Using enlarger lenses for macro photography
Enlarger lenses are excellent flat field lenses that can be purchased at low prices from people who want to get rid of their darkroom equipment. Enlarger lenses are the most valuable darkroom component and they really don’t take up much space after you remove the lens boards.
The majority of enlarger lenses are M39 Leica screw mount. With a M39 to M42 adapter ring, you can mount the enlarger lens on a M42 Pentax universal bellows or use a helicoid extension tube that focuses like a normal lens barrel.
M42 to EF lens adapter, helicoid extension tube, 50mm El-Nikkor enlarger lens and a M39 to M42 adapter ring.
What it looks like after assembly.
This particular helicoid has 17-31mm of extension which is not enough for an 80mm enlarger lens. M42 extension tubes would have to be added for more extension. Vintage M42 bellows are plentiful and inexpensive if you don’t want to spend much for the helicoid.
Are the results worth it?
If you can put together a macro set up with a high quality, Nikkor, Schneider or Rodenstock enlarger lens for less than $150, yes.
Taken with a 50mm f/2.8 El-Nikkor on a Canon 30D.
Lens hacking is all about experimentation with “obsolete” equipment and making images with enlarger lenses is an alternative to an expensive macro lens. Photographers have been using enlarger lenses as macro lenses for decades. Lens manufacturers prefer that you use their latest auto-focus macro lenses instead of a 50 year old enlarger lens.
50mm f/2.8 El-Nikkor on a Canon 10D.
Enlarger lens on a bellows
Here’s a Schneider 135mm Componar mounted on a Asahi Pentax bellows using a M39 to M42 adapter ring. The back of the bellows uses a short extension tube with a M42 to EF lens adapter.
The Componar stops down to f/22 and there is some light loss due to several inches of bellows extension. Lighting is provided by a 400 watt second softbox.
Taken with the 135mm Schneider Componar using a Canon 30D.
Reversed El-Nikkor enlarger lenses
The filter thread for the 50mm f/2.8 El-Nikkor is 40.5mm. Using a 40.5mm to 49mm step-up ring and a 49mm to M42 reversal ring, it can be reverse mounted on the helicoid extension tube or a M42 bellows.
Mint flower taken with the reversed 50mm f/2.8 El-Nikkor shown below
Reversed 50mm f/2.8 El-Nikkor on a 17-31mm helicoid extension tube