Analog color printing vs you-know-what

Discussion in 'Color: Film, Paper, and Chemistry' started by rexp, Aug 27, 2007.

  1. rexp

    rexp Member

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    Having shot many a roll of color film over the years, I have often been frustrated with trying to get "nice" enlargements (larger than 4x6). I remember sometime in the early 80's being very PO'd with the process of trying to get a print made the way I thought it should be made and going back several times before either giving up or running out of money. Events like this finally drove me away from "mildly serious" photography for a number of years.

    I eventually got back into the darkroom, and again discovered the joys of printing B&W. I still shoot quite a bit of my work in B&W, and don't think I will ever quit. HOWEVER, there is the lurking desire to be able to hang nice color prints on occasion.

    So here's my dilemma... Why is it so danged easy to get NICE color photos from a digigizmo? I swear the first time I had an 8x12 color print made from a digital file I almost fell over. I had it printed at Sam's Club. 4 weeks ago I had a 20"x30" print made of my nephew I took during a little league game. I am still astonished! There is absolutely no way that " I " could have ever gotten a print of similar quality back when film was king, certainly not for $12! I am not convinced I could do it now if I had used film.

    Many folks sing praises to slide film, but slides & I haven't "clicked" just yet. I like prints, prints to hang on the wall. Maybe slides are a great way to get there, and maybe someone can tell me the way to make it work.

    Anyway, reading about Robert's purchase of an F6 (Which by the way I admire, and wish I could also have - cracking camera) brought these thoughts to the surface again. I use an F4 and FE2, and have been thinking about an F100, but I hesitate to think about trying to get good color enlargements from film. How do others do it??

    I apologize if I have touched any raw nerves, but I am sure others have struggled with this issue. Maybe someone can steer me straight.
     
  2. naturephoto1

    naturephoto1 Subscriber

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    This is the comment that I made in a different thread earlier this evening:

    For the last 12 1/2 years, Bill Nordstrom (LaserLight Phtographics and EverColor Fine Art) and I have been making digital scans of my 35mm, Medium Format (Rollei 3.5 F 12/24 Planar and Mamiya 7II) and my 4 X 5 (Linhof and Toho) transparencies. We standardly have made raw files (for storage purpose if we need such large prints) of about 225 to 300 mb. We usually work from much smaller digital files to print my work up to 20" X 30" or 24" X 30" but we have the raw files to print still larger. Originally we printed digitally through a 4 color separation method (4 separate CMYK perfectly registered negatives) which were later changed to 3 color RGB files for printing on the LightJet or Chromira Digital printers.

    Rich
     
  3. Mick Fagan

    Mick Fagan Subscriber

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    I get very good enlargements from film, by using my darkroom!

    Electronic enlargements are different, they do not have the same look, that is just the way it is.

    Recently I was in Germany and met up with two German members of APUG. I brought a box of 8x10" prints, of which about 20 or so were colour. They were reasonably amazed at the subtle difference between the colour prints they had been used to seeing in the last few years, and my prints.

    Possibly the major difference is the seamless merging of one colour to another. I think an electronic colour print is very good, I just prefer my own way of doing it, so do the people who receive colour prints from me.

    Mick.
     
  4. mcfactor

    mcfactor Member

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    Color analogue printing is simply more time-consuming. The great thing about digital is that after the initial setup, there is little color correction needed. once you have profiles you dont need to go through a long color correction process. With analogue printing, every negative is different and thus takes more time. However, the colors that you can get from a c-print are just as good, if not better (or simply the same with lightjet) than digital. It was unclear in your post whether you printed yourself or got a lab to do it. There really is no substitute for printing yourself. (this is slightly off topic but) the reason i dislike most digital printing is that i need to go through a lab and thus lose a measure of control. But trust me, you can get incredible prints from the analogue process.
     
  5. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I haven't printed my own color in years (I used to do Cibachrome and RA-4 prints), but after having LightJet, Chromira, and Frontier prints for a few years, a friend gave me a really nice color print on Fuji Crystal Archive that she had made from a neg that I watched her expose with a 35mm camera, and it looked so nice and accurate, I asked if it was a LightJet, and she informed me that it was a regular projection print made in the darkroom. I just hadn't seen so many for a while.

