View Full Version : Good lines of enlarging lenses?
Here's the detailed story, you can skip to the last line and just answer my question if you want. :angel:
So right now I'm enlarging everything from 35mm to 6x7 with the only lens I've ever used, a "Schneider-Kreuznach Componon 1:5.6/80". 80mm has always been somewhat of a dog for 8x10s from 35mm film, especially when the negative is dense, but I've been putting up with it okay. I have been living under the impression that it's simply trying my luck to enlarge 35mm past 8x10.
Until last night. Now I know better.
Last night I finally made my prints for the RFF print swap, using the occasion to try out a new EL-Nikkor 50mm f/2.8N, and I am shocked (shocked!) at how sharp my prints are. I can't stop staring at them. One of the prints came from 400TX and Rodinal and the grain is so sharp I can practically count the specks!
The problem, though, is that I've never gotten ANYTHING this sharp from that schneider, even with 645, even from 6x7, the 8x10's from which one would think would be like razors in comparison. My prints from larger formats are typically grainless but the nikkor is clearly out-resolving the schneider, big time. So I'm blaming my lens.
So I need some wisdom. What are the good lines of enlarging lenses? There's so much potentially good used stuff floating around out there but I don't know what to keep my eyes out for. I want something that can handle 645 through 6x7, which probably means 80-90mm. Anybody have a recommendation?
I think Joe is using Fuji lenses that are highly regarded. Certain Nikkor's are also good. I am using two Schneider APO-Componon lenses that I am pleased with (surprised you have problems with your Schneider). Of course there is always the Zeiss Ortho-Planar if you can find one -- the only one I have seen recently went for over $6K :D (fortunately I lost that auction).
Could it be that your focusing with a wide-open f/2.8 50mm lens is more critical than with an f/5.6 lens? When I was using my enlarger, I always used a grain-focusing device that allowed me to focus with pin-point accuracy at the sharpest setting.
The Componon is a very highly-regarded enlarging lens but you may have a defective example. It happens and even the best company can turn out a dog now and then. Like Honu-Hugger, I'm surprised that the Componon has disappointed you.
The Leitz, Schneider, EL-Nikkors and Fuji lenses are all top quality and the EL-Nikkors seem to be plentiful on ebay at excellent prices.
Enlarging lenses, just like camera lenses can develop internal hazing due to the environment, which can reduce contrast and sharpness. The lens may look clear when looking through it at a light source, but you need to shine a light (flashlight) at an oblique angle through it to show up the hazing. Of course they can be disassembled and cleaned just like any camera lens, and of course they are simpler, as they do not have focusing mounts or auto apertures or anything. The Componon has been around for many many years, and older ones would have less effective coatings than most recent samples, thus being lower contrast.
The Nikkors are well regarded as top quality enlarging lenses, also the Rodenstock Rodagons and the Scneider Componons. Rodenstock and Schneider also make "cheaper" lenses, such as the Schneider Componar, and the Rodenstock Rogonar.
You might have your Componon looked at by a photo repair technician to see if there's something that can be done to improve it. They have a good reputation, but I've never used one. For 35mm negs I have a Leitz Focotar.
The Nikkors are well-regarded, and for my 6x7 negatives I've long used an 80mm f/5.6 Nikkor. Very satisfactory results. I do like the relatively short focal length, handy for making big enlargements without putting the enlarger head out of reach!
How do you like the Focotar, Doug? How does it compare to the Schneider componon? I have wanted to learn how to print for a loooonnngg time, and with the current prices on used equipment, I figure it might be worth it to get some basic equipment and learn how to do this myself, compared to the cost of enrolling in a basic darkroom course.
Well, maybe I spoke too soon! I just did the flashlight test and there is a noticeable haze in the componon! How exciting, now I've got something that I can blame besides myself. :)
Warning: too much information ahead.
I went ahead and scanned some prints to get a good comparison of grain between the two, since that's what I noticed most. While doing so I had a couple of thoughts about other reasons besides haze that might be making this perceived difference.
1. Optimal enlargement size. Is it asking too much of an 80mm lens to enlarge a 35mm negative to 8x12"? What about the other way around; is it suboptimal to "enlarge" 6x7cm to 8x10"? In those cases, the enlarger head is very high or very low, and my understanding is that lenses are optimized for a certain height range.
