Traditional printing vs. scanning film and digitial manipulation

Discussion in 'Darkroom Developing and Printing' started by Phil Glaser, Oct 10, 2003.

  1. Phil Glaser

    Phil Glaser Guest


    As a teenager and did my own B&W processing and printing. Now, more
    than twenty years later, I am getting back into photography and things
    have changed quite a bit.

    A reasonably-abled digital camera (like higher than 5 mega pixels) is
    out of my price-range, and I already have a Nikon F4 with several
    lenses that I am quite happy with. So I plan to be shooting and
    processing my own B&W film for some time to come. But for printing I
    have two options, either to purchase an enlarger and related
    equipment, or to purchase a film scanner and learn to manipulate my
    images digitally.

    Almost everyone I speak with, including a few professional
    photographers, advises me to go the digital route. The convenience of
    digital makes it attractive, but I'm wondering whether it can match
    the quality of darkroom printing.

    Moreover, being frustrated with the quality of my B&W photos, I would
    like to start practicing the zone system. The zone system would
    obviously be applicable to my film negatives, but since the zone
    system is traditionally oriented towards a final print produced in a
    darkroom, I'm wondering what adjustments I would need to make to the
    system when producing prints digitally.

    Any comments on these questions?


    Phil Glaser, Oct 10, 2003
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  2. Phil Glaser

    Mxsmanic Guest

    In theory, the darkroom can do better. In practice, it never does,
    because that would require a perfect enlarger with a perfect lens and a
    perfect light source, plus perfect technique, perfect exposure, perfect
    development, and so on. In the final analysis, digital produces a
    better result.

    As a general rule, the only domains in which analog remains the best
    choice are capture and printing. Thus, for best results, you shoot
    film, scan it immediately, do all manipulations in the digital domain,
    then print the result to traditional analog photographic paper for the
    usual chemical printing. Since capture and printing _must_ be analog
    processes, there isn't much advantage to using so-called digital
    (electronic) capture or so-called digital (ink-jet) printing. But since
    all the intermediate workflow need not be analog and the digital realm
    offers so many advantages, everything between capture and print should
    be digital.
    The zone system is also oriented towards individual development of each
    image (as opposed to an entire roll).

    However, the zone system is just a very complicated religious doctrine
    that boils down to proper exposure. Expose it correctly, get a good
    scan, and you can do whatever you want in Photoshop. The only reason
    Ansel didn't do it that way was that he didn't have Photoshop in those
    Mxsmanic, Oct 10, 2003
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  3. Phil Glaser

    Tom Thackrey Guest

    At the moment I think digital capture, manipulation and printing is the way
    to go for color work. For black and white the traditional darkroom still
    produces better prints, IMHO.

    The real question is what works for you. If you love working in the
    darkroom, by all means do so. You can get a lot of great gear fairly cheaply
    these days. If the darkroom isn't that big a thrill and you like using
    PhotoShop (or whatever) to manipulate your images, do so. If you just want
    to make the exposures and let a lab process and print, do that. Many
    photographers are doing film->scan->print, some are doing
    film->scan->negative->contact print, others are all digital, and there are a
    few all analog left.

    I shoot black and white film and print it in my darkroom. I shoot color
    film, develop it in my darkroom, scan it, print it digitally either on an
    inkjet or lightjet. I also do digital capture with digital printing.
    Tom Thackrey, Oct 10, 2003
  4. Phil Glaser

    Jon Guest

    Hi Phil,
    For color, I think it is already there. B/W is a bit more difficult. I'm
    doing the film>scan>digital print path, and I'm generally happy with the
    quality of the B/W prints from my Epson 2200 with the Inkjet Control Rip
    software. I'm still using the OEM inks from Epson. I'm going to add either
    Septone or Piezo dedicated B/W inks in the next few months. If all this
    jargon is Greek to you, you may want to subscribe to this Yahoo group, as
    there are people there using every B/W inkjet printing method known to man:

    Dig around in the archive and file sections--there is tons of info.

    I'd really love to be able to do both digital and analog--I just don't have
    the room for an enlarger in my dinky apartment.
    I generally think the ZS is more suited to sheet film, but many of the
    techniques work well with roll film. Have you read Adams' _The Negative_? I
    really like the book, it opened my eyes and helped me produce technically
    better negs.

    Feel free to ask me more questions,

    Jon, Oct 10, 2003
  5. Phil Glaser

    dr bob Guest

    What do _you_ want to do? If you want to do photojournalism or
    associated endeavors then digital is the thing - convenience, material
    availability, ease of manipulation (some have fun doing this sort of thing;
    transferring images parts et c.) - also if you don't mind sitting for hours
    in front of a CRT.

    If you want to produce images for sale in art shows,
    conventional printing on good medium may be your best bet - especially if
    you like the smell of fixer, like working long hours in the dark, standing
    up to work rather than sitting, and getting your hands "dirty".

