Wet Print vs Digital Print from negative/scanned negative - Thoughts/Comments

Discussion in 'Enlarging' started by PBrendanC, Sep 16, 2011.

  1. PBrendanC

    PBrendanC Member

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    Out of curiosity I recently made a pair of 8*10 prints (1 digital(from a scan) and 1 from the negative). The negative was a 6x6 neg (taken on a Tripod mounted Yashicamat); FP4; D76 (1+1) developed and is sharp and correctly exposed in relatively flat/low contrast light.

    My goal here was to make 2 prints using each medium/process and to compare the results for tonal range, sharpness etc. The wet print was made on Ilford multigrade RC Pearl paper; the digital print was made with an Epson 4900 printer on Ilford Gold Fibre paper from a file scanned on an Epson 700 scanner.

    I know others have probably done this before, and I have no desire to start a flame war - I'm just looking for a process to produce high quality prints from my film camera and have an open mind.

    After looking at the prints one thing that stood out was that the digital print was much sharper than the darkroom print (BTW - Minimal sharpening was applied during digital post processing). (The softness in the darkroom print is most noticeable in the tree bark area of the attached picture)

    Others who looked at the prints agreed - in fact this was the biggest clue to identifying the prints (apart from the paper surface texture). (FWIW I reprinted the darkroom print at several different contrasts to see if this made a difference). wrt other factors such as tonality etc. there was not much difference except that the digital print was also slightly more contrasty.

    I'm not an expert printer and I'm sure it's possible to make a better wet print than I did - however I'm concerned about the softness of the wet print and wondered if others have had similar experiences. (FWIW I did check the focus on the enlarger with a grain magnifier and the enlarger column is stable/solid).

    I'd be interested in suggestions/feedback on this experiment - especially any suggestions to improve the quality of my darkroom prints. In general case should I always expect the digital print to be sharper than it's darkroom counterpart - if so that's pretty disappointing. Am I missing something obvious here?
     

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  2. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    pbrendanc

    Welcome to APUG.

    As long as we can leave the digital stuff out of the conversation this shouldn't end up as a flame war.

    So tell us about your enlarger, it's light source, it's lens, how you are focusing, if there is cropping, if has been aligned, and all that jazz.
     
  3. ghostcount

    ghostcount Member

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    Agree with Mark.

    How did the negative looked with a loupe? Perhaps the d***l sharpening was more than you expected. Ever though of using an unsharp mask if the negative is soft?
     
  4. Klainmeister

    Klainmeister Member

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    If the sharpness is lost towards the center (tree bark), it's possible the heat from the enlarger lamp was causing the negative to buckle a little, thus losing that sharpness. How long were your print times?
     
  5. hpulley

    hpulley Member

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    Echoing those above, we need details about how you made the optical print! All we know is the paper and that you focused and think the column is stable... Lens, aperture, negative carrier, time, filter, etc. are required before we can offer any advice. How much experience do you have printing optically/wet?
     
  6. PBrendanC

    PBrendanC Member

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    @Mark,
    Thx for the APUG welcome - APUG looks like a great forum and it's always great to pick the brains of others with more experience.

    Anyway to answer your questions:
    - Enlarger is a Saunders with Dichroic head (Rodenstock lens (I think); No Cropping on image; Exposure was about 12 secs @f8 on grade 3 filter setting; Carrier is glassless
    - I used grain magnifier for focus and I (and others) have also looked at the neg with a loupe - it's sharp.
    - FWIW I too am suspecting the enlarging lens as the weak link here, but I'd like to rule out other possibilities first.

    @hpulley - I spent a lot of my youth in the darkroom and only recently returned to darkroom printing so although I'm a bit rusty I do understand the print process. I've also spent a lot of time making digital prints, scanning etc in the past 4/5 years.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 16, 2011
  7. zsas

    zsas Member

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    Welcome back to analog! Why do you think your lens is the weak link? Could it contain fungus, haze, mold? Best! Andy
     
  8. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    The first step to improving your printing skills is to be able to see how a print can be better. Now you can see a deficiency in the darkroom print and know one area for improvement.

    Based on your post above I'm going to suggest making sure the lens is at the best aperture and if you don't have a glass carrier you might want to pre-heat the negative. One way to see if you need to do this is to put the negative in the carrier and focus perfectly at one point. Now keep the light on for about one minute. Now check your focus. See if you can detect a slight focus shift indicating the negative has buckled or popped.

