Is RA-4 All There Is Now?

Discussion in 'Color: Film, Paper, and Chemistry' started by bvy, Mar 15, 2013.

  1. bvy

    bvy Subscriber

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    As a matter of sheer restless curiosity (and possible future exploration), I'm wondering: Is RA-4 the only game in town now when it comes to (analog) color printing? And for that matter, what color printing technologies have come and gone over the past fifty or so years?

    Ilfochrome/cibachrome is gone. I know all about dye transfer and that Kodak stopped supporting it in 1994. Too bad -- I had the opportunity to see an exhibition of Mark Cohen's color work a few years back, and the dye transfer prints were beautiful. I believe it's still practiced today by some hardcore enthusiasts who have found workarounds, but that it's difficult and not quite the same.

    Some further reading introduced me to the intriguing, though short-lived, Kodak Ektaflex process of the early 80's. Between the developer, which I understand was problematic, and the Polaroid patent suit, it sounds like it was doomed from inception.

    What else is/was there?
     
  2. Worker 11811

    Worker 11811 Member

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    There are still a few labs that will produce Cibacrhome/Ilfochrome prints for you.
    Regardless of whether materials are available, it is my understanding that the learning curve for printing with Cibachrome is steep. As such, it's probably better to have them done at a lab where they can be done right.

    Cibachrome won't last for long, though. In just a couple-few years, it's likely to be gone.
     
  3. RPC

    RPC Member

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    Currently RA-4 is the only process available for printing from color negatives.

    From Kodak, before RA-4 there was Ektaprint 2 for home use and before that Ektaprint C, both with longer processing times.

    My memory on this is a bit hazy on this but I believe at one time, someone, I think Unicolor had a process for color negative printing papers known as Type B or Type RB or something like that, different from the concurrent Ektaprint 2.
     
  4. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    There was a large amt of dye transfer matrix film for sale just a couple weeks ago in Germany. Fresh
    batches seem to be run every few years until ... ? It is being custom coated and is not dependent upon
    Kodak as a sole supplier. It never was. I know where you can get dyes. You can produce and mordant your own printing paper. Registration gear comes up for sale every few months it seems, or if you have machine-shop skills you can make your own. I know how to make color separations and masks using films currently on the market. The prime ingredient, time (lots of time) is what is hard to come by.
    RA4 printing per se if very easy, but doing high-quality advanced work is just like anything else - you
    need to gradually learn the ropes. I'm one of the few people attempting advanced masking operations
    with it. But it is the future (at least at this moment in the future!), if you like darkroom work per se.
     
  5. heterolysis

    heterolysis Member

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    I still have Cibachrome paper and chemicals :smile: No idea how to use it though.
     
  6. Rudeofus

    Rudeofus Subscriber

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    Ilfochrome is much easier to home process than RA4 since color corrections are much more intuitive and the slides you enlarge from already have (or at least should have if you do it right) a repeatable color balance. Real professionals may have been able to get even better results, but I am quite happy with what I got with my simple setup.
     
  7. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

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    I beg to differ. In terms of color correction Ilfochrome is easier, but the chemicals are nasty and contrast is hard to control. I think RA4 is easier to print because of the manageable contrast and color neg film has much more latitude then chrome film.

    But Ilfochrome has a permanence and color that is unmatched.
     
  8. ndrs

    ndrs Subscriber

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    It depends on how thin your skin is but 5% sulfuric acid in the bleach is not that nasty. Dev and fix are virtually no different from B&W ones.
    I was slightly nervous when I started with Ilfochrome after reading all those stories about its 'nastyness'. It isn't. Just follow the same precautions any sensible person would in a darkroom.
     
  9. Kevin Caulfield

    Kevin Caulfield Subscriber

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    I agree completely. That is what I have experienced. A lot of people who have never tried it simply assume it is complicated.
     
  10. kevs

    kevs Member

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    There are still non-trivial processes like tri/quad-colour gum bichromate, carbon and carbon transfer and photo-mechanical processes if you have the time, patience and cash.
     
