The term “pixel peeping” might be a product of the digital age, but the concept of critically eyeballing the details of a photograph go way back to the earliest days of photography. Back when film was king, the only way to “zoom in” to see exactly how good your lens-focusing skills were was to view your transparencies and negatives through a loupe.
During the heyday of film photography, the most popular loupes were manufactured by Schneider Kreuznach. Schneider loupes, as they were most commonly called, were the gold standard among professional photographers and picture editors. Unlike cheaper plastic loupes (such as the equally loved—and often swiped—Agfa loupe, or as it’s known today, the Kalt AGFA 8x Loupe), Schneider loupes were sharp corner to corner and never displayed color aberrations. When you viewed pictures through a Schneider loupe, you saw exactly what you captured—warts and all.
Film loupes are basically magnifying glasses, but in place of handles they feature circular, flat-bottomed “skirts” that are designed to rest flat on the surface of the negative or slide. Most loupes have clear skirts that allow light to pass through them, which enables you to edit contact sheets. For editing slides and negatives, which are typically backlit on a lightbox, many loupes come with opaque skirts that snap in place of the clear skirt for reflection-free viewing.
The viewing ocular is located on the top of the loupe, and with the exception of some of the less-expensive models, it is usually adjustable to match your eyesight best. It should be of no surprise that the finest loupes feature glass optics, either simple or compound. Plastic loupes, while adequate for rough editing and sorting, are typically not as reliable for critical editing. If details matter to you, stick to a loupe with glass optics.
Available in a choice of magnification strengths, loupes designed for editing 35mm slides and negatives were typically in the 4x to 5x magnification range, which allowed for corner-to-corner viewing without having to move one’s eye back and forth across the ocular. For viewing medium-format transparencies and negatives (6 x 4.5, 6 x 6, 6 x 7, and 6 x 9), 3x was the recommended magnification.
If you primarily edit contact sheets and prints, there is a select group of loupes containing LED light sources that distribute an even spread of light across the print surface.
$5.95 or $350—Which Loupe Is the Best One for You?
B&H stocks film-editing loupes with magnifications of up to 40x, and with prices ranging from $5.95 to more than $350. While you probably do not need the priciest or highest magnification loupe to best serve your needs, it’s nice to know they’re available if you need one. The following is an overview of a half-dozen of the many loupes we currently stock at B&H. If you are a film shooter, a box of donuts says one of these loupes will serve you well!
Levenhuk Zeno Gem M1 Magnifier (10x)
The least-expensive loupe sold at B&H is the 10-power Levenhuk Zeno Gem M1 Magnifier. Made from optical-quality plastic and designed primarily for jewelry and watch repair technicians, this loupe with its 10x magnification is too powerful for full-frame viewing of 35mm negatives and slides, but quite useful for “grain-peeping” smaller details within the image area. It has a fixed-focus ocular.
Peak 5x Round Stand Magnifier
The Peak 5x Round Stand Magnifier is a fine inexpensive loupe with a 34mm viewing field, which enables not-quite-full-frame viewing of 35mm slides and negatives. Designed primarily for editing slides and negatives on a lightbox, this loupe features an aspheric fixed-focus ocular.
Carson MagniTouch MT-33 3x Touch-Activated Loupe
Carson’s MagniTouch MT-33 3x Touch-Activated Loupe is an excellent choice for editing contact sheets and close examination of prints, documents, and stamps. Featuring an optical glass ocular and a trio of touch-activated LED lamps that evenly illuminate the print surface, this loupe has a twist-action zoom ring that magnifies the surface of the print by up to 3x. The loupe’s LEDs are powered by a pair of CR2016 batteries. The MagniTouch MT-33 comes with a zippered case and microfiber cloth. Though primarily designed with print viewing in mind, it can serve equally well when editing slides, transparencies, and negatives.
Peak Stand Loupe 8x with Neck String
Along with the 4x Schneider loupe, the Peak Stand Loupe 8x with Neck String is an excellent workhorse of a loupe from another time and place. Designed primarily for editing 35mm slides and negatives, this loupe features a dual-element, all-glass achromatic ocular and a clear acrylic base. It comes with a neck strap, which is handy when multitasking or when editing film in heavy-traffic areas where things tend to “walk” if left unattended.
Peak 8-16x Pro Zoom Loupe
The Peak 8-16x Pro Zoom Loupe is a serious loupe. It features a well-corrected optical glass ocular and a machined aluminum housing with a multi-groove screw-focusing helicoid. The magnification range is 8 to 16x, and you have a choice of click stops for 8x, 10x, 14x, and 16x magnifications, or you can “zoom in” steplessly from 8 to 16x to view the details of your slides, negatives, and prints.
Peak 4x Anastigmatic Loupe with One Scale
If clarity and precision are high on your list of priorities when it comes to optics, you’ll want to check out the Peak 4x Anastigmatic Loupe with One Scale. The optical system on this loupe, which is designed to minimize, if not eliminate, astigmatism, field curvature, and other aberrations, allows you to inspect image areas critically on negatives and filmstrips measuring 32 x 45mm, or objects measuring up to 58mm in diameter.
To quicken workflow, the ocular of the loupe is designed in a way that enables you to scan the entire field of view by simply moving your eye. As a design aid, a metric scale with a crosshair reticle makes it possible to measure objects directly on the film plane.
Have or do you use film loupes? If so, do you have a favorite or any tips for choosing one? Let us know in the Comments section, below.
I used to work in the Loupes, Light boxes, and Presentation section at B&H and this was a great overview of our top sellers, of which I'd highly recommend the Peak Stand 8x. I always loved showing off the Schneider 6x7 loupe, kinda regret never investing in one. I, too, still have a beat up Schneider 4x that gets a weekly workout on the Kaiser thin light box.
Well, it's nice to know I hit all the right notes from somebody who knows the subject better than I.
Thanks for the feedback.