Hmmmm. C41 has been around since Jesus was a half-back for Jerusalem! Goodness, I can't recall its first appearance! It refers to processing chemicals for negative film, which you are using. At the other end, using slides, you submit these for processing and they are done in different chemistry, called E6. I don't think Portra was around in the 1980s (heaps of other film was, much more than what we have today), but most fine art photographers of that era used Kodachrome if they were involved with, say, National Geographic, or agencies such as Magnum. 120 or 220 format (medium format roll film, or "bigger cameras than 35mm"!) shared a commanding market among professionals while 35mm was wrangled by "the rest". Film was king. For weddings, pros using Hasselblads, Bronicas or whatnot would have loaded high quality print film and taken it in straight for processing immediately after the shoot, getting proof copies in various sizes done for their client(s) to view, all done with enlargers (I can remember C41 processing took 24 hours in those days, now it takes just 1 hour...). After proofing very high quality prints were made, again in the darkroom, and obviously many people made a good living doing this. Fast forward 30 years and things have very dramatically changed: wet colour darkrooms are very rare unless you've set up your own, and many here on APUG have, predominantly B&W. E6 (slides) is still very common, though a smaller (but important) market. And the bad news is that all printing done commercial from either C41 or E6 is hybridised (or the more prosaicly named "analogue to digital") with scans prepared through drum scanners or self-scanned, adjusted for colourimetrics (colour profiling of monitors) etc., then ta-da!, printed. Unless you go down this way, you might be left behind and only end up disappointed with photography. We all have to adapt to change. I have plenty to say about digital, none of it repeatable here in civilised terms.
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Start by reading the processing FAQs in my signature. The very short summary is:
Originally Posted by multivoiced
- C41 is the colour negative film process, it's been around since the early 80's I think when it replaced C22. Any pro lab can do this step for you.
- RA4 is the colour negative print process, designed to match C41.
In the 80's, a photographer would have dropped the roll off at a lab, the lab would have developed the film and printed it optically, i.e. exposed some RA4 paper in an enlarger through the C41 negative to produce a print. That however is quite time-consuming so now it's all done digitally. The C41 development process is basically the same. When you buy a digital print, it's still (usually) an RA4 print, it's just that the paper has been exposed by coloured lasers attached to a computer instead of an enlarger; the end result is identical in its physical composition (papers, chemistry, etc). It saves the lab a huge amount of time (necessary for their cost-competitiveness) and makes results repeatable. The benefit to optical printing is that you can sometimes get slightly sharper prints that better withstand very close inspection; you lose out on a lot of the digital flexibility.
If you want to print colour at home yourself, you need RA4 chemicals (developer, blix and optional starter), RA4 paper and a colour enlarger (has C, M and Y control dials on it). You also need a darkroom and something to develop your papers in, the simplest approach being a big tub of water at 38C with your trays of developer & blix resting therein. Since you're near LA, you can buy the chemicals and paper from Freestyle. I would recommend that you get familiar with printing B&W first, though RA4 paper is actually much cheaper than B&W; this is because digital labs still consume it by the square mile but B&W is a smaller market with higher prices.
You don't need to develop the film yourself if you want the keep the process all analogue; what the lab does to it is the same as what you'd do to it. Of course you can do it cheaper+better at home, but it requires investment in some capital equipment (e.g. Jobo and lots of chemistry) that's only worth it if you shoot a fair quantity or want total control.
Is a digital RA4 print different from scanning a negative and then printing from the digital file?
Originally Posted by polyglot
I had no idea that the traditional printing method is becoming so uncommon. It's good to know that there might be places (such as Blue Moon in Portland) where it is still done the old way. Even so, I understand the dilemma you guys are indicating: At some point one might have to give in and allow some digital tech to creep into the process, even after going to all the trouble of shooting on film.
Even though this can be a digital process it sounds like this is different from digital scanning and printing.
RA-4 is Kodak's proprietary name for the chemical process most commonly used to make color photographic prints. It is used for both digital printers of the types most common today in photo labs and drug stores, and for prints made with older-type optical enlargers and manual processing.
Cheap optical snapshot prints are easy to get around here. Even Costco still does them. But if you
want pro quaity you have a traditional full service lab do it, at realistically a hundred times the price
per print. No difference than in former years except that there are not as many labs to choose from.
