What is the biggest, perfectly sharp format you can get from your sharpest negatives?

Discussion in 'Enlarging' started by A49, Feb 7, 2011.

  1. A49

    A49 Member

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    Hello everybody,

    the question sounds simple but easily provokes misunderstandings. "Sharp" in the sense of my question means that you can look at your print from as close as possible and still see a tack sharp image while most critically inspecting it. So that you could say: "If I would enlarge this negative to a smaller size it would not become sharper." Grain and tonality problems that come with big prints are of no interest as long as the grain does not become too obviously and takes over as a reference for the perceived sharpness.

    It would be interesting if you not only mentioned your negative format and the maximum print format but also some technicals dates regarding the conditions under which you made your "perfect" negative. For instance camera and lens type, used aperture, film and developer, exposure time and if you shot with flashlight and with or without tripod. My question is not meant as a competition but to gather some experiences about different techniques and their potential for enlarging.

    Kind regards,
    Andreas
     
  2. George Collier

    George Collier Member

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    Hard to answer in objective terms, at least for me. Too many of the factors you describe (I understand the question) are not quantifiable, but mostly perception, which is subjective. Although you and I can look at something, discuss, and agree on these things, I don't know how to express them verbally only.
    One of my best images, in terms you describe, is an image of a telephone pole, up close, with a background too hard to describe. It was taken with yellow filter, strong cross sun lighting, blue sky in the background. It was taken with the same view camera, lens, film, etc. that many others have been taken with, but it stands out in the way you describe more than most of my other images. So why? Maybe the confluence of subject, lighting, who knows what else.
    There could be a lot to say about this, but too much to type.

    Let's see what others post.
     
  3. Greg Davis

    Greg Davis Member

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    30x40 inch print from 8x10 Kodak TMY-2 printed with Schneider 240mm Componon shot with Schneider 300mm APO-Symmar. I may get a larger print, but my enlarger doesn't go higher than 30x40 inches.
     
  4. 23mjm

    23mjm Member

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    A49 you are overly obsessed with sharpness. Subject, Composition, & Light make a good photograph sharpness doesn't.
     
  5. darkroom_rookie

    darkroom_rookie Member

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    Hopefully, 55"x72" from 4x5 Fuji 160S (which is yet to be shot with rented Sinar equipment and developed by a pro lab two countries away...). Lens intended for this printing feat is a pristine Rodagon-G 210mm, and the negative is to sit in AN glass holder. All will be cleaned with anti-static brushes and take place in a slightly more humid room. As far as optical printing goes, "G"/"APO", "AN", "anti-static" and "humidity" apparently must be part of the equation which is to have "biggest" and "perfectly sharp" as the end result. I just started building a 60"x72" processing pipe from cardboard, paper tape, epoxy, polyurethane and talc, as well as arranging set building and painting, models and wardrobe, planning a lighting scheme and talking to gallerists about the exhibition.
    But do get a heavy tripod. Sachtler tripods are pretty good.
     
  6. David William White

    David William White Member

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    Grain can stand in and provide the 'anchor'. Kind of the forest/trees thing.

    But yeah, with my Agfa Clack (6x9 cm), anything other than contact prints look unfocused. With my 40mm Rokkor on my Bessa, I'm happy doing 11x14, and with my Mamiya TLR, 16x20 still looks sharp & could probably go larger. Those would be handheld. Hope that helps.
     
  7. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

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    Andreas

    Your actual negative resolution divided by 7 lp/mm will give you the maximum magnification factor for your enlargement, because 7 lp/mm is the average resolution limit for the human eye at minimum viewing distance (10 inches). However, who looks at a large print from 10 inches away? Only print judges and CSI agents (keep them away from your prints).

    A more reasonable assumption is that a print is viewed from a minimum distance, which is equal to the print's diagonal. That means, if an 8x10 print is sharp beyond human detection, any other size print is equally sharp as long as it is viewed from that minimum viewing distance. Anything else is bit obsessive!
     
