Publicly mulling a digital-era survey of enlarger lenses in 2014 (the seed that grew into Delta) Dr. Klaus Schmitt (creator of www.macrolenses.de) wisely advised me: “Save your time. That has all been done multiple times.” It certainly has.
For instance, in the October/November 1967 edition of Camera magazine Arthur Kramer “put the best through the wringer” and concluded: “Enlarger lenses are very good. Some are better than others, however.” The article compared the ability of nine 50mm lenses to reach a target of 80 line pairs per mm. Six lenses resolved 80lp/mm across the measured frame at f8 or f11, but the Rodenstock Omegaron 50mm f3.5 uniquely reached peak performance from f5.6–f11.
Kodak Ektar 50/4.5 [US]
f4.5: 56/40 | f5.6: 64/56 | f8: 80/64 | f11: 80/80 | f16: 80/64 | f22: 64/56
Leitz Wetzlar Focotar 50/4.5 [V1]
f4.5: 64/56 | f5.6: 80/64 | f8: 80/80 | f11: 80/80 | f16: 64/64
Meopta Belar 50/4.5
f4.5: 40/40 | f5.6: 48/48 | f8: 56/48 | f11: 64/64 | f16: 64/64 | f22: 56/40
Meopta Meopar 50/4.5
f4.5: 48/40 | f5.6: 56/48 | f8: 64/56 | f11: 80/56 | f16: 64/56 | f22: 56/48
Nikkor EL 50/2.8 [original, pre-N]
f2.8: 40/34 | f4: 64/56 | f5.6: 80/56 | f8: 80/80 | f11: 80/80 | f16: 64/64
Rodenstock Omegaron 50/3.5
f3.5: 56/40 | f5.6: 80/80 | f8: 80/80 | f11: 80/80 | f16: 64/64 | f22: 56/40
Schneider Comparon 50/4
f4: 56/48 | f5.6: 64/56 | f8: 80/64 | f11: 80/80 | f16: 64/64
Schneider Componar 50/4.5
f4.5: 56/40 | f5.6: 64/48 | f8: 64/56 | f11: 64/56 | f16: 56/48
Schneider Componon 50/4
f4: 64/56 | f5.6: 80/60 | f8: 80/80 | f11: 80/80 | f16: 64/64
See also British Journal of Photography July 1979 2-part article by WDG Cox.
The cover of the September/October 1983 edition of Darkroom magazine posed the question: “Enlarging Lenses: Which Ones are the Heavyweights?” The lead story documented a six month process by editor Ken Werner and contributing editor Ctein (yes – his real, officially registered name) testing 90 enlarger lenses and distilling the results in a 20-lens shortlist that could reliably be recommended to deliver high resolution and low levels of light fall-off, field curvature and other aberrations. If it’s not on the list, it didn’t make the grade – although which lenses suffered such ignominy remains unknown. In focal length and alphabetical (not quality) order, they singled out:
Beseler Color Pro 50/2.8:
Schneider Componon-S 50/2.8:
Chugai [Kowa] Computar 50/2.8:
Nikon EL-Nikkor 50/2.8 N
Rodenstock Apo Rodagon 50/2.8 (some red/green CA)
Chugai [Kowa] Computar 55/1.9 (best edge contrast and light fall-off)
Nikon EL-Nikkor 63/2.8 N
Chugai [Kowa] Computar 65/3.5
Rodenstock Eurygon 80/4 (lower edge sharpness than shorter FLs)
Schneider Componon-S 80/4
Rodenstock Apo Rodagon 90/4 (later dropped from recommendation)
Schneider Componon-S 100/5.6
Leica Focotar II 100/5.6 (slight LOCA)
Nikon EL-Nikkor 105/5.6 N
Rodenstock Rodagon 105/5.6
Rodenstock Rodagon 135/5,6
Nikon EL-Nikkor 135/5.6
Rodenstock Rodagon 150/5.6
Schneider Componon-S 150/5.6
In 1997, Ctein published an updated version of this list in his important Focal Press publication ‘Post Exposure’. The 2011 edition uncontroversially replaces the Rodenstock Apo-Rodagon 90/4 with the Rodenstock Apo-Rodagon[-N] 80/4 and adds the Apo-EL-Nikkor 105/5.6 N.
