Here are a few soundbites in response to FAQs unasked:
• What’s the best enlarger lens for general taking at sub-1m distance?
Of the growing number of lenses thus far tested outstanding results have (unsurprisingly) been recorded by the most expensive lenses. However, several lenses with market values of around £100 have achieved an elite 90%+ rating for average resolution across the frame at working apertures. However, sharpness is not the only factor in the overall ranking. For further details, please refer to the spreadsheet.
• What’s the best enlarger lens for general taking at 10m+ distance?
Nikkor EL-N models sustain performance very well at long distance, and render comparably to conventional taking lenses. They have proven to be not just the best value in this survey, but arguably the best lenses for such applications full stop. Bokeh issues make Rodagons better taking lenses than Componon-S. The highest graded lenses so for tested for distance resolution at working apertures are the Nikkor EL 80/5.6 N and Rodenstock Apo Rodagon 105/4 N, which jointly score 88.5%. Note that the close-up pack-leading Meogon 80/2.8 only scores 80.5% at longer range. For further details, please refer to the spreadsheet.
• Which enlarger lens has the best bokeh?
If we define ‘best’ as ‘smoothest and least intrusive, without onion ring or soap bubble highlights’, there are several lenses whose performance is tolerable. The first and second generation Durst/Schneider Componons with circular apertures have well formed bokeh balls at all apertures and smooth rendition. The Leica Focotar II, Vega 5U, non-Apo Rodagons and all Minolta lenses have bokeh that isn’t problematic. If we’re scoring for intangibles, the Apo Rodagons have ‘magical, dreamy’ bokeh at wide apertures. The Nikkor EL N range also deserves a mention for being the most normal. The later, Pentagon-of-Evil Schneider Componons merit a special article explaining their vexatious bokeh.
• Can I get a good sunstar from an enlarger lens?
Yes. Top marks goes to the Fujinon EX range: eight straight blades isn’t always a recipe for success, but Fujinon sunstars are almost as pretty as those drawn by a good Voigtlander. Minolta’s CE range gives tidy stars, too. The Nikkor EL’s are commendable for delivering serviceable stars from f8. Rodenstock’s Apo Rodagons should also be singled out for refusing to decorate specular highlights with anything so gaudy as a star. Stop down their curved five-blade aperture all day and you see only discs.
• Which enlarger lenses would you not recommend for taking?
None of the modern Schneiders with convex pentagonal apertures if any part of your image is out of focus. The four-element Nikkor EL 75mm f4 is not comparable to the 80mm f5.6, but in some markets cost about the same. If per-pixel sharpness matters, none of the standard Rodagons and Componons (or their inferior predecessors and juniors, junigors, junigonars, and junigonandons) are well optimised for longer-range work. The Focotar II is too expensive, given its mediocre long-range performance. And unless you’re seeking a really old-school look, avoid the weakest four-element lenses and all triplets – some of which have the dreaded/lauded swirly bokeh.