How to get optical prints from a lab

Discussion in 'Color: Film, Paper, and Chemistry' started by multivoiced, Jun 5, 2012.

  1. multivoiced

    multivoiced Member

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    I have received very helpful advice here before and I hope you guys can help me to understand some of the basics of sending color film to a lab. What I am looking for is a purely photochemical, and not digital, process from the camera to the final print.

    I sent a few rolls of 35 mm film to Richard Photo Lab in Hollywood. (I chose them because I believe they have worked with Kodak Portra in the past.) In the box I wrote that I will eventually want quality optical prints, however I first need to see what I have shot and select the best images. But from what I understand from a phone call today, they only do digital scanning and printing. We eventually agreed upon small (less than 5 MB each) scans, and they are going to send the negatives back to me in the mail. Is this a good idea? I am hoping this means the negatives will still be suitable for non-digital priting, and that the scans will enable me to select the best images without putting too much wear and tear on the negatives. I guess I will have to find another lab to do the printing because I am not able to do it myself.

    Do I seem to be missing anything?

    (I tried to post this in another thread but it was closed.)
     
  2. waileong

    waileong Member

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    How else will the negs come back to you? Unless you want to pick them up yourself?
     
  3. polyglot

    polyglot Member

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    The negs will be fine for optical printing (the development process is the same, scanning isn't going to hurt them!); the issue is that basically no commercial labs do optical prints anymore because hybrid is so much more time-efficient and tweakable. Their printers are profiled and they know from what's on-screen exactly what will come out on the paper; instead of spending a couple sheets of paper and half an hour doing test exposures and developing them, they just move a slider on-screen for a couple of seconds.

    If you want optical prints, you're going to need to do them yourself. It's not real hard as long as you have a colour enlarger (which people tend to give away lately) and RA4 chemicals and papers are readily and cheaply available in California (which is where I assume you are).
     
  4. DanielStone

    DanielStone Member

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    If you don't want prints, you can order a "contact sheet"(negatives are placed in contact(while in their sleeve(printfile or other) with the paper under an enlarger).

    Most pro labs don't do this anymore. Pretty sure RPL doesn't, they just scan and burn a cd.

    The ICON here in LA does optical proofsheets. Probably also at least one lab in a major metro area close to you(we're talking LA/NY/London/Syndey big, not 25k people, although I'd be surprised if there was someone in a city that small). The ICON also process all their film on a dip-n-dunk machine, which IMO, is the best way to process outside of hand tanks or a Jobo

    C-41 is a standard process time-wise for Kodak or Fuji(the same 3:15 developing time as the "standard"), the chemicals are the same, just made by different companies(Hunt for Fuji, Champion for Kodak IIRC)

    where are YOU(the OP) located on this planet? It might help narrow down the search for a lab that offers this service if you want it(proof/contact sheets)

    -Dan
     
  5. James in GA

    James in GA Member

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    Finding a lab what is all light printing good luck.
    Thedarkroom.com say they do. Optical printers are getting old. The last old style optical printer I work with was in 2003.
     
  6. Chan Tran

    Chan Tran Member

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    I think let do the DIY darkroom approach.
     
  7. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    hi

    for optical prints
    why don't you contact blue moon
    to see if they can work with you ..
    they are an apug sponsor/advertiser,
    and i have heard great things about them !

    good luck !
    john
     
  8. summicron1

    summicron1 Subscriber

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    i was gonna say -- blue moon -- they have an actual darkroom. reviewing negs ahead should be easy -- see if they can email thumbnails, make your selections and see how it goes.
     
  9. F/1.4

    F/1.4 Member

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    Blue Moon Camera and Machine here in Portland print optically. Pretty sure they don't even have a computer in the building. They send out their stuff to get scanned methinks, but I know from experience they print everything optically. Been inside many times, and they just remodeled. AWESOME store.
     
