enlarger lenses: the best.

Discussion in 'Enlarging' started by Woolliscroft, Nov 11, 2006.

  1. Woolliscroft

    Woolliscroft Member

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    I have been looking at the amazingly low prices that quality used enlarger lenses seem to be going for these days and think it might be time to buy the sort of best of the best lenses I could never afford before. At present I use a 50mm for 35mm and a 90mm for 6 x 7, but I am planning to start doing some 6 x 9 work. What do people think are the best ever lenses in these sizes?

    David.
     
  2. ZorkiKat

    ZorkiKat Member

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    Russian lenses. :smile:
    Plenty of sleepers- For about US$5 to US$10 you can get 4-element anastigmats which are far better than the 3-element lenses supplied as 'basic' optics for many enlarger kits. The Vega-11U is a 2,8/50mm five-element lens which can rival the more expensive Japanese or German equivalents.

    More details here:http://www.apug.org/forums/showthread.php?t=29691
    Jay
     
  3. leeturner

    leeturner Subscriber

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    At the current prices it's possible to buy a few lenses, decide what you like and then sell the others. Well that's the theory:wink: What may surprise you is that some of the less expensive lenses give great results. My favourite MF lens is a Minolta with Rodenstock for 35mm and LF. I must admit that I see little difference between the Nikon, Rodenstock and Schneider lenses that I have. The only thing I've had with some older lenses is focus shift when stopping the lens down plus the need to work at a smaller aperture. The Rodenstock 50mm works extremely well at f5.6. One other nice lens is a Durst (Schneider) 150mm that was picked up on ebay for a tenner.
     
  4. PepMiro

    PepMiro Member

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    Best lenses are Rodenstok APO Rodagon or Schneider APO Componon. Even used, they are quite expensive (especially the APO Componon one).
     
  5. mario Ag+

    mario Ag+ Member

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    Id look out for bargains on Schneider Componons or Rodenstock Rodagons. Even the old F5.6 ones are really good.
     
  6. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    When lenses got cheap, I could finally afford to upgrade all my enlarging lenses to Apo-Rodagons (50 and 90) and a 150 Apo-Componon. They're all excellent. The best enlarging lenses are probably Apo El-Nikkor, but they are still very expensive, if you can find them.
     
  7. srs5694

    srs5694 Member

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    I'd have to disagree with ZorkiKat, or at least disagree that lenses like the Vega-11U are the "best of the best," to quote Woolliscroft's criterion. The Vega-11U is a 5-element design that, in my experience (detailed in my post to the thread to which ZorkiKat links), is very good but doesn't quite match my 6-element EL-Nikkor f/2.8. (Both of these are 50mm designs.) The Vega-11U is a fine lens and I'm not afraid to use it for 8x10 and smaller enlargements, but for absolute nit-picky quality or for really huge enlargements, the EL-Nikkor would do better. As a practical matter, the Vega-11U's long neck means that I can't focus it on my enlarger for enlargements over about 12x16 inches. A caveat about quality: I only have one sample of each of these two lenses. It's conceivable that my Vega-11U is slightly substandard, although certainly there's nothing obviously wrong with it (fungus, etc.).

    As others have said, apochromatic (APO) lenses are typically top-of-the-line models and are especially good for color enlargements. AFAIK, my own EL-Nikkor isn't an APO model, and I've never seen a side-by-side comparison, so I don't know how much you gain from that feature. If you want the "best of the best," though, I see no reason to buy anything but a 6-element APO lens. Schneider, Rodenstock, and Nikon are the manufacturers whose lenses most often get mentioned in these discussions, but among these, my own experience is limited to Nikon.
     
  8. Tom Hoskinson

    Tom Hoskinson Member

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    In my experience, the N series El Nikkors are excellent lenses and they are a bargain. I recently bought an 80mm a 105mm and a 135mm. I am using them for 6x6, 6x7, 6x9 and 6x12 work.
     
  9. Jerzy

    Jerzy Member

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    I would stay away from any russian products. Knowing their quality control or rather total lack of it, can happen that you can find good lens but it is lottery. Older products (1945 to 1980) could be made by forced labour.
     
  10. ZorkiKat

    ZorkiKat Member

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    I've used my Vega-11U for printing in colour. It came out superb. I've seen large prints made with it (not by me, lens was borrowed to make prints for a show), and it stood well enough with the other prints enlarged through the more conventional lenses. Yes, I've sniffed at the prints, and they look as good as the enlargements from more expensive (and commonly used) EL_Nikkors.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 11, 2006
  11. ZorkiKat

    ZorkiKat Member

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    If I were as lucky with my lenses as with lotto, I'd be a multi-billionaire now :smile:. Enlarger lenses present less risk, if any, compared to say camera lenses or cameras themselves. EL lenses have little moving parts, except for the diaphragm. My Vega-11U is as well built as the more expensive lenses I've seen: good finish, flawless glass, positive aperture movement and stops. I wish I could say the same for my German designed, Italian branded, but Japanese made Durst Neonon lens which cost 20X more when I bought it new. The barrel rattled and the diaphragm ring had a very stiff action.

