Where are color prints made optically?

Discussion in 'Color: Film, Paper, and Chemistry' started by RattyMouse, Feb 28, 2013.

  1. RattyMouse

    RattyMouse Subscriber

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    I am trying to figure out what life will be like back in the US when I eventually move back home. I have started shooting film again while living overseas in China. My main interest is in prints, not scans, not anything to do with scanning.

    I have been out of the film picture a good 10 years or so, and have lost touch completely with printing.

    From what I keep reading here, optical printing, straight from the negative is on life support, if not dead. On the other hand, sometimes people refute this claim.

    So I ask, where can I send negatives (medium format sizes) to print optically? Mail order prints are no problem. I just want some examples to see where I can do this, and at what price. Heck, I might even send my negatives there from China, to see some examples.

    Right now my main interest is in color printing, since I fully expect at some point to do my own monochromes. Color is a whole different story.

    Thanks!
     
  2. polyglot

    polyglot Member

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    Commercial optical printing is much harder to find than hybrid, simply because it is much more labour-intensive and therefore comparatively very expensive. It's not dead if you ask people who print for themselves.

    There was a thread recently asking for a list of optical-printing labs if you want to do a bit of searching.
     
  3. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    I use Samys for color film development and prints, but for large prints I use Golden Color http://goldencolor.com/. Both are printing optically, not digitally for my work.
     
  4. Dave R.

    Dave R. Member

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    I think BlueMoon Camera in Oregon still does optical prints.
     
  5. RattyMouse

    RattyMouse Subscriber

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    Thank you very much.
     
  6. RattyMouse

    RattyMouse Subscriber

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    I find this information that you give confusing. Doesnt hybrid printing involve a significant loss of quality due to the scanning process? Or does hybrid printing automatically mean drum scans? I find it amazing that the glorious prints that medium format is capable of has been lost due to this hybrid process.

    There's nothing like a wonderful print off a 6 x 9 negative and so far, i have never seen a scan that can deliver such. With optical printing dead or dying, it seems that a huge benefit to shooting color film is being lost.
     
  7. bob100684

    bob100684 Member

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    Hybrid printing can be a blessing and a curse. Yes, your prints might not look as detailed under a loupe, but realistically things like digital ICE eliminating dust and scratches help. Also, food for thought, fuji at one point stated that print quality given morning calibration prints drifted LESS in 6 months on their digital frontiers than their optical SFA's would between opening and lunch hour.
     
  8. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Are we talking about working on the margins where demands for quality are highest, or are we talking about good quality prints at reasonable expense?

    If we are talking about the latter, good quality scans and experienced and knowledgeable operators mean good quality results.

    It really depends more on the people doing the work then the choice of process if you are talking about cost-effective product.

    Around here, you need to request a moderately expensive custom print to get something printed optically.
     
  9. polyglot

    polyglot Member

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    Hybrid is just a different tradeoff. You typically get a little more grain but not much assuming you're using a proper film scanner not some cheap flatbed. My Nikon 8000 has slightly less resolution than my RZ67 but it's good enough to make grain-free 40" canvases from chromes. Hybrid also means you get automatic dust removal (from colour film) and the ability to tweak curves, contrast and saturation to your heart's content. Arguably I get much better colour fidelity from hybrid processing, I do the wet printing because I enjoy it.

    Commercial labs exist to make money. They can do a scan for about $10 of their time and print to 16x20" for about $2. That's much more commercially reasonable than the same $2 of paper and most of an hour for a technician to operate the enlarger. Plus the adjustments are free and previewable. 99% of customers would rather pay $20 to get a scan+print that comes out exactly like the on-screen preview and probably as sharp as their eyes can perceive, than spend $100 to get a print that might be 1% better in resolution with a good chance of not getting the colour they wanted. The former is a commercially viable operation, the latter is not.
     
  10. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    What constitutes "a wonderful print off a 6 x 9 negative"?
    Have you never seen a fine art media, colourimetrically-matched and spotted print from the hybrid method? There is a very, very good chance that you have seen one, but didn't recognise it.

    Hybrid, or more correctly, analogue-to-digital printing, involves a only a very slight decrease in quality, too little to be of whinge value for many purposes. A scanner picks up a formidable amount of detail, especially in MF. Drum scans are very common for large prints, chosen for my medium format (6x7) prints up to 100cm wide (by corresponding height). These are framed and exhibited here in my little gallery, alongside those evergreen old stalwarts, the long gone-darkroom-created Ilfochrome Classic prints. Every single print is conservation framed, including the Ilfochromes.
    FB mono prints have provided me with a lot of fun in years gone by (I last printed in a darkroom in 2000). I have 14 framed from years and years ago, but not on display. My forté is colour, not B&W.


