#553. Straight Outta the Darkroom

By pascaljappy | Review

Jan 28

This is a very interesting guest post by Brian Patterson on how and why to adapt enlarger lenses to outfit modern day cameras. Refreshing … Be sure to click on the clematis shot, it is full size and shows the lovely image quality of the lens. Brian, thanks a lot for sharing this.


That’s the best title I could come up with for this wonky article – honest. How else do you introduce the idea of shooting images with enlarger lenses? There. I’ve said it. I take pictures using old enlarger lenses. I know. Who taught this guy to take pictures anyway?

All you white-collar Batis and Loxia shooters can take a long yawn if you’ve stopped reading already. I don’t blame you. It struck me as more than just odd to seriously consider going down this road. Until I saw images made this way and realized you can’t always get these results with normal taking lenses.

So, you interested? You’re still reading so I’ll take that as a ‘yes’.

There’s a big assortment of enlarger lenses out there – some are better than others. Rodenstock Rodagons. Schneider-Kreuznach Componons. And even more you probably haven’t heard of, like the Russian Vega-5U 105/4 I fell in love with. Mounted on a bellows, my sample captures 2:1 and 1:1 images as sharp and contrasty images.

Did I tell you the best part? They’re cheap! But that’s not why I buy them. Primarily, it’s the combination of wide open aperture performance and a variable bokeh that draws us flies to this flame. Flat field enlarger optics have little or no CA, little or no distortion and little or no lack of sharpness that even some pricey ‘camera’ lenses won’t give you.

The purpose of this article is to offer some insight on using enlarger lens with modern digital cameras – on my 24MP Sony a65, in this case. The aforementioned Rodagon, Componon and Vega models are a great starting point for this adventure. You’ll need a bellows, of course.



For this primer, we’ll look at samples from my Rodenstock 80/5.6 and Vega-5U 105/4 lenses. First, what these optics look like mounted on my Sony a65. The Vega-5U is used for closeups and macro while the Rodagon gets to work at longer distances on the street.



First up is the Russian Vega-5U 105/4 – a Zeiss Biometar optical design reproduction made up of 5 elements in 3 groups intended to enlarge 6X7 images on 120/220 roll film.

Next, the Rodenstock Rodagon 80/5.6 – a 1980’s optical design intended to enlarge 6X4.5 and 6X6 film images taken on 120/220 roll film. The Rodagon still represents their premiere enlarger lens formula. A $30 42mm >39mm helicoid, coupled with a short extension tube for closeup/macro subjects, and M42>MA adapter enables a wide focusing range.


Eat Your Veggies!

It’s important to tell you at this point that I grow vegetables. They make great models. Always smiling in the morning sun. At least one good side, once you find it. Available anytime you need them. And they have plenty of bugs for friends. So every time I get a new, uh, old lens, it just takes a few minutes to get the skinny on how good they are, or aren’t.

Vega-5U 105/4 & Basic Bokeh

Vega-5U 105/4 & Mid Aperture Bokeh


Vega-5U 105/4 & Infinity Bokeh 1 (Blueberries)


Vega-5U 105/4 & Infinity Bokeh 2 (shown w/ Zeiss Tessar T 50/2.8)


Vega-5U 105/4 & Macro Bokeh (Yellow Squash)


Vega-5U 105/4 Macro (Clematis)


Vegas-5U 105/4 Infinity Sharpness Check 1


Vegas-5U 105/4 Infinity Sharpness Check 2


Next up is the 1980’s Rodenstock Rodagon 80/5.6, their premium enlarger formula of the day. IQ is excellent wide open and even better just one stop down. This nearly apochromatic enlarger lens is still available for today’s film shooter.


Rodenstock Rodagon 80/5.6 Wide Open


Rodenstock Rodagon 80/5.6 Infinity Bokeh 1


Rodenstock Rodagon 80/5.6 Infinity Check


Rodenstock Rodagon 80/5.6 Close Up


Rodenstock Rodagon 80/5.6 Infinity Bokeh 2


Rodenstock Rodagon 80/5.6 Distortion Check


Rodenstock Rodagon Contrast Check


Rodenstock Rodagon 80/5.6 Wide Open

So why in the world would anyone go to the trouble to shoot with these lenses? Personally, I love the optical properties they possess and the renditions they create. The sharpness is so rewarding and the variety of bokeh effects seem endless and easily accomplished with a little practice. For landscapes and street shooting they are tiny and essentially weightless. And they can be found for $50-60 in excellent condition by the savvy online buyer.

Everyone loves an adventure. This one is straight out of the darkroom…


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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Brilliant article !! – the most creative one I’ve read in ages – and because I had years of experience with top end enlargers/enlarger lenses during the B&W analogue era, I know pretty well exactly what you mean about the quality – and qualities !! – of these lenses. I am also keen on macro photography, and always ready & willing to try another approach, so I SERIOUSLY appreciate your article, Brian.

    Would I be right in thinking the characteristics of these lenses have a special appeal for macro? – an ability to dial up a nice in-focus layer for the main subject, dropping off to a complementary bokeh effect? The reason I ask is that you can get a suitable layer using stackshots, but they seem to work better with objects that have sharper edges and the eventual image isn’t as sharp if you photograph a flower (with softer boundaries, around the edge of the petals). So I’ve been swinging back and forth between my 100mm macro/stackshots, 100mm macro/standalone & using my w/angle as a closeup lens (to exploit its greater depth of field, for my “layers”).

    It’s all good, you can do practically anything if you try hard enough. So now perhaps I should try your suggestion 🙂

  • Brian Patterson says:

    You have much more experience in stackshots as I’ve never done them. My ritual of shooting plants as they grow during the spring comes from a gardening background.

    I can’t sing the praises of the Vega-5U enough – it shoots great up close and at infinity as this article has shown. It’s flat field characteristics and correction for CA, etc. is what got me interested in the enlarger thing to start with. Fighting these issues on nearly every taking lens is just a drag, so for garden and other closeup shooting, I try that route first. Infinity shots are just a bonus.

    Like any good macro lens, the focal length of 80mm seems to be pretty perfect for isolating subjects for closeup images without sacrificing as much DoF as a longer macro might. Being flat field, I get sharp focus into the corners with this lens at ANY f-stop too – makes using the apertures for bokeh control a real joy.

    The bokeh is predictable and repeatable with practice – and it is very nice bokeh, not so much with those circles we all love but the creamy OOF backgrounds. No other lens I own does it as well as the Vega-5U.

    Being bound to a bellows/tripod mount isn’t much of an issue as I can get framed up and shooting very quickly. Beyond my experience with that lens, I can’t offer much more insight since we all have our favorite optics for each situation.

    Look forward to seeing what you can create with your setup…

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Try the Zoerk tilt adapter plus their helical focus tube with screw mount for enlarger lenses.

  • Brian Patterson says:

    Hey everyone,
    I’m the originator of the Enlarger Lens Club over at the Pentax forum for those who want to research some gear and techniques.


    I’m working up a reversed Componon 80/5.6 on a helicoid for true macro work. A fellow name Marko has done some remarkable shooting with this setup. We trade licks on what works and the images we get. Come on over and check it all out…

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