  11. Rudeofus

    Rudeofus Subscriber

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    Let's keep things in perspective. Compared to Selenium toner, pyro developers and dichromate bleaches Ilfochrome process chems seem almost harmless.

    And burning/dodging is much easier with Ilfochrome because the paper itself has much less contrast than RA4 paper.
     
  12. AgX

    AgX Member

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    The same time Agfa had a range of dye-diffusion materials for rapid access too. With seperate receiving layers for professionals and as integral system (in contrast to Ektaflax) for amateurs.
     
  13. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    It's drawing quite a long bow to suggest that Ilfochrome is easy to deal with. It's not. Never was.
    Ilfochrome is terrible compared to hybrid methods — believe me, photographers in Australia turned away from it in droves and either went all-digital or hybridised (as I did). People need to realise how restrictive Ilfochrome Classic media is in terms of contrast (it's blessing, as well as its curse); trannies must be nailed precisely in terms of exposure with neither highlights or shadows at the margin; this isn't impossible of course, but many opportunities are lost because the contrast range (just two variations) is so narrow and tempestuous to cope with e.g. contrasty scenes shot on Velvia.

    I never liked the RA-4 process from Velvia (or just about anything else at the time), that's why I went to Ilfochrome from 1994 (to 2010): while we had the Master Printers, and knew how to tailor Velvia to the finished print, it was great, but extremely expensive; customers ranted and raved over the brilliant hues of desert-scapes, ephemeral abstracts and scenes of the typical Australian outback. Things started unravelling for everybody because the manufacturer of Ilfochrome was so tardy, quality control dropped, raw materials skyrocketed, frieight was unreliable and the delivered batches were often damaged or faulty. So Ilfochrome lost a big chunk of the customer base not because it was hitherto unaffordable, but because it became unreliable in terms of quality and procurement. For those with less demanding needs in colour printing RA-4 is just about the only method available to you.

    The Ilfochrome bleach is toxic and usually requires specific treatment before discharge e.g. in drains. The lab where I had my prints made had an exotic waste treatment facility to comply with EPA standards as the lab was smack-bang in the middle of residential suburbia and early odours coming out of the place caused a few stirs.
     
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  15. Rudeofus

    Rudeofus Subscriber

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    IIRC, Ilfochrome was not the only process losing photographers to the digital camp :whistling:

    The biggest hurdles to Ilfochrome home processing were IMHO:
    • Dealing with the terrible nightmare that was Ilfochrome's distribution channel. You were a beggar, not a valued customer, and had to kindly accept what they were willing to give you at the price they reluctantly told you - take it or leave it.
    • Wads of forum postings screaming that Ilfochrome is impossible to do, most of them from people who were simply unwilling to accept a mediums limitations. No, you can't just print Uncle Peter's random holiday slides and expect good results. Neither can you throw your bombastic Velvia slides at this process and expect quick results. The rule is quite simple: if a flat bed scanner can create a decent scan from a slide, Ilfochrome will likely print it well. If you tame E100VS with proper fill flash or shoot Astia in soft light, you can print the slides just as they are, without masking or other tricks, and the results will be breath taking.
    • Willingness to waste one or two packs of paper and chemistry to get the process nailed. This sounds trivial in b&w and RA4, but with Ilfochrome's prices it's quite a commitment. Well worth it if you see the results.
     
  16. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    I'm reminded about something. It was only the in the last three years of the pro lab's existence that Ilfochrome prints were offered from digital files, and the results were never good. They actively discouraged the use of fill flash in outdoor scenes (chiefly because of how unnatural an appearance it imparted on the image when printed) and eventually dropped off the file-to-chrome print option because of the too-common added expense of working up substandard files in preparation for printing: that is to say those who used flatbed scanners and "had their own way" actually had no idea what they were doing and incurred up to $800 in on-costs before the 'chrome darkroom even had the enlarger turned on!

    Ilfochrome was never impossible to do; just two contrast variations and the sheer expense in time and money and skill made it quite the challenge; true, many home users with their own darkroom dabbled in the early Ciba kits, producing prints for Club exhibitions — I was one of them from 1988 to around 1992. I was never, ever a fan of machine-Ilfochrome prints. That is they lazy way to go.

