Disappointing enlargement.

Discussion in 'Enlarging' started by JamesDean, Aug 18, 2011.

  1. JamesDean

    JamesDean Member

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    Hi all.

    I started shooting film about 18 months ago and it has rapidly become an obsession. I have always developed my own film and tried printing shortly after I started. The results were disappointing, so I scanned instead (dirty words round here...). Recently I was inspired to give the printing another go. In particular, I tried contact printing some 10x8 negs. The results blew me away. Stunning sharpness. Upon examination with a 10x loupe I found yet more stunning sharpness. Reinvigorated I went back to enlarging some of my 6x6 negs. Very disappointing!

    I know I'll never come close to the sharpness of a good 10x8 contact print, but I'm not even at acceptable sharpness. The negs look good and scan well. I guess my enlarger lens has to be the main suspect. I focus with a focus checker and it looks good. I stop down. Still terrible. The neg holder is glass. Now would be a good time to tell you what the enlarger is, but I'm not near it at the moment.

    My next step will be to try putting my easel on a slope and trying a neg which has sharp detail all over it, to see if the focus lives somewhere else!

    Anyone got any other ideas?

    Stick to contact printing 10x8 perhaps...
     
  2. Leigh B

    Leigh B Member

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  3. Tom Stanworth

    Tom Stanworth Member

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    Could be two things:

    1 Alignment
    2 Enlarging lens

    Even if your lens is very average, a 10x8 from a 6x6 neg should still be very sharp indeed. What lens do you enlarge with?

    The first thing I would check (assuming your lens is reputable and shows no sign of damage) would be enlarger/lens/easel alignment. Do a search on this forum and google on 'enlarger alignment.'

    While a super duper APO enlarger lens is nice, you do not need one for superb prints unless you want to use wider apertures of make huge prints.

    Let us know how you get on as there is lots more help on hand once you narrow things down.
     
  4. craigclu

    craigclu Subscriber

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    Don't underestimate even the lightest haze.... Really scrutinize with a point light source and be very critical of anything found. This was driven home on a restored school darkroom project that I worked on. A cursory look at the lenses (all good 6 element stuff) had me thinking they were fine but the flat, lifeless, unsharp prints had me investigating all of the potential issues and it turned out that a very, very faint haze was the culprit. I assume your lens is a legitimate optic with good potential to start with. I'll second the 90 APO mentioned. I use one and love it.

    Also, don't assume good alignment without a tool or aid to verify. It's especially important if you get an APO lens as they work best more open and this allows for little depth of field forgiveness of alignment issues.
     
  5. Nicholas Lindan

    Nicholas Lindan Advertiser Advertiser

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    Don't stop the lens down more than 2-3 stops.

    That's not a bad idea to make a print with a tilted easel - it is a check to see if your 'grain focuser' is off. However, you should be able to focus the image on the easel well enough by eye (or with a small magnifying glass if you are far-sighted) to get a very sharp print.

    As suggested before, check that your lens is spotlessly clean.

    If you bought the lens used there is a chance it was taken apart for cleaning and put back together with an element in backwards. This happens quite often with view camera lenses and results in a picture with a fuzzy central area and a reallllly out of focus periphery.

    In cities where there is heavy traffic the rumble of trucks and buses can blur prints. Ditto heavy refrigeration units and industrial machinery. Be sure to sit/stand still when the exposure is being made.
     
  6. Smudger

    Smudger Member

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    If your alignment was whacko , and the lens is good , I would expect some part of the print to be sharp. If this is not the case - the lens has to be suspect.
    Care to give the details, so we can avoid buying one ?
     
  7. JamesDean

    JamesDean Member

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    Thanks for all your tips. The lens is an El-Nikkor 75mm f4. I know nothing about its pedigree since it came with the enlarger (LPL 7700) when I bought it on eBay. It looks clean and untampered with.
     
  8. ath

    ath Member

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    If a 8X10 inch print from 6x6 is not sharp it's most probably not the lens. Your Nikkor is a 4 element design; while not the sharpest available they should be more than sufficient for this magnification. Stop down to 8 or 11.
    Align the enlarger. This is important, more important than 6 element lenses or grain focusers.

    Another question - was the negative sharp? If the grain is sharp and the details are not it's the negative.

    Don't expect an enlargement to be sharp when viewed with a loupe. There will always be a difference in detail when one steps up in negative size and reduces magnification. Maybe your expectations are simply too much for 6x6?
     
  9. Monito

    Monito Member

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    Enlarging is an example of a process that is only as good as its weakest link. You have to control all the variables and track them down one by one. Approach it scientificly.

    Start by making a sharp enlargement of something very simple. Take some black leader or mark up some blank film with permanent marker and prominent scratches. Make the smallest print your enlarger can at f/11. Then work up from there. Next raise the enlarger and make a larger print at f/11. See that it is sharp from corner to corner. If not, then there is an alignment issue. When you are getting 8x8 prints at f/11, try other apertures. (Note: you can use a smaller piece of paper at large sizes for testing if the paper lies flat.)

