Best Enlarging Lens?

Discussion in 'Black and White' started by arthur_gottschalk, Apr 24, 2018.

  1. I've been using Nikon enlarging lenses and they've seemed adequate, but lately I've been noticing prints that seem much sharper than what I've been getting. Aside from the quality of the negative itself, are some enlarging lenses much sharper?
  2. SCL


    There are some which have been generally better than others - dependent on what type of enlarger you are using - condenser or diffusion. First - what format are you using and what is your budget? Rodenstock and Schneider APO enlarging lenses pretty much top the list, but are expensive. For 35mm film I used a Leitz Focotar for several years and was quite pleased with its sharpness and contrast. The Nikon enlarger lenses, for the most part, generally fall on the upper end of the consumer/amateur range, but usually aren't the choice in the professional category.
  3. I've always been pleased with ELNikkors and have a few in use now for 35mm and 120. The Schneider lenses are superb.

    Rick H.
  4. I have Nikkor, Schneider, and Rodenstock enlarging lenses. By far, the best lenses are the APO Rodagons. I used to print both B&W and Ilfochrome. In B&W the APO Rodagons provided far better shadow separation. I could make a print with each lens, using the same exposure and processing and it was obvious that the APO Rodagon had better contrast, that, in turn, gave better tonal separation that was most obvious in shadows to mid-tones. With color material, there was an even greater difference. The Nikkor had very poor color rendition when compared to either the Schneider Componon S or the APO Rodenstock. While the Componon S was equally as sharp as the Rodenstock, the APO Rodenstock gave visibly better color separation in reds with very small color changes being rendered while the Componon S simply made an area one color of red. I own 50mm, 90mm, and 150mm APO Rodagon enlarging lenses, 50mm and 150mm Componon S enlarging lenses, and 50mm, 80mm, and 150mm Nikkor enlarging lenses. If I were buying enlarging lenses today, I would, without hesitation, buy APO Rodagons.
  5. It depends how far you are going to enlarge. In 13x18cm you won't find any difference between a regular Rodagon Rodenstock or their APO version. However in 50x60cm there is a small difference also depending on the used aperture. But I doubt how many people are going to this big format?
    Expensive: Second hand not any more. In the Netherlands you can get any Rodenstock Rodagon for Eur. 30 - Eur. 60. 50mm-80mm-105mm. I am using already for a long time the 50-60-WA and 80mm Rodenstock Rodagon lenses, some I have bought new 25 years ago and the rest (Nikkor, Meopta) I have sold. Cheap enlarger lenses nobody want to have anymore.
  6. I have to agree with Steve that Apo-Rodagons are probably the pinnacle of enlarging lenses, but they're expensive unless you happen on a lucky bargain.

    I was always happy with the prints from Schneider Componon-S lenses, and never rated El-Nikkors too highly. I've worked in a few commercial darkrooms, where Componons or Rodagons were by far the most commonly used lenses.

    I certainly wouldn't consider anything less than a 6 element lens. Componars and Rogonars are definitely second rate lenses, as is the f/4 50mm El-Nikkor.

    However, if your prints lack sharpness, it might be for other reasons than the lens. Vibration is a big killer of print sharpness. Is your enlarger platform stable? Not prone to traffic vibration or a shaky suspended floor? I always made sure to stand stock still during exposures in my upper floor home darkroom.

    If your enlarger has a cooling fan, any unbalance or dirt on the blades can cause vibration and ruin sharpness.

    Also check out your enlarger for parallelism. I once bought an old enlarger that needed extensive re-machining to bring the negative carrier, lensboard and easel all into parallel alignment.
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2018
  7. paul ron

    paul ron NYC

    the real deciding factor is how far can you open your wallet.
  8. I'm using an LPL XL 4x5 enlarger, sitting on what I think is a very firm stand. Negatives are mostly Hasselblad. Oddly perhaps, it lately seems to me that my Mamiya 6x7 negs are often sharper and have better contrast. Also, I tend to use the Nikons at large apertures. Perhaps I should stop down more?
  9. When closing 2F-3F stops any enlarger lens is at it best. And some MAMIYA lenses are better then Hasselblad/Zeiss.
  10. "I'm using an LPL XL 4x5 enlarger, sitting on what I think is a very firm stand."

