My Russian enlarger lenses- a little review
Before I stopped (hopefully, temporarily,) making wet prints, the last enlarger lenses I used were Russian. Being cheap and a Zorki/FED/Zenit freak, I thought that the kosher way to go was to print my Jupiter/Industar/Helios captures with lenses of the same lineage.
The two favourites lenses I used were the Vega ("Вега") 11-U and the Industar ("Индустар")-96U-1 or just plain "И-96Y-1". Both are 50mm lenses. The Vega-11U is a 5-element lens with a max aperture of f/2,8. The I-96U is also a 50mm but with 4 elements and a max aperture of f/3,5.
The Vega is built like a more expensive Rodenstock, Schneider or Nikkor EL. Solid and heavy and has click stops (most Russian enlarger lenses have free turning aperture rings). It prints with crisp contrast and colour. I got it for just US$5.00 on eBay.
The I-96U is also an excellent lens. Though it looks cheap, it can definitely make an equivalent Nikkor EL a run for its money. I was able to compare this lens to an f/4 50mm Nikkor EL which was being offered to me. But that Nikkor was expensive so I sent it back. The I-96U came free with a Zorki RF from Russia. I've been able to use this lens only for printing in colour. The prints I got had a colour rendering which seemed to have more depth than those which I got from other, more conventional lenses. These other lenses printed with snap and contrast, but the I-96 seemed to render colours with some subtlety.
Like most Russian enlarging lenses, the aperture ring on this lens does not have clickstops. This might not work well with those who count aperture clicks for setting in the dark. But the stepless arrangement did work fine with printing analysers and exposure meters.
One more caveat about Russian lenses is their longer neck. They mostly have longer barrels which work quite well with the shorter bellows found in most 35mm Russian enlargers. This is like using a collapsible 5cm Elmar, fully extended on the enlarger lens board. Perhaps this was derived from the standards set when Russian enlargers were set up to be used with lenses from FED or Zorki cameras. When dedicated enlarger lenses came, they were given the same barrel lengths as the camera lenses they evolved from.
Longer barrels mean that some Western enlargers may be hampered from printing large prints- their bellow or focus helicoids may not be able to retract short enough to allow the long-barrelled lenses to focus for larger prints. For instance, the flat lens board of the Beseler 23C would allow only postcard sized prints from 35mm negatives with the Vega-11U lens. With the Meopta on a reversed, recessed lensboard, or my Chinese-made "toy enlarger", the lens worked without limitations.
The I-96U-1 came with a removable extension barrel. Removing the barrel made the lens just like any short-barrelled Western or Japanese enlarger lens.
This was the reason that I printed more with the I-96U than with the Vega 11-U.
Last edited by ZorkiKat; 07-13-2006 at 02:33 PM. Click to view previous post history.
Thanks for the info. As my russian is poor (actually non-existant), can you tell me if they make any lenses in the 150mm range ?
Thanks! I don't think I've read anything about Russian enlarging lenses.
Very interesting. I've got a Industar-90U (75mm) lens which I use with various adapters on a bellows for macro photography with my Pentax. Maybe I should try using it as it was intended?
-- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
I have been pretty happy with a 110mm Industar 23U, though I will not claim to be a finely discerning user of enlarging lenses. For $6 + $15 shipping it was hard to go wrong.
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FWIW, I also own a Vega-11U (it looks just like the one in Jay's photo; some on eBay seem to have an older barrel design) and three (!) I-96U lenses. (I was curious and an eBay seller was selling four for a very low price, so I bought; I then subsequently got rid of one of them.) I've also got a Nikon el-Nikkor f/2.8 (6-element), a Nikon el-Nikkor f/4 (4-element), and a Durst Neotaron f/2.8 (4-element made by Rodenstock). I've run various comparisons of these lenses using my Philips PCS130 enlarger making 8x10 and 11x14 enlargements, and overall I'd rate them as follows, based on center and edge sharpness at f/8:
- Nikon el-Nikkor f/2.8
- Vega-11U f/2.8
- Durst Neotaron f/2.8 and Industar-96U f/3.5 (tie)
- Nikon el-Nikkor f/4
The difference between any two of these lenses (or lens groups, in the case of the Durst and Industar) is very small; print-to-print focusing differences are at least as significant a factor, in my judgment. The difference from the Nikon f/2.8 to the Vega-11U is a bit bigger than the differences between other lenses, though. The differences going from the Nikon f/2.8 to the Durst and Industar are mainly in edge sharpness; the difference from there to the Nikon f/4 appear in center sharpness. Oddly enough, differences in sharpness under my grain focuser don't seem to track 100% to differences as seen in final prints, although the general trend is the same. Under the grain focuser, the Nikon f/2.8 and Vega-11U seem nearly identical and very crisp, while the Nikon f/4 seems much worse compared to the others than do its final prints.
I've printed in B&W with all of these lenses and in color with most (maybe all) of them, but I've not tried any side-by-side color print tests to check on color issues.
My Philips PCS130 has a lens board that's recessed enough that I can print at up to 11x14 inches, and actually a bit bigger, with the Vega-11U. The Industar poses no problems in this respect because of its removable extension tube. (I've used that tube on occasion with a Zenit C to do some macro photography.)
A big caveat: My conclusions are based on tests of the lenses that I own. Most of them are used; only the Vega-11U was advertised as new. It's entirely possible that one or more of these lenses is performing worse than it should because of manufacturing defects, bad handling, etc.
Overall, I think any of these lenses will produce a pleasing 8x10, although the Nikon f/4 is enough worse than the others that I avoid it even at that size. I mostly use the Vega-11U just because I like the feel of its aperture ring and because it's got a lens cap, which my non-Russian enlarger lenses all lack.
FWIW, you could check the LZOS Web site; they're the manufacturer of the Vega-11U and a few other enlarger lenses, as well as camera lenses and some other optics. The Web site seems to have a shopping cart function, but I don't know how reliable a retailer they are; I've never bought directly from them. I've also spotted discussions of these lenses on the Web from time to time, but a Google search didn't turn any thing up quickly, aside from eBay listings, so if anybody wants to find more you'll have to do it yourself, unless somebody else has a helpful link handy.
Even the 50mm f/3.5 lens on my Raduga portable autofocus enlarger seems suprisingly sharp, although I've hardly used enlarger or lens. The extra speed and the performance of a 2.8 EL-Nikkor makes comparison with many other lenses merely academic.
FWIW, I found one of the other discussions of Russian enlarging lenses that I mentioned in my earlier post. It's here. The poster said that the Industar-90U that Ole reports having used as a macro lens is quite good, but the Industar-23U that DBP has isn't as good.
Cool. I hope our Russian friends keep shooting film and producing equipment. They can be a big draw for the total film market. Every little bit helps.
DIGITAL IS FOR THOSE AFRAID OF THE DARK.
I did a search on Ebay for Vega-11y lenses and found three different types. Two were 2.8/50mm and the other was 3.0/50 mm. One of the 2.8/50's looked like the one shown in the first message on this thread. The other looked a bit longer and appeared to have a straighter barrel. Does anyone know if these lenses differed optically?