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    Jerevan's Avatar
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    Enlarging lenses - is always sharpness preferable?

    When making photographs, there is a lot of discussions about using and experimenting with different optics and characteristics of certain camera lenses. When talking about enlarging lenses it seems like the questions mostly relate to sharpness and coverage and if one optic actually works on a specific enlarger.

    A long time ago, I used an older Leitz (pre-Valoy) and the results where very different to what I had seen before, no doubt because it was a condenser and it had an uncoated lens. Even using my Canon AE-1 with "modern" optics it looked like 1933 had come back again.

    I was thinking, do we all strive for maximum clarity and sharpness when printing or does someone experiment with older enlarging lenses, uncoated or not?
    “Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity.” - Lao Tzu

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    Ole
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    I still haven't got around to mounting the Voigtländer W.Z. on the enlarger. As far as I know, that is the only intentionally soft-focus enlarger lens ever made...
    -- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
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  3. #3
    Ed Sukach's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jerevan View Post
    I was thinking, do we all strive for maximum clarity and sharpness when printing or does someone experiment with older enlarging lenses, uncoated or not?
    Aesthetics are all-important - do you WANT to show each and every detail? One major application of "softness" is in portraiture. I have two Softening filters I use extensively over the enlarging lens - "blemish removers".

    Softening is a tool - and can be used very effectively in establish mood, atmosphere ...
    Carpe erratum!!

    Ed Sukach, FFP.

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    Good question. I tend to control the image in the camera, not the enlarger (other than dodging and burning). Thus, no matter how 'soft' the images is from the lens on the camera, I want an optically sharp translating of the softness from the enlarger lens.

    But further interpretation with the enlarger's optics is a valid method if you have an enlarger lens that has characteristics you can understand with consistent, repeatable results. Good luck with your exploration. Sounds like your question can lead you somewhere fun.
    When I grow up, I want to be a photographer.

    http://www.walterpcalahan.com/Photography/index.html

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    It's all about the best tool for the job; and the job is to best convey your artistic expression to the viewer. I've always worked on the basis that I'll use the sharpest lenses I can afford and then, if the image needs it, I'll use diffusion of some sort at the taking or printing stage. (In-camera and in-darkroom diffusion have very different looks to them.)

    Most lenses have different "feels". For example, for portraits in 35mm I far prefer my old Nikkor 105mm f2.5 to either my 105mm f2.8 AF Micro or the AIS f1.8. I've tried verbalizing the differences between them - but I can't. Also, I just acquired an old Koni-Omega with three lenses and my first impressions are that these lenses are very different and very interesting. They won't work for everything - but they're another weapon in my arsenal.

    The final image is crucial factor - the equipment is merely a means of attaining it.

  6. #6
    matti's Avatar
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    Since light=dark in the enlarger. A soft lens there must give a different look than in the camera. The "glow" will be around the darkness instead of specular highlights. What would it look like?

    Glowing darkness? Sounds scary.

    /matti

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    Ole
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    Matti, look up Robert Mapplethorpe's portraits. His printer was very fond of enlargement softing.

    You might prefer not to look up RM while at work, though...
    Last edited by Ole; 01-24-2008 at 08:17 AM. Click to view previous post history. Reason: Stilll can't spelll...
    -- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
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    matti's Avatar
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    Hi Ole,
    No worries about my workplace. I'm the prude one compared to the other people here.
    But I have never seen what you are describing as soft printing in Mapplethorpe's work. Looks pretty sharp to me.

    /matti

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    Quote Originally Posted by matti View Post
    Since light=dark in the enlarger. A soft lens there must give a different look than in the camera. The "glow" will be around the darkness instead of specular highlights. What would it look like?

    Glowing darkness? Sounds scary.
    I've been noticing that effect in some old (WWII-era, mostly) documentary films lately -- dark areas tend to "glow dark," as it were. My supposition is that the footage I've seen has been copied from prints made from negative movie films, with the prints having halation or some other issues. To be sure, I've not seen this effect on all films from this era, just a few.

  10. #10

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    I used to print photos of young ladies through a section of white nylon stocking material. The shadows would take on the mentioned "glow" as the lighter areas would be softened. Softness could be controlled by bunching up the material or changing the number of layers of material. The effect was pretty nice but a lot of it had to do with the subject matter--pretty girls always look pretty nice.

    I'm not too terribly technical-minded but I remember reading of the differences in the characteristics of the light that different enlargers produce. I'm a condenser guy--I've always preferred the apparent sharpness condenser enlargers produce. But some condenser enlargers have a more diffuse effect than others. I've used different models of Leitz enlargers that have a semi-diffusion effect due to using a large heavily-frosted bulb and the light chamber being fairly large, rounded and reflective. My current enlarger is an LPL with a small bulb and a mirror system that concentrates the light and the results are much "harder". I've also used a diffusion enlarger with color head that was decidely more "soft" than the Leitz or the LPL. It may be that these characteristics of the light have more of an effect on the final print than the design of the enlarging lens. As for the enlarging lens, I lean toward sharpness.

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