scan versus enlarger: detail on negative

Discussion in 'Black and White' started by jean_marie_dederen, Mar 27, 2012.

  1. I use an old but fully functional chromega enlarger and have my c41 film processed at a small photographic outlet in town. They have a high quality scanner and record the negatives on a cd for a ridiculous price. The scanned images help me to decide what to print. I have come to realise that the scanned images are actually sharper than what i can print on paper. Is this normal? Does it mean that the old silver technology never fully realized the potential of the negative?
    The negatives look fine under the focusing device, but of course there is no way to compare the quality of the digital enlargment with what I see in the darkroom. It is not that there s more detail in the scanned images. But there is definitely a difference in the sharpness or definition of the detail. Maybe it is just an illusion of sharpness created by the 'better' contrast of the scanned image?
  2. Apples and Oranges. The Scanned CD images have digital sharpening done to them.
  3. No it's not normal, at least with a decent enlarger lens and a properly adjusted grain focuser.
    If you grain focuser isn't adjusted to your eyesight, the image in it will look sharp and in focus, but the image on the paper will be out of focus.
    What are the pixel dimensions of the scans, and which film size are you using?
  4. Larry. You could be right, the lab claims they scan 'as is', but they have no technical knowledge to support their claim (nor have i quite frankly).
    Bob. I did play around with a few focusing aids and i presume that I got it right: first get hair thingy in focus on a sheet of white paper. then focus. I also started using a piece of unexposed film with a few scartches on it: far easier to focus than the landscape details on my negatives. On the 6x6, obviously, everything looks fine (although I can only compare my miserable epson scans with the actual prints; the lab does not scan 120 film). It is the 35mm film that raised my doubts. I have no scans at hand but seem to remember they are in the order of 2-3 meg size. I suppose that the industrial Fuji scanner they use produces far better quality scans than the home scanner?
  5. SCL


    Jean-Marie: My experience has been exactly the opposite of what you describe, at least for "drug store" scanning, as well as using my own film scanner. Perhaps your enlarger lens needs cleaning or you need to stop it down in the event of slight misfocus. Online viewing doesn't count, but when I compare prints from each method, darkroom enlarger still wins in the sharpness category at my house (but it really is a pain compared to digital scanning).
  6. The Fuji normal scans from 35mm are 1x1.6k pixels, they are also processed to death by the software in their computer. The SP-2000 scanner can output 2200x3300 pixel images from 35mm film, usually done for an extra charge.
    Also look up at your enlarger lens with the light on and fully open, it is quite common for older ones to get hazy after years of use.
    Double check your focuser, some actually have two hairs side by side, if you only see one in this type of focuser, the image will be out of focus.
  7. Your enlarging technique needs to be REALLY GOOD to match quality digital results. It's a lot easier to keep the corners of the exposure sharp in a digital workflow. You need a good lens. The lens can't have any curvature of field, focus shift, or other aberrations. You need to use the optimum aperture of the lens. Your focusing needs to be precise. Your enlarger needs to be correctly aligned (negative parallel to the paper). All the optics need to be clean. The lamphouse needs to be properly aligned.
    If you don't have an El-Nikkor, or a good Schneider (Componon?) enlarging lens, you may be hobbled by your lens. The very best enlarging lenses are now dirt-cheap used.
    It is much more practical and cost-effective to do color printing digitally, which is why it so dominates the market. Another few years, and all RA-4 papers will be optimized only for digital exposure (very short times).
    Remember also that not only are the digital prints probably sharpened, they may also have higher contrast and color saturation than your prints. You didn't say what the pixel size of the scans is, so we can't say much more about them.
  8. Most scanners do have a "standard" sharpening factor for each film profile. I use an Imacon/Hasselblad scanner and that is pretty common with its profiles. That said, I have been scanning many of my older, previously only ever printed in the wet darkroom, images lately and have two observations.
    I have been truly amazed at how sharp these images can look at 100%. These are 4x5 negs and the scans are, at 100%, the equivalent of about a 9 foot long print--possibly larger depending on one's monitor resolution. But, in other cases, the scanned negs will actually reveal some softness in an image that I never saw in prints-- even in 20x24 prints. They do look very sharp sized back to 16x20 or 20x24 on the computer but can exhibit some softness at 100%. So, unless they are over sharpening--a possibility--you should see more flaws from a high res scan than you would normally see in a moderately sized darkroom print (for the format you shot) if everything has been done right--grain focused and the enlarger properly aligned, for instance.
    The second observation is that even though I consider myself a master printer in the darkroom, the results I get working the images digitally is actually superior to what could be done in the darkroom. I can blend two or more outputs from the scan as well as work finite areas of the image with so much more precision than in the darkroom. (Of course, I am using Photoshop where maybe using other less precise image editors would be more like doing wet darkroom work.)
    Anyway, you should see more issues with scans but may find working with digital files more productive with better results than in the wet darkroom. You probably need to get into the heart of what the lab is doing to see if there is an issue--or actually, the files should exhibit tell-tale signs if they were oversharpened.
  9. I only use el-nikkors and they are in mint condition. I made the same print on a durst and a chromega, and observed the same quality difference with the scanned image. I tried the durst (which I dont really like; it has no fan and the 6x6 negatives are not stable when the head heats up; it also has a much weaker light than the cooled chromega) because i suspected movement of the chromega head (the column is over a meter high). But the chromega is rock steady, provided that you don't touch the table during exposure.
    It's not like the difference in sharpness is spectacular; it is noticeable though especially in the smaller details (grasses, smaller branches of trees etc.) I try not to stop down more than one stop (f 5.6 on my f4 el-nikkor). The negatives are often over exposed (to allow me to burn in the sky and to catch detail in the shadows); I only shoot late in the afternoon so the light isn't too overwhelming; often with overcast. How far can one stop down without having the worry about losing even more definition? And what would the effect of contrast filters be (I really try to avoid using them).
  10. Just an addendum sparked off by tghe previous contributions: If it is not the enlarger than could it be the nature of the subject matter (landscape on 35mm) or the quality of my images and the way I enlarge and print (low light; over exposure; f4 on 60mm enlarger lens)?
  11. IMAGE: Scan of my print (8x10) on a cheapskate scanner at the internet cafe. Image taken with a zoom nikkor 25-50; a brilliant lens but obviously not as good as the prime counterpart. Overcast condition (but in this part of the world that still means a lot of light); handheld (yes, I know, not ideal; but I hate schlepping the tripod around and I consider my grip rather stable); no hood and obviously a fair amount of flare (which the lens handled remarkably well). The bottom half of the print is dodged to 'whiten' the grass. This scan is only slightly lighter than the original print (I love soft prints).
  12. lwg


