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  1. #1

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    120-C41 Optical proof prints?????

    Unfortunately, a long story to a short question...

    A month or so ago, I shot a few rolls of C-41 (Portra) 120 film with my C330 at a festival. Since this wasn't really serious stuff, I tended towards the path of least resistance and used mailers for A&I labs for 6x6 proof sets.

    Now... When I have photos, I tend to loupe the negs and prints to check for focus and any movement blur. I usually do this first with the prints because there's less chance of ruining a neg and it's just easier...

    So, here I am tonight, a bit bored, and I remember the packages of shots sitting next to me. I pull out a couple and give them a second good look. I'm still not impressed. Not sure why... Color and exposure isn't that bad, but they just don't look "right"... Oh-well, reach for the loupe to see how bad I did. I remembered moving the camera on a few shots, not using the C330 as much as it deserves...

    Geees... No detail... Blurry? No, not blurry. Low Resolution Scan! Jaggies on all the curves. They look terrible! Signs that are easily read on the neg are a big blur. Details in clothing and jewelry blurred together. I just couldn't believe it. These couldn't be better than 300dpi... The prints are abosolutely worthless, except maybe as 'snapshots' to show uncaring acquaintances.... These prints are actually worse than the 35mm stuff I get back from the drug store!

    I checked the A&I web site... Oh-well, I missed the "machine print" part... What a waste of Fuji Crystal Archive (assuming the paper can do better?)...

    Luckily the negs are as sharp as I expected and am happy with them.

    So, the question...

    Does any mail-order lab still do optical proofs? If they do, is it that much more than the $17 or so that A&I is charging for this? Or am I stuck with lousy scans for proofs and have to use the negs to see what kind of quality I really have???

    And if you haven't guessed, there's a bit of dissappointment and whining dribbled into this post I'm not complaining about A&I. That was my mistake. They delivered exactly what they advertised, I suppose.

  2. #2
    df cardwell's Avatar
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    Gosh. If I had to have stuff done by a color lab these days, I'd be relieved they used a Frontier: it's been ages since a lab used a well maintained, quality optical printer. The big problem is the low wages paid to the operators, like flipping burgers instead of doing craftsmanlike work. Another virtue of the Frontier is the lower incidence of scratched negs, due in equal part to a cleaner workflow and better employees.

    Why not talk to A&I about it ?

    It ain't like Kodak processing in 1970, is it ?
    "One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid,
    and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision"

    -Bertrand Russell

  3. #3

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    That's really weird. I would call A&I and complain. It's been about a year since I used their mailers (I no longer live in the US) but they always did excellent work for me... I never had jagged-edge problems of any kind. I was always very impressed with the quality of the prints from them... you could really tell the difference between well-made colour neg material and the cheap stuff (A&I processing made me fall in love with NPH). I wish I could find a pro lab of that quality here.

    I'm sure it was just an oversight on their part. Give them a call and ask.

  4. #4

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    Rich, I would talk to A&I about that. They have a reputation to maintain and I'm sure they would reprint them for you. I just got back some 120 Portra VC negs and proofs from them and they look great, despite being shot with an old cardboard box camera. In any event, they should be advised about unacceptable work.

  5. #5

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    I have a couple of rolls I had done by them a year or two ago. I have to locate them and compare the prints...

    I'm not one for complaining (much) and I probably won't bother A&I about these. Either this is how they do proofs now or they screwed up a bit. These prints are not worth going through a complaint and reprint. I have a half dozen more mailers and will hopefully use them at some point which will give me a future comparison. But if this is how they do proofs now, I won't be happy about it... Worse comes to worse, I'll go back to developing the film myself and running contacts for proofing...

    But the only questions here was, is there any place that currently does optical proofs for 120 color negs? I'm getting the impression that it's a lost art...

    And who says the 70's weren't good? ;-)

    And Glen... Did you check the prints with a loupe? I use an old Agfa 8X. The standouts are circles (my memorable example of a person wearing a light colored shirt with a dark grass background, bent over to make an arc), and signs with lettering. The jaggies are really only horizontal (I think?) but very obvious with the loupe... With stuff like branches and grass, it just looks maybe 'blurry', just not sharp... My film was 120 Portra 160 VC also...

  6. #6
    df cardwell's Avatar
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    It isn't that optical printers are a lost art, it's that the machines were generally rubbish, usually poorly maintained, and almost certainly leased... therefore taken out of service or going out of service soon.

    You might find somebody out there actually running a good old Durst printer in their own operation but I doubt it.

    In the bad old days, when film took a couple days to d&p, before kiosks and mini labs and 1 hour labs, the operator that actually touched your film made enough money to live in the same neighborhood as you. You could buy a house working at a good lab. Of course, those days are long gone. And so is really great processing.

    For one, I think the closed system digital scanner / printers, like the Frontier are fantastic. Instead of scratched negatives, instead of film proofed through sleeves, and a hundred other evils, all we need worry about is a slight over sharpening of the image and occassional screw up.

    I've loved A&I since they did Kodachrome for me and they have always done great machine printing. I think you just got an order they'd be happy to re-do for you.
    "One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid,
    and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision"

    -Bertrand Russell

  7. #7

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    Rich do them yourself. 6x6 is basically big enough for a contact sheet. You can use a standard time and filter setting to make it even easier. Or buy a roll of 5" wide paper and make up 5x5 prints. Might be easier to get one of those 8x10 easels that make four prints per sheet. At least the processing would be easier. Equipment is almost being given away today.

  8. #8
    Dave Parker's Avatar
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    It sounds like something went wrong somewhere, even though the lab I worked at has now changed to a new Noritsu 2900 LED digital print systme on kodak paper, you would be hard pressed to see much of a difference in the prints that we used to make on the optical printer that we had, it is really very good, so it really sounds like something went wrong in the print process, in working with both types of printing machines, I found the newer digital print machine actually required more attention than the old opticle printer we had, one area that labs seem to mess up with the newer machines is they don't calibrate the machine everyday, they seem to think that they don't have to balance the machine to the paper every single morning, we used to balance ours first thing in the morning and then double check the balance during the day several times, which in the newer machines is a computer controled process that only takes about 5 minutes vs the 1/2 hour for the older machines, you just have to run one balance test, then plug in the numbers and the machine will set the parameters of the paper, but the misconception is the computer does this automatically, I can always tell when they have a new person on the machine here locally because you will see the jagged eges on the prints you have described due to the machine and the paper being out of sync.

    Dave

  9. #9

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    Thank you Dave. Now there's an explanation for it... Like I said, these prints aren't worth thr trouble for a complaint and re-print, but I would hate to see this kind of "quality" on a permanent basis... Maybe I'll just shoot another roll in the back yard and see how that one is printed? I'd like to work out some kinks in a camera body anyway...

    Nick, I have all the required equipment but I haven't done color myself in maybe 30 years or so. It was so easy back then I could never understand why everyone didn't do it. I used Beselor's Two Step and a Unicolor product. I never can remember which was for which? And I don't think they're available any more? Very temerature tolerant. Money wise, it really only paid if you did 8x10's or larger with prints, but it was fun...

    df, well when it comes to photography, I'm kinda stuck in 1970, before kiosks and such ;-) And considering my LF equipment, I may be stuck in 1935 now ;-)

    I guess it's time to finish the darkroom and get back to some real 'work'...

  10. #10

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    I think 8x10s cost me about what the local place charges for 5x5 proofs.



 

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