Blurry Contact Prints

Discussion in 'Contact Printing' started by gonzo74, Apr 20, 2009.

  1. gonzo74

    gonzo74 Member

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    Hello all,

    I finally tried out printing for the first time last night, and wanted to start with contact prints. The problem, as the title gives away, is that they all turned out blurry. Pretty much unusable. I'm using a Focomat enlarger with a 150 watt bulb. I had the lens opened to 2.8; I have my negatives in the clear protective sleeves and used a Patterson contact printer. The paper is Foma 311 and I used Agfa Neutol Plus at a normal 1+4 dilution. I initially exposed for 10 seconds and developed recommended 60-90 seconds. After the first sheet came out blurry I did try variations of exposure and development. If any one has any suggestions I'd be really grateful, not sure where I am going wrong here...

    (The one thing I noticed is that there is no suggested exposure time for the Fomaspeed, is this usual???)
     
  2. archphoto

    archphoto Member

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    I would take the negatives out of the sleeves and have some pressure onto the neg's and paper.
    Check out with the lights on (without paper) if your neg's lay flat, otherwise you get unsharp results.

    Peter
     
  3. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    The negative should be emulsion to emulsion with the contact paper, and there should be no protective sleeve in order to get good, sharp contact prints.

    The thickness of the sleeve is enough to blur the image.

    PE
     
  4. gonzo74

    gonzo74 Member

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    Ok, then I'll most definitely try it without the plastic sleeve. Is this how it is usually done? I've always read that most people use the plastic to protect the negatives, plus it seems easier to line up the negatives with the paper if they are all in the sleeve. Does my exposure time sound right? I couldn't find information on this paper specifically, thanks again for helping out!
     
  5. jmcd

    jmcd Member

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    It is definitely easier to line up the negatives using the plastic sleeve, but as your responses so far indicate, negatives in direct contact with the paper will produce sharp proofs. It may seem fussy at first, but with practice it gets easy to lay out your negatives directly on the paper. Having used both methods of proofing, I now use the direct contact method, and have bypassed plastic storage sleeves.
     
  6. David William White

    David William White Member

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    I just lay them out on the paper and put a sheet of glass over them to press them flat (glass from an 8x10 or 11x14 picture frame). Set enlarger to project well beyond the area you need to cover (so there is little light fall-off). Use grade 2 filter if you have.

    Find the minimum time for each film type to just get to maximum black through the film rebate (edges) for a mid-aperture exposure via test strip. Record aperture, time, enlarger height, and contrast filter. Use these settings each time, so you don't have to go through the test strip thing each time. If you standardize like this, then a quick examination of the contact will give you hints about how to make your projection print.

    I usually try to make contacts as soon as the film is dry, but before I sleeve them -- when I'm organized.


    (If contact prints are too dark, consider increasing your in-camera exposure. If prints are too light, consider decreasing your in-camera exposure.)
     
  7. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    With most papers, you can use a red safelight or red filter over your enlarger lens so that you can see what you're doing when you line the film up. I do that to get the framing just right, if I want clean white borders.

    Yes, I always do emulsion-to-emulsion, and for bendy negs I weigh them down with a thick piece of clean glass. Everything needs to be dust free, of course.

    Rather than pushing and pulling negs in and out of sleeves for successive prints, I move the neg onto fresh paper right after each exposure. Once I get things about right then I just go quickly from one print to the next.

    Oh and having your enlarger at f/2.8 probably isn't such a good idea, why not stop it down quite a lot, say f/16 or more, to produce a more collimated beam. That will also improve sharpness. (And, in my experience, a contact print done through a protective sleeve shouldn't be terribly unsharp if you do have a well-collimated light source.)

    Do take the time to track down any light leaks that might give you some non-collimated exposure.
     
  8. Jon Shiu

    Jon Shiu Subscriber

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    I always do the proof sheets with the negs in the printfile sleeves and have no problems with sharpness there. Check that your glass is providing good pressure on the negs/paper.