    The f/4 EL-Nikkor line is a consumer lens line with 4 elements in the 50mm. It is not nearly as good as the 50mm f/2.8. That very well could be the difference. You want to get the 50mm f/2.8 EL-Nikkor. For 6x6 I use either an 80mm f/5.6 EL-Nikkor or a 105mm Rodenstock. Both are very good.
    With a well aligned enlarger, a sharp lens, and proper focus you should get more detail resolved in your darkroom print. It may not appear sharper, if the digital print was sharpened, but it will have more fine detail and look more "real" (less processed). I have tested this with both color and black and white film compared to a 5000dpi drum scan on prints in the 11x14 range. But with good scans (that aren't over sharpened) I can only see the differences with my nose to the print.
  13. I'll add that the Chromega is a diffusion enlarger. I think a print from a sharpened scan will look sharper than an image printed with a diffusion enlarger. If the difference is barely noticeable, it could be the diffusion.
  14. Which contrast filters are you talking about, ones to use on camera or for the enlarger when printing on VC type papers?
    I stop down two stops with any enlarger lens, it increases the depth of field/focus helping to ensure a sharp image on the paper. I'd also look at replacing the f4 EL-Nikkor 50 with a 2.8 as it is a much better lens. Not sure which lens you are using for 6x6 negs, but Nikon make an excellent 6 element lens for that size, and there are the Rodagon and Componon-S lenses to consider as well.
    Try a monopod, easier to carry, and they do make a difference. :)
  15. LG And there I thought I had a top of the line enlarger lens! Crystal clear though. I should have been suspicious of the price (which was next to nothing)! I agree, prints (at least in black and white) look, feel (and smell) so much more real! Besides, why let a machine enjoy doing all the work when I can do it myself!
  16. Bob I use an EL-Nikkor 105mm for the 6x6. Probably not the ideal length but does it make that much difference?
    The contrast filters I refer to are the ones you slip in a tray under the enlarger lens. I have used them occasionally but always wondered what effect (other than contrast) they have on the final print?
  17. Peter I prefer the diffuser type enlarger. The other type (condenser?), I seem to remember (I had an Czech enlarger when I was a student), shows up every little bit of dust on the print. Were the condenser type enlargers not eventually replaced by the diffuser ones?
  18. Depends on the condition of the filters, scratch and dust free, they shouldn't make a difference. You can always buy a set to put on top of the negative carrier or in a filter drawer if your enlarger has one.
    The shorter focal length allows you to make a larger print for the same height of the head above the baseboard. The 105 will cover a 6x9 negative. I don't think there are "low and high" quality versions of the 105 EL-Nikkor.
    I use a 50 or 80 for 35mm, depends on if I feel like changing it or not.
    Some info here on Nikkor enlarger lenses.
  19. lwg