    If so, re-focus, stop down to f11 and put a lenscap on. Then out with the darkroom lights, put the paper down and set the timer, quickly turn the enlarger light off and take the cap off, pause briefly in case you bumped the enlarger taking the cap off, then start the exposure.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 16, 2011
  9. domaz

    domaz Member

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    Glassless negative holder with a hot dichroic head raises alarm bells IMO. A 12 second exposure leaves ample time for "popping". There are various ways to eliminate popping including leaving the enlarger light source on before you actually make the exposure (i.e. cover up the enlarging lens so no light fogs your paper while you are getting it ready).
     
  10. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    To the OP:

    Which components of "sharpness" are most affected?

    1) Resolution;
    2) micro-contrast;
    3) macro-contrast; or
    4) acutance.

    If it is resolution, you have a problem in your set-up or your equipment.

    If it is any of the other factors, then there are big gobs of subjective factors that may be in play here.

    I'm not going to jump into any analog vs. digital fray here, except to say that if you are using the output of another process as a comparison, you need to adjust every variable to get as close a match as possible, before you make a quantitative comparison of "sharpness".
     
  11. Jedidiah Smith

    Jedidiah Smith Member

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    Just thinking out loud...because there is no way an Epson flatbed scanner is pulling all the detail out of that film. If you like the digital print "better" now, then just imagine what you could be getting with a drum scan! I think we've all done some of each (analog and digital printing) at this point, and we can be big boys and girls and discuss this without turning into a flame war. :wink:
    Some thoughts: could the digital paper for the Epson printer be brighter base than the darkroom paper you're using? The printer driver will usually apply some sharpness and/or pixel interpolation of its own depending on the dpi of your file, so you are quite possibly getting more sharpness in the digital print that what you even see from viewing the film scan on the screen. Resize the file in Photoshop to the print size @ 300dpi, and view it on the screen at 33% magnification. This is pretty much what the print should look like. Hold the print up next to the screen. If what you see on the paper is sharper than what you see on the screen, then the printer driver is working some magic behind the scenes. :D

    Not sure, but you may have to try this on a glossy paper to get better sharpness as well. (This is just my personal *opinion* but I was not overly impressed with Ilford Pearl when I used it; I preferred the Adox MCP 310 / 312 RC paper when it came out.)
    What paper developer are you using? Is it warm tone or cool tone at all? Is it new (i.e. good strength?) Are you leaving the paper in long enough to get blackest blacks (try like 2 to 3 minutes) or pulling it out after more like 1 minute? Lastly, theoretical "potential" sharpness will actually go down as you raise the fstop of the lens. Your enlarging lens will have a sweet spot, but I don't know what it is on that model. What is the minimum fstop of the enlarging lens? If I remember correctly, usually one or two fstops up from that will be the sharpest. What about printing for say, 6 secs at f5.6 and see if that helps?
    Just some ideas... :wink:
     
  12. PBrendanC

    PBrendanC Member

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    Thx to all who have responded so far and the various constructive suggestions - hopefully this can be a useful learning process for others. In response to some of the follow up questions:

    Unfortunately you cannot view either the original negative or the prints I've made - however I belong to a communal lab and I've shown the prints and negs to some of the old hands around me - no one seems very surprised at my results. (Maybe my expectations are unrealistic here, but I'm not giving up yet).

    What I'm still wondering about (and no one has commented on this so far) is whether others have seen similar differences in their own wet vs digital print tests.

    @mattking - not sure how to differentiate here re the 4 variables you listed - I will say that I see detail with a loupe on the negative that I do not see on the print -something I've observed on other prints/negs as well. FWIW If we ignore the digital comparison completely I'd have to say that the print is disappointingly soft - as stated earlier this can be seen in the (lack of) sharpness in the tree bark.

    @Jedidiah - agree that the drum scans could provide much more detail (at significant cost)- however I used the equipment readily available to me and for now I'd be happy if I could match the Epson scan results in the darkroom. I'll definitely try some of the suggestions here (yours and others) next time I print. Also at this point my focus is on improving the darkroom print and seeing how much better I can make it. (FYI min lens stop is f4; I printed @f8) - so I think I'm using the sweet spot of the lens; I also develop my prints for over 2 mins which should be adequate for RC paper AFAIK).
     