    Good luck. If you have any questions about one step or another, please come back and get help.
     
  10. lem3

    lem3 Subscriber

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    Negative "popping" due to heat from the bulb? Focus the negative, then leave the bulb on for a couple of minutes. Check to see if the image is still in focus.
     
  11. Leigh B

    Leigh B Member

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    A couple of MINUTES???

    You're only worried about what the negative does during the exposure, which is typically less than a minute (mine are ~15 secs).

    Turn the head on and focus critically. Check the corners/edges if your grain focuser permits, but make sure the center is accurately focused. This will take enough time that the negative will pop if it's going to.

    Turn the head off and let it cool down.

    Turn it on and check the center focus again. If it's still OK, you have no popping problem.

    Better solution... Use a glass carrier and don't worry about it in the first place.

    - Leigh
     
  12. kreeger

    kreeger Subscriber

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    You would be well served to read Barry Thornton's book:

    Edge of Darkness: The Art, Craft, and Power of the High-Definition Monochrome Photograph
    http://www.amazon.com/Edge-Darkness...1_278?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1313863424&sr=1-278

    Barry has some great information on how to correct enlarger baseboard/lens alignment, types, and sharpness.
    Great reference, some editorial. But what photographer isn't opinionated!
     
  13. lem3

    lem3 Subscriber

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    Split-filter printing with 2-3 dodge/burn cycles on each setting.... the time adds up. And if it doesn't pop in 2 minutes it probably isn't going to.
     
  14. Marek Warunkiewicz

    Marek Warunkiewicz Member

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    75mm is a bit small for 6x6.
     
  15. Leigh B

    Leigh B Member

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    75mm would be a standard enlarger lens for 6x6. They're also meant to cover 6x7.

    - Leigh
     
  16. arpinum

    arpinum Member

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    Make two more prints, changing focus by a few millimeters in each direction. This can help tell you if you are having focusing problems.

    Your lens is also old. If it wasn't well cared for, it could have very small pits in it from chemicals in the air.
    6 element 80mm El-Nikkors are cheap, and there are plenty of other good lenses on the used market for $100 or less.
     
  17. nworth

    nworth Subscriber

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    Compared to a 10X8 contact print, you will always be disappointed by a 6X6 enlarged to 10X8. However, it should be reasonably sharp. For some reason, probably light scattering, enlargements have a different look than contact prints. Allowing for that, lack of sharpness can be due to many things - focus, alignment, flare, vibration, slippage, lens quality, etc. Some people have a real problem focusing the enlarger. Don't be embarrassed if you are one of them - it happens to a lot of us. A good magnifying focuser helps a lot, but you may still have to experiment with your glasses and how you look through it to get it to work right. Also, depth of focus can be an issue. Always focus on the back of a piece of paper the same thickness as your enlarging paper. (The back of a discarded print is good.) As mentioned above, if the enlarger is misaligned, some part of the print is usually good. Minor misalignment just degrades the print a little, but if it is really off, the prints look terrible. Enlarger alignment is a big topic, and doing it requires careful work or some precision equipment. Flare does not reduce sharpness, but the result may sort of look that way. The big source of flare is light bouncing off nearby walls. Prints from condenser enlargers often look sharper than prints from diffusion enlarger, even though the two may measure the same. This has to do with local contrast effects. Light bouncing around inside a condenser head can have the same effect as diffusion, to a lesser degree. Vibration is a big factor in enlarging. If something causes the support mechanism to vibrate even a little (even if you can't feel it), there goes your print. Slippage is another, related factor. Older enlarger often have worn out brakes or clamps to hold the head in place. You focus carefully, but by the time you have the paper in place and do the exposure, the enlarger head has slipped down half a millimeter and has spoiled the sharpness. Although it is usually not as much of a factor, the same thing can happen to the focusing mechanism and the stuff that adjusts the bellows and lensboard. Lens quality has been mentioned. Good enlarging lenses are generally quite expensive but well worth the price.
     
  18. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    All that nworth says plus invest in a good grain focuser and first check the four corners of a negative that you know is sharp. If you have ruled out any alignment problems then make a print using the focuser at your desired stop. Don't focus and then stop down as even high qulaity lenses will have a focus shift.
     
  19. Mark Fisher

    Mark Fisher Subscriber

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    One other suggestion is to stop down, then focus. Not likely, but there could be focus shift when it stops down. Also, are your contrast filters in decent shape? This isn't likely to be 100% of the problem, but you may have a few issues contributing. Keep trying, you will get sharp prints!
     
  20. jeffreyg

    jeffreyg Subscriber

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    I seems that all the bases have been covered. Gerald Koch suggested buying a good grain focuser. He may actually have one but has not focused it if it has that capability. The grain focuser I have has an adjustable lens.

    http://www.jeffreyglasser.com/