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...
One possible problem is the enlarger lens itself.
All of my enlarger lenses are Schneider APO-Componon HM. I think they're the best enlarger lenses made.
B&H carries them www.bhphotovideo.com
You would probably want the 90mm for 6x6.
Also, make sure you're using a good grain focuser.
I use the Micromega (now Peak) here http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/produc...ser_Model.html
Could be two things:
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.
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.
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.
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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 ?
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.
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?
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.
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.