  8. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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  9. Existing Light

    Existing Light Member

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    Step 1: Get a large format camera
    Step 2: Contact Print
    Step 3: Stop worrying about sharpness. You wont have to deal with loss of sharpness and big grain if you contact print big negs

    :D
     
  10. hpulley

    hpulley Member

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    I'm a sharpness freak too and I'm guilty of taking pictures because I'd enjoy viewing an 11x14" print from too close to admire the sharpness. I printed one such print yesterday, Canon FTbN, Canon 35mm f/2.0 SSC II (concave front element thorium element), Ilford PanF+ souped in DD-X 1+4 9:00, printed on Ilford MultiGrade WarmTone. Oh, the subject? Yes, a row of straw bales with snow on top, farm in the background. You can easily see the individual strands of straw and binding, the snow has a wonderful texture, there is no grain to be seen anywhere even with a large enlargement, using the whole page so it was in fact a crop. Old EL Nikkor 50mm f/2.8 enlarging lens at f/5.6 because the warmtone paper is really slooooow.

    Honestly shooting PanF+ with a sharp lens like that makes me wonder sometimes why I'm shooting medium format now. I see more grain in Delta 100 120 enlarged to the same 11x14" size than PanF+ 50 135. Of course PanF+ 120 is even better but when I can't see the grain in 135 size already it is getting silly. I really need to enlarge beyond 11x14" to really exploit MF I think.

    Crummy digital camera picture of the print doesn't do it justice:
    [​IMG]
    Hay bales 11x14 print by Harry Pulley, on Flickr
     
  11. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    Or just print big from 35mm or 120.

    The thing is, most people that view photographs (other than photographers of course) probably don't care too much about sharpness and grain. They look at photographs and continue to look at them because the subject matter holds their interest.
    And as a photographer, tonality will attract me from across a room, while fine grain and sharpness will not.

    This is a hugely subjective topic, and you will get as many replies as there are opinions in the matter.

    I personally think 20x24" prints from 35mm can look absolutely stunning. Even larger. From Tri-X or other fairly coarsely grained films... Somebody else might thing I'm crazy for thinking so.

    - Thomas
     
  12. rjmeyer314

    rjmeyer314 Member

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    I shoot in several different formats, and have tried to answer a slightly modified version of this question. First, I define perfectly sharp as sharp when held at the end of my nose, without a magnifier. The questions I tried to answer were what were the smallest negative to give me sharp 20"x24" prints, or sharp 30"x40" prints. For 20x24 inch sharp prints I have found I need a negative that is 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 or bigger. For 30"x40" sharp prints I've found that a negative that is 8"x10"will give me good prints. 4x5 negatives won't give me 30x40 inch prints in my current darkroom setup. This leaves sort of unresloved whether 5x7 will give me sharp 30x40 prints. I haven't answered that yet. This answer is somewhat hardware dependent. I can't get my handmade 30x40 easel on the baseboards of my Omega D2V and Beseler 45M enlargers, while I can do 20x24 on them. I can get my 30x40 easel on the baseboard of my Elwood 8x10, but I can't collapse the bellows of the 8x10 Elwood enough to use a 150mm lens, like I would like to use for 4x5's. I use a 180mm Repromaster lens for all negatives on the Elwood. Using that lens I can't get 30x40 inch prints from 4x5 with the available head heights. Wall projection might give different answers, but I'm not set up to do that in my darkroom.
     
  13. A49

    A49 Member

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    This is off topic two times in two sentences. At first since we are not psychologist and don´t discuss personal obsessions. :smile: And at second since I explicitly did not ask what makes a good photograph or print, but "How far would you go with the enlarging of different negative formats, if you want it sharp."

    Lets say it a little more precisely: Sharpness alone does not make a good photograph. Why don´t you admit that Subject, Composition, & Light without enough sharpness or resolution do not make a good photograph either. What is "enough sharpness" depends on your personal taste and on the issue that you photograph.

