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Saturday, 02 May 2009


I take it from your comments that the prefix 'apo' is, like 'macro' or the phrase 'diffraction limited' tossed about recklessly and incorrectly by lens makers.

That the darkroom is not dead is demonstrated by the high prices still commanded by the top of the line darkroom equipment. The merely good to downright pedestrian stuff however is being given away. At the last photo show I attended an Omega B22XL with 2 neg holders a lens and a few other bits and pieces in nearly new condition sat in the free area...with no takers. It probably wound up in the dumpster.

"I take it from your comments that the prefix 'apo' is, like 'macro' or the phrase 'diffraction limited' tossed about recklessly and incorrectly by lens makers."

Yes. For most lensmakers, "Apo" means "one of our better ones." And that's all.

An apochromat is a lens that is fully corrected for three wavelengths--red, green, and blue. This is expressed in different ways--some books say it casts images of the same size from all three colors, others that it focuses all three colors on the same plane. These are just different ways of saying the same thing. What most lensmakers call an "apo" lens is just a better-than-usual achromat.

On the other hand, for photographs, most achromats are good enough these days, because typical correction is admirably good. But for color separations especially, "the more apochromatic, the better."


I gave away my Beseler 4x5 enlarger, with the b+w multicontrast head, 3 good lenses, various negative carriers, and all the miscellaneous supplies that go with it. It was a really nice enlarger, but I hadn't been in the darkroom in several years. It's getting a lot more use in the art department's darkroom -- where they still teach an intro b+w film class!

Apochromat is Apochromat,but APO might mean Army Post Office, diffraction-limited means "stopping this down any more isn't going to make it sharper" as in "The new Colatar is diffraction-limited at f22" (Rumor has it that optics from Coke's Atlanta facility are diffraction-limited at f16 due to higher quality control)

The term "diffraction limited" can be used both ways. You can use it was you have, saying a lens is "diffraction limited at f/8" (or whatever its diffraction-limited aperture is. I prefer the term "optimum aperture" for this meaning. But you can also call a lens diffraction limited as a general term, meaning that it is diffraction limited wide open.

With a true diffraction-limited lens, stopping down does not improve imaging quality at all. It just increases depth of field and adds softness from diffraction.


Back about thirty years ago I got a big blow-up done "professionally" before I had my own darkroom. The corners were totally blurred. I mean badly.

Then I got a cheap Chinese enlarger, and I got a EL-Nikkor 50mm 4.0 for it. A tiny thing. It was dead grain-sharp all over the frame. And it cost $40! Even then and even me a schoolkid, this was something I could afford! Blimey, good deal.

Re: part 1309.

Somewhere in the house I have an EL Nikkor, 75/2.8...I used it with my Vivitar 66 enlarger. I donated everything but the lens years ago.

Sorry, but I'm a confirmed digihead.

The best enlarging lenses Apo or not is no better then the enlarger it's being used on.
Only very accurate aliment of the negative bed, glass with oil emersion, a point light source and apochromatic condensers
will give you the sharpest images on paper. Less then that you will probably get better results using a good inkjet printer.
If you have an old Nikor scanner like the 2000 that doesn't work on anything any more it probably has a great Apo lens in it.

Fortunately for us photographers, the only place film and darkroom are ever proclaimed dead is on the digiweb where digiheads seem to have some sort of need to defend digital imaging.

Elsewhere, and even in many places on the web, film is alive, well and rennaissancing (thanks Calvin) all over the place!

My $60 Rogagon 80mm may not be up to this EL-Nikkor APO 105, but it makes some beautiful b&w that cannot be duplicated or rivaled on the HP B9180 I use for family 4x6's.

Digiheads, you are missing a great joy if you have never seen an 8x10 come up in a tray under a dim red bulb!

Just try it! Film has a place in this digiworld too!

Jeff Glass


Didn't you once have a extremely nice Zeiss enlarger lens? Maybe you could put that up on the auction block to pay for the camera you desire.

It's good to see that film and darkroom are not dead. I'm someone who came to photography after the digital age, but I am interested in the darkroom since I can afford that equipment and old film cameras better than I can digital equipment. Plus, I stare at a computer all day for my job so I'm loath to spend more time there for my hobbies. I also like mechanical things and (affordable) digital cameras just don't fit that. Based on what John Robison said I need to go to some photo shows and look for free darkroom equipment! Now, can someone give me free room in my house for a darkroom?

