The Step & Repeat Test Printer is a new innovation from the darkroom specialists Nova.
The point of a test printer is to give enough information to make a decision on either exposure or filtration when making a print from a negative or transparency. This is normally done by sampling different areas of the print at different times and/or filtrations. This can make it difficult to judge a print as the samples are coming from different areas of the print, which may have different lighting, shade and tone.
The Step & Repeat Tester has been designed to eliminate this problem. With this product, you sample from the same part of the image, making judgement easier.
At first glance, the Step & Repeat might look baffling, but after reading the instructions it becomes clear. Essentially the printer is made of two long oblongs of plastic, one black, and one white, hinged on one side. On the open edge of each piece there are regular indentations, which lead down to a rectangular oblong window across the width of the printer on the black piece (the front). Also on the front are some information grids - A Variable Contrast Conversion Table and a Colour Filtration Correction Chart, both useful references to have to hand in the darkroom.
To use the Step & Repeat, place your negative into the enlarger and position the printer on the baseboard. It has four small rubber feet that should be affixed for the best possible working position. Working under darkroom conditions, place the most representative part of the negative within the exposure window. Open the printer and focus the image onto the white plastic. I found this difficult as the glossy plastic diffuses the image slightly and so I used a piece of paper to focus my image. This gave me a matt surface, which was easier to work with.
Once focused, insert a piece of paper. The Step & Repeat is capable of taking 5x7in or a half sheet 8x10in paper, cut to 5x8in. Open the printer and place it level with the relevant guide (indentation) on the right hand side. In my case, using 5x7in paper, I placed it against the first step. (8x10in paper should be placed level with the top of the printer). Close the printer and make the first exposure at your selected time. Move the paper down step by step by using your finger to push down the protruding corner. Alter the exposure time as appropriate. Repeat this until all the paper has been exposed. 5x7in paper will accommodate five different exposure times while 8x10in takes six.
Process as normal and you will be left with a series of exposures of the same part of the image, allowing easy judgement of the correct exposure. As a little added bonus, small triangles are created at the corner of each strip where you can write the exposure time.
The Step & Repeat can also be used to compare filtration grades and colour corrections in black & white and colour printing situations.
The Nova Step & Repeat is an excellent darkroom gadget that saves time and money. The test strip that it produces gives a lot more information than one taken from across the image area. Having worked in the 'traditional' ways for all of my photographic life, I found that my first test strip gave me a lot more information and more informative when assessing filtration in both colour and black & white printing. On the minus side, if you are use to making test strips in 'traditional' way, this might prove slightly more costly, using a full sheet of paper as opposed to a little strip, plus the initial expenses of 29 for the Step & Repeat. In this case though I feel that the benefits far outweigh the cost and this product will be a permanent feature in my darkroom.