2. The componon looks to be an uncoated lens, whereas the nikkor is quite obviously coated. This should make a difference in contrast, no? If so, how much?
3. The componon came out of a high-school lab and god only knows if it's been dropped or taken apart and poorly reassembled.
4. Are all componons created equal? I'm using an all-chrome, Made-In-Germany componon (#7239xxx) with aperture markings from 5.6 through 32. I've just found a junk-bin componon (#12556xxx) that looks significantly newer, has 5 aperture blades, and has aperture markings down to 22 (though it stops down further than this).
Okay, now this is rapidly getting into apples-vs-oranges, but I'm attaching two images that demonstrate what I mean. Both of these images represent the sharpest grain (i.e. peak performance) I've been able to squeeze out of either lens. Both negatives are 400TX developed in Rodinal 1:50 and thus have pretty similar grain. Both prints are Ilford Pearl RC Warmtone, developed in ZonalPro HQ Warmtone. Both prints are scanned at 1500 DPI, given the same USM, and finally cropped to the same size.
Nikor.jpg came from a 35mm negative enlarged to 8x10 (so, technically it was enlarged to 8x12 before the crop).
Componon.jpg came from a 645 negative enlarged to 11x14 (with as little cropping as possible).
You can see that the grain is almost the same size, but the nikkor resolves right down through it while the componon is struggling to show distinct granules, and this effect is most visible in the gradient areas. Areas of high contrast show more cohesion, like the wall fissure in the nikkor example vs. the eyeglasses in the componon example.
My conclusion is that the haze is reducing the resolving power of the componon to a limited extent, but the contrast advantage of the nikkor is making a sharper, snappier looking print.
So, I'll try to clean the componon (or maybe give the other, junk-bin lens a shot), but I'm still looking for suggestions in case it's fungus or something hopeless. Thanks for the responses thus far. :)
I have a Fuji that's nice. The Minolta's are supposed to be very good, too. If you buy a Nikkor, just be aware that they now have a Chinese-made line that's cheaper and not up to snuff.
along with the rest of my darkroom, i just sold 2 fuji enlarging lenses.
the 50mm for 35 negs was from their pro line, 'ep' i think it was called and an 80 for my 6x6 work.
they were great lenses and the little i could find about them on the net validated my results from them.
i don't think fuji makes enlarging lenses anymore but if you find one used, scoop it up.
How do you like the Focotar, Doug? How does it compare to the Schneider componon? I have wanted to learn how to print for a loooonnngg time, and with the current prices on used equipment, I figure it might be worth it to get some basic equipment and learn how to do this myself, compared to the cost of enrolling in a basic darkroom course.Ray, I think with decent equipment and a good darkroom book, you should be on your way easily! I think a lot of it is noticing a problem or less than optimal results and trying ways to improve. I took every photo course (plus a bunch of "independent study") offered by the local university's art dept, and quickly set up my own darkroom in preference to using theirs. Better quality control... I think it was here in RFF that someone told a story about using the school's chemicals to run some film, and it turned out (or actually DIDNT turn out) some bozo had mistakenly poured his used fixer into the developer bucket. I really don't think I learned much about darkroom skill in any of those classes, but other departments may have better instruction in that area.
I have not compared any other lenses to my Focotar, but I sure have no complaint about its quality. Its f/4.5 is fairly slow, but then a good focusing magnifier still allows precise focus, and the modest f/stop can mask a bit of enlarger misalignment. It seems to me easy to limit the whole train of events in photography by one poor quality component or process. SOME one thing is going to be the main factor that limits your output quality. Improve that item, the quality goes up a ways, and the limit becomes something else.
I was looking for the optimum result, and didn't want all the quality of camera, lens, film, exposure, developing, etc to be limited by the enlarging lens. Lenses in particular, it seems to me, have the potential for serious limitation. For an enlarging lens, you're only shopping for one for each film format, and I don't see why that one shouldn't be the very best you can afford.
Besides the 80mm Nikkor for 6x7, I also have a 30mm f/2.8 Minolta that I got for 110 and 16mm... too bad it doesn't cover half-frame 35! I've used my 35 Summicron, stopped to f/8 and just set on a spare lensboard, for that.
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