If you’re wondering which version of the Beseler ColorPro 50/2.8 is here recommended, it’s likely the Hoya/Osawa/Tominon – although the review notes the similarity of the ColorPro to the Computar 50/2.8 – who made the later version of the ColorPro 50/2.8 – which raises the possibility that the same lens is recommended twice. We’re trying to disambiguate that and will update shortly.
If you’re wondering which Componon-S 50/2.8 is recommended: it’s the five-element  – the upgraded six-element Componon-S  didn’t arrive until late 1990.
If you’re wondering which Rodenstock Apo-Rodagon 50/2.8 is recommended, it’s the pre-N version: it’s 1983.
If you’re wondering why there are no Fuji lenses, it’s because the EP models, in Ctein’s words, “didn’t make the final cut”. The upgraded EX models didn’t land until late 1984.
Three years later, in 1986, Bob Mitchell wrote an article for the May/June issue of Darkroom Techniques, comparing the relatively new Fujinon EX range with equivalent Schneider and Rodenstock 50mm lenses of the day, noting that the 50mm had broken through the 80lp/mm barrier, rendering 90lp/mm at f5.6 in the frame centre.
|Fujinon EX 50/2.8||80||45||90||56|
|Fujinon EX 75/5.6||45||40||72||50|
|Fujinon EX 90/5.6||50||50||72||50|
|Fujinon EX 135/5.6||45||28||45||36|
If you’re wondering which Nikon 50mm lens was tested, it was the EL-Nikkor 50/2.8 N. If you’re wondering which Schneider 50mm lens was tested, it was the five-element , and not a great sample judging by its resolution figures. Although the  is considered inferior to the , I can confirm that a healthy (35 year old) sample was capable of rendering 80 lp/mm at peak apertures in 2021.
See also Darkroom Photography Magazine 1989 Enlarging Lens Buying Guide
In the October 1994 issue of Practical Photography, John Tinsley defied the best efforts of his sub-editor (and conventions of grammar) to offer “all the advice you need to buying the perfect optic” – reviewing enlarger lenses ranging from £35 to £336. In another curious blunder, two lenses were reviewed twice, with a slightly different verdict. Falling somewhat short of its goal, ten (strictly, eight) lenses were ranked by price but awarded only vague summaries. At least it wasn’t the usual Schneidenstock love-in:
The £35 AICO 50/3.5 [V2] triplet was criticised for not quite covering full frame, suffering noticeable focus shift, and not reaching useable resolution until f11. The same lens, sold under the Omega brand, was identified as a four-element Omegaron 50/3.5. To the writer’s credit, they noted that it “behaves more like a triplet.” Curvature of field was noted. Prominent advertiser Jessops’ six-element lens was (not unfairly) preferred at the same price – £56.
The £100 Durst Optar 50/2.8 was treated separately from the Jessop 50/2.8 [V2], despite being the same lens. About the Durst, Tinsley wrote: “The lens is sharp right into the corners at f5.6 [but] there’s the merest hint of a focus shift stopped down. Coverage of the negative area is good.” The Jessop 50/2.8 received this assessment: “It’s sharp at f5.6, with even illumination across the frame . . . but there’s a slight hint of focus shift on stopping down.” Funny that.
Sticking with Fujimoto, who made both the above, the £106, four-element 80mm f4.5 was praised for offering good value at this focal length and being “sharp into the corners at f8.”
Meopta’s £145 Meogon S 50/2.8 was credited with even illumination by f4, excellent corner sharpness at f5.6 and being very good value for money.
Next up the price scale, Tinsley usefully observed that Nikon lenses have slightly higher contrast than most, which makes them appear sharper, although resolution is the same. The EL-Nikkor 40/4 was lauded for excellent coverage at f4, and peak sharpness at f5.6.