    I think one of the reasons I liked it was that the texture was different. There was no artificial sharpening and the grain pattern looked like film. There was none of the grain aliasing that sometimes shows up in Chromira prints, and the color was perfect without any Photoshop tricks.

    With today's great color films, maybe it's time to start doing my own color again.
     
  6. srs5694

    srs5694 Member

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    I'll take this specific question to be mostly rhetorical, but I'll give a "sideways" answer to it that might well ruffle some feathers here: You can always scan your negatives and get digital prints made that way. This will almost certainly be easier than doing color printing in a darkroom, although the results will be slightly different (see others' comments). Note that a film scanner capable of producing a high enough resolution to handle the print sizes you mention (8x12-inch to 20x30-inch) is likely to be fairly expensive, though.

    One other comment: In the 1980s, the process for producing prints from negatives was called EP-2, IIRC (from Kodak, anyhow; I'm not sure if there were competing color processes at that time). Today, the equivalent process is RA-4. I've only been doing color darkroom printing for a couple of years, so I can't comment from personal experience; however, it's my understanding that there's much less batch-to-batch variation in RA-4 materials than there was in EP-2 materials. This is likely to make it easier to get consistent results when you finish one box of paper and open the next, at least assuming you stick to one brand and type of paper.

    If your objection to slide film has to do with the slide film "look," then you can ignore this; however, if it's solely a matter of getting prints, there are ways to do it. One is the digital solution I've just mentioned. The other is a traditional "wet" darkroom approach. Unfortunately, the only current product for this is Ilfochrome, which has become ridiculously expensive -- something like 5-10 times as expensive as RA-4 materials, IIRC. That said, it's possible to reversal-process RA-4 material, but this tends to produce slightly odd results. You might luck out and get good color for some subjects, but for the most part I'd reserve this process for getting deliberately odd colors. The effect isn't as extreme as cross-processing slide film in C-41 chemistry, but it is a bit off.

    It's difficult to answer this question because standards vary so much. What I consider a "good color enlargement" you might consider worthy of nothing but the circular file, or vice-versa. That said, and speaking as somebody who has yet to master color enlargements from negatives (I've been doing them for a bit under two years), I'd give the following advice:

    • Shoot a gray card, or better yet a color chart, on each roll of film (if you shoot roll film). This will give you a reference target to use in setting your color balance; you can compare the print directly to your reference target to judge the color quality.
    • Invest in a color analyzer. Even a poor one is likely to get you to within 10 cc of the correct color setting, making it easier to get to the optimum point.
    • Do color test prints. I use an 8-up print frame (eight 2.5x3.5-inch prints on one 8x10-inch sheet of paper). This gives me two frames for exposure tests (I usually split each of these in two) and six frames to vary the cyan, magenta, and yellow filtration up and down. This is tedious, but in combination with an estimate from the color analyzer or simply a similar earlier roll of film or print, I can usually get good color balance after doing one test print.
    • Use a single brand and type of film, a single brand and type of paper, a single brand and type of C-41 chemistry, and a single brand and type of RA-4 chemistry. If you're extremely consistent, color balance will vary less from one roll to another or from one printing session to another.
    • Practice, practice, practice. There's nothing like it!
     
  7. stevewillard

    stevewillard Member

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    I do all of my own color printing using color negative film printed on Fujicolor Crystal Archive super type C paper. I develop the film and prints myself. I use both a JOBO processor and Fujimoto roller transport to make prints.

    The only digital prints I find acceptable for fine-art work are prints made from the Lightjet5000 printer. I believe they as good as the prints I make in my darkroom optically. I have seen prints from other process that print on traditional photographic papers, but find them to be marginal at best. I can spot an Inkjet print from twenty paces, and I do not like them either. Unfortunately, Lightjet5000 prints are expensive. I am not sure what it cost to produce a high quality 16x20 lightjet print, but I can make the same size print using the same paper for less than $1.40 in my darkroom.

