Choosing a Great Enlarger lens for 4x5 : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Greetings, I have a Bessler 45mx enlarger outfitted with an el-nikkor 135mm f5.6 enlarging lens (age unknown, even nikon couldn't tell me the age when I gave them the serial number). Anyhow, I did an experiment last night which showed that when the same negative is printed to the same size on paper, the image was sharper when made with my el-nikkor 50mm f2.8 elarging lens (which I normally use for 35mm) than with the 135mm lens. I could easily see the grain with the grain focuser when using the 50mm lens but it was not as sharp with the 135mm lens. I also found the shadows to be darker with the 135mm lens when all else (fstop, filter, time,size) was the same.

I want advice on what type of lens would yield better results than the 135mm el-nikkor. I am considering buying a new enlarging lens for my 4x5 work (All black and white stuff) and want to buy an OUTSTANDING lens

Thanks, Keith

-- Keith Baker (, November 15, 2001


I have read for years that almost any "big three" enlarging lens could far surpass in resolution what our film and papers limit us too. I'll be watching this discussion to see how this develops out. I use Schnieder Componon S 150 and Rodenstock 135 Rodagon interchangeably and haven't questioned whether there was a "more" to be gained than what film and paper were limiting me to. For 120 film I use a Computar 90mm, now out of production. Good topic Keith.

-- Jim Galli (, November 15, 2001.


The 50 mm EL may in fact be "sharper" but you may well find edge fall- off and edge sharpness suffer with any enlargements more than 8 x10 or so.

Iwould like to know if you find that, as I have a so-so lens for 4x5 and would like to have someone else help with the testing.


-- RICHARD ILOMAKI (, November 15, 2001.

Hi Keith, I think you've hit on the real requirement of lens selection, testing. I went through this having rounded up a dozen lenses from eBay and my local camera shops and using Ctein's (Post Exposure) recommendation of using half-tone screens as images. The 135 EL-Nikkor and 135 Componon I tested lost out to the 135 Componon-S I tested. The big surprise was the 150 EL-Nikkor which not only performed beautifully but also covered 5x7. It appeared to be better than my 180 APO-Rodagon, but I have remounted that one and will retest it when I get a chance. There seems to be as much variation between specimens of the same lens as between different brands so hands on comparison is a must in my book if you want the best possible. All of the lenses were "good" and users would have been happy with them - some are just "better". Good luck.

-- Chauncey Walden (, November 15, 2001.

Hi Keith -

You mentioned that you tested the two lenses at the same fstop. You might try testing each lens at it's sharpest fstop, instead. Stopping down from wide open eliminates some residual aberrations and helps with depth of field, but it you go to far, diffraction rears it's ugly head. Somewhere in the middle lies the sweet spot. There's really no reason to expect that a 50mm f2.8 and a 135mm f5.6 (or any two lenses) would exhibit maximum sharpness at identical apertures.

I hate to admit this in public, but I used to stop my enlarger lenses down to f32 and then wonder why my pictures looked like crud. Did I mention diffraction?

Good luck! - Kevin

-- Kevin Bourque (, November 15, 2001.

The Rodenstock APO Rodagon 150mm or Schneider APO Componon-HM 150mm are considered the top performers for 4X5 format. Look at questions from yesterday ("Need Comments on Schneider 150mm APO Componon...")..Bob Solomon gave a technical response which justifies APO lenses for black and white work. Good luck!

J. P. Mose

-- J. P. Mose (, November 15, 2001.

Kevin, In response to the f-stop issue - you are right that 2 different lens such as a 50/2.8 and 135/5.6 may not (likely will not) share the same optimal f-stop re:sharpness. But, I choose f/11 for my experiment so that the 135mm/5.6 lens would be favored (2 stops down from open) yet it still under performed re:sharpness as compared to the 50 mm/2.8 lens (4 stops down from open)! Keith

-- Keith Baker (, November 15, 2001.

Keith, I would imagine that the "APO" versions of Schneider and Rodenstock 150mm lenses would be the "ultimate" enlarger lens for 5x4. Yet most of us make do with "cheaper" versions. I use a mixture of makes; 50mm f4 el-Nikkor (superb and very cheap), 80mm 5.6 el- Nikkor (superb and very cheap), 100mm 5.6 Schneider componon S (superb and very cheap) and a Rodenstock 150mm Rodagon (superb and yes...very cheap). The reason I purchased a variety of makes is that they were all bought as used lenses and at a fraction of the new price. They all serve me well and I would recommend purchasing used simply for the savings you will make. Rarely see used apo versions though! If money is no object then get an apo, if it is then look for a good used 150 from any of the big 3 (you may be able to get one with a money back guarantee so if its a dog you can change it). IMHO buying used is the way to go with darkroom kit!!

-- paul owen (, November 15, 2001.

Hi Keith

Your testing is not really valid, a 50mm lens has to have the better resolution because it has to make stronger enlargments from a 35mm neg then a 135mm from a 4x5 inch neg! The same difference you will also find with the taking lenses! Sorry for that!

-- Armin Seeholzer (, November 15, 2001.

" I would imagine that the "APO" versions of Schneider and Rodenstock 150mm lenses would be the "ultimate" enlarger lens for 5x4. "

Not necessarily.

For mural enlargements (10 to 40X the size of the 45 original) the G series is superior. For prints from 2 to 15X the size of the 45 the Apo series is superior.

And, if you don't have enough room to make prints up to 15X the WA series is the only choice. And the 120 WA is a superior lens.

It depends on your requirements and the capabilities of your equipment.

-- Bob Salomon (, November 15, 2001.

I've noticed the difference between rodagon 80mm F4 and apo rodagon 90mm F4 with my mamiya 6 negatives using the same enlarger and enlargement size (20x24)at the same apeture. But 2 years I've moved to LF but still hasn't made any enlargement because well I haven't got an enlarger and enlarging lens. Last week I bought a second hand cold light enlarger in very good condition for US$150.00! But did not include a lens, hence I am looking for the ultimate lens aswell. I am thinking of buying an apo ronar 150mm F9. For enlargement and also double-up as a camera lens. Is this shooting 2 birds with one stone a good idea? Any comments out there will be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advanced.

-- Renee Galang (, November 15, 2001.

Which version of the El-Nikkor 135mm do you have? I understand there may be as many as three different versions of this lens, presumeably each an improvement on the predecessor. You may be quite happy with the latest version. In otyher words, it may not be appropriate to compare an older model 135mm with a current 50mm lens.

-- Carey Bird (, November 15, 2001.

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