View Full Version : printing from 4x5 black and white negatives

brian steinberger
18-Jun-2005, 17:34
i've been getting frustrated with trying to print my own 4x5 negatives with an enlarger in my darkroom basement. so i sent one out the slideprinter in colorado a few weeks ago to have a negative drum scanned, and WOW is it amazing! i'm wondering if anyone else has made a transition to digital scanning and printing of your negatives. i still process my own negatives. have you found any good labs to get to print? or do you print them yourselves? any info here is greatly appreciated! thanks

Daniel Morgan
18-Jun-2005, 17:45
What was frustrating you about printing the 4x5s?

gene LaFord
18-Jun-2005, 18:53
I have the same question - What is so frustrating? I find printing 4x5 negs so much easier than 120 & 35mm. Actually that is such an obvious statement, but printing from 4x5 negs is so enjoyable. Printing should get easier as format gets larger.

Could you let us know more about what is frustrating you?

brian steinberger
18-Jun-2005, 22:09
well i got a beseler 45M enlarger through a merchandiser ad a few months ago for $300. i believe it's a diffusion enlarger. and i cannot for the life of me see sharpness in the enlargements i'm getting. i'm using glossy paper, and the negatives are sharp because i've had them drum scanned and i can see it. could my grain enlarger be cheap? it looks cheap. does the grain enlarger help alot? i should be able to make crisp, sharp enlagements in my basement, but i'm not seeing any difference in the prints i'm making from 35mm and 4x5.

Jorge Gasteazoro
18-Jun-2005, 22:36
Most likely is not the grain focuser but a mis aligned enlarger. Also, you need to focus with a piece of paper of the same thickness as your printing paper under the grain focuser or you will have a bit of softness. Did you close the lens to the middle. If your prints look unsharp it is usually a common problem that can be diagnosed easily.

Another thing, although I have never seen this happen, your enlarger lens could be bad, I would try to aligne the enlarger first tho...

Good luck.

brian steinberger
18-Jun-2005, 22:47
how do i go about aligning my enlarger? and also, will a glass holder be sharper than a glassless one for 4x5?

Daniel Morgan
18-Jun-2005, 22:57
You may also want to consider what your Enlarger is sitting on, when I was doing 30x40 enlargments from my 4x5s the images kept coming out soft because I had mounted the enlarger on a table projecting onto the ground and because of all the extra weight hanging off the table the slightest touch caused it to move just enough to blur the images. Eventually with some counter weights and a careful touch I was able to get sharp prints.

After spending $300 on an enlarger I highly recommend getting to the bottom of this problem so you can print for yourself. There are many issues to be tackled when dealing with 4x5 cameras and film and if you give up printing this soon then before you know it you will be selling your 4x5 for some DSLR. :)

Good Luck, with some careful investigation I am sure you will be able to figure it out, and it will most likely be some silly little thing that you will be kicking yourself over.

Jorge Gasteazoro
19-Jun-2005, 00:24
how do i go about aligning my enlarger? and also, will a glass holder be sharper than a glassless one for 4x5?

You need to have the negative stage, the lens stage and the easel all parallel. There are many ways to do this, the one I found the cheapest and fastest before I bought a laser aligment tool was to expose a negative to regular room light, develop it and once it was dry draw an X from corner to corner. I would place the negative on the negative holder, open the lens to the bigger apperture and examine the projected X on the easel with the grain magnifier. If I saw a part that was out of focus I would fiddle with the negative stage until I got all of the X sharp from corner to corner. Sometimes just fiddling with the negative stage does not work, you might get close but not close enough. If this is the case you need to check the lens stage.

Examine your enlarger, it should have screws at the corresponding stages to be able to adjust them.

You can also use a piece of glass that extends outside of the enlarger so you can place a level on it. You then check the level and see if it is slanted. I could never make this one work for me.

For 4x5 IMO you should not need a glass holder, but it could not hurt. The problem is that you now introduce things like dust etc. It is a trade off.

