How Critical Is Enlarger Alignment?

Discussion in 'Enlarging' started by momus, Mar 5, 2014.

  1. momus

    momus Member

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    I've only owned two enlargers, an Omega B600 and a B22. I aligned both of them w/ small levels, making sure the lens board was the same as the base. Always got sharp prints. I was thinking that since I usually stop down to f5.6 or more, that would probably cover any errors? All I know is DOF w/ a camera lens, and if I were shooting a 50mm or 75mm on a 35mm camera, the same focal length of my 2 enlarging lenses, f8 would cover a multitude of sins. Even considering that an enlarger is blowing up a small negative many, many times, wouldn't the same sort of DOF apply? Not a direct correlation of course, but when in doubt stop it down as long as you don't have real long exposures?
     
  2. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    The two most critical planes are the negative stage and the lens. If they are out of alignment, it is very difficult to make prints that are sharp corner to corner.

    It is also important to have the lens and the easel aligned, but in the case of alignment failure there, depth of focus can help you a bit.

    If the negative stage and the easel are not in alignment with each other, your prints will also be out of square - it is possible to have sharp corners, but skewed shapes.
     
  3. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

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    Bear in mind that an enlarger is really a macro camera with the negative as the subject and the paper taking the place of the film receiving a larger than life size image.

    The most critical relationship is between the lens and the negative.


    Steve.
     
  4. Aron

    Aron Subscriber

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    Taking great care to perfectly align an enlarger is like using a tripod when the conditions allow, instead of hand-holding: the best and easiest way to significantly increase sharpness. I personally try hard to have sharp grain in my prints.

    I align my enlarger every 20-30 or so hours of printing or whenever I bump my head into it in the dark.

    This subject is quite similar to that of depth of focus, something that can be important when there is doubt the film cannot be held perfectly flat. Assume the tolerance converges to 0 and be happy with prints that are always sharp (from a technical point).
     
  5. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    I know Bob Carnie disagrees but actually it's not as critical in terms of sharpness as you might think if a lens is stopped down. I occasionally use tilt of the head and lens board with my enlargers to correct perspective. However with an older 5x4 I used in the past this wasn't possible so you needed to tilt the enlarger easel, even with a 1" or so difference one end to the other on a 16x12" print there was no loss of sharpness stopped down around 3 stops.

    What's more critical is parralell alignments to prevent distortion.

    Ian
     
  6. Bob Carnie

    Bob Carnie Subscriber

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    Enlarging lenses are flat field and one is dealing with a minimum depth of focus, not to be confused with depth of field.

    There is a reason we focus on grain, if one considered that there is a good deal of tolerance then the need for grain focusers would not be needed
    as we could slap a negative in , focus by eye at a distance and close the lens down.

    I have never found this to be true, I have my enlargers bolted top and bottom and laser align constantly , I also use glass carrier and Apo lenses slightly longer than normal.

    I rarely would dare disagree with Ian Grant who is my chemistry Guru, but in this case I will.
     
  7. pdeeh

    pdeeh Member

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    But then as a professional printer and photographer, you have the need and as well as the facilities to be able to do that; I'm wheeling my enlarger in and out of my bathroom to make prints for the hell of it :smile:
     
  8. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    I one of those types who figure, if you aren't going to do it right, why bother. How important is equal and adequate tire pressure in all four tires? I see folks going down the freeway on three temporary spares and one flat. I call the cars "Bondas" because they're half Honda and
    half Bondo. But they seem to get where they want to... ker-lunk, ker-lunk, ker-lunk............ Enlargers are easy to align.
     
  9. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    The size of Airy disks and circles of confusion can be optimized for any depth of field required as represented in this slight modification of the view camera focusing equation (equation #38 in http://www.largeformatphotography.in...DoFinDepth.pdf):

    N_max ~ 20 / (1 + m) sqrt(dv)

    N-max = F number
    m = magnification
    dv = focusing leeway on the baseboard, represented as the distance on the enlarger column between good focus on the highest and lowest portions of the curved or askew negative. (if 'dv' is zero then your negative is not curved or enlarger/baseboard/easel is not askew)
    20 = constant for circle of confusion about 0.15mm on the print
     
  10. anikin

    anikin Subscriber

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    I was in the camp of "why bother" until I tried printing my first 20" x 30" enlargement. After two days of working on getting good exposure, dodging and burning, then processing and split-toning, I got what I thought a perfect looking print. I then spent some money to mount it and hung it on the wall. Only then I noticed that when you get real close, it is obvious that the center is perfectly sharp but the edges are slightly blurry. That same week I bought Versalab Parallel. From that point on, any time I print bigger than 8x10, my first step is to check alignment. No more uneven sharpness for me. When you pay attention, uneven sharpness looks even worse than blurry all-over. Make your own conclusions.
     