  10. multivoiced

    multivoiced Member

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    Thank you guys for responding. I am not willing to deal with color film by myself (though someday I might learn how to do black and white).

    What I need to figure out now is what kind of a product I need and then find a lab that will do it. I am willing to pay for quality, and I am biased against anything that involves digital tech. (Don't ask me why; it's a subject for another discussion.) The problem is that even though I know how to shoot a roll of film, I am utterly clueless about what comes after. Due to my ignorance I could hardly talk with Richard Lab on the phone. Even some of the responses in this thread use terms I don't understand.

    The nearest city to me is Los Angeles but it is not very close.

    The Portra film is labelled, "C-41". I understand this refers to a developing process. How long has this process been around? How would a fine art photographer, say, in the 1980s have typically dealt with a roll of Portra or whatever kind of color film they used? Maybe the answer to that question is what I need to look for in a lab.

    Perhaps you guys know of some links or articles I should read.
     
  11. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    Hmmmm. C41 has been around since Jesus was a half-back for Jerusalem! Goodness, I can't recall its first appearance! It refers to processing chemicals for negative film, which you are using. At the other end, using slides, you submit these for processing and they are done in different chemistry, called E6. I don't think Portra was around in the 1980s (heaps of other film was, much more than what we have today), but most fine art photographers of that era used Kodachrome if they were involved with, say, National Geographic, or agencies such as Magnum. 120 or 220 format (medium format roll film, or "bigger cameras than 35mm"!) shared a commanding market among professionals while 35mm was wrangled by "the rest". Film was king. For weddings, pros using Hasselblads, Bronicas or whatnot would have loaded high quality print film and taken it in straight for processing immediately after the shoot, getting proof copies in various sizes done for their client(s) to view, all done with enlargers (I can remember C41 processing took 24 hours in those days, now it takes just 1 hour...). After proofing very high quality prints were made, again in the darkroom, and obviously many people made a good living doing this. Fast forward 30 years and things have very dramatically changed: wet colour darkrooms are very rare unless you've set up your own, and many here on APUG have, predominantly B&W. E6 (slides) is still very common, though a smaller (but important) market. And the bad news is that all printing done commercial from either C41 or E6 is hybridised (or the more prosaicly named "analogue to digital") with scans prepared through drum scanners or self-scanned, adjusted for colourimetrics (colour profiling of monitors) etc., then ta-da!, printed. Unless you go down this way, you might be left behind and only end up disappointed with photography. We all have to adapt to change. I have plenty to say about digital, none of it repeatable here in civilised terms.
     
  12. polyglot

    polyglot Member

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    Start by reading the processing FAQs in my signature. The very short summary is:
    - C41 is the colour negative film process, it's been around since the early 80's I think when it replaced C22. Any pro lab can do this step for you.
    - RA4 is the colour negative print process, designed to match C41.

    In the 80's, a photographer would have dropped the roll off at a lab, the lab would have developed the film and printed it optically, i.e. exposed some RA4 paper in an enlarger through the C41 negative to produce a print. That however is quite time-consuming so now it's all done digitally. The C41 development process is basically the same. When you buy a digital print, it's still (usually) an RA4 print, it's just that the paper has been exposed by coloured lasers attached to a computer instead of an enlarger; the end result is identical in its physical composition (papers, chemistry, etc). It saves the lab a huge amount of time (necessary for their cost-competitiveness) and makes results repeatable. The benefit to optical printing is that you can sometimes get slightly sharper prints that better withstand very close inspection; you lose out on a lot of the digital flexibility.

    If you want to print colour at home yourself, you need RA4 chemicals (developer, blix and optional starter), RA4 paper and a colour enlarger (has C, M and Y control dials on it). You also need a darkroom and something to develop your papers in, the simplest approach being a big tub of water at 38C with your trays of developer & blix resting therein. Since you're near LA, you can buy the chemicals and paper from Freestyle. I would recommend that you get familiar with printing B&W first, though RA4 paper is actually much cheaper than B&W; this is because digital labs still consume it by the square mile but B&W is a smaller market with higher prices.

