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  1. #1

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    Beginner question: Tonality at different enlargements.

    I recently got my darkroom set up again, and yesterday I decided to make some prints from a 35mm roll of FP-4+ I shot recently. First I made a contact sheet and noticed a shot with some great tones that I decided to print. I put the negative in my enlarger (I use a diffuser head with a Schneider Componon 50mm) and made a 9"x12" print (there were some borders, but the image covered almost the entire paper). When I developed the print I noticed that the tonality that caught my attention on the contact sheet was completely absent from the final print. On the contact sheet there was beatiful separation of shadows and highlights, and very smooth tones alltogether, whereas on the print everything looked kind of muddy and flat. some parts of the subject almost melted into the background.

    I was wondering, could this be due to too much enlargement, could I be pushing the limits of a handheld 125ASA 35mm negative? It should be noted that both prints were made on the same type of paper and both with a grade 2 "filter" (using a dichro head, so no filtration at all really).
    "Art is is a picture of some dude I never met smoking under a lamppost at 6400 ISO and in BW."

  2. #2
    Mainecoonmaniac's Avatar
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    Nothing beats the quality of contact prints. Are you using the same type of paper, using the same grade filter and processing the prints the same way? I think tonalities are smoother the smaller the print. For me, bigger is not necessarily better. What might also help is to stand back to look at the print.
    "Photography, like surfing, is an infinite process, a constantly evolving exploration of life."
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  3. #3
    Barry S's Avatar
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    That's one of the reasons I no longer shoot 35mm--it's much easier to make good enlargements from medium and large format. I used to notice that difference between the contact sheets and enlargements all the time. However, you should be able to make a beautiful 9x12 print from 35mm. Have you tried split-grade printing? In my experience, it's a very reliable method for managing highlights and shadows--and getting a high quality print. My other remedy is slightly more complicated--large format contact prints.

  4. #4
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    Contrast used in a contact often differs from the actual grade required for a print. I make my contacts at grade 2,5/3 but I prefer to print with 4.5-5+.
    See my work at my website CHRISTOPHER LANGE PHOTOGRAPHY

    or my snaps at my blog MINIMUM DENSITY
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  5. #5
    Mainecoonmaniac's Avatar
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    I think this is an expectations issue. I'm not saying 35mm has better tonality. For me, just know what you're gonna get in the end with your workflow. I'm seen some amazing shots from grainy film done on purpose. It all depends on what you want to say.
    "Photography, like surfing, is an infinite process, a constantly evolving exploration of life."
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  6. #6
    ROL
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    I would add that recognizing the difference between contacts (of any size) and enlargements, as you have, is a great asset to the process of making a fine art print. This is the reason one needs to make proof prints – enlargements of sufficient size to grasp the fine art potential of any print. I have boxes and boxes of 8x10 proofs from 35mm to 8x10, which except for a happy few, will never go any further as print enlargements. I feel so strongly about the false potential of contacts, save for contact printing itself, that I no longer contact LF sheet film as part of my process, preferring to go straight to the small enlargement 8x10 proofing stage. Simply, as many contact printers will certainly attest, a contact print is not, for better or worse, an enlargement (and vice versa!).

    Perceptually related, I cannot say how many times I have clicked on an intriguing thumbnail only to be disappointed by the banal digital enlargement thus presented. (This is not digi criticism, I'm only drawing a parallel.)

  7. #7

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    From a well exposed and processed 35mm frame, you can make a wonderful 9x12 print.

    If you insert a #2 filter in your enlarger and make a contact print, then make a enlargement with that same setup, the contrast will appear lower on the latter. I don't know why but it always happens to me. Maybe it's a visual thing... or maybe it's real. I only use contact sheet as a guide, and work on making a great print. THAT is a separate process.

    But, there's also a matter of degree... if it is excessively lacking contrast, sharpness, or just plain muddy, then you'll need to inspect your lens closely. It is not unusual for enlarger lens (which we almost always get them second hand) to have some light haze. More than half of my lenses came this way. If this is the case, you'll need to clean that.
    Develop, stop, fix.... wait.... where's my film?

  8. #8
    Thomas Bertilsson's Avatar
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    Like tkamiya notes, I would also suspect the enlarging lens to have contributed some loss of contrast. Check that out!

    Also, contact printing and enlarging ARE two different ways of printing, with different results to be expected. Continue to work with your print in the enlarger until you are happy with the results, is the best advice I can give. Eventually you will learn to interpret your contact sheet, and what expectation you can have of your enlargements.

    Good luck!
    Last edited by Thomas Bertilsson; 07-01-2013 at 01:24 PM. Click to view previous post history.
    "Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank

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  9. #9
    ic-racer's Avatar
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    Check for dirty or hazy enlarging lens.

  10. #10
    cliveh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cybertrash View Post
    I recently got my darkroom set up again, and yesterday I decided to make some prints from a 35mm roll of FP-4+ I shot recently. First I made a contact sheet and noticed a shot with some great tones that I decided to print. I put the negative in my enlarger (I use a diffuser head with a Schneider Componon 50mm) and made a 9"x12" print (there were some borders, but the image covered almost the entire paper). When I developed the print I noticed that the tonality that caught my attention on the contact sheet was completely absent from the final print. On the contact sheet there was beatiful separation of shadows and highlights, and very smooth tones alltogether, whereas on the print everything looked kind of muddy and flat. some parts of the subject almost melted into the background.

    I was wondering, could this be due to too much enlargement, could I be pushing the limits of a handheld 125ASA 35mm negative? It should be noted that both prints were made on the same type of paper and both with a grade 2 "filter" (using a dichro head, so no filtration at all really).
    This doesn't sound correct. Are you sure both contact print and enlargement were made from the same filtered lightsource?

    “The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention”

    Francis Bacon

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