    My printer was often quite venomous about the distribution channels, but mostly literally spitting blood over unstable quality control.

    And Velvia? Let's not be too harsh with this dear Goldilocks. Velvia remains the gold standard for printing to any process; earlier RA-4 testing from Velvia (and E100VS) was nowhere near as impressive beside Ilfochromes. We tried and tried and tried and twisted every trick there was to up the ante with cheaper processes, but it would not be. As with anything, to get the best, a lot of money had to be spent; a lot of professional (printer) time had to be invested; a lot of experimentation, dialogue, testing and retesting. Then at the end ... it was a marvellous thrill — a blast, to have the finished product delivered to the door ready for spotlights, and I will never offload the last 400 or so frarmed Ilfochromes: they are all true legends of their time.

    It all comes down to what you want, what your 'signature' quality mark is. RA-4, if you can do it yourself, will likely produce results you will be pleased with. But if you are producing for exhibition and sale, the prints you create are going to need more than "produced in a darkroom" as their selling tagline. It will always (for as long as it's available) be possible to produce a masterclass B&W print through skill, judgement and labour and it will be comparatively cheaper to do so. But colour, and we see the world in colour; it's the archaic RA-4 or not-so-new-kid-on-the-block, hybrid: that's your two options.
     
  17. Rudeofus

    Rudeofus Subscriber

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    I didn't suggest flatbed scanning your slides and handing those scans to a commercial printer. What I tried to suggest was that if you can reasonably scan a slide with a flat bed scanner, chances are you can optically print it without a mask. Reasoning behind this is that flat bed scanners can't handle the huge contrast possible with slide film, and neither can Ilfochrome.

    Now if you are the super duper artist whos prints sell like hotcakes, you have the choice between drumscan&lightjet or masking&optical print, of which both will handle Velvia in all its glory. An amateur level home printer won't do this, and fortunately doesn't have to if he understands the process and its limitations.

    There are two different worlds: professional printers who have to deal with any slide people bring them, and pure amateurs like me who have hundreds of slides of which I may print a few dozen in the next couple of years, if that. Among these hundreds of slides there are more than a few dozen good ones which will print without much hassle. The rest, if I want prints at all, will go hybrid&lab.

    As long as my lazy way produces better results than any hybrid or digital route I will continue to pursue this path. Maybe I'll raise my standards once my kids are grown up.

    I accept that Velvia gives impressive results but the fact that Ilfochrome has difficulties with Velvia doesn't make Ilfochrome bad or impossible to use for the rest of us. If you are willing to put in the effort to make Ilfochrome&Velvia work, more power to you. If you don't, Ilfochrome&Astia as well as Ilfochrome&E100VS are still great.
     
  18. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    Some of these posts crack me up! It's all relative. I have 1940's Kodak brochures for the Dye Transfer
    process touting how easy it is for home darkroom enthusiasts (well it was, compared to Carbro). The
    long after, Ciba came along. I learned to make acceptable prints in a couple of hours. Of course, all the
    sophisticated controls get learned (or in my case, invented) one after another. You continuously improve. It was easy to get materials, anyway. Then the distribution changed and the paper started
    showing up damaged, prices rose drastically, etc. Anyone who thinks the bleach is innocuous is a fool.
    It's basically con sulfuric acid, and will do the same thing to your lungs! The amateur powdered version
    was sulfamic acid - not quite as bad, but still strong enough to give you emphysema for life if you're
    dumb enough to repetitiously inhale it. Velvia is no more a problem on Ciba than any other transparency film. If it's on the image, I can print it. But you better have an intense colorhead to print
    through a .90 mask on a slooooww paper like this. By contrast, RA4 papers are ridiculously fast to print, and masking is oh soooo subtle, more like power steering, if you need it at all.
     
  19. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

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    I used to print it in my darkroom and Cibachrome's suggestion was to mix the chemicals together to neutralize it. I've heard Ilfochrome or Cibachrome will wreck your plumbing if you don't dispose of it properly.
     