RA4 and C41 have been standard for a long time. But RA4 is easy to do in a home darkroom as long
as your enlarger has a standard colorhead, you have a simple drum processor, and can manage
basic temperature control.
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It practically ended totally more than 10 years ago. There is no much reason to do it in a typical photolab workflow.
Originally Posted by multivoiced
Let me try to explain once more how it goes.
The film is same as always.
Processing the film is the same as always.
The resulting negatives are same as always.
The paper it is printed to is same as always.
It is printed using light as it has always been.
The exposed paper is developed as it has always been.
The only difference is that the older machines (in the 90's) directly projected the film to the paper to expose the paper. In the beginning of 2000's, this was changed so that the light is projected to a digital image sensor, saved to a file, automatically adjusted, and then converted back to light (for example, by using lasers) to expose the paper. So there are more steps, but they allow more control. The paper and how it is developed is analog and the same it has always been. We use the same paper in our darkrooms.
Now, there might be very few labs that still have those automatic analog machines from the 90's, but they are not better. They were disliked then just as the automatic digital machines are disliked today.
In addition, there probably are some very few and expensive small professional darkroom printers who do this fully manually by using an enlarger. This is also something you can do by yourself. You only need a place to convert to a darkroom and quite a bit of free time to learn the process and make prints. It is very cheap and easy but somewhat time-consuming, especially when you first start doing it.
Or then, you can just order the "digital" prints and be happy. The print itself is exactly the same type of print, on a same type of paper as acquired in full-analog workflow. Only the steps differ, and the look may differ a little bit.
For full control, you have to DIY print in your darkroom anyway, and this has ALWAYS been the case, so nothing's changed.
It seems to me that you want to avoid learning any technical details as much as possible, but at the very same time, you have some strict opinions on what technical details you want to follow. If this is the case, all you can do is to either just shoot film and have it processed without thinking too much, or to start learning to understand the technology.
Last edited by hrst; 06-06-2012 at 04:12 PM. Click to view previous post history.
Aker Imaging, Houston's professional lab, does optical printing and everything else.
They are still committed to providing optical prints and went to the trouble last year to replace an old machine with another used machine and the necessary technician to set it up.
All "machine prints" are automated. So it doesn't matter much whether the exposing light source is
traditional or LED. Nobody is making decisions about any individual print, and you're lucky if the processing chem is fresh and if the wash cycle is adequate at all. Due to all these uncontrolled
variables that is just another reason why amateur color films exist which have wide exposure latitude, and why they often looked like hell when they came back from the drugstore. The newer
digital variety often look oversaturated and downright bizzare. So you either have to pay a premium
and communicate with a real human being in a custom lab, or you have to learn to print them yourself.
A digital RA4 print is exactly the same as scanning and printing from that file. That's how you get a digital RA4 print from film and it is how every single minilab you go to operates.
Originally Posted by multivoiced
Digital capture workflow is like this:
Digital Camera -> CCD -> RAW processing -> JPG -> look at on screen ... or:
Film Camera -> Film -> C41 process -> Scan -> Invert -> JPG -> look at on screen
And then digital printing is:
JPG -> computer-controlled lasers -> RA4 paper -> RA4 processing -> look at print, or:
JPG -> ink jet -> plain paper -> look at print.
Whereas an optical print is:
C41 negative in enlarger -> RA4 paper -> RA4 processing -> look at print.
So you can join these workflows up in any kind of combination you want: full-digital capture and printing, analog capture with digital print or analog capture with analog print. Obviously on APUG we only deal with the latter.
It's difficult to buy an optical print commercially because they're time-consuming and therefore expensive (think $50-$200 vs $4 for an 8x10"). However, it's something easily achievable at home with just a couple hundred $ worth of gear and a darkened laundry; the materials cost is under $1/print.
If you're shooting medium or large format, you can achieve sharper results from a handmade optical print at moderate sizes (up to 20x24") than you can digitally, but if you shoot 35mm there isn't much in it unless you want 8x12" or smaller.
No. RA4 is the chemical process used to form an image on paper from light. If you do a digital print, that light is formed digitally by lasers instead of by projection through a negative and the paper goes through the same process steps. It's physically the same stuff.
Originally Posted by multivoiced