    Jon
     
  9. gonzo74

    gonzo74 Member

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  10. gonzo74

    gonzo74 Member

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    Keith, thanks. I was unsure as to the correct setting, I initially used f/2.8 as it provided the largest light source and would decrease the amount of time that I needed to develop the print. I also read (can you tell I'm learning all this stuff on my own...thank goodness for APUG) that I should set the enlarger at its highest setting, meaning as far as it will go on its column. Is this incorrect? Do I need to bring it back down once I have placed the negatives underneath as long as there is enough light to cover the outer edges?
     
  11. gonzo74

    gonzo74 Member

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    Jon is this a particular type of sleeve that is considered better for this kind of thing? I specifically bought these clear sleeves so that I could use them for printing. I also went with the Patterson printer because it really keeps them secure against the glass. Ok, so from all the responses. I assume that I need to try something different with the negs (with the exception of the f-stop) and it doesn't have to do with the processing. I had initially thought that I had overcooked it or something but it sounds like 10 seconds is an alright start.
     
  12. winger

    winger Subscriber

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    I do my contacts with the negs in Printfile brand sleeves and don't have a problem with sufficient sharpness for the purpose. The key is to use a decent (and clean) piece of glass to hold them down. I have glass from a frame and just press the edges outside the paper as it exposes. I never had good results using the contact printers we had in school. The foam backing never really allowed good pressure, I'd guess.
    If I were doing a contact print as a final print, I wouldn't use the sleeves.
    Timing wise, I have the enlarger set so it's just outside the size I need, with an empty neg carrier in it and focused. I use a #2 contrast filter, f8 and 8 seconds. If I've underexposed the roll, sometimes I'll go to f11.
    I develop my paper by time, not appearance. It's easier to be consistent that way. For RC, I use 1 minute and for fiber I use 2 minutes (I'm using Ilford paper and developer, so it could be different for different brands - read the info sheets on what you're using).
     
  13. Jon Shiu

    Jon Shiu Subscriber

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    Hi, if your sleeves are clear, there shouldn't be any problem printing contact proofs with the negs in them.

    Jon
     
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  15. gonzo74

    gonzo74 Member

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    Hi again Jon, I did just check the package and it does state that they are for use in contact printing. I will try all the great suggestions and see what happens. (In the meantime, I did find the Printfile brand in a shop here, so I can always give that a try if anything...). Thanks again all!
     
  16. David William White

    David William White Member

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    Yes, in addition to the film, different paperstocks can have different exposure times for contact and projection prints, and further beware that different papers respond differently to contrast filtration. Most of my printing is done with Ilford contrast filters on Ilford MG paper.

    Anyway, if you do the contact prints using a #2 filter, then you get some idea what filter you need for your projection print (more or less contrast), so it's helpful. Also, if contact prints are excessively flat, then maybe increase your film development time. If too dark, maybe increase your film exposure time (in-camera). Contact prints can be very helpful from one end to the other.

    To see what different filmstocks do, take a sections of unexposed film (developed & fixed so you see "base fog") of different types, lay them up for contact printing, then do a step test (t, 2t, 3t, 4t,...) and you'll notice that some filmstocks get to maximum black faster than others.

    But you are right, different papers will respond differently and a survey of those you use would prove helpful.

    I know this sounds like a lot of dicking around for just contact prints, but this sort of craftwork pays back enormously when it comes to acheiving repeatability and reliability in exposure, film development, and of course, the whole point, the final printing.

    I'm in the middle of this, too.
     
  17. Mike Crawford

    Mike Crawford Member

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    Is it possible the negatives are overexposed or on the dense side? I find the Printfile sleeves fine for contacting as long as the negs are a 'normal' density. However, if the negs are on the heavy side, they seem to look a bit difused when contatcted through the bag, especially 35mm which is on a thicker base. Also, the edge of the frame and the rebate tends to bleed a bit. If so, I will usually re-contact those ones out the sleeves.
     
  18. David William White

    David William White Member

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    Are they in 'contact', ie. do you put a piece of glass over top?
     