    The 105mm EL-Nikkor is a fine lens for 6x6.
    I have tested contrast filter above the negative stage and below the lens and can see no difference in sharpness.
    Also, once adjusted for contrast I can see no difference in rendered detail between a condenser and diffusion enlarger. Condensers do seem to show the grain as crisper, so to me the prints do look sharper. But they also highlight dust. My big reason for choosing a diffusion enlarger is so I can use dodge and burn masking (which requires diffusion material above the negative).
  20. Jean-Marie -- The Chromega is one of the finest enlargers ever made, a real workhorse for professional photographers around the world for decades. I find it very difficult to believe that a cheap scan from a local store is coming out sharper than a properly made print on this enlarger. You said two things that got my interest 1) "I also started using a piece of unexposed film with a few scartches on it: far easier to focus than the landscape details on my negatives." Is this what you're focusing on instead of the actual negative you're printing? If you focus on one piece of film, take that out and put in another, it's not going to be in the same position as you one you focused on. Even the slightest most minute shift in position will affect sharpness. 2) You said you were only stopping down one stop from wide open. I have always stopped down three stops to get to what should be the sweet spot of an enlarging lens. This is assuming a 2.8 lens so I'm at 8.0, which would only be two stops down on your lens. I would try at least two stops. Also, you said you are focusing with your grain focuser on a piece of paper. Is that a sheet of enlarging paper or just plain paper? The thickness is different. It needs to be a piece of enlarging paper.
  21. Diffusion heads semi-replaced condenser heads as it was easier to make variable contrast heads the same way colour heads are made. Also you can use a colour head for VC type papers and adjust the contrast with the built in filters. Personally, I just put a 3x3 inch filter on the negative carrier in the colour enlarger.
    There are also point source condenser heads, they do an even better job of showing up all the dust. :)
  22. lwg