    Now, you'd be hard pressed, if you did not have a lot of knowledge, to separate the hybrid prints from Ilfochromes on the wall. The dark, contrasty, lushly coloured, laboriously printed and exorbitantly expensive (4 prints once cost me more than $2,000) 'chromes will last centuries, hybrids one or two (so? you won't be around in those days, but there's no harm in leaving a lasting image...), but the gap between the two processes in terms of quality and cost-effectiveness is closing continuously. The important thing is both processes look exquisite in skillfully-created print form, framed and exhibited. In truth, visitors comment more favourably on the lush beauty of the medium format hybrid prints with all their inherent smooth tonal range and detail that is missing from the 35mm-based Ilfochrome prints.

    You know, lots of people here on APUG have their own darkroom, and small niche businesses run thriving workshops on alternative processes and printing skills. More widely, few businesses can afford to pander an almost non-existent market, or afford to stand still with just one service — they go with the flow, many in their own right truly excelling at what they do. That business is booming and for the participants armed with their beautiful images (negatives or transparencies), it is truly beckoning you to step up and at the very least, give it a try.

    ICE ("dust removal") is discouraged because it adds weight to files, can obscure fine detail (or mistake it for a speck) and reduce overall clarity.
     
  11. RattyMouse

    RattyMouse Subscriber

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    Ok, I understand now. I have to just try it and see how it looks to my own eyes. I think what has disappointed me so far are my prints from scans that have come back from my film development lap. They look OK on the screen, but nowhere near as good as what I think a medium format print should be. Clearly a proper shop should be doing better it seems from what I am hearing.
     
  12. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    All good. I think, sire, that you need to seek out a pro lab with a stellar reputation in producing fine art quality prints to exhibition standard (ask to see the sort of work that might closely parallel what you produce in terms of film images). Then take them for a spin with something you really, really want to see printed. At the start, it assumes your negatives/trannnies are well exposed, focused, sharp and especially not too dark (I'm sure they are good! :smile:). Darkroom printing is often a solo discipline guided by judgement and experience to produce a print that is the bespoke vision of the photographer. Hybrid / lab stuff involves you identifying the print you want, calling the shots, and working with (never against) a highly skilled team working toward a common goal of producing a print that everybody is happy with — but especially you!

    I can tell you something: I have had occasion to be enthralled at the B&W works of a few photographers here on APUG produced in their own wet darkrooms, but generally less enthralled by their colour work. This is not throwing barbs or knives, nor is it a criticism, but making a point of the way individuals see and master their chosen technique. I probably produced only 10-15 beautiful FB prints from 1990 to 1999, as opposed to 400+ Ilfochromes (still counting in the hybrid process), which no doubt accords me the award of Epic Fail in B&W, LOL! Fine. I stick to what I know best. :smile:
     
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  14. nickrapak

    nickrapak Member

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  15. tim elder

    tim elder Member

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    My Own Color Lab in New York does excellent work. Their outdated web site (www.myowncolorlab.com) will give you their contact information but you should call for specific prices, etc.

    -Tim
     
  16. Alan Klein

    Alan Klein Member

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    Which film prints the best using the hybrid method?
     
  17. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    Velvia 50, Velvia 100, Provia 100F.
    B&W: Take our pick. :smile:

    There is quite a bit of skill involved in getting the most out of the film (tranny/negative), so one talks only about film up to a certain point in the process before things like colourimetrics, profiling etc are started. And you don't do my sort of printing on a $99 printer (I think it cost the lab $80,000...). :smile:
     
  18. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    I'm of the philosophy that if you want something done right, you do it yourself. But "hybrid" printing
    via scanning onto actual chemical paper, can be done from either transparenies or color negatives,
    depending on the specific skills and equipment of the lab involved. Both laser and Chromira type printer
    are involved, typcially onto an RA4 type paper (or polyester-base like Fuji Supergloss, similar to Ciba
    visually). Ciba itself is virtually gone as an option. I don't know anyone around here with an $80,000
    printer - they'd consider something like that a toy!
     
  19. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    My prints are created from ACROS 100 negs or Velvia 50 / Provia 100F trannies.
    The colour process is more involved, B&W straightforward with myriad variations in finish.

    The reason wet darkrooms went out of fashion, so to speak, is that they priced themselves out of the market when hybridisation leapfrogged over them (including Ilfochrome with all its inherent sticky contrast problems). After my own early difficulties and frustrations securing a darkroom, I used to pay a Master Printer (a brilliant Finn, commercial darkroom-based) $58 per hour to produce a triptych of images (typically $400 for three RC or FB prints); the results were always truly exquisite. He and the darkroom have been gone a long time now, something like 15 years.
     