  11. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    I never assume anything is level. And I never assume a level is level either, until I check it.
     
  12. AgX

    AgX Member

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    -) Taking lenses are flat field too.

    -) using a grain focuser means setting focus by means of the lens. Setting focus by means of the easel would yield much more tolerance.
     
  13. snapguy

    snapguy Member

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    You have to decide for yourself how good is good enough. If you are not making huge prints your darkroom setup should be more forgiving. There is not a lot of point beating yourself over the head because the prints are not "perfect." If they have to be perfect then you probably need a new, dedicated darkroom with all the whistles and bells. From what you say I don't think you are there yet. Do the best you can and try to improve all the time. I'll be you can get some fine work from your setup. I've had first class dedicated darkrooms with temperature controlled water and a darkroom that was a coat closet with a cheap Sears enlarger. The last one was a pain but put out great prints.
     
  14. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    When I printed from Pocket Instamatic negatives a few weeks back, I had all kinds of alignment woes. Compared to printing from 4x5 negatives, it was a struggle for me. Maybe it was the tuna can I used to make a recessed lens mount. But my first print, with negative held in an open-air mat board negative carrier, had an area in mid-foreground where the grain was significantly out of focus, while the rest of the negative was sharp. Pepper to smooth, it is real noticeable.

    So for the second print I used glass. I hate mounting in glass because of the four surfaces that have to be clean and scratch-free. By the time I had the assembly in place, another speck would appear. You know I don't work in a clean room, but working from a tiny negative roughly 8mm x 10mm was a challenge which I enjoyed by the contrast with how easy it is to work with 4x5.

    With 4x5, I can focus on the grain, or not. If there is an area where the grain went out of focus - it doesn't change the appearance of the print because the grain is so fine in the first place.

    I notice alignment problems when I go to mat the print. You know that really, the frame of the negative is square. If I've skewed the alignment, the print will be keystoned and the mat will have to be cut keystoned to match.
     
  15. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    Glass carrier for those and Minox is the only way to go for anything beyond 3" size prints. The paradox of film photography. Those little negatives take much more skill to enlarge than an 8x10 negative ! :smile:
     
  16. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    It is a paradox for sure. As I move up in negative size, and realize each size up got easier to print... I often think that the "perfect" film size ever... was probaby 127.
     
  17. Tom1956

    Tom1956 Inactive

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    I'll agree on that. 127 was treated like the Edsel of film, but was probably the best in the hand-held category. Some times the best things never catch on.
     
  18. Curt

    Curt Subscriber

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    This crossed my mind also with my Beseler 45mx. The failure is in the design and the alignment has to be watched. The greater the wear on the enlarger the greater the chance for misalignment.

    A note on the Omega B600, I have one but do not use it anymore, it has no provision for alignment. It came new perfectly aligned. The negative plane and the lens plane are very precise, parallel. The head raises up and down parking on the negative carrier. For an inexpensive 6x6 enlarger it is simple and accurate. The best work can be done if one uses a high quality enlarging lens. El Nikkor, Schneider, etc.. My original setup was with an Aristo Cold Light head from Fred Picker.
     
  19. JW PHOTO

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    Not to start any argument here, but I find it strange that the center is sharp and the four corners are blurred. If that's the case I would not lay it to enlarger alignment, but more to negative buckle or the enlarger lens itself. Now, if you have a sharp center and one or two corners out-of-whack then it's an alignment problem. Still, a perfectly aligned enlarger gives peace of mind. I do do as Ian said earlier and tilt my easel at times to help control minute perspective problems and never noticed any lack of sharpness in that area, but I said minute. JW
     
  20. anikin

    anikin Subscriber

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    Normally I would agree with you. Negative pop is a real problem, even with much smaller enlargements. I've even seen it on 8x10" prints before I started to use glass carriers. However, I know for sure that it was not a problem here, since I used a glass negative carrier and once alignment was done, the problem was gone permanently. By the way, notice, I did not say "corners", but "edges" - left and right edges as a matter of fact :D.
     
  21. JW PHOTO

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    My bad! Yes, edges and not corners. I'm a glass person also - be it scanning or enlarging!