Input Wanted -- B&W Workflow

Discussion in '35mm Cameras' started by Michael Benveniste, Aug 1, 2003.

  1. I'm considering volunteering for a project comprising about 100 final
    images with shots taken over several weekends. The requirements for
    the project are stated as follows:
    -- Display quality black and white 8x10 (or possibly 11x14's)
    -- B&W digital files for use by non-profit groups in newsletters
    (1/4-1/2 page) and on websites.
    -- Digital Color output is a "nice to have," but shouldn't drive
    the effort.
    -- Work out a budget and then meet it. As with any non-profit,
    money is an issue, but the group leader has reasonable

    I have neither the skills nor the inclination to do my own darkroom
    work, but in the group we have the skills and software for digital
    editing. We don't have a film scanner, but we could probably rent
    or borrow one.

    With that in mind, what are the pros and cons you see with the
    following approaches:
    1. Shoot conventional B&W film (likely TMAX 100) and go the
    traditional route -- contact sheets, proofs (likely to be
    on color paper) and traditional darkroom enlargements. Scan
    the negatives ourselves as time permits.
    2. As #1, only have the lab scan and print digitally and supply
    3. Shoot conventional color film (100F or NPS/NPC) and scan the
    "keepers" ourselves. Use software to convert to B&W and print
    on an Epson 2200 or similar printer.
    4. As #3, but obtain Kodak Photo CD's at development time.
    5. Rent a digital SLR and forget film entirely. While eventually
    I expect to buy a digital SLR, I'm content to wait another
    couple of years to see how the market develops.

    I have personal experience with the choice #1 and a good idea
    of the quality to expect and the costs involved. Choice #4 seems
    less expensive, but I don't know how much quality I'm giving up.

    All input welcome, especially from those who've faced similar
    Michael Benveniste, Aug 1, 2003
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  2. Michael Benveniste

    John Emmons Guest

    Try a test roll using your #3 idea. See if you can get an acceptable print
    from the Kodak cd's.

    I have a fair amount of color neg film processed and scanned, the scans are
    used by a commercial printer for use in a newsletter. They typically run
    about 4"x6" to 5"x7" in the newsletter and they look just fine. I haven't
    tried enlarging them to the sizes you need yet.

    The main advantage of getting the scans done at the time of processing is of
    course the cost. I'd probably get that done even if you end up needing to
    have higher resolution scans done later.

    The best of both worlds would be to use the original negatives for your
    enlargements and the basic scans for any website usages. The resolution of
    the Kodak scans is more than you'll need for any website usage.

    Barring that, the option of using a digital SLR to create the original files
    would be the easiest method. If you compare the costs of the rental of
    equipment to the cost of film and processing, you might find it cheaper to

    John Emmons
    John Emmons, Aug 1, 2003
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  3. Michael Benveniste

    Gordon Moat Guest

    The first requirement of 8" by 10" or 11" by 14" prints would dictate a
    lab doing the prints. If you have a good B/W printing place near you, or
    know of a place you can send images for good results, then that will be
    your first budget consideration. If you are not practising in the
    darkroom currently, have someone experienced do the prints.
    Film scanners require some skill. Many are tough to use to get good B/W
    scans, and results. Without some practice and experience, renting could
    be a nightmare.
    I have a preference for AGFA APX 100, especially for people images.
    However, TMax 100 is also a good choice. Your other option is one of the
    C-41 B/W films, though if you have a competent B/W processing place near
    you, there might not be much advantage to using C-41 B/W films.
    With 100 scans, the Kodak PhotoCD would be cheaper. Digital printing of
    B/W just does not work well, and looses the subtle tones of B/W prints.
    If you really want B/W, then have it printed chemically (traditional).
    If you are stuck with digital printing, use colour film instead, and do
    colour prints.
    Terrible choice. The B/W off any inkjet just looses the smooth tonality
    that traditional B/W prints possess. Also, even when getting the better
    quad black inks for the Epson, the costs will likely be higher than
    traditional B/W prints, and still not look as good, nor hold up to
    display as well.
    Probably your best bet for digital files. The largest file sizes should
    be more than enough to handle the 1/4 and 1/2 page newsletter outputs.
    Kodak made one very expensive direct digital SLR that does monochrome
    (B/W only) image captures. Anyway, a few problems with renting. Since
    your project is over several weekends, your rentals fees could be quite
    high. Another issue is that the same gear may not be available each
    weekend you need it. Also, add the cost of lenses to the rental.

    The other issue, as I stated previously, is that digital printing of B/W
    just does not give pleasing results, unless your standards are very low.
    You are also quite likely to need several adjustments, and test prints,
    prior to getting the best results, all adding time and expense.
    Normal Kodak PhotoCD gives a large enough file for a full page print,
    especially since a B/W file takes up one third less space on the CD than
    an RGB file. Ask the lab that does the PhotoCD about the higher
    resolution PhotoCD options, since you might be able to get your 100 B/W
    images onto the CD, though the cost may be slightly higher.
    I used PhotoCD for work for several years, prior to getting a dedicated
    film scanner into the office. It is still something useful for high
    volume, especially considering the time advantage over scanning. The
    better PhotoCD choices provide higher resolution options, and the
    ability to use larger than 35 mm format films for the scans.

    The one thing that Skip Middleton mentioned about C-41 films may be
    worth investigating. Kodak Portra 400BW is one choice, though it prints
    better to colour paper (think minilab type). Kodak makes another one
    called T400CN, which has a different base more suitable for traditional
    B/W printing papers. One advantage would be the initial 4" by 6" prints
    would be low cost, and might be better for choosing larger prints than
    using a contact sheet. With Portra 400BW, it is also possible to have a
    colour print done with a Sepia tone. I feel both these films are much
    better in medium format sizes, though they do work fine in 35 mm.


    Gordon Moat
    Alliance Graphique Studio
    Gordon Moat, Aug 2, 2003
  4. Thanks for the comments. The Boston, MA area is blessed with several
    good labs. I've had good results with one near where I work and
    another near where I live. Neither comes cheaply, though, as you'd
    Fair enough, and local rental costs are fairly high.
    I've never tried Agfa's B&W films, but if time permits I'll shoot a

    My one test with C-41 B/W yielded a bunch of sepia-toned 4x6's -- but
    after doing research for this project I realize that was probably due
    to printing on color paper. My other concern about using C-41 B&W is
    that they are all 400 speed films. I'll get a proper B&W enlargement
    made of one of my shots and see what happens.

    Thanks for confirming my conclusions on the alternatives. I
    understand traditional B&W lab work and the costs involved. What
    I didn't have a feel for was the state of the practice of the
    So far, there's no need to get all of the images onto a single CD, nor
    do I see that becoming an issue. The extra few dollars for a second
    master isn't going to make or break the decision.
    The other alternative is to have a Picture CD quality disk burned at
    development time and proof off of that. One of the local labs will
    do this off of conventional B&W for a couple of bucks more than a
    contact sheet.

    The sepia shots I mentioned were off of T400CN and printed on minilab
    paper. I'd love to see this project done in medium format, but that
    doesn't appear to be in the cards.

    Once again, thanks for all the valuable responses!
    Michael Benveniste, Aug 3, 2003
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