  13. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Visit a good analogue printer and see how good a print she/he can get from your neg using his/her darkroom. You can use APUG to find all manner of experts or near you.

    You have to get a "best possible" darkroom print in your hands; that will show you what to aim for.

    There are any number of reasons why your analogue workflow may not be optimal, but it is well worth the time to refine it and get it right.
     
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  15. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Brendan:

    If there is a loss of detail, that is a problem with resolution and therefore involves a problem with your equipment, or your procedure, or both.

    If it is a difference in "sharpness" or "softness" than all the other factors are most likely the culprit - acutance and micro-contrast tend to have the greatest influence on the highly subjective phenomena that is perceived "sharpness".
     
  16. Jeff Kubach

    Jeff Kubach Member

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    I have always like wet photograpy to digital.

    Jeff
     
  17. Athiril

    Athiril Subscriber

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    FP4+ in Rodinal, 3200 dpi crop of an epson scanner vs ~2500 dpi of real detail (directly digitally aquired from the neg, not a wet print). Your scanner can't see the detail on the neg. You need a professional/dedicated/etc scanner for that. The real detail from the Epson Scanner is around 26 lp/mm.

    [​IMG]


    Therefore there is serious problem is with your process and/or setup for wet printing for a low-resolving setup to best a potentially high-resolving setup.

    Assuming the 56mm is stretched across the 10 inches, and there is some cropping on the other edge, then you could be getting 5-6 lp/mm on the digital print. Which still satisfies a sharp print (and the "~300 dpi" criteria in the digital world).

    I would like to ask you to scan both prints on your Epson @ 600 dpi with sharpening off of course, a crop of the same area, and a 3200 dpi crop (sharpening off) of the neg in the same area, to really see if there is a lack of resolution in the wet print or other issues.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 17, 2011
  18. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    Sure, digital and hybrid results are different, but are we talking about personality or quality?

    It is very possible to get great results either way.

    If it's about the personality of the medium, it is a lot like asking whether oils or watercolors are better. There's nothing wrong with liking or discussing the digital/hybrid look over pure analog, but it is outside the scope of APUG.

    On the other hand when I have a quality issue it is typically driven by my failings, my mistakes, my choices, my ignorance, and my processes.

    As an example of a counter intuitive choice consider that HP5 or Tri-X (ISO 400) may appear to print sharper on occasion than FP4 or Plus-X (ISO 125) might.

    When grain prints sharp it can trick us into believing the image is actually shaper than it is. HP5's and Tri-X's grain is more prominent so even though FP4 and Plus-X are capable of finer detail, a grainier shot may actually appear sharper in a certain situation.

    In fact grain actually gives us a tool to check ourselves with.

    Regardless of the film you have look at the grain pattern in the print, is it sharp?

    Can't see the grain? Enlarge more.

    Is the grain fuzzy in the print? Something is wrong at the enlarger. It's wiggling, out of focus, heat is affecting the negative, whatever.

    Is the grain sharp, just the picture isn't? Then there's a problem at the camera. I have lots of shots that look fine through a loupe but are less than stellar in print.
     
  19. Bob-D659

    Bob-D659 Member

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    The only comparison I've done is with Kodak's new Portra 400 35mm film. Scans from the film were done by the minilab at 1500x3000. Wet prints were done on a Durst 4x5 with an almost brand new Componon-S 50 f2.8. The prints done in my darkroom are "sharper" than the scans and have more detail. If that enlarger lens is a few years old, I would think it might have some haze in it which can kill the apparent sharpness on a print, not to mention the negative warping during the exposure. I use either full or half glass carriers for 35mm, 645 and 6x6 negs, as I hate watching the image go out of focus due to warping as I try to focus it.

    I cleaned two Componons from the early 1960s that had some haze. The difference was night and day. It brought the older 50mm lens' print quality almost up the new Componon-S, you needed a 10x loupe to see the difference in resolution on prints that were done at 16x magnification. :smile:

    Edit: I thought both older lenses were pretty sharp before I cleaned them.
     
  20. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    Hi PBrendanC,

    If you want to come down Hwy 1, you can bring your neg and prints here to look at under a 30x microscope.

