RA-4 Printing for $200
The best thing about digital photography is that these amazing color enlargers are being dumped onto the used market. I acquired my Vivitar 356 enlarger with dichroic color head for $80 shipped and I got my beseler 50mm lens for $5. You can too.
Color NEGATIVE FILM printing is very similar to Black and White printing with a few changes. There is no Variable Contrast paper. There is essentially one grade of paper. All contrast corrections are made during in camera exposure rating. To decrease contrast, you overexpose the film. That is the extent of contrast correction.
Second, you adjust the three color channels separately. That means it's three times more difficult to print. Actually that's not quite true. Everything in color work has been standardized, so all the films posses similar contrast. If you use only one film type at one EI in one set of conditions, all your times will be just about the same.
-A sink with tray/print washer
-An enlarger w/ carrier and lens. You either need a dichroic color head or a set of color filters. Filters are a pain. Get the dichroic head for $50.
-Easel for paper holding
-Two trays for chemistry
-Paper-Start with 8x10, 5x7 is rare. Some people like Fuji Crystal Archive best, others prefer Kodak Endura. Minor detail- the Kodak stuff works with both Fuji and Kodak films. The Fuji stuff is not absolutely optimal for Kodak films. I don't notice, maybe you will.
-Optional Safe light- Amber filter-"will degrade results"-try it if you want.
Get this down. Use a wrist watch or timer for consistency. That's not terribly critical as long as you develop enough. I use room temperature with the Kodak chemistry, no problems. If you want to try the higher temperatures, have fun.
Developer-2-3 minutes. Pick a time and use it.
Blix-4 minutes for a final print, you can get away with less for a test strip.
Wash-Until the paper has no fix left in it. Run the water slowly. I use warm water.
Select a daylight exposed frame of your primary film. Most every color film uses an orange mask. This is to compensate for various inadequacies in the dyes of the couplers. Masks range from darker to lighter, different shades etc. You should take notes on every type film and it's "base values;" that is, the Magenta and Yellow numbers for each film. Then when you want to print a frame, you read your notebook and know which values to set. You may have to change them to get the best look on a frame by frame basis. I scrawl my notes on masking tape on my enlarger base. The old owner did that too :D
Follow all the techniques of B&W work including size and framing. Focus with a grain scope resting on a sheet of photo paper on the easel.
When you start, you should set a medium value like 25Y 25M onto your dichroic head. Then expose a test strip. On an optimally exposed frame, the orange base of the film will be completely black and the image will be perfect. You can try doing a test strip on the complete black area. Choose a time just greater than when the film turns black. From there adjust your EI for future films, if necessary adjust the time for each frame.
Once you get the time set, do a confirming strip-place a fresh strip of paper on the easel and expose for the correct time. After processing and rinsing to remove the orange blix cast, look at it under the same type of illumination you will view the final print in (important!) I purchased a daylight balanced CFL bulb for viewing. It works.
Print this out and post it in your darkroom:
-If print is too RED, dial +5cc MAGENTA and +5cc YELLOW, print will turn lighter
-too GREEN, dial -5cc MAGENTA, turns darker
-too BLUE, dial -5cc YELLOW, turns darker
-too CYAN, dial -5cc MAGENTA and -5cc YELLOW
-too MAGENTA, dial +5cc MAGENTA, turns lighter
-too YELLOW, dial +5cc YELLOW, turns lighter
Save yourself, don't try to memorize these. These are for negative work. Slide printing is the exact opposite. Notice that for negative work you need not touch the cyan dial 99% of the time.
5cc is a small correction. For blaring corrections, use 20-30cc. For moderate corrections use 10-15cc. Experience will tell.
Once your confirming strip looks the correct color balance, make sure the brightness is good. If not, adjust the time. Now make your final print. Process and wash.
This is for printing NEGATIVES. SLIDE FILM can only be printed digitally (for wimps) or with Ilfochrome materials. The 8x10 paper costs $3 a sheet and the chemistry costs $100 for a 2 liter kit. If you can afford it, the color corrections are opposite these and there are multiple grades of paper.
It's possible to reverse RA-4 paper using a process known colloquially as RR-4. PE outlines it in this thread. It would seem, however, that your mileage may very when using this process, but it certainly looks to be a viable alternative to Ilfochrome for printing slides (and it's a lot cheaper). I haven't tried it myself, but it's on my list of things to do.
I have tried that. The contrast of the final prints is quite high, usually requiring the technique of contrast masking. The only paper that works with that process is Kodak Endura. All of the others don't clear to pure white. I will probably try again, but the success I had was limited. I did try it in an 8x10 camera and it worked, but contrast was high and it requires pretty weird filtration.
You add a first developer which should be a low contrast or diluted Black and White paper developer. Then you stop the paper, re-expose to light, and place in standard RA-4 developer. You can try it, but I don't think it would become your standard printing procedure.
I'm not suggesting it become a part of anyone's printing workflow; it's obviously a "primitive" process! I just thought it might be a good way for those looking to make prints from slides to get started before taking the plunge with Ilfochrome.
Cool article, am screwing up the courage to try this once I get my hands on a colour head enlarger.
Minor addition detail: AVOID FUJI PAPERS AT ALL COST. Fuji papers, mostly the newer type designed to work with digital exposure, are intended to be used with a proprietary developer at high temperatures. In this setup they yield major bad magenta crossover in highlights like clouds. It's bad. Avoid it.
On the bright side Kodak Supra Endura works wonderfully with both types of films. I'm amazed. Kodak 400 will go nicely 35mm to 11x14 and Ektar goes nearly grainlessly from 35mm to borderless 11x14 with awesome colors. Don't be afraid to shoot films like Kodak Gold 100. They're awesome. You really can't go wrong. Just shoot.
Well, for those who bash Kodak, here is an example of our design philosophy.
Why screw the customer when all you will get is complaints and lawsuits. Make the paper work as well as possible with all color negative films. :)
That way you have happy paper customers. It seems to work.
As a byproduct, make the paper as insensitive to errors such as temperature and handling as possible. Well, that is why you can run it at 68 deg F (20 deg C), and why you can develop it as a reversal product (cross process).
As an added hint to reduce contrast without preflashing, try adding 1/2 - 2 g/l of Sodium Sulfite to the color developer. This lowers contrast and Dmax rapidly. Also, I have not tried this but it might help. Add 0.1 - 0.5 g/L of sodium thiocyanate to the first developer.
Just thoughts to play with.
This is a great article which is gotten me thinking that RA-4 at home may not be so daunting after all. A couple of questions. When you say
What, specifically, do you mean? There's a confusingly large select of RA-4 chemicals at B&H, many of which can't be shipped.
I understand that I may need to make test strips, but can you give a ballpark amount of time that paper exposure takes -- 6 seconds, 6 minutes?
Finally, when you say "wash until the paper has no fix left in it", how do you know?
"Wash until the paper has no fix left in it".
If you are a good analog B&W photographer, you know the tests that are available. If not, read up on it. It has been posted over and over and over here on APUG.
I hate to put it this way and kind of apologize, but having been one of the posters, I'm getting tired of it. Also, if you are not an inveterate B&W photographer, you may be jumping into color too quickly. Just a thought to pass on. I get testy sometimes so forgive me please.
I suggest you read the Kodak color Dataguide with a list of chemicals and visit their website for literally pages of information that can help you.
One problem may be the search engine here. Maybe is just me but I find it very hard to even find post that I know exist, the date, and the poster.