  20. Roger Cole

    Roger Cole Member

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    Neutralizing the amateur bleach was as simple as dumping baking soda into it before disposal though the fumes could be fearsome.

    I made a goodly number of prints from slides back on the day on Kodak Type-R 2203 I think it was, the successor to type 1993. It worked fine and many of the prints still look good but was more hassle to process and took longer than Cibachrome (as it was called then.) I used it because I was a broke high schooler and then college student and each print was about half the price of Ciba.
     
  21. Rudeofus

    Rudeofus Subscriber

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    Anyone wanting to deeply inhale any kind of photo chemistry should be kept away from dark rooms as long as this desire persists. Yes, dye bleach is very acidic which means don't get it on your skin, don't rub it into your eyes and don't eat it. Besides that it contains a bleach catalyst which may or may not be carcinogenic, which gives you another reason to neither touch dye bleach, nor eat or rub it into your eyes.

    I would recommend against doing Ilfochrome in open trays (remember: complete darkness!), but in closed tank rotary processing there is little chance you get in direct unintentional contact with dye bleach.

    The big issue with Ilfochrome is that it transfers images more or less 1:1 in terms of contrast, but that slides have much more dynamic range than Ilfochrome paper. This issue is amplified with emulsions like Velvia which are contrasty to begin with, and less of an issue with lower contrast emulsions like Astia. With masking, or in special cases with dodging&burning you can work around these issues, but I personally prefer avoiding issues to working around them.
     
  22. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    Pros here (Australia) never shot Astia (this is known from the photographers' pool that submitted images to the lab for all-in schedule printing). Provia was a better choice if less contrast was desirable, though the trade-off is that the colours are nowhere near as punchy.

    Yes it's easy to avoid issues with e.g. Velvia by exposing it in the conditions it was primarily designed for, all the more important for Ilfochrome. I don't expose Velvia any different now for hybrid print production. Many interesting things were learnt from production to Ilfochrome, (apart from supply and diminishing QC issues!) including the amounts some pros were spending on the stuff e.g. Peter Lik, Peter Dobré — both at the time into phenomenally pricey mural-size 'chromes (3-4m across).
     
  23. Roger Cole

    Roger Cole Member

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    It's easy to avoid problems with Velvia by not shooting it. I never cared for it - way too over saturated for my tastes. It can look good in very flat lighting by compensating somewhat for that, otherwise I have little use for it personally, but the market clearly doesn't agree with me.

    Ilfochrome was an almost magical match for Kodachrome.

    In spite of the "total darkness" I used my Duka 50 sodium safelight with no problems with both Ilfochrome and Type 2203. The fact they may have not had the sensitivity gap of RA4 negative papers was more than compensated for by being so much slower. Never had a fogging problem and could probably set it brighter than for RA4. I still wouldn't do it in open trays though, I agree. You'd be exposed to a lot more fumes and when I spilled a few drops that hit my concrete floor and sizzled it convinced me that it was acidic enough to keep off my hands.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 19, 2013
  24. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    I used Velvia quite a bit for subtle lighting conditions. We get wonderful lacey coastal fog here, like a natural soft box with various degrees of diffusion different times of the day. There are certain hue distinctions in the greens where Velvia is the most accurate film out there, provided one has a lens
    equal to the task. But using Velvia simply to get loud colors in "standard" lighting means you are going
    to have some serious printing issues. I've made plenty of Cibas from Velvia, but it's a chore. But, of
    course, if the lighting ratio was modest to begin with, it was a perfectly ordinary printing situation.
    Now Kodachrome and Ciba ... that was a marriage made in heaven! Yet the originals were tiny, so I
    typically made 8x10 dupes on Astia etc to actually print from.
     
  25. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    Kodachrome was pretty darned grainy on 12x18 Ilfochrome prints. Only four prints were from Kodachrome trannies in 1991 or 1992.
     
  26. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

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    Be careful now..

    Trannies means something quite different in 1991 compared to today. :wink: