Increase Sharpness, all variables

Discussion in 'Color: Film, Paper, and Chemistry' started by lhalcong, Mar 1, 2013.

  1. lhalcong

    lhalcong Member

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    I am fairly new in color processing so bear with me. I've done B&W for a little enough while. I am now processing C-41 and printing RA-4 at home with all Kodak Chemicals. I shoot 35mm film exclusively.
    I fairly have some basics , but I'd like to know more in depth all the variables from A to Z to account for to get a very sharp print with good contrast. I know this is a broad subject, but I'd like to sumarize to make sure I have done all I can to get a very sharp print , short of coming close to Digital Prints, that is what I am familiar with. My early attempts to print something close to the quality of digital are far off of course.

    I know some of the things that will influence sharpness and contrast are; the film used wth low ISO speed, lighting conditions when shooting, etc. but from the processing and printing perspective: what are the things to consider and work on to get a very sharp print with intense contrast. I have been printing in expired but frozen Endura Paper and wanted to try Fuji Crystal Type C , but that is not existing.

    thanks for the tips and insight,
     
  2. Rudeofus

    Rudeofus Subscriber

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    What you seem to know from "sharp" digital prints are algorithmic ways to boost perceived sharpness at the expense of image detail. If you are willing to go through the effort, you can do unsharp masking in the dark room, that's actually where this technique has been invented and named.

    Apart from that, make a sharp color negative (decent lens stopped down a bit, good focusing and sufficient DOF, sturdy tripod, and so on, you know the drill), use a good enlarger with proper technique and your image should look reasonably sharp.
     
  3. kevs

    kevs Member

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    1) get a good grain magnifier and use it,
    2) clean enlarging lens, filters, condensers, and all parts of the optical pathway,
    3) ensure that the paper is held flat against the baseboard,
    4) ensure all enlarger parts are aligned properly and parallel,
    5) stop down lens to f8 --> f11 when printing.
     
  4. Diapositivo

    Diapositivo Subscriber

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    Not a printer, but I would say, master the "black point" and the "white point" in an analogue print as you would in a digital print.
    Black point and white point (especially black point) are fundamental in getting a pleasant and realistic contrast.

    With a normal subject, a subject having at least a very tiny amount of very dark details, push that tiny amount to pure black, "bring it to black".
    A shade in a house entrance, a blade of shade under a door, the shades under parked cars, the deepest shade of the bushes... you must actually "lose" the very last bit of shadow detail so that you can have some small (even 0.1% or 0.01%) of the surface of your picture as real pure black. Your eyes will find that 0.01% of the image which is pure black and will "set" something on that black which will make the image appear having a realistic contrast.

    With most subject that is very important for the final result. Failure to do so will result in flat colours and a dull image, regardless of how contrasty was your negative, or the paper you printed on. Contrast is perceived in the human mind, which has to "peg" a realistic black point (and a white point, but I think that's less important generally) to find the image realistic.

    That's my experience, YMMV.
     
  5. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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  6. BMbikerider

    BMbikerider Member

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    Sharpness

    This is a subject that over the years has probably raised more questions than answers. Firstly make sure that you negatives are sharp! It is a fact that more images are spoiled by poor handling of the camera than bad focussing or exposure. Use a tripod wherever you can and when you cannot, use a shutter speed with a value of more than the focal length of the lens. E.G. With a 50mm lens the shutter speed should be no less than 1/60th. With a 100mm lens, not less than 1/125th.

    In the enlarger with 35mm there are usually glassless carriers. These are crap! Single sided glass carriers are the best.

    When you focus with a negative in the enlarger using a glassless carrier and get it bitingly sharp by using a grain focussing device. Then go away to get the piece of paper by the time you are ready to start, the residual heat from the lamp will have warped the film and knocked it out of focus. This is one of the facts of life. The warp is always upwards so the single sided glass carrier stops this

    If you cannot get a single or double sided carrier,the easiest way around it is to focus the negative, leave for a couple of minutes with the light on whilst you get the paper ready and then re-focus. Once you are happy turn the lamp off and put your paper in the frame and expose normally so the negative doesn't have a chance to cool and warp back to the original shape..