    So if I had written: "I want to shoot architecture and sceneries with much, very fine details (what I often do) or maybe even reproduction or scientific issues that I would like to capture most perfectly.", would you still tell me that in these subjects of photography sharpness and resolution are secondary? The craftmanship of making the most beautiful "unsharp" or grainy pictures is another, surely interesting story...

    Why is it, that if I´m asking something about sharpness, resolution or grain, there is always somebody questioning my question and tells me that sharpness, high resolution and fine (or not visible) grain are not necessary for a good picture. I thought a forum with the topics darkroom and enlarging is mainly about perfecting technique and craftsmanship...If not, what are they for? And what is the difference of this forum here in comparison with the "Photographic Aesthetics and Composition" forum?

    Yes, you are right. I´m at this point obsessed with sharpness and resolution and I have been about grain, about the most exact colour rendering (I have to reproduce paintings from time to time.), lenses and so on... But I´m the one and only person that can decide if my obsessions are "over" or not. From all these private obsessions I have learned something about the potential and the limits of photography. Sometime it is good for me to go deep into one subject. If I dug through it, I look from a farther distance on it and take the things that are useful for me to make good photographs. That´s what in my opinion APUG is about: An exchange of useful things for making good photographs.


    Sorry, but I had to write this clearly.

    Kind regards,
    Andreas
     
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  15. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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    Andreas,

    I think your interest in sharpess is fully justified but that generally the people who ask such questions on APUG are maybe asking it for the wrong reasons. I'm not saying you are by any means, but just giving you an idea of what other people are thinking and why they are responding as such. Architecture certainly seems like an area where sharpness is very imortant.

    What size prints are you desiring? I would have to think that shooting on 4x5" would leave very little to be desired, assuming you have any of the modern, APO, lenses and a correspondingly good enlarging setup.

    Many people here have excellent technical info, like Ralph, who can assist you better than I, but the key to sharpness is low magnification upon enlargment, therefore you need the largest format to begin with, and 4x5" is the most practical and affordable for that. 8x10" is of course going to be even better, but I don't think the costs will justify it unless you are making extremely large prints.

    My 2¢
     
  16. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Personally? 8x10 from 8x10.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 7, 2011
  17. Q.G.

    Q.G. Inactive

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    Now quite a number of years ago, i had some 6x6s printed on translucent film to be displayed on light boxes in a local hotel.
    The prints were 210 cm high. Not square though (cropped), and i forget the width.

    They looked perfectly fine (though i didn't like the way the colours had shifted. But the hotel owner did. So i didn't make a fuzz about it), certainly from the distance they would have been seen normally.
    What surprised me (for lack of a better word) was that some people went up really close to look for detail. That wasn't what made me remember this though.
    What was, was that they did see detail they hadn't, couldn't, from a 'reasonable' viewing distance.
    From that moment on, i stopped worrying about print sizes.

    I do like a sharp negative though.
     
  18. Allen Friday

    Allen Friday Member

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    Ralph,

    I think it is a reasonable assumption that most viewers will only look at the print from near the "minimum viewing distance," which is equal to the diagonal of the print. But, let's be clear, the "minimum" distance is not really the minimum, it is more an "average" viewing distance. You can accept this assumption or reject it. Personally, I accept it as "average." I reject it as the standard to which to print. I do not print "average."

    Next time you are at a museum, stand back from the artwork and observe the other patrons. While most will stand near the "minimum" viewing distance, a significant number will get as close to the work as possible to examine the brush strokes or fine detail or chisel marks. I have had viewers (not photography judges) get inches away from prints to examine fine detail.


    A great authority on photography stated, "a most critical viewer may be as close as his or her eyes will focus, investigating all areas of the photograph." Way Beyond Monochrome, 2nd ed., 2011, p. 132. So the issue is, do you want to print to average or to the most critical viewer. I opt to please myself, a critical viewer, and others who view work critically. If I print to that standard, I know the average viewer will be pleased.