  20. DREW WILEY

    DREW WILEY Member

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    Making RA4 prints from color negs is easy. Doing it well is another subject, just like anything else.
    Chromes can be done in darkroom via interneg, but that is an advanced skill which even pro labs rarely
    did well, simply because they couldn't afford the labor to do it right. But the actual output medium of
    scan to laser is essentially the same in terms of paper options, so you can still do it all with an enlarger
    and basic darkroom drums or feed processors. And you can get a more seamless result in terms of detail
    and tone transitions. This is not the appropriate forum for digital versus optical, but they are parallel
    paths to equally high-quality results under ideal circumstances. 6x9 film is particularly challenging because it's small and flimsy, and requires more spotting than sheet film, scratches more easily than
    35mm etc. It's easier to retouch via scanning and Photoshop. But where sheet film is involved, I'd far
    rather have true optical enlargements, if optimum quality is your concern. I realize there are some supply and service issues in Australia, but you should be able to acquire basic RA4 supplies there.
    Portra sheet film can be used for excellent interneg work, though it helps to have color masking skills.
     
  21. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    I'm a little confused by what you mean when you state "hybrid". There are a number of ways to get from a to b with color printing. Some labs use the scan-to-inkjet to produce a print, and some are using a "digital enlarger" that scans the negative and makes an optical enlargement onto RA4 paper. Scan-to-print will have greater loss of detail than the digital-optical enlargement, but the benefit is the papers are arguably more stable and you have a wider range of paper choices with scan-to-print. Places that do digital-optical enlargement will talk about "lightjet" or "Chromira" prints (I may be wrong on the Chromira name, so if someone knows better, please correct me). If you want traditional wet-darkroom print quality, these are the preferred way to go. As mentioned before, the old-fashioned way of purely optical/wet-darkroom printing is pretty much dead from a commercial standpoint. If you want a commercial lab to print it for you, check and see what system of printing they use for making color prints.
     
  22. DREW WILEY

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    I doubt that very many outfits use actual digital enlargers. They were something of a bellyflop. Digital
    printing onto photo paper (versus inkjet) either involves colored lasers or some kind of programmed contact platen. There are still some full-service labs around which offer true optical printing via enlarger
    too, since the processing step itself is virtually the same. But advanced printing controls get rather
    expensive labor-wise in direct optical printing, and there is a smaller labor pool with the requisite skills. Still, there are folks who prefer the look of optical and are willing to pay for it. If you learn to do
    it yourself, direct enlargment is in fact quite economical material-wise. Time is another issue.
     
  23. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    Masking at a pro lab is a requisite for using Ilfochrome Classic; there is very rarely a tranny, especially that can get away without masking.Unfortunately the mask also interferes with sharpness.

    The printers are (were) Master Accredited (here in Australia). The problem with Ilfo' is the limited wiggle-room with contrast in the two media types. Images can lose from 2 to 3.5 stops through the process; I nailed a lot on Velvia, but a lot more were "at the margin" needing extensive masking and testing, and neither of the two media versions were ever 100% satisfactory. So, pro labs can afford to do it, but the cost will ultiimately be absorbed by the customer, which is why it was so very expensive. It was never "seamless" in terms of detail or tonal transitiions, but rather abrubt and jarring; there was room for a lot of improvement of the media, and why it never was improved has puzzled users for a long time.

    4x5 sheet film comes up absolutely beautifully in the hybrid sphere — it really does, just beautifully; I love it, but I will not move on to 4x5 because I am concerned by Fuji's potential plans to trim off yet more lines form the reversal film stable, possibly later this year.
     
  24. Paul Verizzo

    Paul Verizzo Member

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    One of the great boons of scanning, processing, and printing is the ability to correct contrast and color very easily. Scanning thousands of prints and source negatives from my father and grandfather, both published and professional photographers was very enlightening in this matter. With a few second's work, I could attain a full brightness range. Awesome.

    And it's not like optical printing doesn't have it's own issues like lens aberrations, etc.

    I would think the skills of the operator in either system is more important that which system one uses. But each to their own.
     
  25. Paul Verizzo

    Paul Verizzo Member

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    One of the great boons of scanning, processing, and printing is the ability to correct contrast and color very easily. Scanning thousands of prints and source negatives from my father and grandfather, both published and professional photographers was very enlightening in this matter. With a few second's work, I could attain a full brightness range. Awesome.

    And it's not like optical printing doesn't have it's own issues like lens aberrations, etc.

    I would think the skills of the operator in either system is more important that which system one uses. But each to their own.