Jumping to a price tag of c.£240, Rodenstock and Schneider’s 80mm f4 were compared. The Rodagon was described as “needle sharp, with an evenly illuminated field’. The Componon-S was considered “excellent quality . . . usable at f5.6.”
The most expensive lens tested was the multicoated Schneider Apo-Componon HM 40/2.8. Tinsley rated it “Simply superb – it gives the same perfect performance at f4 as one would expect to see from a top six-element lens at f5.6 . . . one of the best optics available.”
In what turned out to be the twilight years of mass-market print enlargement, there was a vogue for enlarger lens surveys. In 1997, Chasseur d’Images tested 26 lenses of 48-80mm focal length by comparing measured MTF, awarding marks out of five for centre and ‘border’ performance. Top marks for centre-frame sharpness were awarded to four lenses: two Meopta Meogons (50/2.8 and 60/5.6) and a pair of Rodenstock Rodagons (40/4 and 80/4). However, only the Meogon 50/5.6 scored maximum points for ‘border’ performance. Factoring in distortion and other aberrations, they ranked ten lenses of equally excellent optical quality, but distinguished three of special merit: the Rodenstock Apo Rodagon 80/4, Meopta Meogon 80/4 and Schneider Componon-S 80/4.
Angenieux 48 G-10 48/4: Centre 4 / Border: 3
Leica Focotar II 40/2.8: Centre: 4 / Border: 3
Leica Focotar II 50/4.5: Centre: 4 / Border: 4
Meopta Meogon 50/2.8: Centre: 5 / Border: 4
Meopta Meogon 50/5.6: Centre: 4 / Border: 5
Meopta Anaret-S 50/4.5: Centre: 4 / Border: 3
Meopta Meogon 60/5.6: Centre: 5 / Border: 4
Meopta Meogon 80/2.8: Centre: 5 / Border: 1
Meopta Meogon 80/4: Centre: 4 / Border: 4
Meopta Anaret-S 80/4.5: Centre: 4 / Border: 1
Nikon EL 50/2.8 N: Centre: 4 / Border: 2
Nikon EL 50/4 (non N): Centre 4 / Border 3
Nikon EL 80/5.6 N: Centre: 4 / Border 2
Rodenstock Rodagon-WA 40/4: Centre: 5 / Border: 3
Rodenstock Apo Rodagon 50/2.8: Centre: 4 / Border: 4
Rodenstock Rodagon 50/2.8: Centre: 4 / Border: 3
Rodenstock Rogonar 50/2.8: Centre: 4 / Border: 2
Rodenstock Rogonar-S 50/2.8: Centre: 4 / Border: 3
Rodenstock Trinar 50/3.5: Centre: 4 / Border: 2
Rodenstock Rodagon 80/4: Centre: 5 / Border: 3
Rodenstock Apo Rodagon 80/4: Centre: 4 / Border: 4
Rodenstock Rogonar 75/4.5: Centre: 4 / Border: 1
Rodenstock Rogonar-S 75/4.5: Centre: 4 / Border 1
Schneider Componon-S 50/2.8: Centre: 4 / Border: 3
Schneider Comparon 50/3.5: Centre: 3 / Border: 3
Schneider Componon-S 80/4: Centre: 4 / Border 2
Moving on to 1999, ColorFoto published a group test of twelve enlarger lenses – all 50mm – concluding that Apo-Rodagon 50/2.8 (awarded a respectable, but not elite, 4 / 4 by Chasseur d’Images) was the class leader. This test ranked peak sharpness at an optimal aperture (marks out of 40), sharpness fall-off at the frame ‘edge’ (marks out of 20), sharpness wide open (marks out of 20), vignetting (marks out of 10) and distortion (marks out of 10). Figures were combined to arrive at a single percentage mark, as follows:
|Rodenstock Apo-Rodagon 50/2.8 – 89.4%|
Peak resolution: 38.4/40
Resolution fall-off: 19.8/20
Resolution wide open: 15.2/20
|Schneider Comparon-S 50/2.8 – 81.3%|
Peak resolution: 34.8/40
Resolution fall-off: 18.8/20
Resolution wide open: 10.2/20
|Rodenstock Rodagon-WA 40/4 – 89.1%|
Peak resolution: 38.4/40
Resolution fall-off: 18.8/20
Resolution wide open: 16.4/20
|Rodenstock Rogonar-S 50/2.8 – 80.9%|
