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Wednesday, May 20

Sharpness you never knew existed?

One of the nicest things about a long soak in the bath is that it forces me to put aside all electronic devices for an hour or so. Normally, I have an iPad almost permanently attached to my right hand - it's without doubt the best value item I've ever bought in terms of a cost-usage ratio.

Some (fool)hardy souls actually take their phones or tablets with them when they're having a bath. But just try having anything done under warranty if there's ANY sign of water ingress, even if it's just condensation that's made it into the case via capillary action. Being the cautious type, I always go for a book or magazine and enjoy turning real, actual pages again - something that I hardly ever do nowadays.

With a stock of old photo magazines, there's always the chance that I'll come across something that will make an interesting post for the blog - and so it proved tonight. It was a 1980 copy of Practical Photography that I was reading and towards the back of the mag was an article entitled Enlarging Lenses Revealed: How to Find Sharpness You Never Knew Existed. A total of 16 lenses were tested including a camera lens and a couple of old British optics from the post-Jurassic period.

Sharpness I never knew existed? Well, that's a pretty impressive promise so I eagerly devoured the contents. I can't say the article lived up to the hype but there were a few wee nuggets in there that made it worthwhile.


Have you ever thought of using your 35mm camera as an enlarger? Can't say I have. But the guys at Practical Photography decided to do just that to test a Cosina standard camera lens. They put a Cosina CT-1 camera on a tripod, opened the back, loaded a roll of negatives and set the shutter on "B". Then they shone an angle poise lamp from the back and enveloped the whole thing bar the lens in a lightproof changing bag.

The negative was focused onto a baseboard and a red filter swung into place beneath the lens allowed them to position the printing paper. Ingenious - at least to me. Maybe you're all sitting there thinking, "Well, duh…" (The first person to leave a comment below saying "Well, duh…" is banned.)

And the results? From this jerry-rigged affair - bearing in mind there are 16 lenses on test here - the prints were adjudged to be the third best! All the others were used on enlargers. Phil Rogers arrived at a similar conclusion a while back when he did the same sort of test with a couple of enlarging lenses and a 50mm Elmar from his Leica M2.

So it just shows you, doesn't it? If you're keen enough then you can knock out some good prints using nothing more than a camera, a tripod, an angle poise lamp and a changing bag. Better still would be a copy stand to make sure the camera is parallel to the baseboard and an old, cheap and broken SLR like a Pentax MV with the shutter removed and the lens reversed. A grid of cheap LEDs would be a better, cooler light source as well and very easy to put together. You could get fancier still by adding a bellows unit between camera and lens for rough focusing, using the camera lens for fine focusing. In fact, somewhat ironically when enlargers can be picked up so cheaply nowadays, there's probably never been a better time to build a DIY version. 

The Janpol with built-in filters. A great idea but well
executed? Read on...

A Noble Brit

The second surprise was the performance of an old Dallmeyer 3.75" enlarging lens. They didn't say how old it was but it predated the metric sizing. It would have been an odd 83mm. Although they felt it was cheating in a way to use a medium format lens for 35mm negs because you're only using the sharper central portion of the lens (not everyone would agree with that. If you go here to a pdf book written by Ctein and scroll down to page 80 you can read his alternative theory although he does sort of agree where older lenses are used) the Dallmeyer came in sixth ahead of some Schneiders and a Rokkor.

Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, was provided by a cheap Phago 50mm f4.5 TE lens (an own brand from the old Polysales in the UK I think) which finished third. The magazine writer said, "We were astonished by the sharpness given by this lens, not just in the centre but even at the edges of the print - and even at the widest aperture, too!

"Perhaps it was a lucky fluke so we looked back to a test we ran in September 1972. And there we found that a Phago T was rated excellent, just one notch down from a Nikon f4.

"We couldn't believe it then, either, and asked for a second sample to try. And that was just as good."

Blurred vision

Phagos can be picked up on Ebay for a tenner or less if you're lucky. The TE version has a sunken mount which takes the rear element closer to the negative. Some enlargers don't allow the lens to get close enough to the neg for proper focus on giant enlargements so this could be a useful feature.

For the record, the best lens on test was the 50mm F2.8 El-Nikkor followed by a 50mm f4 Schneider Componon. Bringing up the rear was a Janpol 55mm f5.6 which has built-in contrast filters but was "fuzzy" at every stop - with or without the filters in the light path!


Mary Willette said...

I never actually thought about using the camera itself for negative printing but I was about to try using a camera lens and my smart phone to do something like this:

Herman Sheephouse said...

Thanks Bruce - fascinating!
My fave 50mm is the Nikkor - newer version - it is supremely sharp at all the usual apertures. My biggest surprise was the Vivitar VHE 100mm - my MF lens of choice - it is incredible.
Ah, we need more articles about man's stuff, enlargers and such-like.
Well done that man.

morris1800 said...

Santa Claus last Christmas brought me an original copy of The Practical and Pictorial Photographer magazine. Dec 1907 edition. This was edited by the Rev F.C Lambert. In this edition he did an article on using a pinhole camera as an enlarger. Basically using a small print he photographed it with a large format pin hole camera. In typical language of the middle class he suggested you set this up the night before in a room unlikely to be disturbed that would catch the sun at first light. By this means the negative should be sufficiently exposed by the the time one as finished one's breakfast. He did include pinhole size and distance of camera from print for best result. ...mmm ! I do have a home made 10x8 pinhole camera somwhere.....

Jordan R. Urie said...

I have, out of curiosity, put a 4x5 negative in a clear plastic sleeve across the back opening of a 4x5 camera and lit it up with the screen from an iPad's white flashlight app.

It was a little dim, but it definitely would be printable!

Jeff L said...

Interesting what can be done when there's a will.
In the museum in Calgary I saw a display in which there was a homemade enlarger. It was made up of a bellows and lens from an old medium format camera, it was attached to the bottom of an old lard bucket that made up the lamp house, an old pick-up truck headlight provided illumination. The rest was made up of pieces of scrap wood. The 90-100 year old photos made with it were also on display, and I found them to be impressive. It really reinforced that equipment has very little to do with good photography.

DavidM said...

Saint AA (my apologies for mentioning him. He pops up far to often in photo blogs) describes his early days and setting up his LF camera backed against a window which was blocked off except for a sort of light chimney with a mirror at the top to collect sunlight. Paper has held vertically on some sort of stand and focused by moving it back and forth across a table.
I also remember advice to use the same lens for taking and printing to get automatic correction of light fall-off. Was there an accessory illuminated back available at one time?
And I seem to remember an article on the resolution of film (?? might have been graininess) where the author used his Nikon 35mm PC lens in the enlarger as it gave him the highest resolution he could get.
There is an enlarger that uses an iPhone as both lamp house and negative, all-in-one. Very clever device. You control it by clicking your fingers. Sadly, I forget the name.

Bruce Robbins said...

I don't know how Arthur Askey found the time for all that photography.

DavidM said...

He lived rent-free in a flat on top of Broadcasting House so no doubt he would be able to nip downstairs to use the BBC's darkrooms, presumably in the basement.
[ interval...]
There was actually a photographic studio on the fifth floor in the 1930s, so presumably there was s darkroom somewhere, too.
for some fascinating pictures of the modernist interior at this time. All B+W pictures and of course all taken on film.

Bruce Robbins said...

Fascinating stuff, David. The pictures are wonderful. Must have been some place in its pre-Marxist heyday. :)

DavidM said...

Not Marxist yet. Still rugby the bourgeoisie.
First director was a Scot, too.

DavidM said...

Predictive Spelling strikes again!

It's the salt mines for me.

Ale Brenna said...

Nice! Yesterday I watched a film, "Anthropoid", in which at a time, some soldiers took some "spy" pictures with an MF camera (I think it was a Rolleiflex) and use the camera as an enlarger, put it in beteewen some books to hold it, and light it with some lamp... That´s how I got here! I´m really interest in knowing if it´s possible to do that with decent results (I´m thinking of traveling and living in a motorhome, and the enlarger I have occupies a lot of space I don´t think I´ll have...).