    You can use my DII with cold light to make 11x14 FB prints on Galerie. My 75mm Componar is nothing special, so if you get better results here it won't be because your lens was bad.
     
  21. Mainecoonmaniac

    Mainecoonmaniac Subscriber

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    Digital prints from the same digital file are all the same. A traditional hand printed silver gelatin prints from the same neg printed optically are slightly different from each other. I think this gives each print a personality all their own. That's my 2 cents worth.
     
  22. Ronald Moravec

    Ronald Moravec Member

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    The darkroom imaging chain has to be perfect in all respects and there are many places where things can go wrong. If you got a good digital print, that means the negative is fine.

    The enlarger needs to be aligned properly. The neg has to be flat and that generally means a glass carrier. Negs in open carriers tend to heat pop upward putting the center out of focus. Heat absorbing glass helps. You need to use F11 or so or a good enlarging lens. The cheapos don`t work. Chemicals need to be fresh and that means the developer needs to be stored air free and diluted to working strength less than 8 hours before use. Paper needs to be fresh without fog. There is no telling how long it sits on the dealers shelf. Buy from a place where turnover is good. Paper lasted decades in the 60`s. Manufacturing is different now and it is good only for 2/3 years from date of manufacture.

    Establish focus with a grain magnifier. Nobody`s eye is good enough.

    There are other ways to go wrong I am not thinking of right now, but I assure you a well done wet print and well done digittal print can closely match.
     
  23. Maris

    Maris Member

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    It is routine in traditional darkroom work to produce gelatin-silver paper positives that show sharply defined grain all over. That's what I get in my darkroom. I'm reasonably conscientious in focussing and I use good but not special equipment. A "grain sharp" positive means every bit of available detail has been extracted from the negative and any unsharpness must have happened at the camera-work stage.

    I have seen digital printouts derived from some of my negatives and the results at a glance look sharper. They have "apparent sharpness" or "eye sharpness" that comes from computer processing of edges and high spatial frequency detail. But, and it is a big but, when a loupe is dropped onto the printout the "apparent sharpness" collapses into a clutter of computer artifacts, haloes, fringing, pixel chatter and the like, none of which was in the original negative.

    Computer printouts are not photographs and simulations of sharpness are not a good enough reason for me to bother looking at them.
     
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  24. eddie

    eddie Subscriber

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    A properly exposed, sharp (with a loupe) 6x6 negative, enlarged to 8x10 should be sharp as a tack. I think there's something influencing your results. Either your equipment, or technique. Are you focusing with the lens wide open (f.4), before stopping down to f.8? If so, try checking the focus, with your grain magnifier, at f.8.
     
  25. anikin

    anikin Subscriber

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    My post is not APUG kosher. I apologize. Moderators, please delete if you find it inappropriate.

    I actually did some work on printer drivers, and I can confirm that some (most?) drivers do add artificial edge enhancement even if you did not ask for it. This is done to compensate for ink spread and to simply make consumers happier :smile: So what you see on your digital side is not at all surprising. The result is that photo appears sharper, but it's just appearance - the detail is not there. A contact print on glossy photo paper on the other hand is really what I would call sharp. I'm holding one in my hand and :whistling:
     
  26. Richard S. (rich815)

    Richard S. (rich815) Subscriber

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    Nice photo. Mallard Lake, Golden Gate Park, right? I've shot this same tree a number of times. One of my fav spots to "test" lenses.

    This is the wrong forum to even think anyone would favor or be inclined towards a digital print. I know what you mean though. Most of my work is scanned on my Nikon 9000 or my LeafScan 45 and then printed on an Epson 1400 using carbon black inks on either Hahnemuhle Photo Rag or Epson Hot Press. if you look close enough the digital prints are "grainier" from the printer's dots and therefore will usually have a stronger sense of perceived sharpness (sort of like Barry Thornton's discussion in one of his books of how grainier faster films will often look sharper than slower, finer-grained films). Some like the look, some prefer the analog prints. Some use loupes and complain about how they can see the inkjet dots on digital prints, others stand at typical viewing distance and appreciate the sharpness or look of sharpness that such digital prints, when done "well" can show. As for why your analog print looks softer some good suggestions here. After you've solved any issue there might be with the traditional darkroom print you might decide it matches or exceeds what you want in your prints. Or you might like the digital one better. Either is ok.