How do you align an enlarger? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I just bought a Omega D2 and it is on the way. I am just starting to understand that an out of align enlarger can cause major out of focus problems. Now the question is how do you check the alignment. I don't remember seeing it anywhere in the tons of books I've read. I also have Beseler 45M that I could stand to check also. After you align one how often do you need to check it? Thanks again for all the great help. Doug

-- Doug Theall (, April 02, 2001


There are several tools for aligning an enlarger. The primary objective of enlarger alignment is to get 3 planes exactly parallel: the negative stage, the lens stage, and the "paper" plane, i.e. easel. While I don't own an Omega, I have owned several Beseler's and they are not the easiest to align. Beseler makes a device called the "Bilateral alignment tool" for its 23 and 45 series enlargers. I've read where it is aggravating to use but have never personally used one, although it's the cheapest device for this I know of. The company Zig-Align ( makes a contraption using concentric mirrors that is very clever and is supposedly easy to use. It is more expensive. Some people have even created a home-made version of this system. (Zig-align also has a newer LED based alignment device that's even more expensive. Check their site.) The device I use is Versalab Parallel Alignment device. (Not cheap, either.) It is essentially a laser that has been very carefully aligned to the perpendicular of its own base and, along with some pieces of glass, uses the reflection of the beam to determine alignment. I find it easy and intuitive to use, but the zig-align device might be just as good, for all I know. I usually align my enlarger (all three planes) about every month or so, or just after I do any serious "tinkering" with the enlarger. I use my "standard" 8x10 easel as the paper-plane reference for this alignment. Then, when I start a new printing session with a new easel size (16x20,20x24), I just re-align the paper-plane. I do this by "shimming" the easel or my movable baseboard. This way, the 8x10 easel remains the "reference" for the full 3-plane alignment. A lot more can be said about this topic and you can email me for more details if you need them. Good luck.

-- Steve Baggett (, April 02, 2001.

Doug, Versalab is great and, probably, also Zig-Align. If you can afford one, don't think twice 'cause they might be much more precise than anything we can fashion with home tools. Meanwhile, you can try to lay a large flat glass or anything alike on negative stage and, using a ruler, check four sides distance from baseboard. That's easy and can be precise enough for enlargements with one or two stops closed. Aligning lens is quite a different business, for the small DOF and distances involved. But if you get a metal ruler and, while standing it up on the lensboard, use the focus knob till the ruler hits the under side of negative stage, you can easily see if it's not parallel. If it's Ok just check other sides same way. Precision may not be the best, but it works untill some 21th century gadget comes on your way. Good work.

Cesar B.

-- Cesar Barreto (, April 03, 2001.

You can use two mirrors, one with a hole in the center. The one with the hole goes in place of the negative carrier, mirror facing down, the other on the baseboard, facing up. If you see more than one spot of light on the bottom mirror, your enlarger is not properly aligned.

-- Ed Buffaloe (, April 03, 2001.

Just to expand on Ed's answer, you can make up these mirrors pretty cheaply at home. Buy a couple of silvered mirrors (you'll place one on the negative stage and another on the lens and the easel - you can calculate dimensions accordingly). Make sure the mirror/glass is very good - no distortions/waves etc. Buy a glass drill bit from your hardware store. Drill a hole through one of the mirrors - you will have to do this veeerrrryyy slowly to prevent breaking the glass - don't put any weight on the drill, let the drill bit do the work. Then place the mirror with the hole on your negative stage and the other on the lens or the easel. When you look through the hole in the mirror on the negative stage, if the two mirrors are absolutely parallel to one another, you will see a series of concentric circles going away to infinity. If the surfaces are not absolutely parallel, you will see the series of circles veering away to one side. Good luck. Cheers, DJ.

-- N Dhananjay (, April 03, 2001.

Do you have to drill a hole in the glass. Couldn't you just scrape a little hole in the silvering on the back. If you can see thru isn't that all that is needed? I haven't tried it, has anyone?

-- Bob Finley (, April 03, 2001.

I agree that there are wonderful tools that help you align an enlarger. When I first got my Beseler 23C (which was replaced by an Omega 4x5 enlarger), I went the lazy way. I took a piece of graph paper and placed it in a negative carrier and projected that image. I reasoned that if the negative holder, lensboard, and baseboard/easel were all parallel, then the lines in the grid would be equidistant at both sides of the field, and therefore parallel. I fiddled with the adjustments until that was the case, then I put a negative in the carrier, focused it, and checked all the corners. I either remembered my high school geometry well, or got really lucky because it worked fine for me.