    It takes about five minutes to make a single archival print independent of its size. I make prints up to 30x40 from my 5x7 film and 20x50 from my 4x10 film.

    Many people believe my prints are Cibrachrome prints because of the brilliant colors, and when I say they are RA-4 prints they are very surprised.
     
  8. roteague

    roteague Member

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    Check out Bob Carnie's Ilfochromes, printed on a Lambda. You will be greatly surprised.
     
  9. Snapshot

    Snapshot Member

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    I've started to produce my colour enlargements for the first time this year. After a little practice, I was producing some nice prints. I can imagine it's frustrating to see good results easily produced elsewhere but they're generally using expensive equipment designed to produce colour prints.

    With a little persistence, I now have beautiful colour prints that I'm very pleased with hanging on my walls.
     
  10. Matt5791

    Matt5791 Subscriber

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    I just started to do my own colour printing (from Neg - RA4) in the darkroom.

    I am very new to this, but first observations are:

    1. A LOT easier than I was expecting

    2. A lot easier to find the correct filtration than I was expecting - it seems that you only have to adjust the filters a very small amount to make a big difference - which is handy because then you dont throw out your exposure too much.

    3. I have a Durst Printo roller transport machine - originally bought for mass processing of monochrome - I think that this makes the colour processing very easy as it maintains temperature etc. and once it goes in it is light tight so you can turn the lights on again.

    4. The mixed dev. and blix seem to last for weeks once mixed up (I am using the Tetenal 35 deg. kit, which can also be replensished).

    5. It's economical

    6. You can be printing fantastic quality prints very quickly.

    7. The paper is exceedingly 'fast' - which I like because I hate hanging around for long exposures. (I've been using Fuji Crystal Archive)

    8. The quality of prints are MUCH better than I get from my local pro-lab from their Noritsu. - I guess this is because, in my darkroom, it is "pure analogue" with no digital bits in-between.

    I keep trying to post my first print, but I seem to have problems with posting photos at present.

    Matt
     
  11. Bob Carnie

    Bob Carnie Subscriber

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    I print optically and digitally on a Lambda 76, RA4 , Cibachrome, B&W Fibre, and as well digitally with Epson.

    At our shop it is a 50-50 split optically to digitally.
    Colour it is more like a 85-15 split with the emphasis on digital.

    Coming from an unique perspective I will say the following.

    a very good negative, a very good digital capture/process, a very good scan, will in turn produce a very good print, if you do all the right things.
    Someone mentioned practice, practice , practice, I would like to add to that sentiment.*garbage in garbage out*
    Each process has its different characteristics / look /temperment / and value .

    I don't think that one can tell the difference between a optical print and a Lambda/Lightjet/Chromira print all things being equal.
    The difference is in the technician rather than the processes.
    We are testing the differences betwee optical, film DSLR, Phase and those big betterlight backs and will be in a position to have a apples to apples dead nuts comparison, but the organizing a fair comparison is a big undertaking as well as considering the different approaches to the end result it is daunting.

    Each process will have its rightful place , as an output choice and photographers will be able to select a process that meets their particular vision.
    Is one better than the other , I guess it will depend upon your likes/dislikes.

    I embarked on this digital Lambda ordeal about 4 years ago, after 22years of analoge only printing, first on a sister labs unit until we could buy one ourselves. It is a very long, long learning curve and I will admit I do not use digital cameras,*yet* I love enlarger prints for fibre,lith, and solarization, but I have to say I prefer lambda prints for colour for reasons that may not be obvious.
    In my past , and I am sure a lot of you will remember , masking colour prints, ciba and colour neg, Do you remember the pain envoled???
    We could only go so far enchancing or correcting colours or contrast. Now those tools are in our hands and most of my digital work is concentrating on working with complimentary colour pallets to make a colour image sing.
    I find this very satisfying and am glad that the digital revolution came soon enough for me to apply what I knew in my heart was possible but just outside of the reach of my skills.
    I now have the best of worlds, a fully equiped darkroom as well as digital skills to make prints on our Lambda.