    - The stand is irrelevant if the floor can move underneath it.

    I believe the LPL incorporates a cooling fan. It might be worth dusting the blades of the fan or having it serviced/replaced if there's the slightest feel of vibration from it.

    If you can feel any vibration at all when the fan's running, that's too much.

    My own Durst L1000's cylindrical fan can give rise to terrible vibration if dust builds up on the blades. The rubber suspension for the fan had hardened up as well, and had to be replaced before the enlarger was useable.

    Most enlarging lenses give their sharpest results 2 stops down. It's not like exposures become tediously long with modern fast papers. Diffraction isn't an issue either unless the aperture number gets well into double figures.
  11. There are also excellent Fuji, Durst and Minolta lenses available and I'd guess that few could tell the difference between any prints made with six-element lenses.
  12. Vincent Peri

    Vincent Peri Metairie, LA

    Several decades ago, when I had a B&W darkroom, I had a Rodenstock Rodagon 50mm 2.8 enlarging lens. It was great.

    Nowadays, I'm hoping to be able to have my own darkroom again by summer. Right now, I have an EL-Nikkor 50mm 2.8 lens waiting to be used.

    I'm also looking for another Rodagon lens. If I find one for a reasonable price ($$$???), I'll get it. Any opinions on what a reasonable price is (NOT for the APO version!)?

    Hmm... seven or eight
    hundred bananas...?
  13. paul ron

    paul ron NYC

    Over the years Ive collected quite an assortment of enlarging lenses in all formats. My take on them.... its what you can afford. As teh price goes up so does quality. BUT I find them all to be quite good, not much dofference to justify paying hundred$ more for any particular brand or type for what I do (16x20 n 11x14s form 4x5s n 6x7s). The glass makes most of the difference so pay more for better glass adn you get slightly better quality... but not ground shaking differences. Pump up the contrast a bit and your prints seems sharper.

    take your choices....
    Darkroom Photo Enlarging Lenses | eBay
  14. Vincent, I suspect I could pick up a 50mm f/2.8 Rodagon here in the UK for £25 - 30 (about $35 - 45 US) given a few weeks to search out a bargain. However, good used enlarging lenses seem to be getting a bit more thin on the ground.

    Not sure why, you can still hardly give any sort of darkroom gear away. Maybe people have cottoned on to using them as macro lenses.

    Good hunting!
  15. Martin thanks for that. I'm not able to read French but it seems that the best for medium format would be the Meopta Meogon F2.8 80mm. I've never heard of that lens but it looks superb!
  16. Vincent Peri

    Vincent Peri Metairie, LA

    Thanks, rodeo_joe|1.
  17. They were made in the Czech Republic by Meopta. I had that lens but it could not compete with my Rodagon F/4-80mm. Too many internal reflexions. In 1991 I bought in the Czech Republic the Anaret (also Meopta) for ..... Eur. 2 new in a shop at that time.

    Locally (Holland) the price for a Rodagon F/2,8-50mm is about Eur. 25. The F/4,0-80mm around Eur. 40. Not to forget that my Rodagon WA F/4,0-60mm was in 1998 (new) around NLG. 350 which is Eur. 175.
  18. In fact, it was Meopta's 50mm f5.6 that won out as the best of them all, apo Rodagons included. That lens was discontinued even then, much to the annoyance of the writer. All lenses were tested at f8 and obviously that may not have been the optimum for all lenses.
    PS. I meant to reply to arthur_gottschalk's post
  19. Are we getting neg flex during exposure causing the softness? While not as critical as 35mm neg flex caused by heat often has more to do with softness than lenses.

    I remember testing a Componon-S, El Nikkor and Rodagon some years ago and we couldn't tell the difference in 16x20 prints from techpan. Neg flexure during exposure was a far bigger variable. Longer focal length lenses (75mm, etc) do tend to show slightly better optical properties wide open than shorter focal lengths, but it's slight.

    DIY'ers snagging up enlarging glass and using them for macros...yup. Get them while you can.

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