Peak resolution: 34.4/40
Resolution fall-off: 18/20
Resolution wide open: 11/20
|Schneider Apo Componon-HM 45/4 – 89%|
Peak resolution: 38/40
Resolution fall-off: 18.8/20
Resolution wide open: 16.2/20
|Meopta Anaret-S 50/2.8 – 77.8%|
Peak resolution: 33.2/40
Resolution fall-off: 18/20
Resolution wide open: 8.6/20
|Nikon EL-Nikkor 50/2.8 – 86.4%|
Peak resolution: 36.8/40
Resolution fall-off: 19.2/20
Resolution wide open: 14.4/20
|B.I.G Kepcor 50/2.8 – 77.2%|
Peak resolution: 32.8/40
Resolution fall-off: 17.6/20
Resolution wide open: 10.8/20
|Rodenstock Rodagon 50/2.8 – 84.3%|
Peak resolution: 35.6/40
Resolution fall-off: 18.6/20
Resolution wide open: 12.6/20
|Schneider Componar-S – 76.1%|
Peak resolution: 32.4/40
Resolution fall-off: 17.4/20
Resolution wide open: 8.8/20
|Schneider Componon-S – 82.2%|
Peak resolution: 34.8/40
Resolution fall-off: 19/20
Resolution wide open: 12.4/20
|Meopta Meogon-S 50/2.8 – 74.5%|
Peak resolution: 32.8/40
Resolution fall-off: 17.2/20
Resolution wide open: 7/20
In the 1999 test of medium-format enlarger lenses (80-100mm) for which we haven’t acquired a primary source, ColorFoto reportedly garlanded the Schneider and Rodenstock Apo-labeled lenses (90/4.5 and 80/4 respectively) ahead of the Schneider Componon-S 80mm and 100mm, followed by their Nikon EL equivalents, and ranked Meopta’s Anaret range above the premium Meogons, as this excerpt from the 80mm focal length comparison shows:
Rodenstock Apo-Rodagon N 80/4 – 82.8%
Schneider Componon-S 80/4 – 81.8%
Nikon EL-Nikkor 80/5.6 – 79.8%
Rodenstock Rodagon 80/4 – 79.2%
Meopta Anaret-S 80/4.5 – 77.4%
Schneider Comparon-S 80/4.5 – 77.3%
Meopta Meogon 80/2.8 – 70.2%
We’re unable to confirm whether the tested Nikon was a first generation model, or the superior N-version. For a likely explanation of the Meogon’s poor showing, please see the end of this article.
The Studio Plus website, deploying the ever-reliable ‘Hearts out of Five’ system, ranked 22 enlarger lenses from 50-80mm, here arranged alphabetically in descending categories of excellence:
FIVE HEARTS GOOD:
Leitz Focotar-2 50/4.5,
Meopta Meogon-S 50/2.8
Meopta Meogon 50/5.6
Meopta Meogon-S 80/4 [source refers to ‘Meopta Rodagon-S]
Rodenstock Apo-Rodagon 50/2.8 [unsure whether N version]
Rodenstock Apo-Rodagon 80/4 [must be N version]
Schneider Componon-S 80/4
FOUR HEARTS GOOD:
Meopta Meogon 80/2.8
Nikon EL-Nikkor 50/2.8 [unsure whether N version]
Nikon EL-Nikkor 80/4 [must be pre-N version]
Rodenstock Rodagon 50/2.8
Rodenstock Rodagon 80/4
Rodenstock Rogonar-S 50/2.8
Schneider Componon-S 50/2.8
THREE HEARTS GOOD:
Meopta Anaret-S 50/4.5
Meopta Anaret-S 80/4.5
Nikon EL-Nikkor 80/5.6 [unsure whether N version]
Nikon EL-Nikkor 50/4 [must be pre-N version]
Rodenstock Rogonar 50/2.8
Rodenstock Rogonar-S 75/4.5
Schneider Comparon 50/3.5
TWO HEARTS GOOD:
Rodenstock Rogonar 75/4.5
If you’re wondering why reviews have concentrated so hard – sometimes exclusively – on Rodenstock, Schneider and Nikon lenses, well, you know: human nature. Those companies made uniformly excellent lenses and spent a lot of money on advertising. In hindsight, it’s easier to see that Minolta, Fuji, Leica, Meopta, Agfa, Osawa, Komura, Kowa, Kodak et al were doing equally superb work with less commercial reward – a legacy that has often lingered, suppressing their used value in today’s market – to the benefit of bargain hunters.