    If you are using Kodak paper, stick with it whilst you can. FUJI is on a very thin base and will crease easily. I find that I cannot get the depth of colour from FUJI paper as I can with Kodak
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 2, 2013
  7. lhalcong

    lhalcong Member

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    Thank you guys, these are all good advises. I will try get a single sided glass carrier , but I am not sure my Beseler 23-CII-XL has this accesory. Besides the Dichro head, I also have a condenser head. I was told by an engineer I could get a more contrasty print by using a condenser head, and in fact I found that is the case. (at the expense of a few specs of dust that show). Now when I say sharp, I also mean the level of detail I can perceive. Having worked my way down from Digital, where I can actually see the texture of a person's skin (magnificent detail reproduction) , I am not sure if this is a dream on optical printing, at least with 35mm which is all I can do.
     
  8. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    Thank you, you have made an important point.
     
  9. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    With good equipment and technique, you will be able to resolve more detail when you print 35mm optically, then when you use mainstream digital equipment.

    Top end ($$$$+) digital equipment may require a different comparison.

    The difference is that, without the artificial increase of accutance that is available to you through digital means, that additional detail may be less obvious to you in your optical print unless you magnify the results.

    The appearance of sharpness is highly subjective, and mostly a result of edge contrast or accutance. The resolution of actual detail has a moderately small effect on the appearance of sharpness. In some circumstances, an increase in resolution will result in a decrease in the appearance of sharpness.

    A condenser enlarger will help accentuate edge contrast/accutance. A point source enlarger will help even more (but I wouldn't recommend them for general purpose use).

    You can also use unsharp masking in an optical workflow, but I wouldn't recommend that except for special negatives.
     
  10. lhalcong

    lhalcong Member

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    I think I want to give the unsharp mask technique a try. Can the materials still be bought today ? What do I need ?
     
  11. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    For a very hiqh quality option, see Alistair Inglis' website (he is a long time APUG advertiser) and well known here in the Vancouver area photographic community.

    Here is a link: http://www.alistairinglis.com/
     
  12. Prof_Pixel

    Prof_Pixel Member

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    I note you are a 35mm user; I suspect that doing USM on 35mm sized originals might be challenging.

    I wrote an article for a magazine back in 2004 explaining unsharp masking which can be found at: http://www.frontiernet.net/~fshippey/articles/article4.pdf - yes, it's about digital USM, but I explain it in terms of the analog steps that must be taken. Note that it references the original article on the subject by J. Yule (PHOT. J., 84, 321 (1944))
     
  13. dpurdy

    dpurdy Member

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    Seems to me the easiest thing to do would be to dump the 35mm and start shooting MF... Mamiya 7 or a Hasselblad or a Rolleiflex. I am pretty sure you will see a great improvement in sharpness.
    Dennis
     
  14. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    Basically what I did with the Hasselblad and added a Hasselblad 903 SWC to have rectilinearly correct very wide angles. The 4"x5" cameras allow for future growth. :D
     
  15. chuck94022

    chuck94022 Subscriber

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    I would suggest you take the other steps before diving into unsharp masking. For one, in 35mm it will be a real challenge due to the size of the negative. More importantly, if the negative you are working with isn't sharp due to operator faults, unsharp masking isn't going to be a magic bullet. I would say that properly done, it will give already sharp negatives an additional bite, but it won't focus your out of focus, blurry negative.

    If you aren't already getting tack sharp negatives from your camera, start with your technique, as identified above. Those must come first in any pursuit of image quality.

    As others have pointed out, digital images give a heightened sense of sharpness due to the nature of image formation in the digital realm. This sharpness does not necessarily equate to resolution or, especially, overall image quality. Whenever I share a color film-based image, even if scanned and shown only on the web, I notice feedback I don't see with digital images posted the same way. Usually the feedback is along the lines of "amazing colors, how did you do that?"