    I really thing the dig/trad argument is silly, as the best work being produced today, is by people that work hard on their process and practice , practice , practice as srs5694 says.
     
  12. jpeets

    jpeets Member

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    A voice of reason.

    To some extent, these could be considered somewhat different media, and saying one is better than another is a bit akin to saying that a watercolor is better than an oil painting ......

    Apart from esthetics, one consideration, if selling your prints, is longevity. Here again, it's up to the photographer to choose, and be forthright with buyers. What is an "archival" color print when comparing to a traditional archival toned silver black and white print? How do the various color media compare for potential longevity?

    I recently did a show where a couple came in, and told me of buying a fine art color print back in the 80's. After a few years of display (under glass), it was faded and beyond redemption. They were clearly unhappy with the experience, and I wonder if they will ever buy a color "fine art" print again.

    Just to say that there are many factors to assess when choosing your medium.
     
  13. filmnut

    filmnut Member

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    As a professional printer since the mid seventies, I will concur with Bob Carnie. We went from totally analogue now we're totally digital. I'm printing on a Durst Lambda using Fuji RA4 colour papers, and the quality is extremely good, no injet system is nearly as good as this, at least nothing that I've seen.
    The best thing is the flexibilty we now have to fix problems, although one still can't make a silk purse from a cow's ear!
    I had a number of masking tricks that I accumulated over the years that I used to use solve problems for my customers. Some were to decrease contrast(especially Ilforchrome, nee Ciba), others to increase contrast, to compensate for faded out trannies, and even to correct for cross-curved negs due to miss processing, and a few others. All these worked to some extent or another, sometimes very well, but often my best results fell short of the ideal, so now we can do much more and easier.
    That all said, for a while I had the opourtunity to do optical and and digital enlargments side by side, and if you have that "perfect" neg, the optical print will look as good, or better than the Lambda print. In particular sharpness would suffer as the scanning process would introduce a bit of "generational loss", but not as much a full optical system would, it seemed worse with small fornat originals. At the time we had the option of either a high resolution Kodak Photo CD scan, or the Howtek drum scanner. The Photo CD was remarkably close to the the Howtek in quality, but not quite. So the scans we were able to do were very good.
    Another poster commented on the consistency of the colour papers, yes they are way better, and the chemistry is much more stable as well.
    But getting back to the OP's question, its' really a combination of technological advances that has made it so easy to get decent prints, not spectacular, but good ones, most of the time. The spectacular ones still need that special combination of a good original, and top notch printing skills, whether or not it is done totally analogue, or a hybrid system such as the Lambda, or even full digital. The "vision" of person creating the print, is just as important as the tools they use to do it.
    The colour stability of the new papers is much better now than in the eighties, or even the nineties, for that matter, but of course Ciba/Ilfochrome has always been the king for display longevity.
    But I still have my home darkroom, and I am doing more traditional B&W printing at home than ever before, on fibre and RC. I don't really ever want to stop making enlargments from my enlarger!!
    Keith
     
  14. roteague

    roteague Member

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    What a lot of people don't get is that digital capture (DSLR) technology is not the same as digital printing. They hear the word "digital" and go ballistic. I've used the Chromira/Fuji Crystal Archive route for sometime and I am quite happy with it. However, as much as I like this process, I haven't seen anything to touch Bob Carnie's Lambda/Ilfochrome prints.
     
  15. Bob Carnie

    Bob Carnie Subscriber

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    Thanks Robert
    I'm blushing,
    Maybe I can put together some prints from your files for Arts Liems deal in Conneticut in Jan and possibly for foto3 .
    I would like to make some lambda cibas and lamda flex prints off the same files to show the dead nuts comparisons.
    BTW the difference is subtle between the two materials, but to a good eye you will immediately see the difference.
     
  16. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    This has been a very enlightening thread. Over the years, I've mainly shot color - almost exclusively slides (good old Kodachrome) in the past - more and more color negative nowadays.