    I find that with a properly aligned enlarger and the 6 element lenses that one stop from wide open gives the best sharpness. Two stops is equally as good, to my eye. Beyond that there is a slight softening (if viewed very closely).
    I have never seen a difference between focusing with and without paper under the grain focuser. The depth of field at the paper stage is at least several mm thick, so I don't worry about it. But focus at the negative stage is razor thin, so I find it's best to focus on the actual negative since things can move ever so slightly when you swap things if you are not careful.
  23. If a lab scans your entire roll, they are almost certainly using their minilab unit to do it, in which case sharpening HAS been applied. The employee will tell you the negatives are unprocessed (because the employees didn't do anything to them), but the machine applied sharpening and auto-levels. This can be turned off of course, but since it's a standard programming feature, it's not easy to do on most machines, and many technicians don't even know how to do it.
    As far as enlarger lenses go, they vary as much as camera lenses do. Most are sharpest around f/8, and others are sharpest at f/11 or f/5.6. With proper technique and great lenses and papers, I find that an enlarged negative can be sharper than a scanned/printed negative from all but the best scanners and printers. If you're comparing your enlarged negative to a scan on your monitor though, the scan will most likely look sharper. Things like oversharpening are also more apparent on the print than on the screen, so that throws it a bit too.
    I always focus onto paper rather than the easel itself, but I agree it doesn't really help sharpness much. It does provide more contrast though, which makes focusing much easier and more accurate.
  24. I recently printed 6x6 negatives on a Beseler CB-7 enlarger with a Rodenstock Rodagon 80 5.6 lens at f8 and f11 and Zone VI head. 10x10 Prints were less sharp in the corners than scans.
    However, I much prefer the darkroom prints.
  25. I think I can help out here. I spend entirely too much time printing and have worked this out; even if you have the best darkroom papers, scans are still going to out res the enlarger at small sizes. This is because you can put more resolution on paper with a digital printer than the equivalent on dark room paper. When you get up to large sizes and the scans’ drop significantly in dpi the benefits of a scanner fade dramatically.
    This is because of a couple things, let’s say a fibre based paper is able to render (the equivalent of) 200dpi perfectly up to 20” (papers have a static resolving power), and a scanned image will have to be resampled to reach 20”. At small sizes the scan will be higher resolution, but at high sizes the 200 dpi of the paper will remain the same for the paper, while the scanner goes down to 120dpi or 96dpi to make the enlargement. Because of this the paper is the extinction point of the enlarger, while the dpi is the extinction point of the scan. These aren’t real numbers but they make the point.
    You'd think that increasing the size would affect both digital and analogue equally. The difference that puts enlargers ahead at large sizes is that the scanner has to put the same information (film) through a Bayer array, an A/D converter, digital scanner colour space + paper colour space, and software, so it’s "taxed" more heavily.
    The enlarger is optical and applies almost nearly no taxes on the original data. This is why increasing resolution to certain sizes is more efficient with an enlarger than with something that has been scanned.
  26. If Jean-Marie is still using the 50/4 EL-Nikkor,it will be likely be a bottleneck in the quality of her results. Of all the EL-Nikkors I have tried, this one is the little,ugly piglet in the bunch. If you add sample variation,it is still not stellar.
    The 50/2.8, 63/2.8,80/5.6/105/5.6 examples I use are great,at F5.6. Optimum aperture for all. You can see the grain edges soften at smaller apertures.
    I would recheck the focus of the focus-finder,and then alignment of the lens/film plane,and then take the 50/4 out of the loop.
    Scan are ok I guess,but the whole point is a lovely,sharp,silver,print.
  27. SORRY for the delayed response; our server has been ill (again), price to pay for living on the other side of the equator...
    BOB Thanks for the useful nikkor refernce; happy at least my 105 lens is one of the better ones; it was a gift from a friend and in mint condition.
  28. LG and CRAIG Thanks for pointing that out; I had a vague feeling the scratched unexposed film was not kosher. I read it in a 1930's book and it seemed to work the two times I tried it. Focusing is often difficult on landscape detail, even more so when you can't move the focusing tool movements are restricted to the center part of the negative.
    I never noticed much difference using different thicknesses of paper to focus on; the brightness of the paper seems to have a greater impact.
  29. SCOTT and JOHN Interesting, thanks.
    IAN Looks like my el 50 will have to go. All my other (3) lenses, Rodenstock's are so damaged (scratchmarks, fungus, haze) to the point that they aren't useful at all (all free gifts, fortunately). I will try to borrow a lens and print the same image with the two lenses, that should show it up. I checked all other possible causes. I must say that the old chromega is one hell of an indistructable machine 15 years in Highveld and another 15 in subtropical hot and high humidity environment, now back in the highveld.
  30. Jean-Marie -- One other focusing tip. In using a grain focusing tool, you are supposed to be focusing on the grain in the film, not looking for content of the image. Once you've got the clumps of grain in focus, the image is in focus, period. Doesn't matter whether the image is a landscape, person, building, car, etc.
  31. I never noticed much difference using different thicknesses of paper to focus on​
    That's because it makes no difference. We had a discussion on this on APUG a couple of years ago and I contacted some of the manufacturers. The concensus of opinion from them was don't bother.
    In his book, Darkroom Printing, Master printer Gene Nocon also said not to bother and Sharpness obsessive Barry Thornton documented his trial at making a print at the focussed point, another half an inch above and a third half an inch below and he could see no difference. This is in his book, Edge of Darkness.
    The relationship between the negative and the lens is much more critical than that between the enlarger head and the paper.
  32. It seems to me that the simple fact is that a good scanner gets the same sharpness on every bit of the negative scanned while the enlarging lens still exhibits all of the usual problems of corner sharpness, diffraction, coma, astigmatism, etc. The scanning lens isn't taxed by having to scan the entire negative at once. And judicious sharpening is a HUGE advantage over a darkroom print. I even think my Epson scans are sharper.
  33. I have done tests with enlargements vs. Nikon 9000 scans. I will post them when I get to my computer later.
  34. Though there can be loss of sharpness in the corners when enlarging, it can be mitigated considerably by using a somewhat longer focal length lens (e.g., a 105mm lens rather than an 80/90mm for 6x6 film) and/or by using only the best lenses (El-Nikkor, Apo-Rodagon, Apo-Componon, etc.). I don't find corner softness a problem.
    Corner softness can also be a problem if you're not using glass negative carriers. I suggest always using glass. If Newton rings become a problem, they can be dealt with, but that's another topic.
    I use a very nice Chromega D5. As solid as it is, movement is always an issue...with any enlarger. Rather than use a baseboard, my enlarger base is bolted to a massive shelf that is attached to wall studs with lag screws and the upper portion of the enlarger column is further secured to the wall with heavy chain. Film can shift, too, quickly losing flatness in a glassless carrier, which is why I always use glass. And focus can drift very slightly--but enough to make a difference--which is why I always check focus with a grain magnifier immediately before exposing a print. If you want sharp prints, you cannot take things for granted.
    After pursuing digital B&W for a decade, I returned to darkroom printing because I like it better. One thing I especially prefer is the way that sharpness and blur work naturally within a scene. It's very easy to introduce dubious sharpening in digital images. I'm not saying the digital photos cannot be rendered in a very fine way, but like anything you try to do well, it doesn't just drop in your lap
  35. I'm no expert in this, but I once did a comparison between a 4000 dpi scan of some T-Max 400 (and other films) on a Nikon Coolscan V and a a crop enlargement (would have been equivalent to a 19"x26" print) with an 80mm APO Rodagon N. Granted they weren't necessarily done on the top of the line equipment, but it's not shabby stuff. Both resolved about the same - the print might have had a hair more resolution, but the scan had the appearance of being sharper.
    Links to the two images are below, neg scan then print scan. Warning, the scan is a big image.
    The whole little writeup can be found here:

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