A Tale of Two Prints

Digital Photography Sucks

Draw Your Own Conclusions

Enlarger Alignment Laser Module

Fine Art Photography

Knowing What You Want

Miss America and Ansel Adams

Painting versus Photography

Popularity is Overrated

Rare and There

The Art of Printing or Not

The Banality of Ink Jet Prints

Useless Idiot


Enlarger Alignment Laser Module – January 13, 2008

For the most part because of my printing style and focus on portraiture precise enlarger alignment just seemed to be a whole lot more trouble than it was worth. Besides my Saunders 4500 II Enlarger didn’t have any easy mechanisms for precise alignment anyway.

But I’ve been focusing on 8x10 contact prints lately and got used to the resolution and sharpness inherent in that process. And now that I’m going back to a project where I’ll be enlarging negatives to a great degree, I wanted a precisely aligned enlarger to maintain the sharpness that I saw in my contact prints as closely as possible. Since I wasn’t printing portraits, the subject matter demanded all the sharpness I could get, and no matter what I did I always seemed to be disappointed. I knew I could get better results.

So the first thing I wanted to do was precisely align my enlarger. I’d heard about all kinds of tricks involving levels, mirrors, and all sorts of black magic. But by far the most highly recommended tool for enlarger alignment was the Versalab Parallel Alignment Gauge. The problem was it cost $190 and I wasn’t about to spend that kind of money for a piece of glass and a laser module embedded in a box.

So I did some research and found some hints about making my own laser alignment module in the excellent book, Way Beyond Monochrome. So rather than throw away $190 I decided to make my own laser alignment tool.

It turned out to be quite simple actually. First I bought a laser module online for $19 at a place called lasersale.com. Then I went to Lowes and bought a simple round block of wood for about $3. I took the block of wood and drilled a hole straight through, making sure that it was the same diameter as the laser module. I then inserted the laser module in the top of the block and glued it in place. Through the hole in the bottom I connected the laser module to a 3.0v watch battery. On the top of the wood, I also added some white plastic so the reflected laser beam is clearly visible when in use.

Finally I put 3 screws in the bottom of the wood block so even though the laser module might not be perfectly level in the drilled hole, I can adjust the screws to make the entire module precisely level. This can be done by rotating the device while holding it in place and marking the laser trail on the ceiling. If the laser makes more than a single spot on the ceiling as the module rotates through 360 degrees, the laser is not perfectly level. If not, then all you need to do is adjust the screws until it is.

Below is a picture of the finished laser module.

Throw in a mirror and an hour of work and you’ve got a perfectly functional laser enlarger alignment tool for under $30. All you need to do is put the mirror in the negative carrier or hold it against the face of the lens and watch the reflected laser as it returns back down to the white area on top of the alignment tool. If the two planes of interest are aligned the laser will reflect back to itself and you won’t see anything. Otherwise the reflected laser will display a dot somewhere in the white area on top of the alignment module. So all you have to do is adjust the different enlarger planes until the reflected dot disappears and then you’ll know you have perfect enlarger alignment. It’s as simple as that and much better than paying $190 for a tool with the exact same functionality.

Best of all it works. Along with this tool and some masking tape I was able to shim the negative carrier in my enlarger to make it parallel to the surface of my printing easel. Once those two planes were aligned I did the same thing to make the sure the lens plane was parallel to printing easel as well. Once all three planes were aligned I put in a negative in the carrier and lo and behold, my enlarger alignment was perfect. Using a grain focuser I was able to see razor sharp grain across the entire print, including all four corners, while I focused a medium format negative for significant enlargement. Now I’m all set to make razor sharp print, not to mention I saved $160.