-- Dave Willis (, April 03, 2001.

After doing enlarger alignment "manually" for many years, I bought a Versalab Parallel (on eBay, like new, but less than full retail). It's great. Much faster and I think it's more accurate that any method I used previously, as well as much less frustrating.

-- Keith (, April 03, 2001.

To add my 2 cents worth, I thought I had properly aligned my 8X10 Beseler using a sheet of glass and a bubble level. This was my idea of how to do it. Then I noticed that one corner of a particular print looked a bit fuzzy and I blamed the lens. Then I checked the negative and realized I had a problem. I followed the instructions from Beseler (for the first time) and aligned it using a carpenter's square placed on the baseboard. I followed the recommended method step by step, then found that Beseler forgot that the lens board has an internal adjustment so I figured that out. The problem was solved. A good test (more or less similar to the graph paper comment) is to cut a little piece of screen from a screen door. Get a good flat piece with no bends in it, stick it in the negative carrier and with the lens wide open focus the image on the easel. The screen makes an extremely contrasty grid and if your alignment is off, you will notice it in a second. If the grid is sharp with the lens wide open, stopping down it will be just fine. All that being said, those alignment gadgets look pretty neat and I may get one anyway. But the simple cheap method works pretty well.

-- Kevin Crisp (, April 03, 2001.

Since the '40s, improvements in enlargers have not kept up with improvements in cameras. Because most photographers base their needs on observations of small prints, they have not demanded better enlargers. Please consider the following:

Since zig-align began in the spring of 1987, every inquiry received about enlarger alignment has originated from noticing that one or more corners of a print are not as sharp as the others. The assumption here is that this problem could be solved with better alignment, and that improving sharpness is the only role of alignment. However, it is misleading to use print inspection as the basis for deciding whether better alignment is needed (this is discussed in the Alignment Checking Methods section of The Basics, ). Sharpness is an edge function, and the average 8x10 print size simply is not big enough to make inspection of grain a sensitive indicator of alignment.

Digital photographers can make accurate visual inspections of final image quality because it is easy for them to view high magnifications on screen. They do not have to view small prints. But digital photographers have no need for enlarger alignment. For photographers using enlargers, now there is a better way to go: optical alignment. It works on a simple and basic principle, and in keeping with the times, it's significantly more hi-tech and user-friendly than any of the old ways.

Once you get beyond merely out-of-focus prints, the main reason to align an enlarger is to optimize the performance of your enlarging lens, and therefore preserve the performance of your taking lens. Maximized lens performance is available only when using a means of optical alignment that shows a symmetrical pattern of repeated images made by two facing mirrors when the mirrors are parallel. Such alignment is 32 times more precise (based on a two-foot distance between planes) than any one-mirror/laser system. A homemade system (that almost certainly does not take advantage of the precision available in CNC milling), or one using mechanical measurements (such as rulers, grids and the like), and all one-mirror systems simply do not have enough sensitivity to even approach maximizing the capability of a lens. And it is lens alignment that is so important to obtain, not just sharpness uniformity in a print.

Most enlargers have relatively good alignment between lens and negative (the enlarger stages), but because enlargers usually lean forward, they tend to have poor alignment between the enlarger stages and the paper. Also, position of the enlarger's light head on the upright, bellows draw, temperature, and humidity can cause alignment to change. In addition, manufacturer's failure to make enlargers easy to adjust leads to infrequent checking, and that invites disaster.

Photographers might want enlargers that are as well aligned as cameras, but at the same time their practices, and their prior inability to judge the mechanical and optical alignment of their enlargers allow this technological gap to persist.

If you want to take control of this problem, I suggest you visit the zig-align site. Then call me and describe what you want to do (phone contact only, please).

Bill Ziegler 650-324-3704 8 to 5 M-F or Sat 8-12 only PST

-- Bill Ziegler (, April 05, 2001.

Before you spend a lot of money on an alignment tool, use the enlarger to make a few prints. The D2 is built like a tank and it may not need aligment at all. I've owned my D2 since 1953 and it's still perfect.

-- Bill (, April 05, 2001.

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