How level does my enlarger need to be?
It says in my books that I should ensure that my enlarger baseboard, lens board and negative carrier must all be parallel. Try as I have for the last several days I cant quite manage this. measuring with a spirit level shows small variations from level in some directions manily with the baseboard. I'm beginining to think it may have warped. Does a variation of say 2mm matter?
Is your enlarger head adjustable? There may be screws that allow you to change the position of your head. Draw a Union Jack flag design with a ruler on a blank negative and look at the differences in sharpness. Adjust the screws with the enlarger light on.
It needs to be aligned!
It's difficult to say. Over what distance is this 2mm error. The best test is to make a large print at say f8 and see if the focus varies across it.
26 Feb 2008
A variation of 2mm might make a difference is focus at the basebaord. I really depends upon the format you are using, and the aperture of the lens when enlarging.
In order to check how much out of "out-of-alignment" the enlarger is you can place a mirror (facing down) where the negative carrier would be. Create a "point light source" by taking a piece of opaque material with a pinhole in it taped onto a flashlight ("torch" depending upon you country). Use this to shine the point source toward the mirror through the lens (making sure that the reflected point source is sharply focused). Then move the "point source around the projected field. If the world is perfect the point source should be reflected upon itself. If not, the distance between the source and reflected image is twice the error you will see in your enlargements. Then you can go about correcting whichever plane (carrier, lensboard, or baseboard).
The easier and more functional way is to find an image that has lots of fine detail throughout the frame. Enlarge this to the size you usually work with and examine carefully how sharp the details are. You can then judge wheather or not it is acceptable.
Hope this helps.
Indeed these three stages ideally should be all parallel: neg stage, lens stage and baseboard. However since the paper easel lies atop the baseboard, one should always use the paper easel as a reference stage instead of the bare baseboard. Indeed there has likely never been an easel manufactured that is completely flat, and as such, all easels will therefore need to be adjusted in some fashion to achieve a geometrically normal and parallel relationship to the negative stage. Good luck.
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A variation of 2mm between the negative stage and lens could make a difference particularly when using the enlarger at its max format, ie a 6x7cm negative on a 6x7cm enlarger.
I once had problems with a Durst M800 and I found the best way to test it was to make a print from a grainy negative. The grain should be as sharp around the edges as it is in the centre.
Use a double glass negative carrier, you don't want to compound the issue by having the negative 'buckle', something that could happen by using a glassless mask. Also use a decent enlarger lens.
If you use an exposed black piece of film (or even an unexposed, undeveloped piece) and use a needle to scratch a graticule over the image area you'll find that helpful in establishing what is and isn't sharp.
Originally Posted by thomsonrc
I don't know what format you're working in, but a few nights ago I made some prints from 35mm that needed image restitution for which I lifted one side of the 12" x 10" baseboard by half an inch. Selecting a mid-point on which to focus and stopping down to f8, I had no problem with focus across the whole 10" x 8" area of the print. I suspect that firstly 2mm is actually hard to measure accurately and that secondly if you're shut down a couple of stops as you normally would be, it probably doesn't matter. I'd be wary of disturbing the pre-set screw adjustments of the enlarger unless it's suffered a major trauma.
my enlarger is wall mounted so the base board is the work top - which is way off level! I made a baseboard out of an old kitchen cupboard door (anything else will do as long as it's flat) and attached 4 adjustable-height legs bought in a DIY shop used for levelling kitchen units and use those to level off the new base. If you cant get the base level, as long as everything else is parallel to the base, you'll be fine.
I have managed to get everything just about spot on after a lot of trail & error. Only as lajolla rightly points out the easel has to be flat too. My secondhand Photon Beard easel seems to have warped somewhat and levelling it doesnt seem possible. Shame because it is a nicely made easel.
One day I'll actually get round to printing again!
You don't mention which enlarger you have.
My experience is that Beselers are the easiest to align, Omegas the hardest.
In fairness, Omegas seem to hold their alignment better, but since most enlargers I know of have been moved (some multiple times) the ability to align quickly and easily is paramount.
You will need an adjustable level, which can get to a level from any surface, like a baseboard since the horizontal position of the level bubble itself can be adjusted, CPM Delta or Saunders make these items.
Having done these for a lot of high schools, I am speaking from experience...some good, some bad!
Note that the aperture used on your enlarging lens will also have some effect on how much of the image on the easel can/will be in focus, too, just like with a camera lens, if your whole system is not parallel.