    Obsessive? Perhaps. I call it having high standards for my work. I do very few things in life to a standard of "average." (Okay, my golf game is average and I enjoy golf, but that is about it).
     
  19. Perry Way

    Perry Way Member

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    I find for sharpness sake, it begins with the film, not the format per se.

    If you want high contrast sharp, start with PanX and develop in Ilfotech DD-X. If you want faster than 50 ASA then use FP4+.

    If you want regular contrast and incredible gray tone and delineation between shades with zero or next to zero grain, start with Adox CHS Art 25 or Efke 25 and develop in Adolux ATM 49.

    I suppose Rollei fans will balk at me not mentioning Rollei Pan 25 but then I haven't used it. Likely it rates somewhere between PanF and CHS 25.

    Starting with these films provides the greatest degree of sharpness capacity (my opinion of course). From there all the other things people have stated so far come into play.
     
  20. Allen Friday

    Allen Friday Member

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    A49,

    I recommend the book The Edge of Darkness, by Barry Thorton. The book deals with many of the issues raised in this and your other post. He examines in detail the relationship between sharpness and perceived sharpness. He tests a number of factors which influence our perception of sharpness in a print, including format/negative size, enlargement size, film speed, developers, lenses and enlarging light sources.

    The problem in answering your questions specifically is that each of these factors influences the way we perceive sharpness in a print. It is very difficult to discuss this many factors in a forum setting in any kind of detail. This subject obviously interests you greatly, so find the book and read a comprehensive discussion of the subject.
     
  21. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    I'm not Ralph, but when people examine photographic prints up close, what makes you so sure they are studying sharpness and grain?

    - Thomas
     
  22. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Ansel said to hang the big print over the piano.
     
  23. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

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    Allen

    The trouble is, for all depth-of-field calculations using a CoC a proportional distance from the print is assumed. If you like to print large, you cannot satisfy the sharpness criteria of people having their noses on your print, no matter how hard you try, unless you stick to contact printing.
     
  24. A49

    A49 Member

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    First of all thank you to everybody for joining in this interesting discussion. For me it brings a lot of things I have to think of.

    To Mr. 23mjm, I´m sorry for my somehow enraged reaction to your statement. Don´t intented to attack you personally and I hope i didn´t. I just did not want that the discussion looses focus on my question.


    That is a good point. Someone sees an interesting thing as a whole. Maybe it is a painting or a photograph or even a nice car or an old rock. If it is really interesting then it´s common that the viewer comes closer to see the details. Only photographers come (too) close to the prints because they want to judge their own or another persons technical craftsmanship. The average person comes closer because of the curiosity to see more, smaller details. In the real world you can always come closer to something and then you see more details up to the limit from that the human eye still can focus sharp.

    Could that be one aspect of the fascination of sharp photographs especially in comparison to other arts that are not as "highly resolved"? I find this close-up effect very fascinating.

    An example: A few month ago in my hometown´s art school, where they teach photography among other subjects, I looked on a very large colour photograph (about 7 x 10 feet) of a big modern building in an urban scenery. The building had many small balconies, maybe 50. What a surprise for me when I stepped towards the picture: I could see all the things that were deposited on each single balcony. I looked from the closest distance from that my eyes still could focus the photograph sharply - this colour print was perfectly sharp. I don´t know how the photographer did this, if he used ultra large format or digitally stitched the picture, but even with 8 x 10 inch I think it is impossible to make such large and sharp prints.

    Maybe someone can imagine the technical fascination of that masterwork. The technical craftsmanship perfectly corresponded with the sujet.


    Best regards,
    Andreas
     
  25. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    i am not interested in sharpness at all but just the same i always find these discussions great.
     
  26. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    Nuthin's perfect, Andreas.