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Enlarging lenses seem to be available for very little cost.

What differences can be expected when using enlarger lenses for general or macro photography? When might one prefer to use an enlarging lens over another type of lens or technique? For instance, is there any reason to use an enlarging lens for macro photography instead of, say, using extension tubes with another lens?

I'm interested in optical differences, but discussion of other differences are welcome. Descriptions of experiences using enlarging lenses and reasons for choosing to do so would be appreciated.

I understand that enlarging lenses typically don't come with built-in focusing helicoids. They also seem to have apertures that are F3.5 or slower.

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An enlarger lens is optimized to image a flat object (negative/slide) and project its image on flat photo paper. A camera lens is optimized to image a 3D world (objects at different distances) and project these images on a flat surface (film or digital sensor).

Enlarger lenses although slightly compromised will image OK. This will be dependent on how the final image is viewed. A giant enlargement might not be at optimum but for viewing on a computer monitor or making prints 8x10 inch or smaller, I think the enlarger lens will be satisfactory provided you can successfully mount it on the camera.

  • Could you check to see if the last paragraph states what you intended? – Eric Shain Jan 15 at 15:34
  • @ Eric -- Enlarger lenses although slightly compromised will image OK. This will be dependent on how the final image is viewed. A giant enlargement might not be at optimum but for viewing on a computer monitor or making prints 8x10 inch or smaller, I think the enlarger lens will be satisfactory provided you can successfully mount it on the camera. – Alan Marcus Jan 15 at 19:36
  • Why might someone choose to capture photographs using an enlarging lens? (Aside from "because we can".) – xiota Feb 15 at 0:22
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    On several occasions, doing copy work with 4X5 and with 2 /14 x 3 1/4 Graflex, I mounted an enlarger lens. Thus I optimized available cameras to do copy work. Also I did the same to make inter-negatives from sheet film transparences. Inter-negatives then used to make C-prints. – Alan Marcus Feb 15 at 4:30
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Enlarger lenses project a planar film to a planar paper. Everything will be perfectly in focus. That means an enlarger lens does not need to bother about how ugly stuff that isn't in focus will look. It's not part of its design criteria.

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The same restrictions that generally apply to adapted manual focus lenses apply here.

Additionally, you will likely need to provide or augment a focusing system (by using a combination of any or all of helicoid adapters, bellows, extension tubes etc) to end up with a setup that can a) be focused and b) be in the correct range of lens to sensor distance.

  • I've expanded question... looking for optical differences and why someone would choose to use an enlarging lens rather than another type of lens. If you have any experience using enlarging lenses, would be interested in reading about it and why you chose to use them. – xiota Feb 15 at 0:20
  • @xiota I'll bookmark the question, since a Steinheil Cassar 75mm fell in my "adapted lenses to try in the field come suitable opportunity" drawer recently :) So, the lens has already been adapted (mounted to a camera so it can be focused and taken images with), not yet used in anger. – rackandboneman Feb 15 at 9:28

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