6.) Enlarging Lenses

I prefer enlarging lenses for a few reasons. First they are built for close focus and produce very sharp images. Second, they are dirt cheap. Finally they are small and light weight. 

I look for a few things when considering a lens. One is the lens mount. A lot of enlarging lenses have a M39 or so called Leica screw mount. You need to understand the lens mount if you hope to attach it to your bellows. If you cannot tell the mount simply ask the seller. Since my bellows accept M42 mounts I needed a way to fit the M39 enlarging lens onto a M42 mount.  I used an inexpensive adapter to go from M39 to M42. This adapter is available on eBay for $5. It is a ring that screws onto lens and has thread on the outside of the ring to expand the dimension to M42.

I knew nothing about enlarging lenses when I started to research macro solutions.  In fact it took me some time to get the basics of mounts and how to use them. 

This is what I have gathered in the process.

1. The more lens elements the better with six being a good number for performance.

2. You want a lens with a M39 mount – this reduces the number of adapters (M39 to M42 and once you are at M42 you can get adapters for other mounts).

3. You can get by with a lens that is not 100% pristine.

4. Be patient and you can get one for $25 or less.

As it turns out, the criteria above narrows the field down. A few of the big names for quality enlarging lenses are Nikon, Schneider and Fuji. There are other excellent enlarging lenses available, but my goal is to get a good lens, not to become an expert on all lenses. These three manufactures made a lot of enlarging lenses and also in different models. Just like Ford or Honda offer high end and lower end cars, the lens manufactures offer both high and low end lenses.

One measure of the lens quality is to look for lenses that have six elements as opposed to four. Nikon makes several lenses with six elements under the El Nikkor name. See the attached Nikon Sales Brochure at the bottom of this article if you want lots of details.  Otherwise, six element El Nikkors include the following:

1.  50mm f2.8

2.  63mm f2.8

3.  80mm f5.6

4.  105mm f5.6

5.  135mm f5.6 

All of El Nikkor lenses listed above have a M39 mount.  

To get a Schneider enlarging lens with six elements you should look for Componon or Componon S (the S means more lens coatings and more money).

In the Fuji line look for a Fujinon EP or better EX (the EX means more lens coatings and more money). 

I own four enlarging lenses.

1.  El Nikkor 105mm (six element)

2.  El Nikkor 70mm (four element)

3.  Fujinon EP 50mm (six element)

4.  Fujinon EP 135mm (six element)

I paid about $75 for all four lenses – about $20/lens.  One reason for the lower price is the condition of the lenses. They are beat up and have some scratches and dust.  Even in this condition the lenses are still sharp and I believe have no real impact on the image quality. In fact I use the beat up El Nikkor 105 and Fujinon 135 almost exclusively. All of the images in this posting were created with both of these lenses.  

Read on to 7.) Hands on Light if you are interested in off camera flash solutions.

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Steve Walker,
May 8, 2010, 2:06 PM
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