Commercial printing options...
I was thinking what's the standard for color printing now days. A digital printer such as as a Noritsu printer? How much do you loose from negative when you print it from these machines? What was the standard before digital printing came on-line color prints?
Light Jet (Fuji Frontier, Noritsu) and Ink Jet (Epson Stylus Pro 7880)
Most color prints regardless of the source material (digital, negative) are printed on some type of light jet printer (Fuji Frontier, Noritsu, etc). Basically it is a laser that draws the image on photographic paper. The paper is then processed in the usual analog print manner. For bigger prints that can't be made on a Fuji Frontier a lot of places will use an Epson ink jet. Allegedly inkjets have come a long way in terms of archivability.
Traditional dark room printers are few and far between. I think most people make their decision as to which process to used based more on economics and convenience vs quality (real or perceived). For most printing light jet and ink jet are fine. I would personally only go the traditional route for a special occasion. A good light jet or ink jet print starts with good source material. Then you have to get the negative into a format the printer can understand, ie scanning. You can scan at home with a crappy scanner or have a technician that is rushing through their job do a crappy scan for you on a multithousand dollar machine. Likewise one hour photo places that churned out crappy prints existed in the 1980s. To me the very best from either route will require tons of time and $$$. And poor results can be obtained with either. There are tons of variables.
this is apug, the standard is printing color negative film onto RA-4 paper. That's all that's left.
What scanner technology do these commercial printers use to get the negative in a form that can be printed? Are these drum scanned or something of lesser quality?
Originally Posted by Noble
The printers you mention sound very high tech, but all that matters not if the source material is subpar (as you mentioned).
Most laser jet/ink jet prints are not drum scanned. The printers mentioned where you just take your negatives to them like Walgreens, Walmart, Sam's, Costco will use something like a Fuji frontier. It has a built in scanner which I assume works in a similar fashion as a Nikon Coolscan 9000. But the operator can set the scanner to scan at a low DPI to make the job go faster. They also have to make some adjustments to the color before printing. If you have a careless operator it can be just as bad as the worst 1 hour photo places that use to inhabit every American mall. There is simply no way the bulk of negatives that are printed today could be printed in the traditional fashion or via drum scanning. Both of those options are still available but they are niche and pricey. I like both of them but it is rare for me to opt for that level of craftsmanship.
Originally Posted by RattyMouse
I get a lot of my medium format film developed through Walmart's send out service. The developing is good enough for pictures that aren't super special. And the prints are good enough for proofing. It's saved me from having to scan a bunch of film. I now only scan the C-41 and E-6 frames I need on my computer or that I want to enlarge.
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Thank you for your reply. I both understand and do not understand it! Let me explain my confusion.
Originally Posted by Noble
First off, I am very familiar with medium format color negative prints as I shot such during the '80s and early '90s. The quality from a medium format negative is just wonderful, EVEN from a 1 hour photo shop (done with care). I have many such prints back home. I stopped shooting film back in the late 90s.
Today, I am back shooting film and am so far unable to print any negatives here in China. I just cant find a shop that does it. So I am saving my negatives for when I get back home to the US.
Now I am learning that the old way of printing is not very common. The old way produced good quality. Now however, negatives need to be scanned. Not only that, but scanned with a flat bed scanner. I have seen NO evidence that flat bed scanning can even get close to the real potential in a medium format negative. Not. Even. Close. I have taken decent scans of my negatives and had them printed. The results are barely passable, forget about being full of the rich tonality of a negative print. Digital slaughters a scan film print from my observations. Again, not. Even Close.
So even after 1 year of returning back to film shooting, I still have no frick'en idea what I am going to do with my color negatives. Maybe all this is just a huge waste. I wont be happy with the results because they are going be frick'en scanned. I used to get fantastic results, quite cheaply printing from just about any photoshop. Now it seems I have to search long and wide and spend serious money to get a single print.
One year of shooting film and I dont know what the hell I am doing. It is hard to put into words how depressing this is.
On the plus side, monochrome is still viable as I intend to print that myself one day.
But I fail to see any reason at all to shoot color medium format anymore. I was lamenting the recent demise of Reala film. Now I dont care anymore.
There are in existence mini-lab printing machines that:
1) have the capacity to deal with 120 film; and
2) use a scan and print from scan workflow.
Those machines have the capacity to create quite nice medium resolution scans. As an example, the attached is from the scanner attached to a Noritsu printer at one of my local labs. The original scan was from an E6 6x4.5 slide, but the scanner works equally well from C41. The scan size was 4800 pixels x 3600 pixels and has been modified only by resizing down to fit APUG's limits for attachments.
“Photography is a complex and fluid medium, and its many factors are not applied in simple sequence. Rather, the process may be likened to the art of the juggler in keeping many balls in the air at one time!”
Ansel Adams, from the introduction to The Negative - The New Ansel Adams Photography Series / Book 2
NO the operator CAN NOT scan the film at a lower DPI to make the job go faster. Both noritsu and fuji equipment scans the film at 300DPI per output size. Are you losing something compared to a perfectly made optical print? Probably....but unless you plan on printing color in your darkroom, or shelling out $$$$$$$$ a competent lab operator on a digital noritsu or fuji will churn out better results than their optical predecessors which used a zoom lens to accommodate different print sizes, were hard to focus/insure perfect focus/had incredible light source drift after a short amount of time.
Originally Posted by Noble
Before digital printers, the actual color neg was projected on the paper. I think the quality is better, but from a production stand point, it was a nightmare in figuring out how to balance the color. There were various devices to calculate this including color analyzers and analog video devices. Now because negative printing is digital the color balanced is calculated in the computer. The image projected on the paper is digital. However, a skilled tech is still required to calibrate the paper batches with the digital printer and the RA4 chemistry still requires the same replenishment. The digital prints to me look too "crispy" to me. Optical prints from color negs looks smoother. I dont' know if other APUGers feel the same.
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I think your best bet is to find a lab that still prints optically. There are still a handful around, but they are dwindling. My favorite lab is: http://www.colourworks.com/
"Panic not my child, the Great Yellow Father has your hand"--Larry Dressler