As a refreshing change from all those enlarger lens reviews, the December 1997 issue of Chasseur d’Images reviewed a group of 35mm slide projector lenses for Braun, Kindermann, Kodak, Leica, and Rollei, awarding them a mark out of 5, here listed in quality order:
Kindermann Color 90mm f/2.8 (1)
Kodak Ektapro FF 85mm f/2.8 (1)
Braun Color Paxon 85mm f/2.8 MC (2)
Braun Super Paxon 85mm f/2.8 MC (2)
Braun Ultralit PL 70-120mm f/3.5 MC (3)
Kodak Ektapro Select FF 93mm f/2.5 (3)
Leica Hektor P2 85mm f/2.8 (3)
Rollei S-Heidosmat 150mm f/3.5 MC (3) [edit – Seems to be an error: the S-version was f2.8]
Braun Ultralit PL 90mm f/2.4 MC (4 )
Kindermann 90mm f/2.4 MC (4)
Wetzlar Vario 70-120mm f/3.5 MC (4)
Docter Vario 85-150mm f/3.5 MC (4)
Kodak Ektapro Select FF 75-120 f/2.8 (4)
Schneider AV-Xenotar 90mm f/3.5 HFT (4)
Kodak Ektapro FF [Schneider] 75-120mm f/3.5 (5)
Leica Colorplan 90mm f/2.5 [P1 and P2] (5)
Schneider AV-Xenotar 90mm f/2.4 HFT (5)
Rollei/Schneider AV-Apogon 90mm f/2.4 HFT (5)
Rollei/Schneider AV-Apogon 120mm f/2.8 HFT (5)
Leica Super Colorplan 90mm f/2.5 MC (5+)
If you’re still using enlarger lenses as nature intended (you hipster, you) the reviews here summarised are as valuable (and sometimes contradictory) as they ever were – arbitrary evaluation systems and all. However, these tests belong to another century, and are a prologue of uncertain relevance to their use as taking lenses.
From 2005 onward, a range of online resources sprang up documenting the success of deploying enlarging lenses via adaptors, helicoids and bellows, on digital SLR and mirrorless cameras. At www.coinimaging.com, Mark Goodman deserves a special mention. Similarly see www.coincommunity.com and Ray Parkhurst’s work at www.photomacrography.net. Sites such as www.savazzi.net and John Jovic’s pages at www.photocornucopia.com aim to fully document the history of such lenses, supported by practical guides such as the the pages of www.extreme-macro.co.uk. Much of value is presented at www.closeuphotography.com who led the way in hyperinflating old film scanners as they raided and reviewed scanning lenses and other micro-optics. And, lest we forget, Dr. Klaus Schmidt’s excellent resource: www.macrolenses.de.
Why indeed, then, ignore the Doctor’s advice? Well . . . I rarely shoot insects and never, on purpose, a coin. Such applications are rather close to the intended use-case, but not mine. I want small, versatile tilt lenses for arm’s length work such as food and product photography – that tricky point around and beyond the minimum focal length of a good prime that seems so often to be called for in architectural assignments and movie close-ups. I’m also intrigued by their low-contrast, low-speed, low-aberration look, so similar to cinema lenses. I share the curiosity of the DPReview forum poster who asked in 2019 “Anyone interested in enlarging lens performance at infinity?”