    Sharpness is not your only goal in pursuing image quality, and it is not a simply the case that additional sharpening means better image. Typically the opposite, actually.
     
  16. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    Absolutely. But there's a learning curve to masking, just like any other skill. To do it right you need
    matched masking punches and contact frames. You tape your original to an appropriate sheet film like
    FP4. After that, there are a LOT of details you need to learn, which I won't bother explaining unless you
    are serious. Often an enlarged 35mm color neg will benefit from a contrast-increase mask, which involves a black and white interpositive first. Do you really enjoy darkroom work?? You get what you give - invest the time into the learning curve, and you'll never look back. Right now, I know someone
    selling off a full set of Condit 4x5 registration gear, if you're interested. Expect to pay about what you would for a top-end lens. Otherwise, you can experiement with something like an old Gepe slide registration punch and matching registration mounts, or just register masks manually over a lightbox to see if this is for you or not. There are also a couple of folks making basic masking gear new, though the
    Condit equip was the best.
     
  17. Jim Noel

    Jim Noel Member

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    Add to this answer:
    1. use mirror lockup
    2. photograph at the prime f-stop opening of the lens
     
  18. Neal

    Neal Subscriber

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    Hello,

    Start with a sharp negative. All the darkroom work in the world won't sharpen a blurry negative. Unsharp masking when working in color is better thought of as contrast reducing unless you are going to go through multiple steps to get a negative mask (or develop the mask as a postive, but doing that well is quite a challenge). The reason is that high contrast color paper is not dramatically different from normal contrast. In B&W you can use an unsharp mask to bring up shadow detail and then print witha high contrast filter to make the photo appear sharper. Of course, you can use an use an unsharp mask to dodge the shadows while priting the highlights darker than normal This might give you a sharper look with the right image.

    My suggestion is to start with a tripod. ;>)

    Good luck,

    Neal Wydra
     
  19. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    Things appear sharper when having higher contrast. Masking can also improve edge effect. When printing color negs there is only so much you can do with paper choice. There's nothing equivalent to
    VC paper as in printing black and white. You can pick a somewhat more contrasy film to begin with, like
    Ektar, or move up in format. But color masking is somewhat more involved than simple black and white
    unsharp masking, simply because you have to understand how the colors are themselves are affected.
    You have to commit to it. And it's a pain in the butt if you don't have good registration gear. But masking is a wonderful asset to your tool kit.
     
  20. lhalcong

    lhalcong Member

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    thank you everyone for your answers.

    Drew, I do this mostly as a hubby. Although I am a serious hubbiest and I love photography with a passion, I don't want to invest beyond my limits. My finances do not allow me to move up the format. I need to stick with 35mm. I've been doing digital for a while and a couple of actual jobs if I've done, I did them in Digital. The Darkroom is a huge curiosity to experiment what I feel was truly photography and evolution of it. (I am sure that's a debatable subject). It is something I never had the chance to experiment before. I am loving it and enjoying it quite as much. Going back to the original subject, I do have to keep it low budget. I like learning all these techniques mostly for the reasons I mentioned above. I've been buying all used stuff through ebay. I dont want to take up your time unless you already have it writted down, the links here noted plus the advise are good enough. This website has been a wealth of information and this is a nice community of people willing to help.
    I must note that all the techniques on camera I use do render quite sharp negatives, I have the ability to scan and print on a Epson printer. Of course when I compare the two prints , the Digital vs. the Analog. The Digital wins every time. But that's mostly because I am new to print in color in the darkroom. I am sure as I improve the techniques , they could come closer but I doubt that could arrive to digital. (35mm). That's why I like asking all these questions. I just love to learn. I am very serious but it remains a hubby.

    thank you guys.
     
  21. RPC

    RPC Member

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    Ihalcong, what enlarging lens are you using? For highest quality, a six-element lens is best.
     
  22. Paul Verizzo

    Paul Verizzo Member

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    MattKing has the best philosophy and tech advise, and the other posters make valid points.

    Don't forget, color film and paper with three layers will never be as sharp as B&W. Make great images, screw the sharpness (or psychological allusions of the same.)