    If a lens bought for $5.00 turns out to be bad, that's not much loss...it could always be drafted to some other use, such as a loupe for examining negatives or contacts- they're too small to be used a paper weights anyway. :D But if lens turns out good, that would probably be the best five bucks you've spent.

    As for the forced labour issue, well, it's debateable. The factory which made the Vega, KMZ, for instance, I believe used a paid labour force to produce their products, not prisoners in stripes chained to the work benches. If Soviet factories employed prisoners, what would their citizens do for a living? :D

    The same accusation has been made of factories in China or Vietnam. Considering that almost 90% of everything sold in stores now are made in China or at least has something from China, would you stop buying them? The keyboard you used to type your post, the tennis shoes you might be wearing, the coffeemaker which made your coffee for breakfast- would you stop using them because they were made in China? :tongue:
     
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  12. srs5694

    srs5694 Member

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    I've used my Vega-11U for color printing, too, and I'm satisfied with the results. Woolliscroft, though, doesn't want just satisfactory prints; he used the phrase "best of the best." The Vega-11U, although a very good enlarging lens, doesn't fit into this very elite category, IMHO -- or at least, mine doesn't. As I posted earlier, it's possible that mine is substandard. If so, it's not substandard by much -- it's noticeably worse than my Nikon EL-Nikkor f/2.8, but only when using a loupe to examine the edges of prints. My Vega-11U is superior to my other enlarger lenses (an Industar-96U, a Durst Neotaron, and a Nikon EL-Nikkor f/4 -- all 4-element designs), although with the exception of the f/4 Nikon, a loupe is required to spot the differences.

    Don't forget the Vega-11U's long neck. Although it works fine on some Western enlargers, it makes the lens useless on others and restricts the size of enlargements it can make with some. At best, a potential buyer will know from somebody else's posts how it'll work, but more likely it'll be a gamble in this respect.

    This is true and it's certainly be a point in favor of many Russian enlarger lenses for buyers on a budget. Woolliscroft doesn't seem to be in this category, though.

    Note also that used enlarger lenses have absolutely plummeted in price in recent years. Doing a search on recently-completed eBay auctions, I see a Componon 80mm for $26, a Nikon 50mm f/2.8 that didn't sell with a starting price of $28, a collection of six lenses (a couple of which are probably slightly superior to the Vega-11U) for $20, and so on. Lenses described as APO are still rare and more expensive on eBay, though -- I only see one completed auction, for a Rodenstock 50mm that went for $78. All of these are likely to be more expensive than a Vega-11U, but not by all that much (with the exception of an APO lens). For somebody who's looking for "best of the best" performance, an extra $10-$30 is probably not significant, and even an extra $70 might not be.
     
  13. Jerzy

    Jerzy Member

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    It is not matter of $5, time for playing with unknown lenses is much more worth than difference in price for quality made, known lenses.
    There is nothing to debate, it is documented history. If you care to know and understand please read "Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum" - http://www.amazon.com/Gulag-History...=pd_bbs_3/104-5037816-5053537?ie=UTF8&s=books
    There is plenty of other literature.
    And, I am honestly trying to avoid Chinese products, and I am not spending my holidays in Cuba despite it is several hundreds $$$ cheaper.
     
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  15. Earl Dunbar

    Earl Dunbar Member

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    Fujinons are another very good line. I used mine (50mm, 75mm & 150mm) for both b&w and colour and never had reason to think they were of lower quality than the others mentioned. But I never did side-by-side comparisons.

    I'm not sure of current availability.
     
  16. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    Yes. They are still making some enlarging lenses. I use a Fujinon EX 90mm most of the time for 35mm negs for 8x10, but in theory, this lens does cover 6x9 as well. I just haven't had a chance to test 6x9 negs yet, but I'll try soon.
     
  17. Earl Dunbar

    Earl Dunbar Member

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    I mostly use the next focal length up for coverage. I.e., unless I needed larger size, I'd use the 75 for 35 mm, 105 for 6x6, etc. The 150 for 6x9 would be fine.

    Good to know they're still available new; don't know how common they are on the used market.
     
  18. elekm

    elekm Member

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    I read in an article that enlarging lenses perform best wide open or close to it. In fact, the author wrote, closing an enlarging lens down to f/8 or smaller will cause diffraction and degrade the image.

    Any comments? Remember, I'm quoting from the article and not stating it myself as fact.
     
  19. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    In the Japanese market, there are many both new and used ones, and the used ones are getting real cheap now. But at the same time, there are not that many foreign-brand lenses available, so that's sort of the trade-off, I think.
     
  20. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    If wider than F8, you start to get the edges less sharp and/or blurry, and the light gets more focused on the center of the image. For some prints that's ideal, but for others not really.
     
  21. ZorkiKat

    ZorkiKat Member

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    O/T

    If you avoid every product which is suspect of having exploited people unjustly somewhere in its production line, you'd soon find that you'll have nothing in your larders, cupboards, closets, or anything on your floor for that matter :D

    Which is more evil? Avoiding products imagined to have been made by prisoners of some oppressive state apparatus, or those which have been from people who were exploited by profit-driven capitalist industries?

