Quality of 35mm prints

Discussion in '35mm Cameras' started by David Nebenzahl, Apr 12, 2009.

  1. (35mm as in *film*)

    Last time I picked up my prints at the drugstore*, I noticed they seem
    to look better than before. I'm wondering if some improvement has been
    made to the system that makes them, and if anyone else might have
    noticed this. (Hardware seems to be the same; maybe new system software?)

    I've been having my film processed this way for a long time. Quality is
    decent, price is good, and I get negatives waiting to be printed by a
    *real* (i.e., optical/wet printing) process. (The difference 'twixt
    digital prints and well-made wet prints at 8x10 is astonishing.)

    * "Drugstore" is Longs Drugs in California (soon to be rebranded as CVS,
    which just bought Longs). They use Fuji Frontier equipment.

    According to the staff there, CVS is planning on upgrading the Fuji
    equipment soon (presumably for all their stores).

    Film is dead! Long live digital!
    David Nebenzahl, Apr 12, 2009
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  2. David Nebenzahl

    Ken Hart Guest

    Most of the "modern" minilab systems scan the negatives and light-jet print
    onto standard photographic (RA4, wet-system) paper, then process. The last
    optical printing minilab I've seen is the 1984 model Hope in my own darkroom
    (I'm certain there are later models; I just haven't seen one lately). Very
    generally, if the machine is capable of creating an index print, it is
    probably scanning the film. Optical printing minlabs can't make an index
    print, at least not with any text printed on it. Also, optical minilabs
    usually require an operator sitting in front to line up the negative and
    make a snap judgement about the print- if the neg looks light or dark, or
    has a predominent color, the operator may override (or be 'asked' by the
    machine if it should override) the auto settings. Modern scanning minilabs
    can find where the negative starts and ends without an operator, and can
    usually make better judgements regarding density and color.

    In this area, the local CVS does crappy work (usually too light and too
    blue), while the local WalMart does much better. Additionally, the local WM
    seems to be able to follow unusual instructions better. If you are getting
    good results from a one-hour processor at a discounter, then go for it. An
    RA-4 print is chemically the same print whether you pay $1.29 at CVS or $20
    from a pro processor. Besides, it's likely that the pro processor is using a
    minilab, too.
    Ken Hart, Apr 13, 2009
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  3. [all on-topic content missing from post]
    Check the website if you're curious.
    David Nebenzahl, Apr 13, 2009
  4. I omitted to say that the Fuji Frontier is digital on the printing side
    (scanning negatives and making a digital color print on RA-4) because I
    assumed everyone here would know that. I can say with confidence that
    *any* photo processors making prints from 35mm film (or APS) are using
    such systems, and that nobody is making optical prints like in the old
    days. (There was one guy here--San Francisco East Bay area--who had a
    darkroom and made optical prints from negatives, which is how I was able
    to make that comparison, but he moved and abandoned his darkroom.
    Apparently there are still a couple labs in "the City" [San Francisco].)
    Contrary to what you said above, it appears that even with a system like
    the Frontier, an operator is needed to at least oversee the process,
    which means that more than likely they'll be looking at at least *some*
    of the exposures. I've been going to Longs and using their in-store
    (1-hour) processing because I found there results to be better than the
    stuff they send out, apparently because the people there actually pay
    attention to what they do.
    David Nebenzahl, Apr 13, 2009
  5. David Nebenzahl

    Bob Larter Guest

    Um. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but Fuji Frontiers are
    DIGITAL printers! (300 DPI laser to traditional photo paper, IIRC.)
    Indeed. ;^)
    Bob Larter, Apr 13, 2009
  6. I know that, numbnuts. What part of "Hardware seems to be the same;
    maybe new system software?" don't you understand.
    David Nebenzahl, Apr 13, 2009
  7. David Nebenzahl

    Bob Larter Guest

    Then why did you say "printed by a *real* (i.e., optical/wet printing)
    process", when you're actually talking about digital, *not optical*
    printing, genius? Optical printing involves an enlarger - remember them?
    You don't think that optical minilabs use software to do all the
    automatic stuff?
    Bob Larter, Apr 14, 2009
  8. OK, that was my bad, as I wasn't too clear there: what I meant is that
    while the prints I get from the Frontier are, as you say, digitally
    made, I also get negatives *waiting* to be printed (at some undetermined
    future date) by optical means. I've had several such prints made (8x10),
    and as I said, the results are astonishing, much better than
    corresponding digital prints (which aren't bad).
    David Nebenzahl, Apr 14, 2009
  9. Not the one you replied to, but since I brought this up to begin with,
    just to be clear, what I meant by better print quality was that the
    prints I've gotten recently looked better *overall* than older prints.
    (I know that the operator has a lot to do with how prints look in terms
    of exposure, contrast, and other things that are under their control,
    but I'm not talking about that here.)

    In particular, it seems to me that my recent Frontier prints have far
    fewer digital artifacts, like in clear sky or in certain patterned areas
    (foliage or other consistently-patterned areas). Kind of subjective, I
    know, but I think I can really detect a difference from earlier prints.
    I just wonder if it's true, and if so, why?
    David Nebenzahl, Apr 22, 2009
  10. David Nebenzahl

    K W Hart Guest

    Since the current generation of minilabs scan the negative, 'analyze' it,
    and digitally ("lightjet") print it onto photographic paper, it would be
    possible to affect the overall look of the final prints by a software
    upgrade. Such a software change could be completely transparent to the
    customer, and could be accomplished without even having a service tech come
    into the store- it could be automatically downloaded. Also, since the
    machines are fairly modular, the scanner section or the printer engine could
    have been replaced at your local store. In short, it could be difficult to
    find out if the store made any change, because they might not even know.

    Personnally I like the optical prints I get from my negatives better than
    the digital prints from the local minilab. So much so that I'm replacing my
    old optical minilab with a new (newer used) processor that will be more
    efficient to run.
    K W Hart, Apr 23, 2009
  11. I don't include myself out in this case.

    (Unlike those fair-weather "public transportation advocates" who want
    everyone *else* to take buses or trains so there's more room for them
    on the freeway.)
    David Nebenzahl, Apr 23, 2009
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