    When I only shot slides I was content to just project them to view (although in years past I did have a couple of favorites printed at a pro lab). Nowadays, whether slides or negatives, I've been scanning all my shots (usually in RAW/NEF but more and more in TIFF for ease of sharing).

    While my main intention is to start displaying them on an HDTV-type monitor - I'd like to try my hand at (dare I say it) digital printing. The problem is, quite frankly, I fear the obsolesence factor. I'd be more than willing to drop a couple of kilobucks on a quality printer - but fear that six or twelve months later I'll wind up with an out-of-date boat anchor. But I'm open to suggestions anyway about a good printer.
     
  17. roteague

    roteague Member

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    That would be great. I just provided my New Zealand photo of Lake Pukaki for Fuji UK if you are interested in using it.
     
  18. rexp

    rexp Member

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    Wow - lots of well thought info. I think I need a stiff drink, and some time to back up & think about the direction my printing should go. I like Bob's comment regarding likes & dislikes. It comes down to doing things that produce a result that >I< like. Since few others will ever see my work, it makes some sense to please the bloke that will view the majority of it - me.

    The fact that the folks I give prints to (and for the few I have sold) are pretty happy with my output is just gravy.

    Thanks for the input, I am continually amazed by the knowledge & sharing on this site.

    Rum anyone? I hear the Captain calling....
    rexp
     
  19. paulie

    paulie Member

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    ra4 in the darkroom rocks, i get stunning 20x16 prints from 35mm film using a pentax 28mm f3.5.

    i rate printing difficulty like this

    rc black and white is the easiest to do in a darkroom
    then colour ra4, it really is that easy
    then fibre black and white

    i dont know why people make a fuss over it, it takes me 20 min per 20x16 print and the cost 1 euro each in materials

    no 20 grand lay out on digi rubbish, i personally think inkjets are for printing text, everything else they suck at

    get a grip and buy some colour paper before they discontinue it

    save RA4, as it is getting very close to extinction
     
  20. Ektagraphic

    Ektagraphic Member

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    I personally can't say I have ever printed color by darkroom myself (yet), but I have sent some negs off to have analog prints made from them and there was a world of a diffrence! People couldn't believe what they saw. The 400 speed film was a little to grainy, but the colors were just beautiful. It makes me want to never have a digital print again.
     
  21. Matt5791

    Matt5791 Subscriber

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    That's a little strong - RA4 is in use in all mini labs accross the world, printing from digital files and negs. And for uses such as exhibition prints from Chromira / Lambda printers - which are digital.

    Do you mean Sheet packs are close to extinction? Fuji already killed sheet paper.

    I agree that colour printing is straightforward.

    Matt
     
  22. BetterSense

    BetterSense Member

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    In complete seriousness, what materials do you use and where do you buy them? Last time I looked into doing color negative in my darkroom the price and shelf life of the chemicals is what killed it for me.
     
  23. Bob-D659

    Bob-D659 Member

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    An 8x10 on Kodak paper and chemistry used one shot is approx 80 cents. A 16x20 costs 4x that. You can mix up the chemistry a liter or two at a time and fill the concentrate bottles with inert gas. A 1 or 2 liter soda bottle of working solution of dev or blix lasts approx two months at a minimum if you squeeze the air out. At 70ml of working solution per 8x10 in a Beseler drum, a liter of dev does 14 prints. You can reuse that same 70 ml to process four 2x5 test strips before you do the 8x10. Adorama sells everything you need.
     
  24. Bob-D659

    Bob-D659 Member

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    All you need for colour printing is the hardware and:
    Kodak Ektacolor RA Paper Developer / Replinisher RT, 10 Liters. 8415580 24.95
    Kodak RA Bleach Fixer / Replenisher, 10 Liters. 8309031 24.95
    Kodak Supra Endura Resin Coated Color Enlarging Paper, 8x10,
    50 Sheets, Glossy, "F" Surface, for Prints from Color Negatives $26.95

    Supply your own stop bath and water :smile:

    Enjoy.