Analog Minilab Printers

Discussion in 'Enlarging' started by Stephen Frizza, Sep 22, 2007.

  1. Stephen Frizza

    Stephen Frizza Member

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    I have always disliked what the new digital minilab printers produce from my film. It doesn't accurately represent the films characteristics. rather just a digital interpretation of them. which effects the colour saturation, film grain and much more etc...

    I'de like some feedback regarding peoples opinions when it comes to getting Minilab prints made. Im a world where more and more minilabs are going digital
    and your film is being scanned then electronically interpreted before being output via a digital exposure device are you as an alalog photographer
    happy with a digital print of your analog material? or do you still prefer your work to be printed by analog minilab machines?

    ~ Steve Frizza
    The Lighthouse Lab
     
  2. roteague

    roteague Member

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    Steve, good question.

    I use digital printing, via Chromira or LightJet, to Fuji Crystal Archive paper, almost exclusively. I know this isn't the question you asked, but a preface to my answer. I find this process accurately represents my transparencies, if, care is given to processing the resulting scan.

    However, I recently had two rolls of 35mm negative film processed and printed in a digital minilab, and the results were horrible. The scans were poorly done, resulting in noisy prints. Fortunately, these were only test rolls. This is the first I have done in years, so I don't have any real experience with this process.

    I plan on continuing the high end process using high end processors, but won't use the minilabs again.
     
  3. PHOTOTONE

    PHOTOTONE Member

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    As more and more minilabs print from digital files, it is almost impossible to keep a pure analog printer/processor operating, as the chemistry has to be used and replenished on a daily basis to stay "in control". If you want your film characteristics to be preserved thru optical printing, you are going to have to make your own darkroom prints. It is just a fact of life, and really good for analog in the long-run that all the modern mini-labs can accept film negatives and slides as well as digital files for printing. Economically, the only way this has been possible is thru the use of dual-purpose equipment, but that entails an operator scanning your film. Good operators can make very fine prints from scanned color film.
     
  4. isaacc7

    isaacc7 Member

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    With competent operators, I prefer the digital minilabs. There is more contrast control available with the new machines, that alone makes me happy. If you're worried about "film characteristics," I would say that minilabs in general are the wring things to be using. Even the (more recent) analog machines make many adjustments color-wise, and God only knows about the paper and it's chemistry state. If you really want to see how films differ from one another, you're going to have to print things yourself. Another possibility is to use slide film now that it is so easy to get prints from them...

    Isaac
     
  5. Chan Tran

    Chan Tran Member

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    I frequent this forum because I do my own color printing and the reason that I do my own color printing because there is no more analog minilab available. My problem with digital printing is that print of any size is limited to about 300dpi and that far less resolution than possible with an analog system.
     
  6. roteague

    roteague Member

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    I hate to break it to you, but the human eye is only capable of resolving around 300dpi anyway.
     
  7. Phillip P. Dimor

    Phillip P. Dimor Member

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    I used to be the 'lab guy' for a nationwide 1 hour portrait studio. We used RB's w/ a 645 back and 6exp. rolls of 120 portra nc. I printed w/ a San Marco (later acquired by Gretag). There was a dichroic head, nikkor enlarging lenses (a 50 2.8, 80mm, possibly a 135mm) and a lens that produced 4 wallets).
    The film processor was a standard Noritsu (atleast it used the same leaders and looked exactly like a Noritsu) and was built into the side of this machine.
    There was a knob, you'd spin it and would be able to rotate the turret inside the machine, printing an 8x10, 3.5x5's, 11x14's with the push of a few buttons. It was extremely satisfying to use and was only quirky when the paper cutter decided to die during a holiday printing marathon.

    The quality BLEW AWAY a Noritsu DLS 2711. We're talking large digital files (the max that the Kodak DIM would accept without choking), 120, 4x5's that were scanned on a flatbed.

    Honestly, I was never satisfied w/ the quality of the 2711 prints. Even the newer LED-based systems did not impress me. The ultimate test for me was a print with an extreme dof and a smooth background that has a bit of tonality or transition between tones. You could almost always see the noise, even with a machine that you calibrate for 20-50 minutes each day.
    Feed it a black and white 35mm negative that you have printed yourself at home and you will see..

    The gretag was smoooooth with it's nikkor lenses and film. I don't think there are many optical printers out there in commercial use. The company I worked for went the digital route via Camerz and (probably noritsu printers and kiosks).

