Quote Originally Posted by batwister View Post
I would assume this has something to do with the downscaling of those reproductions? i.e. diffraction for instance would certainly appear diminished (same concept as reducing the resolution of a blurry digital image, which will then appear sharper in its smaller size). But what about images reproduced 1:1, like those in Michael Kenna's books? Surely what I see here is more faithful and any flaws are amplified? This is getting into the risky territory of perception, but I may well be mistaking sharpness for acutance. I can understand that acutance and edge sharpness might be augmented in reproduction, where level of detail falls down. This makes comparisons confusing.

I only have the cheaper retrospective book of Michael Kenna's (Images of the Seventh Day), in which the larger images are 1:1 (about 8") and certainly compared with these, my prints generally appear to have more depth of detail, but perhaps not the acutance. He shoots higher speed film, which will of course have something to do with this too, as the grain makes edges appear sharper. There's also the fact that most of my images are made on overcast days where diffused light means textured areas of a scene appear softer than they would in direct light, but I only compare my prints with images made in similar flat lighting.

I'll have to take a section of a print to a gallery and compare it with the images on the walls.
You got it right, perceived sharpness is a tricky thing. Resolution is only one of the components. There's also edge acutance, contrast/micro-contrast and graininess. And of course the size of the original negative. High quality reproductions often appear to me to have enhanced micro-contrast, a kind of subtle unsharp mask effect. I'm no expert on the process, but it seems to me somewhere in those laser scan duotone or tritone processes you end up with that. Not an overt effect, but just enough to give a heightened impression of sharpness. It seems to me to have less to do with the reproduction ratio, as I have always seen the same thing even in fairly large reproductions such as those on some Ansel Adams posters, etc.

Anyhow I guess this was getting into a whole other complicated topic. Just thought it was worth throwing out there as something else to keep in mind because I remember when I finally saw original prints by Ansel, Weston, Sexton etc, as beautiful as they were, even contact prints did not have quite the crystal clarity I knew from the books.

All that aside I think you're on the right track in trying to identify and address the various variables (negative stage, lens and baseboard alignment, negative flatness, lens quality, vibration, focusing). Here are two more to keep in mind (although #2 is only if you're really nuts - like me): 1) Possibility of focus shift when stopping your particular lens down. 2) Quality of the carrier glass, particularly below the negative.