    You don't need to develop the film yourself if you want the keep the process all analogue; what the lab does to it is the same as what you'd do to it. Of course you can do it cheaper+better at home, but it requires investment in some capital equipment (e.g. Jobo and lots of chemistry) that's only worth it if you shoot a fair quantity or want total control.
     
  13. multivoiced

    multivoiced Member

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    Is a digital RA4 print different from scanning a negative and then printing from the digital file?

    I had no idea that the traditional printing method is becoming so uncommon. It's good to know that there might be places (such as Blue Moon in Portland) where it is still done the old way. Even so, I understand the dilemma you guys are indicating: At some point one might have to give in and allow some digital tech to creep into the process, even after going to all the trouble of shooting on film.
     
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  15. multivoiced

    multivoiced Member

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    From Wikipedia
    Even though this can be a digital process it sounds like this is different from digital scanning and printing.
     
  16. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    Cheap optical snapshot prints are easy to get around here. Even Costco still does them. But if you
    want pro quaity you have a traditional full service lab do it, at realistically a hundred times the price
    per print. No difference than in former years except that there are not as many labs to choose from.
    RA4 and C41 have been standard for a long time. But RA4 is easy to do in a home darkroom as long
    as your enlarger has a standard colorhead, you have a simple drum processor, and can manage
    basic temperature control.
     
  17. hrst

    hrst Member

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    It practically ended totally more than 10 years ago. There is no much reason to do it in a typical photolab workflow.

    Let me try to explain once more how it goes.

    The film is same as always.
    Processing the film is the same as always.
    The resulting negatives are same as always.
    The paper it is printed to is same as always.
    It is printed using light as it has always been.
    The exposed paper is developed as it has always been.

    The only difference is that the older machines (in the 90's) directly projected the film to the paper to expose the paper. In the beginning of 2000's, this was changed so that the light is projected to a digital image sensor, saved to a file, automatically adjusted, and then converted back to light (for example, by using lasers) to expose the paper. So there are more steps, but they allow more control. The paper and how it is developed is analog and the same it has always been. We use the same paper in our darkrooms.

    Now, there might be very few labs that still have those automatic analog machines from the 90's, but they are not better. They were disliked then just as the automatic digital machines are disliked today.

    In addition, there probably are some very few and expensive small professional darkroom printers who do this fully manually by using an enlarger. This is also something you can do by yourself. You only need a place to convert to a darkroom and quite a bit of free time to learn the process and make prints. It is very cheap and easy but somewhat time-consuming, especially when you first start doing it.

    Or then, you can just order the "digital" prints and be happy. The print itself is exactly the same type of print, on a same type of paper as acquired in full-analog workflow. Only the steps differ, and the look may differ a little bit.

    For full control, you have to DIY print in your darkroom anyway, and this has ALWAYS been the case, so nothing's changed.

    It seems to me that you want to avoid learning any technical details as much as possible, but at the very same time, you have some strict opinions on what technical details you want to follow. If this is the case, all you can do is to either just shoot film and have it processed without thinking too much, or to start learning to understand the technology.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 6, 2012
  18. drkhalsa

    drkhalsa Member

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    Aker Imaging, Houston's professional lab, does optical printing and everything else.

    They are still committed to providing optical prints and went to the trouble last year to replace an old machine with another used machine and the necessary technician to set it up.
     
  19. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    All "machine prints" are automated. So it doesn't matter much whether the exposing light source is
    traditional or LED. Nobody is making decisions about any individual print, and you're lucky if the processing chem is fresh and if the wash cycle is adequate at all. Due to all these uncontrolled
    variables that is just another reason why amateur color films exist which have wide exposure latitude, and why they often looked like hell when they came back from the drugstore. The newer
    digital variety often look oversaturated and downright bizzare. So you either have to pay a premium
    and communicate with a real human being in a custom lab, or you have to learn to print them yourself.
     
