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Macro photography using enlarger lenses

by Güray Dere

Enlarger lenses are among the darkroom equipment of filmed photography time. When we want to print a photo from a negative film, we use an enlarger lens to project the image onto a light-sensitive paper. Then a photo image appears on the paper.

The digital world has rendered the enlarger lenses unnecessary. They stayed in the photography departments and in the workshops of those who wanted to work in the old way. Today there are very few companies producing enlarger lenses. Rodenstock and Schneider Kreuznach are two of them.

An enlarger lens is expected to enlarge the negative film image without any loss of image quality. So to have high resolution and optical transmittance. Projecting the image of the flat shaped film onto the flat-shaped paper without distortion at the corners. So have a flat field focus.

Do these statements look familiar?

Yes, these are expected features from macro lenses. Enlarger lenses work very well as a macro lens.

What kind of lens is an enlarger lens?


Enlarger lenses are slightly different from lenses we know as function and appearance. They usually look small. Being small is very valuable for a macro lens. When shooting in hand, it easily penetrates between the branches, leaves, does not scare the beetle and helps in lighting both in the studio and in the field. When shooting at a distance of 5cm, we don’t want a big lens shade on the beetle. So a small lens is good.

There is no focus ring on the lens, only the aperture setting. The diaphragm cannot be controlled from the body, it is completely adjusted manually via the lens. We almost always reverse the lens and work at an average distance of 5 to 20 cm. Again, because we always use it with a tube or bellows, we can change (increase) the magnification and adjust the focusing distance with the length of the tube or bellows. But we need to focus on the desired spot by moving the camera back and forth. Instead of rotating the lens, we literally move back and forth.

When we mount an enlarger lens normally, we can focus on the distance we want with the help of a bellows and have the opportunity to take portrait and landscape photographs. Wide angles below 50mm are not suitable for normal mounting, they can only work at very close distances. Normal mounting of enlarger lenses deserves to be a separate article and is waiting to be written.

No focus or zoom features. In this way, they are small, they have simple designs. This simplicity returns us as sharp photos.

Handheld shot of a dragonfly using a reversed Rodagon WA 40mm on 20mm + 36mm extension tubes

Types of enlarger lenses

If we include the models that are no longer produced, we can find hundreds of different lenses. You can find the enlarger lens at a price of up to thousands of dollars in price. They have an extremely wide range of focal lengths. From 25mm to 1200mm! and even longer.

For example, two of the brands that are still in production and are common in macro shots have the following lines.

Schneider KreuznachRodenstockModel feature
ComponarRogonar3 elements, 3 groups. Old design entry level.
Componar SRogonar S4 elements , 3 groups. Updated old design. Intermediate.
CompononRodagon6 elements , 4 groups. Modern design. High quality.
Componon S6 elements, 4 groups. Updated modern design. High quality.
APO Componon (6 elements, 4 groups)APO Rodagon (7 elements, 5 groups)Improved APO glass against chromatic aberration. The latest model. Top quality.

Note: Rogonar (except Rogonar-S) lenses cannot be reversed because there is no filter thread.

Which enlarger lenses are suitable for macro?

The big differences we see in price, as in all areas, of course also affect the results here. But compared to modern macro lenses, prices are very affordable. We get sharp pictures with a light, small set.

We need to determine which focal length we prefer, regardless of the budget. The best option will be to choose a few for different magnifications.

  • Range of 75mm to 105mm for magnifications of 0.5X to 1X
  • 50mm for 1X – 2X magnifications
  • 28-35mm for 2X – 4X range

These appear to be appropriate values. Of course, you can take only one, for example, 50mm lens and a use it with certain length of extension tubes and get 8X magnification. Here’s an example:

Agac biti ve yavrusu
8X magnification with Nikon El-Nikkor 50mm enlarger lens

But this ratio will force our lens too hard and distort the image quality. It is a good idea to use the most appropriate lens for each level of magnification.

How do we mount the enlarger lens?

We always reverse it. Revers mounting almost always gives better results in macro shooting.

Agrandizör lensi
Reverse mounted Rodagon 28mm on extension tubes and Reverse mounted El-Nikkor 50mmm
on teleconverter

Although the mounting side usually has an M39 screw threading, we are more interested in the filter thread diameter. Diameters vary according to the model. You may experience a 30.5mm diameter for a 28mm lens, or 40.5mm or 43mm filter diameters for a 50mm lens. You will need the appropriate filter diameter stepping adapters and reverse mounting adapters. Don’t worry, you can find them easily and quite cheap.


You can use only one adapter for the reverse mounting and convert the filter diameter to the value of this adapter for each lens. In total, it comes at a more affordable price.

You can see the 49mm reversing adapter for Pentax PK. You’ll have something like that.

I have the following enlarger lenses at the time of writing the article. I plan to introduce them in more detail by writing a separate article for each of them:

  • Nikon El-Nikkor 50mm f2.8N
  • Rodenstock Rodagon 28mm f4
  • Rodenstock Rodagon WA 40mm f4
The focus stacking studio shoot of a moth using the Rodagon WA 40mm reverse mounted on extension tube

 When to use enlarger lens, when to use macro lens?

In fact, you have the answer to this question. It’s up to us. It is very enjoyable to use them all. But my personal preference, or rather my criteria, is:

Macro lens

  • Modern macro lenses are easier to use in dimly lit environments where a bright viewfinder (automatic aperture) is required. As the enlarger lenses have manual aperture, the viewfinder can be dark when we narrow the aperture. It can be hard to see where the focus is. Especially in the field, the macro lens makes it easier to work in shadow areas. It doesn’t make much difference in the studio.
  • Macro lenses are best when you need to work with low magnification for targets such as large flowers.
  • If you want to shoot non-macro, focus to infinity, take a portrait, you can do this without changing the lens.
  • We do not know the size of the insect we will find. If it is important to adjust the magnification and the frame over a wide range, normal macro lenses are very advantageous. As long as we do not change the tube while working with an enlarger lens, we stay at the same magnification and working distance. Bellows or helicoids can help. But be ready to change them a lot if you’re going to use enlarge lenses

Enlarger lens

  • In cases of high magnification, definitely get an enlarger lens. 2x and above magnifications eliminate the 1:1 macro lens without thinking. The magnification of the macro lens with extension tubes or close-up filters can be slightly increased, but above 2X is difficult. It can become a freak lens that looks like it will break, so hard to carry out with all the tubes. The enlarger lens is better in high magnification.
  • When it is necessary to be light and small, the enlarger lenses stand out.
  • Undisputed leader in price. 1 macro lens price can get 10 agrandior lens.


Enlarger lenses are macro monsters. Whether you are a beginner or a professional, all macro photographers need to have a few in the equipment pool. Give these lenses a chance.

The lens that I love the most at the moment, is an enlarger lens that I use whenever possible: Componon-S 80mm. I like this more than Tamron 90mm. Sample photos taken with Componon-S 80mm are as follows:

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Daniel D. Teoli Jr. 05 February 2022 - 08:56

Have you found a particular enlarging lens maker that outperforms the rest? Do the enlarging lenses perform better resolution wise when reversed?

Güray Dere 28 July 2022 - 13:48

When the enlarger lenses are reversed, they give better results in terms of sharpness and their working distance increases. These characteristics become more pronounced as the magnification increases.

My personal favorite is Componon-S 80mm f4.0. It works very well at 1x magnification and below and is very comfortable for general use. APO Rodagons and APO Componons are even better. The focal length can be selected depending on personal preference and magnification level. 50mm gives higher magnification. 28mm gives even higher.


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