New to Medium Format, Need an Enlarger for B&W Only

Discussion in 'Film and Processing' started by danac, Sep 20, 2021.

  1. The El-Omegar is a low end lens, but no worse than many other simpler designs. You can certainly make good prints with it. That depends way more on technique than the lens. Have you ever heard a photographer say, "Oh, what a crap print. It would have been way better if I had a better enlarging lens."? I've made many a decent medium format print on lenses I'd be too embarrassed to name. Use the optimum aperture, watch out for negative pop and use a decent grain focuser. And when you do stumble onto that great condition lens, try not to be too disappointed when the prints are nearly indistinguishable without a magnifying glass.
  2. AJG


    When I switched from an Isco kit lens that came with my Durst M 600 to an El Nikkor 50 mm f/2.8 the difference in the corners was obvious even with 5x7 prints. I might have had a particularly bad sample of the Isco lens, but I also had similar experiences with a Kodak Ektanar 162 mm versus a 150 mm El Nikkor on my Omega D-2. Low end enlarging lenses are a false economy in my experience, especially with the used market for good ones being depressed at the moment.
    Gary Naka likes this.
  3. Absolutely get a good one when the opportunity arises, but razor sharp corners do not a good photo make. Often the opposite. We tend to get hung up on "photographer details" that nobody else notices or cares about.
  4. I'm sure you're right Conrad, but if we photographers don't fly the flag for high optical standards, who will?

    So, just out of interest, I did a comparison of (some of) the 80mm enlarging lenses I own. With a good sharp 645 neg that I pulled out of my archive.

    Here are the lenses:
    None of them are 'cheap' models - except in price. All bought used and in optically good to excellent condition. From left to right back, we have: Rodenstock f/4 Rodagon (older style), Rodagon f/5.6 (latest style), Schneider f/4 Componon-S, and front a tiny old style f/5.6 Componon non 'S' version. All of 80mm focal length.

    I haven't seen a good, old-fashioned brick wall test on here lately. So - Tada! Here's the test neg...
    Incidentally taken with an M645 standard 80mm lens.

    The result from the newer model f/5.6 Rodagon @ f/8. 100% crops from a 60 megapixel scan:
    As can be seen it's grain-sharp from corner-to corner and with no detectable colour fringing.
    The f/4 Rodagon and Componon-S were so similar that it's pointless posting almost identical crops.
    However the old Componon was a bit disappointing - especially since it was my goto MF printing lens for many years.:oops:
    Old Componon.jpg
    A tad less crisp in the centre than the newer version, but noticeably more squishy in the corners.

    So if there's that much difference between top-quality 6 element 'modern' lenses and their once top-quality 6 element predecessors; you can imagine how much worse their cheap 3 or 4 element counterparts are.

    FWIW. I also tested a 75mm f/5.6 Komuranon-S and a 60mm WA Hoya enlarging lens.
    The Komuranon-S was terrible and showed colour fringing as well as soft corners. The 60mm Hoya was surprisingly good, but not quite up to the standard of the Rodagon or Componon-S. I'd definitely use one if pressed for column height or if I needed a particularly large print.

    In conclusion: worth buying a good quality enlarging lens?
    In my view a definite yes. But let me put it another way. At current used prices, is it worth saving a few ££/$$/€€s by buying a lesser quality lens?
    Surely the answer to that has to be a resounding - No!
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2021
    stuart_pratt and danac like this.
  5. AJG


    I would agree that too many photographers get hung up on technical perfection, but if I want to have unsharp corners and edges I prefer to do that in the camera, not have it imposed on me by a poor quality enlarging lens.
  6. Y'all are missing the point. There are at least 337 things to be unhappy about on any given day. You can make great images almost regardless of equipment, so get out there and make great images. The beauty of enlarging lenses is you can always get a better one and go reprint the neg. In the meantime, be happy and be productive. Don't enlarging lens FUD detract from the process. FWIW, I own both clunkers and most of the well-known better brands.
  7. Well one of those 337 things for me is that I've had a stinking cold, and even if I felt like going out, the cough I developed would probably get me publicly shunned as a Covid carrier.
    So I'm stuck indoors with my collection of enlarging lenses and nothing much else to do except wait for the cough to clear up. Might as well put out some (wanted or unwanted) info about enlarging lenses as watch TV or play Sudoku on my phone. o_O.... and why is there no 'bored stiff' emoticon?
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2021
    Bettendorf likes this.
  8. You could also mount one of those lenses on a bellows and do some macro stuff!

    Ctein's book is a free download and anybody who thinks about this stuff really needs to have it- Ctein Online-- Post Exposure Sample Page 77 starts the enlarging lens stuff, but IMO this is the most concentrated collection of printing info anywhere.

