Best Enlarging Lens?

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

  1. C'mon Gary. Blackout blind material is easily found on the internet, as are roller-blind kits. You can also find vivarium heated mats that make great tray warmers. Get on with it mate!
  2. Not so easy, this is under the house, where construction is needed.
    Right now the "floor" is bare dirt.
  3. Again several decades ago when I had a wet darkroom I used a Leica Focomat 1C enlarger. I tried the El Nikkor 50mm and it was too contrasty. I tried the Schneider Companion 50 mm and for me it was very sharp but less contrasty, certainly usable but I did not love the look. Then I got a Rodenstock Rodagon 50mm 2.8. I wanted a Leica Focotar 50mm 2.8 but it was too pricey for me at the time. I loved the look of the Rodagon. It's still in storage in my garage with the Focomat 1C. Will I ever use it again. Probably not.
    luis triguez likes this.
  4. Me, too. The prints were very sharp and had a sort of relaxed, effortless look. Mine is an 80/f4.
    luis triguez likes this.
  5. Sorry, but I find it difficult to picture a 'relaxed, effortless look' to a print, let alone have that attributable to a particular make of enlarging lens.

    BTW, I've worked in, and visited quite a few professional darkrooms in my time. The great majority of them used Schneider lenses, a lower number had Rodenstocks, and less still used El-Nikkors. However, if you were to put prints from those darkrooms in front of me, and I suspect anyone else, neither I nor they would reliably be able to pick which make of lens was used.

    What exactly is a 'relaxed, effortless look' to a print anyway?
    stuart_pratt likes this.
  6. Same there. Through the miracle of used and surplus, I have a bunch of enlarging lenses, from the lowly Nikkor 50 mm f/4 to an Apo Rodagon to a Schneider and, for typical small prints (8x10), can't tell much difference between 'em. It's there, but enlarger alignment and eliminating negative pop contributes far more.
    stuart_pratt likes this.
  7. I’ve got several. They’re all good enough for me.
  8. Probably not as difficult as it is to describe! Those are the best words I could think of without writing an essay. But it's there, and visible in both color and black and white. It's possible that the design tradeoffs were better suited to the types of things I did, but I have no numbers, sorry. Enlarger alignment is a non-issue, film pop is rather obvious and inconsistent.

    I seem to recall that you have a fondness for the 80/5.6 Rodagon. Would you elaborate on that preference, may I ask, if enlarging lenses are all the same?
  9. Can't agree about alignment and neg pop. They can both be subtle and you have to test/measure to be sure. OTOH, I suppose once the enlarger is aligned and if you use a glass carrier, you never have to worry about it again.
    rodeo_joe|1 likes this.
  10. I use it as a copying lens, and specifically for digitising film onto a digital camera. So it's used at close to a 1:1 or 3:2 reproduction ratio, where it would hardly ever get used on an enlarger.

    I tried a number of enlarging lenses. Some showed slight field curvature, some showed more vignetting, others changed focus on stopping down. Of all the ones I tried, the best compromise(s) came down to a near-tie between the 80mm f/5.6 Rodagon, and a Durst Neonon - marked 'Made in Japan'. All of the differences were slight enough to be due to sample variation, and were only visible under pixel-peeping scrutiny. Stopping any of the lenses down to f/11 would have masked their differences in diffraction and depth-of-field/focus, but I wanted the best resolution I could possibly get.

    My choice was additionally complicated by a distance and back-focus issue caused by the limited bellows range on my Illumitran copier. Otherwise I might have chosen one of the half-dozen 50mm enlarging lenses that I own.

    The choice was also limited to the lenses I had to hand - namely Schneider Componons , Rodenstock Rodagons, Komuranons and Hoyas. I don't own a single El-Nikkor, although I've used them in a work environment and wasn't overly impressed.

    FWIW, I also rejected an 80mm f/4 Rodagon P that showed a slight focus shift with aperture.

    So as macro/copying lenses, yes I would recommend a Rodagon enlarging lens. For actual enlarging, I honestly don't think there's a hair's breadth of difference between any of the top makes of 6 element lens. Not enough to outweigh any sample variation at least. They'll all resolve the grain on a medium speed film without difficulty, and they're all equally subject to any enlarger light-source difference, vibration during exposure, diffraction effect, cleanliness, coating deterioration or level of user skill.

    To attribute any gross effect like overall contrast or a certain 'look' is just wishful-thinking IMO.
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2020
  11. P.S. It might be instructive to read 'The Print' by Ansel Adams, 'Darkroom' various authors; Lustrum Press, and Gene Nocon's book on darkroom printing.
    Despite their authors all being recognised as master darkroom printers, none of them make a big deal out of the enlarging lens. Apart from Gene Nocon, who IIRC preferred to use a 63mm El-Nikkor for 35mm enlarging; mainly because of its better corner-to-corner coverage.

    Ansel Adams hardly touches on enlarger lenses, and seems to take their quality for granted.

    The multiple authors of 'Darkroom' also make little mention of lenses, except for maybe a passing mention of what they themselves use. Rodenstock Rodagons get no special recommendation from anyone, as I recall.
  12. Thanks for going into that. There's a lot of information there.

    Another attempt to describe what I was seeing: Comparing the Rodagon to my Componon was not unlike comparing same-size prints made from 4x5 and 35mm negatives. I'm not especially referring to resolution here, but to differences in subtlety and tonality. It is, of course, possible my Componon was a dud, but I don't think so. I went through several small-format lenses before the Rodagon. It was the standout.
    I'll recommend one for enlarging, too!

    One thing I like about Adams's book series (and pretty much anything where he's mostly unfiltered) is that he throws off a huge amount of interesting/useful extra information about all sorts of things. I prefer the ~1948 edition to the 1980s edition for that reason. I think I recall that in his later years his much-favored 8x10 enlarging lens was an Apo-Nikkor.
  13. What do people think of the Omegar lenses made by Rodenstock? We had those back in high school and I was always a bit skeptical, but maybe they were OK.
  14. AJG


    They are fine if you're making small prints and don't care about corner sharpness. And if you were equipped with marginal camera lenses like I was in high school they were probably OK. But when I replaced mine with a 50 mm f/2.8 El Nikkor, the difference was like night and day.
  15. Without using a grain focuser, the 50/2.8 El Nikkors were the easiest to focus with, because of the bright image.
  16. I always found my 50/2.8 "N" El Nikkor to be excellent. FWIW, I always focus at the working aperture with a grain focuser. There's some mystique surround the 63 mm EL Nikkor, but IMO it's good, not magic.
  17. You can put the 63 on an Omega turret, and the turret can rotate. I think the 50 projects back too far.
    If you don't use a turret, then that does not apply.
  18. Yeah, right!
    If the Rodagon made the grain disappear, then it was the Rodagon that was the duff lens.

    You're not related to Bob Salomon by any chance, are you?
    So, errr, Nikon's f/2.8 is brighter than Schneider's, Rodenstock's, Minolta's, Hoya's or any other make's?

    And who tries to get critical focus without a focus-scope?
    Most lens names ending in 'ar' are cheap 4 element jobs. The difference between them and any 6 element lens is pretty obvious.
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2020
  19. That was what we had and did not have at the time.

    Today I have two focus-scopes. So, I can focus at final stopped down aperture. I don't have to focus wide open.
  20. I once bought a secondhand enlarger that came with an El-Omegar. I think it was supplied as a "kit lens" as part of the original package. I only used it a few times; my recollection is that it would have been OK as a starter lens.

    I did, too, back when I did film. I always thought it was standard procedure, as well as just plain common sense.

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