If your negatives are comming out sharp on a scan, they should come out sharp on the print. All you need to do is spend some time working with your enlarger.

Ken Lee
19-Jun-2005, 05:16
Another factor to consider is vibration. If you are walking around during exposure time, or someone else is dancing upstairs - or you live next to a bowling alley or construction site - then consider that once you get the enlarger aligned, you should brace the top of the rail against the wall with a strong bracket of some kind. It's money well spent.

As to digital scanning, etc.: Many on this list use this technique, and there is a lot to learn about scanners, monitors, computers, printers, ink, paper, software, storage devices, calibration, profiling, metamerism, etc. As someone who has done it and dropped it in favor of traditional methods, I will simply mention that if you want your images to last, then keep in mind that current inkjet output is considered long-lived if, under controlled conditions, a print will not fade for 80 or 100 years. Nobody ever talks about leaving inkjet prints in the sun - nor do they boast about what happens if some raindrops fall on it !

On the other hand, if you need to produce commercial images for a magazine or catalog that will live for only a few years, then there's no need for such measures - unless you consider your own work as art to be preserved.

Glenn Thoreson
19-Jun-2005, 20:52
The 45M is a pain to align. I know, I've been using one for years. Before you do anything, clean and check the condenser lenses. Yes, it was originally a condenser enlarger, unless someone has modified it. Make sure the lenses are installed properly, rounded sides facing each other. Be careful, they are easily chipped. Check the top (round) rail and make sure it is parallel to the base board. There is a screw on the rear of the focus assembly that rests on the lower round rail. This is your forward/back alignment adjustment. There are small screws on the back of the focus track, where the negative stage tension springs are, that take the play out of the focus mechanism. They can also give a wee bit of side to side aligment. Use care with these screws. Too tight, the negative stage sticks and won't close. Too loose, too much slop in the whole thing. I don't use any type of alignment device. I just use a grainy negative and the grain focuser to get all 4 corners sharp. These can be such a pain to keep in alignment that an adjustable lens mount was made to fit this enlarger. They show up on the auction site now and then. I made up an adjusting bracket to do side to side alignment. It works by slightly tilting the lens stage. I also have an extra lamphouse with codenser lenses, old style - no filter drawer, if anyone needs one. A sharp 4X5 neg on this enlarger should make an 8X10 print that will make your eyes bleed.

20-Jun-2005, 17:36
A slower but cheaper alternative to a laser alignment tool or a zig-align is to get a Peak critical focuser. This will allow you to fiddle with alignment until all four corners come into focus. I start by using a level on the easel and the film plane. It's a pain, but that's a solid enlarger and should hold its focus indefinitely.

The 45M does present a unique problem in that there's no way to align the lens stage in all directions. I modified a lensboard with 3 screws to allow easy alignment (had a machinist friend at the time). I copied the design of a zone vi product; you might still be able to find it for sale somewhere, or at least find a picture of it so you can copy it.

I find the results with 4x5 are much sharper with a glass carrier. I won't print without one. Beseler also made a carrier that stretched the neg flat, which was a great idea (I've seen it executed perfectly on designs for a horizontal 8x10 enlarger) but the beseler version scratches the negs. needless to say, i'd go with glass instead, and get used to doing a lot of dusting.

David A. Goldfarb
20-Jun-2005, 19:16
In addition to all the suggestions above--is your grain focuser focused? Normally there is a line or a crosshair visible in the eyepiece, and you can focus the eyepiece on that line or crosshair, and then, if you use a scrap sheet of paper under the grain focuser, the neg will be in focus at least at the point where you focused it. If you wear glasses, you can focus the grain focuser so that you can use it without your glasses. The rest is a matter of alignment and selecting the appropriate aperture, as discussed above.

The drum scan is not an indication of whether the negative is sharp, because the lab is very likely using digital sharpening to a greater or lesser extent, and this can create the appearance of a sharper negative than you actually have. To see if your negatives are really sharp, check them directly with a good loupe on a light table.