouched, while technological progress has greatly improved the capacity and features

Now that RA4 colour chemistry has just about replaced the old EP2 chemistry, automatic processors have had to follow. Durst, who introduced the four-module Printo which gave dry-to-dry in four minutes back in 1989, have now used its components to create the two-bath Printo Compact using RA4 chemistry which produces a print ready to wash in 1.5 minutes.

The Printo Compact is a very neat unit which sits in a waterproof base tray and comes ready assembled. The Printo has four sections - the feed module which clips on to the developer module, with the blix module fitting on to the end.

The developer and blix modules both sit in 2.5 liter tanks. A drive and heating module fits along the side of the unit. The whole unit is then made light-tight with easily fitted plastic covers.

The electric connections are situated on the side of the heating module and are well insulated from any liquids that may splash about when loading the chemistry. Stripping down and reassembling the Printo takes about 10 minutes.

OPERATION

The Printo Compact holds 2.5 liters of both developer and blix and is thermostatically controlled. When loading fresh chemicals the warm up time from 20 degrees C to 33 degrees C is approximately 30 minutes. The processing times are fixed at 45 seconds per bath but the temperature can vary from ambient to 40 degrees C. In operation, the Printo is very quiet with an efficient Archimedes screw system of agitation.

The paper is loaded into the processor by placing it on to a stainless steel plate and allowing the feed roller to draw it into the first module. When the cover is closed the feed module has a cylindrical light-tight chamber which holds a 16 x 12" piece of paper curled in a roll. In practice I found the feed module to be smooth in operation but if care was not taken to align the 16 x 12" paper dead square on the feed plate the finished print could be chewed along one side.

I found that the best way to load the Printo in the dark was to stand directly facing it so that I was square on to the feed rollers. When I tried loading from the side I found that I had some problems in locating the paper accurately in the rollers. This is not a criticism of the design, merely a observation. The Printo can fit facing you on a normal kitchen worktop depth for easier loading but really needs space at the exit end for a dish of pre-wash water to receive the prints.

One other small problem that I found with the feed module was that the hinged cover could unclip itself if allowed to drop forward when opening it in the dark to load a print. This happened twice in one session so I had to wait until the print was processed before I could switch on the light. Fortunately the speed of the RA4 process meant that the wait was only 90 seconds. The cover is fitted by pushing a plastic rod into a tight slot on the top of the processor and it can drop out if it is not securely fixed. Durst suggest that prints as small as 4 x 2.5" can be processed, but I found that on one occasion a 6 x 3" test strip stuck to the rollers.

CONCLUSION

The Durst Printo Compact RA is an efficient quick processor which produced consistent results during these tests. Prior to using the Printo, I tray processed the small number of RA4 prints that I had made to date. I found them to be inconsistent due to lack of efficient temperature control. The Printo Compact RA solved that problem. The temperature of the RA4 chemicals remained consistent throughout all sessions that I printed - as did the quality of the prints produced. Draining, washing down and reassembling at the end of each session took about 20 minutes, but it can also be used daily with manual replenishment, as convenient drain hoses are fitted. The Printo Compact RA is an efficient processor which will prove to be a worthwhile investment at around $1,000 little more than the 1970s price for its RCP20 8" wide predecessor, which I used for many years.

In the next issue, I will be looking at suitable chemicals and papers, and testing the Durst M307 EasyColor enlarger using black and white, color negative and Ilfochrome color reversal materials.