Film-era tests are irrelevant to such applications, and the digital-era surveys aren’t much more useful: most of the target coin, wafer and insect test imagery was shot with APS-C cameras, brutally exposing Zone 1 performance, but (especially in the case of coins) showing little of Zone 2 and nothing of Zone 3. To deploy shift movements in that big image circle, I need to explore Zones 4 and 5, and see how they handle flare and sunstars. I want sweet bokeh. I want to make these lenses uncomfortable – to take them into deep water and see which drown and which bob to the surface.
Enlarging lenses are optimised for a specific, short-range application. Whether or not they retain the desirable qualities on which their reputations are founded beyond this remit has been terra incognita. It turns out that no premium enlarger lens performs quite as well at distance as it does in the sub-1m range. Some stumble badly. It’s well documented that at higher (1:2 and above) magnifications, some of the best enlarger lenses are outperformed by humbler alternatives. Similarly, at working distances of 10m and beyond we leave the designer jackets of our preconceptions with the doormen and observe what the big guys do on the dancefloor.
For instance, the £600 Leica Focotar II is a well corrected lens, but in terms of resolving power and flatness of field, it’s increasingly unimpressive the further it is from its subject – scoring near-identical marks to the £30 Nikkor EL 75/4 at 10m range. The Meogon 80/2.8 perfectly resolves a full-frame 42MP sensor at peak apertures, but is nonetheless blighted by the soft distant corners of all enlarger lenses.
Most enlarger lenses (even class-leaders like the Meogons and Apo Rodagons) are optimised for peak performance two stops down. However, Nikkor and Schneider Apo Componons resolve superbly (centre-frame, at least) wide open. Rodenstock and Schneider’s lenses best-looking MTF charts belong to longer-than-expected lenses; whereas for most enlarger lenses shorter is sharper. Working against this is a broader principle that the longer the distance from the rear element to the sensor, the worse the contrast – and resolution usually takes a hit, too. See ‘Focal Length Issues’ >
The hundreds of lenses we’ve so far tested for Delta, and ranked on a level-playing field, have broadly confirmed (though sometimes contradicted) the ‘received wisdom’ of the historic tests mentioned above, and the melée of forum chatter. Minolta’s C.E.Rokkor lenses seem permanently absent from magazine reviews: did they not spend enough on advertising to curry favour with editorial teams? But they are fully competitive with the Rodenstocks and Schneiders that disproportionately occupied the attention of readers and reviewers. While there’s no doubt that the Rodenstock Apo-Rodagon 50/2.8 deserves a seat at the top table, the gap between it and the Nikon EL-Nikkor 50/2.8, Fujinon EX 50/2.8, Minolta C.E Rokkor 50/2.8, Hoya Super-EL 50/2.8 and forgotten relics like the Kodak Ektars, Tominon-E36 and Agfa Color-Solagon, has perhaps been over-emphasised. For taking purposes – at least where long working distances are required – the 50mm focal length itself is too much in the spotlight: moving up to 60mm, and the sweet spot of 75-80mm, affords real benefits in terms of vignetting and corner performance.
And what can we say about Meopta? Their lenses seem to yo-yo from the top to the bottom of the pile. We clearly see from Delta’s test the cause of such apparent inconsistency (apart from their meagre advertising budget in the English press): Meogons are indeed world-class, but designed with ‘disposable’ maximum aperture performance: the kind that Fuji and other makers disguised with in-built waterhouse stops on their ‘slow’ lenses. If the Meogon-S had been released as a 80/5.6, we would have no trouble recognising it as one of the best of its type ever made. However, it’s possible to shoot it (though you probably shouldn’t) and rate it (poorly) at a bleary f4. No question, though: any Meogon is an elite, and undervalued, lens.
You did a wonderful job which answered my questions for decades,
I really appreciate you, Sir.