    I can honestly say that the 11x14's we printed of ugly kids every day were absolutely gorgeous and blew away anything and everything i've ever seen come out of a Noritsu QSS w/ DLS or led lightpath. I've no working experience w/ the Frontier but it's probably pretty close.
    Sorry for the length but this is something that i've been kind of passionate about for a while.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 23, 2007
  8. bob100684

    bob100684 Member

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    Closely comparing my prints from 35mm that I printed myself on both a frontier 340 and a fuji SFA optical minilab, I prefer the SFA. But for most one hour labs the frontier WILL give more consistant results, especially since it prompts operators to run upkeep prints and doesn't drift nearly as much as the SFA does.


     
  9. Stephen Frizza

    Stephen Frizza Member

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    The reason I am asking the opinions of analog minilab verses digital Is that I am a Pro Lab owner based in Sydney Australia where I have available to me a high throughput of film and would have no problems keeping an analog machine online.

    It also happens that I have both a digital and an analog machine, but I am more inclined to launch the analog system instead of the digital. I thank everyone for their opinions, I was really curious to find peoples preferences for the visual result of the prints. As to weather they prefer the punched up digital output that doesn't truly represent the film or the analog print which gives truer representation of the films characteristic.

    Many thanks

    ~Steve Frizza
    The Lighthouse Lab
     
  10. Aurelien

    Aurelien Advertiser Member

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    I have bought an analog minilab, so in a few times, I will offer services of printing films from disc format to 6*7.
     
  11. isaacc7

    isaacc7 Member

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    I do think that if you have a good neg and don't require various cropping and contrast adjustments and don't care abut printing from transparencies, an analog machine (with a good operator) can produce excellent quality results. I do think that it is important to remember the primary purpose of a minilab machine though, decent prints in a short amount of time. From a business perspective, I can't imagine using anything but a digital machine. There are just too many options available from a digital machine like printing from slides, easier cropping, potential contrast adjustment, the ability to print borders (in whatever color you want, even with cropping), simultaneous burning to cd, and the list goes on. I do agree that there can be some minor issues with certain types of prints, but for the minilab's bread and butter, 4x6 prints, the digital machine is tough to beat from a business perspective and pretty damn good from an image quality perspective...

    Isaac
     
  12. Chan Tran

    Chan Tran Member

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    My eyes as of now can't see much without glasses. But with a loupe I can clearly see the different.
     
  13. Ross Chambers

    Ross Chambers Member

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    Dear Stephen,

    As far as the local Sydney parish pump goes:

    I was lazy enough to leave 2 rolls of 120 Fuji 400H in 6x4.5 format with a Springwood minilab, rather than take them to the recognised Sydney labs and he sub-contracted to I know not whom. As I understand it his supplier furnished him with a digital file in some format or other, which he printed.

    It was appalling, lumpy pixels even to my aged eyesight and cropped to 35mm format.

    Subsequently, and as the rolls were to some extent a test of a new camera, I asked Vision Graphics to make a full on photographic 8x10 print which was fine, and reassured me that I did still have some basic sense of composition.

    I don't shoot much colour, I handle my own B/W, I wouldn't deal with a non pro lab in the future with the occasional roll of colour.

    Regards - Ross
     
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  15. PHOTOTONE

    PHOTOTONE Member

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    The bottom line, to me, is that an optical printer requires more operator training and skill than a digital scan-n-print. If you have a skilled operator an optical mini-lab print can be superior, but how can you be assured that the machine is being operated by someone skilled in its operation and upkeep?
     
  16. isaacc7

    isaacc7 Member

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    I disagree, I feel that it takes more training and experience to not only operate, but get the most out of a digital minilab. If nothing else, there are many more options, and the digital side has all sorts of potential problems. With an analog machine, you have to balance it and take car of the chemistry. The digital has that, plus all of the digital stuff. I do think that optical printing has the potential to be better, especially with enlargements, but the neg has to be good and the machine spot on. There's a little more "give" with the digital...

    Isaac
     
  17. allenying

    allenying Member

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    hi, so it's been 8 years since this discussion was happening.
    i take it now there for sure are no analog minilab prints being done anywhere?

    how was it that 4x6 prints from the 1 hr lab and pharmacy in the late 1990s, were so good?

    i've recently become re-interested in 4x6 prints, and i think it's strange that the lab will make a digital minilab 4x6 print for $1-$2, which the machine scans the film, but if i wanted the scan it could cost more.
     