  20. polyglot

    polyglot Member

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    A digital RA4 print is exactly the same as scanning and printing from that file. That's how you get a digital RA4 print from film and it is how every single minilab you go to operates.

    Digital capture workflow is like this:
    Digital Camera -> CCD -> RAW processing -> JPG -> look at on screen ... or:
    Film Camera -> Film -> C41 process -> Scan -> Invert -> JPG -> look at on screen

    And then digital printing is:
    JPG -> computer-controlled lasers -> RA4 paper -> RA4 processing -> look at print, or:
    JPG -> ink jet -> plain paper -> look at print.

    Whereas an optical print is:
    C41 negative in enlarger -> RA4 paper -> RA4 processing -> look at print.

    So you can join these workflows up in any kind of combination you want: full-digital capture and printing, analog capture with digital print or analog capture with analog print. Obviously on APUG we only deal with the latter.

    It's difficult to buy an optical print commercially because they're time-consuming and therefore expensive (think $50-$200 vs $4 for an 8x10"). However, it's something easily achievable at home with just a couple hundred $ worth of gear and a darkened laundry; the materials cost is under $1/print.

    If you're shooting medium or large format, you can achieve sharper results from a handmade optical print at moderate sizes (up to 20x24") than you can digitally, but if you shoot 35mm there isn't much in it unless you want 8x12" or smaller.
     
  21. polyglot

    polyglot Member

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    No. RA4 is the chemical process used to form an image on paper from light. If you do a digital print, that light is formed digitally by lasers instead of by projection through a negative and the paper goes through the same process steps. It's physically the same stuff.
     
  22. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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  23. wogster

    wogster Member

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    Not really, if your looking for a proof print, then the digital prints are cheap and the quality of the print is actually pretty good. In a 4x5 or 4x6 print from 35mm, if you take an all optical print and a digital RA4 print, you would be hard pressed to see the difference, unless you know which is which before hand. The advantage for the processor is that a roll of colour negative, B&W, and roll of colour slide film can be printed one after the other in any order, without changing the printer any. The computer determines what it's looking at, and then prints it. The benefit for the photographer is that your not spending 40 hours in the darkroom producing proof prints and better yet, your not paying someone else to spend 40 hours in the darkroom producing proof prints.

    If your looking for good enlargement prints, you want to do those yourself to give you control over the final result.
     
  24. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    Yes and " The computer determines what it's looking at, and then prints it." That is the reason that the prints of the red rock country turned the foreground red sandstone to green sandstone requiring me to return everything to Qualex who promptly lost the negatives, the scans and all the prints. The best ting they did was go out of business!
     
  25. hrst

    hrst Member

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    Before the digitalization, there was a similar computer looking at the negative and adjusting exposure and color! Of course, it had far fewer "pixels" in it, so it most probably worked based on the average of the image. Well, the digital counterpart, even though it COULD be much better, is not much more intelligent. And due to the fact it can do more, it can also mess up more. The analog version cannot change contrast, only the exposure level and color balance.

    But what I have seen, the digital minilabs are pretty much the same, they just make minor adjustments in color balance and adjust the "brightness" of the image based on the average. Dark night scenes end up gray.

    Even before the "analog" computer, there was a person responsible for adjustments, but I think we have to go back for half a century for that. Anyway, all these automated systems have always supported and still support human intervention and it's up to the company whether they have a capable person and time to do that or not. Proper minilab operators would do that, at least when asked to...
     
  26. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    In mini-labs you've got some kid making three dollars an hour. The week before he ran the popcorn
    machine at the theatre. Next week he'll be behind the counter at Starbucks, and the week after that
    he'll become some big box store manager learning how to create industrial accidents. By contrast,
    full-service custom labs generally offer relatively inexpensive machine prints and not just custom prints, but at least professionally monitor their equipment and routinely calibrate their chemisty. A better option if you can find it.