  19. gonzo74

    gonzo74 Member

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    Hi Mike,

    The negatives look really nice and I think that they fall into the 'normal' density category. I compared the negs I developed to those I had developed some time ago before I started doing it myself, and there is a I couldn't find too much of a difference. I think that they are ok but to be sure I will try one set of negs outside of their sheet and see what happens.
     
  20. gonzo74

    gonzo74 Member

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    Hi David,

    Yes, I specifically have a Patterson contact printer that has a piece of 'non-glare' glass and a piece of foam. I placed the paper emulsion side up, and negs emulsion side down and then you have to press a lock thingy and it squishes everything in there pretty tight. I decided to go this route instead of just a piece of glass because I read about the importance of this sandwich, that should give sharp contact prints. Just for comparison, I phoned the photo shop that previously did my development and from which I bought these supplies. They use the same printer and negative sleeves when printing. Their stuff looks great.
     
  21. Akki14

    Akki14 Member

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    I wondered why i was getting blurry contact prints once then I realised the paper was the wrong way up. Long exposure times too :D
     
  22. bdial

    bdial Subscriber

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    Printing through negative sleeves is a little like keeping a UV haze filter on your lens for protection, and there are many long threads on the pros and cons of that. FWIW, my preference is to print through the sleeve and not use a haze filter.
    As stated already, keeping the negs in the sleeve means there is less danger for scratches in handling, the downsides are that the proofs are slightly soft, and the sleeve adds a little density that you will need to compensate for with exposures.

    Assuming you are using thin sleeves meant for contacting; if your sandwich of sleeve, negative, paper and glass is tight, the resulting contacts will be soft, but they should not be soft to the point of being unusable.
    If the prints look unusably soft and the glass is heavy enough to press the negs and paper flat, then it's likely the negatives really are soft.

    My practice is to look at the neg, with a loupe if necessary, to judge sharpness, and use the contact to judge exposure and composition.
     
  23. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Is there any chance that you have the paper in upside down (i.e. with emulsion side down, rather than up)? The emulsion side is a bit more "shiny" when observed (briefly) under safelight, at a slight angle.

    Alternatively, is there a problem with your Patterson proof printer? Does it have foam, and is it in good enough shape to ensure that when the glass is lowered, there is good firm contact between the negatives (in sleeves) and the emulsion side of the paper?

    You should standardise on one developing time that is near the mid range for the developer and paper you use, and then adjust the f/stop and time of exposure to get the results you want. I usually try for something like a 10 second exposure time. It seems to me that if you are having to use f/2.8 then something isn't normal.

    Have fun!

    Matt

    PS - I usually contact print through the sleeves too. When you say the contact prints are really blurry, are you saying that details like the frame numbers are blurry, or is it just the image details themselves?
     
  24. gonzo74

    gonzo74 Member

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    That is a most interesting and excellent idea. I will most definitely do that once I have figured out how my current problem. The other difficulty is that the Fomaspeed states that it reduces exposure and development times by 50%. Well that doesn't do me much good because I don't have a basic exposure time from which to work. I tried 10 sec. then 15 sec. and then 20 sec. all with 60 sec. in the tray. Is there a 'standard' developing time somewhere out there? I couldn't find anything on the Foma site...
     
  25. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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  26. gonzo74

    gonzo74 Member

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    Hi Matt,

    I thought the same! That I had used the wrong side of the paper too! Then I thought that I hadn't placed the paper or negs in the right direction. So I switched and that didn't do any good either. The Patterson is completely new and there is firm contact between the paper and the negs. The images themselves are blurry. By that I can make out the image but it is not sharp at all and in fact are so crappy that the contact sheet itself isn't worth what I made it for to begin with, it is pretty useless in its current form. Also, I noticed that the frame numbers are there and other times the numbers are black. So far as the 10 sec. exposure I am using Fomaspeed which should be 'faster' is it really possible to get anything good from an exposure time of anything less than 10, at least to start out with?

    Thanks so much!

    p.s. I chose the f/2.8 because the book that I am using, said to open the lens to its largest aperture. I will try changing that though. I assume that this is the correct bulb for the enlarger, to provide a nice light source and the lens is absolutely beautiful.