    I'm really curious about the Computar but have never seen one in the wild. I don't think it's the same company as the Computar you can find today.
    stuart_pratt likes this.
  9. As @AJG said prices are and have been depressed.
    A couple years back, I replaced ALL my mediocre old lenses with better quality El Nikkor, and Componon-S lenses. And I did it at a crazy low price that I could not have back in the days of film and enlarging. IOW, the prices of used tier-2 lenses were so low that, to me, it did not make sense to buy tier-3 and lower lenses. I just had to be patient and shop.
    As for tier-1 lenses, that is the uber expensive APO and similar lenses, which were still WAY above my budget.
  10. Nice link. Thanks Conrad.
    But there's a lot more technical jabberwocky in Ctein's book than in my small and poor attempt at promoting the worth of a decent enlarging lens. And I'm pretty sure Ctein wouldn't have settled for a second or third-rate lens either.
  11. I have the hardcopy, autographed by Ctein, an APO Rodagon, a non-APO Rodagon, a nice Componon-S, a couple ancient 25mm mount Componons and an El-Nikkor N f/2.8, naturally all bargain priced when I bought them, but I'm still a second-rate photographer. Interestingly, any photograph I've ever taken, that I thought was any good, hasn't had anything remotely sharp in the corners. Hmmm... maybe that's what I'm doing wrong. :)
    stuart_pratt and rodeo_joe|1 like this.
  12. I think you're probably being hard on yourself there Conrad, but the artist in me would totally agree that sharp corners are very much overrated.
    OTOH the technician in me says 'do it right and use the best tools available'. And when those best tools become available for comparative pocket money - why on earth not?

    For example: The decade-old slump in enlarger lens prices meant I could buy an as-new 50mm Apo Rodagon without even wincing, and certainly with no buyer's remorse. But the harsh fact is that I can see absolutely no, zilch, zero difference between its imaging quality and that of a plain-vanilla Rodagon or Componon-S. Which just makes me glad I didn't buy one at the ridiculous new ticket price.

    Besides, I think the situation with an enlarging lens is slightly different from that of a taking lens. As Ctein labour's to point out; how sharply the film grain structure is rendered affects not only the resolution, contrast and acutance, but also the tonality of the print. That's got to be important artistically surely?
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2021
  13. Wandering back to the OPs situation, I think, with proper technique, the tonality you can get from medium format is going to beat 35mm every day of the week. It's the reason I loved my Yashica and Mamiya TLRs, not to mention my ancient days of 4x5. If I can ever retire, I hope to use those cameras again. Despite its popularity, 35mm has always been just barely good enough. When I went to RIT they made us print everything at 11x14. That quickly weeded out anybody who was trying to get by with 35mm black and white. It just stuck out like a sore thumb compared to the mostly 4x5 and some medium format.

    I left after two years because I never passed the color course and it was way too many credit hours to repeat. Though I could print the stuff, it took me way more time than was available in the labs. What a PITA. I thank goodness we have digital now, as it's relatively easy and has raised the bar far above what I could ever achieve with film. I can probably give digital a good run for its money with wet process black and white, but not in terms of cost or efficiency. Mostly I find the process an enjoyable pastime compared to sitting at the computer.
  14. My camera collector friend just sold me a like new El-Nikkor f/4 75mm lens for $50. It's flawless with the plastic case and ring. He bought it new several years ago and only used it a few times. I'll see if Freestyle will take the new (unopened box) Beseler lens back for a refund.

    I made some photographs today in Rocky Mountain National Park with my new/old Mamiya 645E. This is pretty darned exciting considering how long I've wanted to have a complete medium format set up.
    Gary Naka likes this.
  15. I agree with those who advise not to stint on the lens. For lenses I agree with rodeo joe. However, instead of a 23C, I would recommend a Beseler 45, if you have the space. More options. You may decide to try 6x9, or even 4x5 in the future. Nowadays not unusual to see one of these enlargers given away free to anybody who will take it away. Save money for the lens.
    A friend even acquired a Leitz Focomat II from dumpster. I never have that kind of luck!
  16. One more question. I read that it is possible to print 35mm negatives with a 75mm or larger focal length lens but is it as effective as when done with a 50mm enlarger lens?
  17. You can certainly print 35mm with a 75mm or longer lens, but you won't be able to go as large, depending on how tall your enlarger is. I think, in general, quality will be higher if you use one of the better 50mm lenses designed for the purpose. Read Ctein's book I linked to as I think he might have talked about that. There's a 63mm El-Nikkor that's considered by some to have magic properties because it's a bit longer than 50. The logic is that you're using the higher quality central area. I have one. It's good but alas, it has no magic properties.
    danac likes this.
  18. Yes, especially if you are printing small. I used to have to put a box under my easel, to get the easel closer to the 50mm lens, to make the small image.
    But the real hassle was that the enlarger head was so close to the easel, that I had difficulty opening the easel to put a piece of enlarging paper into and removing it from the easel. And if I moved the easel, the framing was likely wrong. So I had to get another easel, just for making smaller prints with the head down that low.
    Then I got a 75mm lens, and both problems went away.

    So unless you only print 8x10 and larger, IMHO, it is worth having a 75 or 80mm enlarging lens for printing 35mm film.

    I knew someone who used a 75mm as his standard lens for printing 35mm film. He switched to the 50 only when he raised the enlarger head above a certain height, so that he did not have to stand on a stool, to focus the lens.

    I heard that the 63mm El Nikkor was designed for the turret on the Omega D series enlargers. True or not, I have no idea. But the 63 does work on the turret, where the 50/2.8 won't.
    danac and Ken Katz like this.
  19. The 63mm El-Nikkor was recommended by Gene Nocon in his book on printing. In which he spends an inordinate number of pages explaining how focussing extension affects camera exposure. But strangely he doesn't relate this to how to calculate an exposure change with differing print sizes.

    If you want an excellent book on printing; I can recommend 'Darkroom' by Lustrum press. Not 'Darkroom 2' though, which is a waste of reading time.
    Hear, hear!
  20. I once bought an Elwood 5x7 enlarger. I used it for everything down to 6cm square. This gave me prints of long tonal scale. The light source for this huge machine was a large incandescent bulb coming through a glass plate that was shaded to compensate for hot spots. The enlarging lens was a 165mm Ektar.

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