Can't get "sharp" prints from digital labs

Discussion in 'Photography' started by Richard H., Apr 18, 2005.

  1. Richard H.

    Richard H. Guest

    In recent years, I've noticed my prints aren't "sharp" anymore from
    consumer or trade labs; roughly since processing has shifted to digital
    processing gear. (The effect looks like their print projector is
    slightly out of focus.) Has anyone else noticed this?

    Where I really notice the lack of sharpness is in reflections, glints, &
    eyes. The detail seems to be in the negatives (e.g., under a loupe),
    but it very rarely makes it onto paper.

    And, yes, I've had my eyes checked, tried different labs, different
    films (brands and speeds), switched from a manual-focus Pentax to a new
    auto-focus Nikon N80, tripod vs. handheld, all with the same results.
    Ditto for tests with 6MP digital cameras and high-res files. It's
    driving me nuts...

    Am I the only one seeing this? Is there a fix?

    Richard H., Apr 18, 2005
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  2. Gloss or matte paper...
    I agree that generic labs aren't printing photos as sharp as they used to.
    I'd ask at a camera shop; either they will know of a lab or are associated
    with a lab. My fave camera shop's lab charges 50% more than Costco. From
    what I've read, it's hit-or-miss.
    Larry CdeBaca, Apr 18, 2005
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  3. Richard H.

    Richard H. Guest

    Larry, thanks for the reply. So, maybe I'm not nuts here. Gloss paper,

    At first, I chalked it up to my vision, then maybe my camera (>20 years
    on it, some rough).

    I've tried the different mass Kodak / Fuji processors behind Costco &
    Walmart's dropboxes, then I ran some tests with the big camera shop in
    town, who has their own large processing company. Way more expensive,
    but the same results.

    My next step is to find a shop that still does optical printing. I
    think the camera shop has a 'high-touch' enlargement service that might
    still use optical.

    Any idea what DPI / LPI resolution the large digital processors print at?

    Richard H., Apr 18, 2005
  4. Richard H.

    Marvin Guest

    I do a sharpening of all my digital images before I print them. It helps.
    Marvin, Apr 18, 2005
  5. Richard H.

    Scott W Guest

    I am getting very sharp prints from Costco, below is a link to a small
    area of a 12 x 18 print. I scanned it at 600 dpi, so what you are
    looking at is a very small part of the print about 1.5 inches in

    But my input was a digital file not from film.

    So I would say the problem is either with they scanning of your
    negatives, or in the sharpness of you negatives. Do you have some
    older negatives that have produced sharp prints in that past that you
    could try?

    Scott W, Apr 18, 2005
  6. Richard H.

    dooey Guest

    Digital printing usually offers much "sharper" prints than optical minilabs.
    So much so that some labs ask images to be slightly softened.

    There are many reasons why minilabs print soft, most of which are due to
    set-up rather than the quality of the printer itself. The answer is to shop
    around and find a lab with a good operator.

    It is generally excepted that human vision cannot, even at close inspection
    see any more detail at resolutions over 300dpi. Good digital minilabs print
    at 300dpi and some at even at 400.
    dooey, Apr 18, 2005
  7. Here's an idea, Richard. Every once in a while, the operator on duty at
    Costco actually knows something about photography. Gleaning from a few
    answers, scan a neg, make sure it's sharp, copy to a CD. Drop it off at
    Costco and talk to the technician. Ask if they can print your image with all
    of their filtering/setting "off" or neutral.
    It's worth a try to ask. We have two Costcos in town -- one had a sweet
    little nerdette who offered to place high-resolution images on the CD (for
    someone else). The other Costco said their machine (looked the same to me)
    only had medium format. Store #1, images were like 1-2 MG. Store #2, more
    like 300k.
    Larry CdeBaca, Apr 19, 2005
  8. Richard H.

    Richard H. Guest

    Thanks for the posting. I imagine that's pretty sharp at actual size.
    Was it printed on Costco's in-house lab, or their dropbox / off-site
    processor? (I've been trying the latter, expecting their results to be
    "better-tuned" than the in-store systems; perhaps flawed logic.)

    Eventually, I tried submitting some digital pics that look sharp
    on-screen (or when zoomed in on the image on the camera's viewer). Same
    results, so clearly I'm not getting out what I put in.

    From the comments here, it sounds very possible the lab is either
    "enhancing" the prints or dropping the resolution. Looks like I need to
    keep on the same course of testing, and find a processor that either
    doesn't have this issue, or will help me work around it. At least I'm
    "focusing" in the right area. :)

    Thanks for the hand!

    Richard H., Apr 20, 2005
  9. Richard H.

    Richard H. Guest

    Thanks for the tip. Looks like I'll be running some more tests with the
    local camera shop's lab. I've got to think they'd be interested in this

    Richard H., Apr 20, 2005
  10. Richard H.

    Richard H. Guest

    A good point. It's very possible their systems are set to "help", and
    it's counter to my efforts.
    Interesting. I hadn't heard this factoid, and it seems surprising - I
    haven't seen a home photo printer yet that turns out lab-quality
    resolution, regardless of the DPI they claim. And, isn't a lot of
    magazine content done at like 1200lpi screens?

    I can completely see that the labs could process at 300dpi, even if it's
    lower grade than optical printing, so long as the majority of consumers
    find it very acceptable. For the <1% of people that might care
    otherwise, they're not about to double resolution (= 2x printing time).

    Richard H., Apr 20, 2005
  11. Richard H.

    dooey Guest

    300 dpi is "photo" quality and pro labs often use the same digital printers
    as consumer labs. There is no point submitting a file to any lab that is
    more than 300dpi as you will not see any difference.

    Continuous tone printing DPI and inkjet DPI are two different things!
    dooey, Apr 20, 2005
  12. Richard H.

    Chris Down Guest

    If you use the right ink and paper in the right printer you can get lab
    quality results. I have the HP Photosmart 8450 and with the three ink
    cartridges for photos, two colour, one shades of grey and HP premium glossy
    paper the results are fantastic. The only downside is that it costs more
    per print than the lab!
    There really is no point going beyond 300dpi. You simply won't see any
    more detail.
    I have had 2Mp jpg files from a digital point and shoot printed by a lab
    here in the UK at 7x5. Working that back it works out at an average of
    240dpi and you can't see any jpg artefacts, and there is no pixelation
    As a subjective test I put these photos next to ones taken on a similar 35mm
    film camera of the same subject at the same time and asked friends which
    they prefered. In every case they said the digitals were more sharper and
    had better colour than the prints direct from a 35mmm negative. Most
    struggled to see a great difference, but all when pressed to chose went for
    the digital. Digital at 300dpi is not always lower grade than optical.

    I have noticed that whatever size files you send this particular lab they
    resize the file before printing so that it is the requested size x300dpi on
    each axis. So a 7x5 print will be 3.15Mp.

    I would suggest you do as I did, send sample files of mixed subjects to a
    number of labs, see which you like best from the results and use the one you
    like best.
    I use bonusprint here in the UK and love the results.. Particularly as I do
    the whole thing from the comfort of my office. Costco are cheaper for
    larger prints so I will try a few samples there when I feel the need.
    Chris Down, Apr 20, 2005
  13. Most of the Costco on site printers are Noritsu, which is about as
    good as it gets. may have a profile for your local
    Costco printer. My local Costco even advertises the Dry Creek profile,
    and from talking to the photo manager, all the enhancement features of
    the printer are turned off by default. I get excellent results all the
    way to 12x18 from my 6 MP files, even with some cropping.
    Oliver Costich, Apr 20, 2005
  14. And is less permanent.
    Oliver Costich, Apr 20, 2005
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