Tell your photographer friends that you are building a darkroom and two things happen.
First they ask you if your are off your meds then they say "I have all this stuff in the basement you can have".
One of the orphans that made it's way into my basement a few years back was a nice Dual Dichro 23cxl with 50 f4 and a 105 5.6 EL Nikkors. The 105 is NOT the APO but is is still wonderfully sharp. It's a sweet lens for 6x6 negatives; long but terrific for 35mm too.
I love digital but after taking so long to get my darkroom chops I'm not ready to leave them behind me.

"Didn't you once have a extremely nice Zeiss enlarger lens? Maybe you could put that up on the auction block..."

Long gone, alas. Sold a couple of years ago. A 60mm ƒ/4 Carl Zeiss S-Orthoplanar.

"Now, can someone give me free room in my house for a darkroom?"

You're smiling, but this is of course the big impediment for many people--what my friend Nick Hartmann calls "the room-sized accessory." It's also one of the reasons why darkrooms were such high-prestige "accessories" in the 1950s and '60s in America--many people could afford private homes for the first time, and having a darkroom was a way of saying you had a basement to put a darkroom in. Having the extra space was a high-status luxury.


I have one, APO El Nikkor 105. I bought it just after it was discontinued by Nikon from Samy's Camera. I got it for US $2500 through a phone order from Santiago, Chile, where I live. I asked them to send the glass to my sister place in Tucson, and got in touch with it 6 month after the order while visiting her. I still have the original cardboard box with a card signed by the technician that assembled and tested the lens. It is a pity that now my work is all digital and I'm not using this beauty anymore.




(There ought to be a word that means "acquisitory lust by males for technological toys or devices that are always going to be tantalizingly out of their reach.")


To Marcelo (and all others who own this lens and are "in the same boat"),

Do not let the digital age turn this lens into a very expensive paper weight. Get a set of bellows for your digicam, and make sure the mount on the open (lensed) end of the bellows can use LTM M39 lenses. You are now the proud user of a lens for macro work that I would dare propose a guess that will blow away any "proper" macro lens away for sheer image quality.

As a matter of fact, this is a good use for any reasonable "retired" enlarging lens. I would imagine Schneider Componon S lens (merely great lenses compared to this one) would be kick butt as macro photo lenses as well.

Art Kramer would sometimes stop by and help me when I ran a darkroom live chat forum on Compuserve (and I read many of his contributions in the popular photo magazines when i was a youngster). He is a wonderful gold mine of all sorts of photographic arcana. Ask Art to recall the story of W. Eugene Smith, and the Zeiss Biotar testing program he took upon himself back in the early 1950's. It is a wonderful tale that refutes the modern axiom that "true artists" don't worry about equipment. It will make you feel better Mike, when you start to think you worry too much about equipment on these very pages!:)

Adding to what Maxim said ...

There are still a reasonable number of folks using these lenses for darkroom work, which is why the price stays up. A smattering of people consider them collectible, but that number is small.

While the number of potential users of this lens is shrinking, there is a certain backlog of demand for it since the quantities are limited, so the price remains pretty stable. Might go up a bit for a while, then might come down a bit. Not likely to swing radically either way.

I would emphasize that this is a lens that really is useful to working printers, so if you have one that's just sitting on the shelf, you'd be doing the field of fine printing a service (and making yourself a nice piece of pocket change) by putting it up for sale.

Bill Pierce (if memory serves) noted the converse of what Maxim mentioned. The better macro lenses, like the classic 55 mm micro-Nikkor, turn out to make rather good enlarging lenses!

I wonder, though, about the cost-effectiveness of using the Apo-El this way. I'm not certain that $3000 couldn't buy one a "real" macro lens whose performance would be indistinguishable from the Apo-El-Nikkor, on camera, and leave one with a lot of cash to spare. It's something I'd want to test if I had one, before deciding to hang onto it.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Sigh. I was watching that very auction, hoping beyond hope that the lens would pass unnoticed, eventually to be relisted for a (radically) lower price... and end up in my new darkroom. Such are the things (darkroom) dreams are made of!

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