  18. Paul Howell

    Paul Howell Member

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    In the U.S there are not many minilabs left at all, let alone a 20 year old analog lab. The 2 labs in the metro Phoenix area are both digital. A 4X6 at my local lab costs is $18.00 for a 36 exposure roll, includes film development, about $.50 a print.
     
  19. Stephen Frizza

    Stephen Frizza Member

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    Since making my original post I acquired a Noritsu 2301 with a 35mm and 120 neg mask and lenses. I assume I'm the last person in Sydney who still owns an analog minilab printer in functional condition.
     
  20. Paul Howell

    Paul Howell Member

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    Is it for personal use?
     
  21. allenying

    allenying Member

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    it would be amazing if they made a smart enlarger machine - analog light enlarging the negative, computer or laser accuracy, for size, compositin/crop, color, maybe even adjust light brightness for a computerized dodge/burn/filter. or maybe that wouldn't be analog enough. but at least you could have true optical prints, skipping the whole scan, edit, output sharpen process, and maybe more affordable than hand printing. i'm coming from a position if being in nyc where so far the affordable rental darkrooms aren't pro quality, and i enjoy shooting more than the darkroom, but i'm willing to take the extra time and effort for analog prints.

    how hard was it to acquire an analog minilab? and how are the prints working out?
     
  22. Stephen Frizza

    Stephen Frizza Member

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    Yes pretty much personal use. I would put it into commercial use if there was a big enough job.
     
  23. Stephen Frizza

    Stephen Frizza Member

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    they are dime a dozen you can find them easily on ebay and multiple refurbish companies around the world.
     
  24. EdSawyer

    EdSawyer Member

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    The cost of the machines isn't the real burden, it's giving them enough throughput to make it viable. They arent' the kind of machines you fire up once in a while, they really need to be running constantly/regularly to be useful. I've run Noritsus in the past, that could print up to 11x14 in addition to the smaller sizes, and they made nice prints but the maintenance and chemistry consumption was significant.

    There are still analog minilabs out there, being run commercially. Check some of the other threads. I miss the days when these were in wide usage too, I had a local Ritz Camera that did amazing 4x6s (analog) from their minilab.
     
  25. Paul Howell

    Paul Howell Member

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    I am impressed, takes a lot of work, the minilabs I have used, Fuji, analog and Frontier used 220, the Frontier 3 phase, I don't remember the drain set up, and buying paper in rolls is expensive. Can you still get parts? Do you have a film developer as well. How many prints to you make in a month?
     
  26. Theo Sulphate

    Theo Sulphate Member

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    In the 1990's and early 2000's, when use of 35mm film was very common, I could take my film to any of dozens of stores and get good results. At 4x6 or 5x7, which I considered "proofs", the images were sharp and the color was acceptable. The photos I really liked could then be taken to a pro lab to make a really nice enlargement.

    For me, that stopped about five years ago. The few stores still having labs now process about five rolls of film per week instead of 700 rolls per week. Consequently, they don't change the chemicals as often nor do they calibrate the machine as often. Soon, that large expensive machine taking up valuable floor space and employee time would disappear. I stopped going to them for color development when I kept having gunk deposited on my negatives from unclean rollers or having my negatives come out mottled because the temperature was too high.

    I then switched to a custom lab which does a great job developing the film and their printing of color is superb. However, their prints, even at 4x6 or 5x7 were very soft. I noticed it immediately. They and I couldn't agree - they claimed I was used to "digital sharpening" by the minilabs (this lab does optical printing). Well, I would take a negative, a shot of the city, and their print would have all the writing you would see on street signs, building signs, etc., blurry. At work I put the negative under a Leica MZ6 stereo microscope (we've got plenty) and cranked it to 40x -- even the smallest, most distant, lettering was sharp. If it's sharp on the negative, it should be sharp on the print. Certainly so if I'm looking at large lettering at only 8x. I try hard not to be a pixel peeper or grain peeper, preferring the image as a whole, but their soft printing was too distracting.

    My cost-effective solution was to have them develop my negatives and have the minilabs print it.

    But now all the minilabs in my area are gone. I've done B&W darkroom work in the past, but never color printing. It's either that or send my work out of state.

    I don't know if digital or optical printing is better, but it seems the operator is the most important element.
     
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