digital prints vs. analog prints

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by affen_kot, Aug 15, 2004.

  1. i was wondering if any digital large-formatters could advise me on a
    question about printing. i took some 4x5 b/w negatives to the lab
    this weekend, and ordered some A4 prints (in the americas, this
    would be comparable to letter-size). the nice lab attendant then
    informed me that, due to their shift to an emphasis on digital
    imaging, they no longer offered analog printing/enlargements, and
    all large format negatives first must be scanned, and then the
    digital negative is printed to the specified size. in my case, each
    of the physical negatives will be turned into a 25MB scan file -
    this was the scan size that the nice lab attendant recommended for
    the modest enlargement i was requesting.

    because i have virtually no experience with digital printing - in
    the past, i've only scanned images/negatives for publishing to the
    web - my question is: will this process of printing from a 25MB scan
    produce a final printed image that is every bit as sharp and full of
    texture as analog printing? this lab has received praise from
    several digital imaging magazines, so i'm sure they have all the
    latest equipment at their disposal. i'm just worried about the
    process itself, and if 25MB is enough information to render an
    image 'as the eye sees it.'

    thanks in adance for any thoughts. cheers...affen
  2. "Every bit as sharp and full of texture", not from my experience, you will lose some resolution and texture, thats the digital tradeoff, you
    can't stop progress.
  3. Assuming they are using a lighthet at 305 dpi (120 dpc), and A4 is 21.0x29.7 cm:

    (21.0 cm)(120 d/cm)(29.7cm)(120 d/cm) = 8.981Mpixels

    If they scan at 16bit grayscale, that's (8.981 Mpixels)(2 bytes) = 18 MB

    If they scan at 8 bit RGB, that's (8.981 Mpixels)(3 bytes) = 27 MB

    I'm guessing that they are quoting you an 8 bit RGB scan.

    B&W often needs more tonal manipulation than color. One tends to move contrast around more than you would for color work. For this reason, I tend to prefer the extra "overhead" you get with a 16 bit scan -- I've had problems with posterization when working with 8 bit grayscale images. So... if I were you, I'd be asking for a 16 bit grayscale scan, but that's just the way I work.

    As to your question: "...a final printed image that is every bit as sharp and full of texture as analog printing?" I find the answer is yes, it will. Clearly, you're going to have to get some prints in your hands so that you can judge for yourself.

    Something else to consider. Is this lab going to make your print on B&W paper or color paper? I find B&W images output to color paper to have objectionable color casts. OTOH, I had a lightjet print made last week onto Kodak Endura B&W paper, and find it quite acceptable. Again, you need to get a print in your hands so that you can evaluate it yourself and decide what is acceptable for you.
  4. Hogarth, can you explain to me how they do B&W fiber based prints on a light yet? I recently saw an exhibition here in Mexico where a guy from CA found these old 1920's glass plates, obviously they were in bad shape, so he digitized them, fixed them in PS and then made fiber prints with a light jet. Some of the prints had digital artifacts, but I have to say about 95% looked darn good, with no hint of being digital prints.

    You seem to know a lot about this, so I figure I ask....thanks.
  5. Real lightjet uses regular photo like paper; and the digital image is placed on the paper with a laser beam.

  6. Thanks Kelly! is the chemistry inside the machine or do you have to take the print and develop it elsewhere?
  7. Jorge; I really dont know; but assume the chemistry is in the giant box. I would like to peak into one; or find a better discription. What bugs me abit is that "lightjet" is sometimes mentioned; when the printer is really an inkjet. The inkjet paper catalogs for roll products call their better "photo grade" papers; "Photo paper". It really is not light sensistive; just better grade super inkjet paper. Regular inkjet B&W giant printing often has a color hue/shift; that varies a tad with the lighting source. This is a pain in the rear sometimes; if a customer has weird mixed lighting. I never remember any REAL darkroom B&W prints having these shifts. Inkjet that uses just CMYK inks have less shifts; the newer printers with 8 inks sometimes have more B&W hue shifting; sometime the RIP software goofs around with the yellow; to reduce shifts. <BR><BR>Affen; Getting an old Omega D series 4x5 enlarger; and doing some real B&W printing; is many times a satisfying process. Question the printer about the type of printing process. Alot of buzzwords are used; sometimes they are confusing; and take on different meanings. A flatbed Epson scanner in the 2400/3200/48XX series pulls a decent amount of "info" from a 4x5 negative; but not the entire cigar. Often they are good enough for scans for moderate enlargements. The entire scanning process can be a time sinkhole; so maybe it is not your passion. A home scanner gives one much control in the process.
  8. affen-

    in my experience, you will lose some detail in small digital prints
    vs. small silver prints. there is a point of enlargement where the
    digital print will have the same detail as a silver print. even with
    unsharp mask or other sharpening techniques, you're not
    gaining back sharpness, only accutance (someone let me know
    if got that term wrong) which is apparent sharpness.

    this is what i see in my prints, and i assume it is because in
    ressing down to the smaller size digitally, i am essentially
    throwing information away.

    I'm not saying that one cannot make excellent digital prints from
    large format negs, they'll just look different than a silver print--for
    a variety of reasons.