    For instance, an average coffee farmer/worker in some thirdworld South American, African, or Asian country would not be able to afford a serving of Starbucks coffee. His day's wages can be lower than what one grande mug would cost, or perhaps because buyers of the large corporations dictate that he should sell his produce at 1/100th of their fair value. Same could be said about pineapples and bananas.:wink:
     
  22. Tom Hoskinson

    Tom Hoskinson Member

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    Diffraction Limiting

    Top quality enlarging lenses often are designed to be diffraction limited at or near their largest aperture for the wavelength of light they are designed for. As a consequence, their optimal aperture is usually close to their largest aperture.

    See some of the details and equations here:

    http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/diffraction-photography.htm

    Ordinarily light travels in straight lines through uniform air, however it begins to disperse or "diffract" when squeezed through a small hole (such as your camera's aperture). The resultant image softening effect is normally negligible, but increases as the aperture size decreases.

    Photographers pursuing better sharpness use smaller apertures to achieve a greater depth of field, at some aperture the softening effects of diffraction offset any gain in sharpness due to better depth of field. When this occurs your camera optics (and enlarger optics) are said to have become diffraction limited. Knowing this limit can help you to avoid any subsequent softening, and the unnecessarily long exposure time or high ISO speed required for such a small aperture.
    This should not lead you to think that "larger apertures are better," even though very small apertures create a soft image. Most lenses are also quite soft when used wide open (at the largest aperture available), and so there is an optimal aperture in between the largest and smallest settings-- usually located at or near the diffraction limit, depending on the lens. Alternatively, the optimum sharpness may even be below the diffraction limit for some lenses. The diffraction limit calculations only show when diffraction becomes significant, not necessarily the location of optimum sharpness (although both often coincide).
     
  23. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

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    You might want to read 'Post Exposure' by Ctein on this issue.

    I have tested quite a few enlarging lenses with the same test negative. My tests verify Ctein's statements in his book. Here is my experience:

    1. Stay away from 4-element designs, go for the 6-element lenses.
    2. Name-brand lenses bare less risk but offer no guaranty. Well kept off-brands lenses often outperform ill-treated name-brand lenses.
    3. Try before you buy. Enlarging lenses have large variations. Two lenses of the same design and manufacturer can vary more between each other then two lenses from different manufacturers.
    4. Compare lenses. Just making a print with one and finding it to be OK doesn't tell the story. Only a side-by-side comparison allows you to enjoy a quality lens and spot the 'dog'.
    5. Make sure the lens has a click-stop for every f/stop. That is very useful. Also, illuminated f/stops are a big help in the darkroom.
     
  24. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

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    Tom

    I understand the optical theory you're referring to, but this is not my experience at all.

    Howard Bond told me a while back his lenses performed better wide open than stopped down. After reading Ctein's book, where he also states that enlarging lenses often perform best at wide open, I did some tests. Anyone can repeat this test very easily.

    1. Put a negative into your enlarger and project a typical enlargement size.
    2. Use your grain focuser to focus and observe the grain at wide open.
    3. Now stop down one stop at a time and watch the grain getting fuzzy!!!

    Nevertheless, the light distribution across the baseboard will get more even while stopping down. Just my experience in conflict with optical theory.
     
  25. srs5694

    srs5694 Member

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    I've done test prints with some of my lenses, printing at a variety of f-stops. My results match what Tom describes; the optimal setting is usually around midway on the f-stop scale. The differences get smaller with better lenses.
     
  26. MichaelBriggs

    MichaelBriggs Member

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    A lens being sharpest wide open is not a contradiction to optical theory. Some aberrations improve as one stops down and diffraction gets worse -- on most lenses the balance between these two effects will cause the optimimum aperture to be a few stops down. This is a general and qualitative argument that doesn't give an exact answer for a specific lens. But on a very high quality (or very slow) lens, aberrations could be so small that the optimum aperture could be wide open. To know for a specific lens, you either have to test it, or do detailed calculations from the design data.

    My observations with several top-quality 6-element enlarging lenses show them not to be at their best sharpness wide-open. They might be in the center, but the corners improve but stopping down a bit. So if you use a grain magnifier to study your enlarging lens, don't just look at the center. And, as Ralph says, it is very likely that the illumination will become more even if you stop down some.

    Skimming the section in Ctein's book, I don't find him saying that enlarging lenses often perform best wide-open (as stated above). His table of test results mostly lists the optimum aperture as f4 for f2.8 lenses, f5.6 for f4 lenses, and f7 to f8 for f5.6 lenses. I only see one lens in his table that is listed with an optimum aperture that is wide-open: the 105 mm f5.6N Apo-El-Nikkor used for 135 format. This is a special case: an extremely expensive lens, and a longer than normal focal length. Plus, he comments that other lenses for the format, which have optimum apertures at f4, are sharper.