  9. Here is a 4x5 transparency scanned at the "2400 dpi setting"' done with an Epson 2450 flatbed. It is shown about 1/2 life size.<BR><BR><BR><IMG SRC=><BR><BR>Here the "2400dpi/ppi" scanned image is shown abit more zoomed in.<BR><BR><IMG SRC=><BR><BR>Here is abit more zooming; where the limits of the "Epson 2450" flatbed show a less eye sharpness than the original. The levels controls were used; this makes the super detail BAD CAT image have abit more pop. There are folks who say the flatbeds are worthless; have little sharpness; and special software has top be used. This image was scanned at the "2400 dpi" setting; using the stock Epson software; and a lowly 200Mhz Pentium Pro.. Within limits; the flatbeds pull out a useable amount of info.<BR><BR><IMG SRC=>
  10. Thank you Kelly, I dont know much about digital, nor do I plan to make any prints this way. But the technology in this case made viewable some prints that otherwise would have been impossible to see well printed.
  11. Jorge,

    I don't work for a pro lab, so my explanation is suspect ;-)

    My understanding is that a LightJet is an exposure machine. I've heard that you can connect it to a processor so that the exposed paper feeds directly into the processor. You can also feed exposed paper onto a take up reel, cut it off, take the exposed paper to a processor and do it that way (all in the dark, which seems pretty painful).

    For processors, they typically use an RA4 machine. This lets you process a variety of color papers, and also B&W papers like Endura. My understanding is that all RA4 papers are RC papers, and this is the prime reason that you don't find many LightJet prints that are fiber.

    There is nothing to stop a pro lab from running fiber B&W through a LightJet or similar exposure device. There are processors that can handle 20C and Dektol (or similar), I think. But the market demand for this apparently isn't high enough to get anyone in NA to offer a LightJet / Dektol combination.

    If there is someone in NA doing LightJet fiber B&W prints, I would sure like to know. It seems a viable way to get a darkroom print for people that like or need a digital workflow (like that pushed-and-cooked negative I was just working. This one is 4x5 Tri-X and has a max density of 3.0. I'm not joking. After drum scanning and some Photoshop work, it made a perfectly fine inkjet print, which could also be a perfectly fine darkroom print. But you'll never get there with an enlarger, not for this negative anyway).

    Like I said, I'm no expert and I don't work in the industry. So, all the above is heresay. YMMV. All the normal disclaimers. Corrections welcome. Etc.
  12. kelly-

    point taken. i use an epson 3200 and, like you, get a good
    amount of detail out of 4x5s at max res (though there is only
    minimal gain past 1800ppi to my eye). the question isn't if one
    can get all the detail out digitally, the question is can we retain all
    of the detail in smaller file sizes and therefore in smaller print

    i have just recently made prints from several 4x5 negatives with
    both digital and traditional silver materials at about 8x10 size. the
    silver prints have more detail, they just do. i'm not sure it's
    important detail, but nonetheless.

    when we take the 2400 or 3200 ppi file, which makes a 24x30 or
    40x50 inch inkjet print, and then res it down to a suitable file for
    printing an 8x10, we throw away information, correct? so the
    absolute detail we can get out of our scanner, even an expensive
    film scanner, isn't going to remain in our res'd down file for an
    8x10 print.

    is my thinking wrong?

    on the other hand, absolutes don't matter that much. i'm sure the
    detail i'm losing in my digital prints isn't killing me. the tonality is
    still better from 4x5 digitally printed vs. 35mm digitally printed.

  13. If you are any good at all you ought to be able to get detail equivelent to 80lp/mm to your negative. That means that you should be able to get 30 lp/mm to your print considering losses do to the enlargement.

    It takes at least 3 rows of pixels to replicate a line pair. Do the math.
  14. "If there is someone in NA doing LightJet fiber B&W prints, I would sure like to know."
    Hogarth: it's not a Lightjet, but check this out:
  15. Michael,

    Thanks. Knew about them. Their biggest size is too small for me. I need at least 30x40 inch capability, but do print 40x50 inches on occasion. Very hard to do without a mechanical processor.
  16. A 25mg file should be plenty large for excellent prints up to about 11x14 or so. I don't think I lose any detail or tonal gradations in my prints at that size from 4x5 black and white negatives scanned with a Linoscan 1400 scanner (1200 ppi max) using MIS inks in an Epson 1280 printer. However, whether you'll lose detail or tonal range isn't something on which other people's opinions are very valuable IMHO, you'll have to give it a try yourself and form your own opinions. The results of digital scanning and printing are highly dependent on the skill of the person doing the scanning and printing. So if someone says they think you'll lose quality it may just be a matter of their not having seen digital prints made by someone who knows what they're doing. If the only traditional darkroom prints I had ever seen were those done by students in my Beginning Photography course I'd think traditional darkroom printing was a terrible way to print. There's much more to scanning and printing digitally than just pushing a couple buttons so give it a try and see what happens. Even if you plan to always use a lab, it pays to learn the terminology and at least the basics of the processes so that you can ask intelligent questions and make intelligent demands.
  17. ...which is precisely the impetus for my original question(s). thanks for all of the thoughts so far, and thanks brian for addressing specifically the 25 MB file size issue.

    oddly enough, i went to pick up my A4 digital prints today, and the lab was still cleaning up from a particularly destructive weekend burglary - in which most of their on-site digital equipment managed to disappear. time to search for a new lab...

  18. One point that everyone missed is the Dmax (contrast range) of a scanned B&W neg is usually less than what the silver process is capable of.

    Whether one would notice this in a A4 print is another matter.

    However on 16X20 plus sizes I would still insist on a print from enlarger to fine exibition quality silver base photo paper. Scanned image printed on ink still lack that punch that jumps out at you.

    That is the reason why we are still shooting LF instead of digital.

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