    A trend is apparently developing in the art world toward the
    concept that hand-worked artifacts are more valuable than the "best"
    machine-produced item. Actually this has always been one of the more
    essential concepts of artistic "value". This applies to both digital and
    analog photographs, depending on many factors too numerous to list here. It
    really boils down to: you get out what you put in.

    As to costs, my analysis, considering your present investment, is
    they are about equal with digital being a bit more. The total depends on
    what quality you are striving for. Don't forget, analog materials, film,
    paper, may diminish in time. The cost of updating your digital hardware and
    software may (will most certainly) be significant. The cost of used
    conventional equipment is steadily going down versus the upward spiral in
    digital technology (soon there will be digital everything) with it's
    associated cost. As soon as I buy something, a new and better one shows up
    and my old one won't work any more because my old software won't support
    it - so I have to get new software -which won't run of my old OS, so new OS,
    more memory - on and on. I gave up. I don't have enough years left for

    So the bottom line is: what turns _you_ on?

    Truly, dr bob.
    dr bob, Oct 10, 2003
  6. Phil Glaser

    Alexis Neel Guest

    As others have said, it depends on what you want of your final prints,
    and their usage. Its 6 of one, half a dozen of another. Digital
    prints look, well like digital prints. Conventional one look like
    photographic prints. Once yo have decided that, then you can make a
    well informed decision.
    A bit of info BandW isn't "there" as it is with
    color. And most likely won't be, at least for a long time. I did
    some rather extensive tests with The New Lab in San Francisco where we
    compared scanning the neg and scanning the print. The print came out
    much better and was actually quicker than the time needed to correct
    what you get from scanning a neg. FYI, The New Lab is one of the best
    labs in the country. They have a supurb reputation. They started
    with E6 and have since expanded to digital and C41. My lab was the
    top BandW lab in SF, and we were sought out by pro's, gallery's,
    advertising agency's, etc. because of the quality of work we did.

    It boils down to your end result. Our tests were extensive and had
    minimum requirements for quality and time spent.

    We won... hehe

    Alexis Neel, Oct 10, 2003
  7. Phil Glaser

    jjs Guest

    I will begin by saying that digital has liberated color for the masses and
    commercial photographers, but last night I was going through some
    conventional color prints and was once again just astonished by how good
    they looked, and how much more I like the conventional photographic look.
    It is _very_ different.
    jjs, Oct 10, 2003
  8. A B&W print and how it looks has everything to do with the silver
    that is resident within the paper. A well made BW print as I am sure "You"
    are aware, flashes that silver back to the viewer in very positive ways
    that I doubt will ever be completely duplicated. However one does wonder
    if at somepoint, a Silver process machine will come down the line that allows silver
    to be exposed, developed via a computer....given that RGB imaging
    like Lambdas already use silver RA papers one would guess this to be a
    possiblity, if not a cost effective one.
    Gregory W. Blank, Oct 10, 2003
  9. Makes me feel good to hear "You" state this. I think conventional color printing
    in several ways can remain valuable, in my experiences there are some printing
    issues which make all methods valid in one circumstance or the other.
    Gregory W. Blank, Oct 10, 2003
  10. Go where there are Daguerreotypes on display... Take a 50mm or 100mm prime
    35mm camera lens to use as a magnifier, and be careful you don't fall into
    the picture as you are looking... Then do that test with gelatin silver
    prints and with digiprints... Most illuminating...
    Dennis O'Connor, Oct 10, 2003
  11. Phil Glaser

    leicaddict Guest

    Right now it is extremely difficult to beat a digital darkroom for
    color. That includea a 4000 dpi film scanner and a six color inkjet
    printer. With b&w, it's something of a different story. The best b&w
    digital darkroom can compete somewhat with RC VC type black and white
    paper, but b&w digital can not come close to FB, graded paper (non
    RC). The particular paper I use is Oriental Seagull G, FB grade 3. I
    love this paper. Oriental Seagull is coming out with inkjet photo
    paper, perhaps this will get somewhat closer, but I doubt it.
    leicaddict, Oct 10, 2003
  12. Phil Glaser

    Phil Glaser Guest

    I am finding this discussion extremely useful -- thanks to all all of
    you for your input!

    Now a few questions/comments:

    I think I'm missing a technological link here. When you say "print the
    result to traditional analog photographic paper for the usual chemical
    printing," I don't understand techically how that works. Do you
    recapture the digitially manipulated image onto another negative and
    then enlarge as usual? Or is there some way to capture CRT output in
    an enlarger?
    I was thinking about bulk-loading small casettes of maybe 12 frames
    each and do multiple shots of the same scene. Just a thought. . .

    As for the artistic versus journalistic question, I think for now my
    primary interest is aesthetic and artistic. But There's also a
    possibility I might evolve into this field professionally, in which
    case knowing the digital realm would be necessary. There's also space
    considerations. In my case, I would need to set up an enlarger in a
    closet and use a print drum in the bathroom (even for black and

    As for cost of software, I was thinking I would use the GIMP rather
    than Photoshop, so I would save on both the image processing software
    and the OS upgrades (I use Linux as well as Windows).

    Thanks again for all the insightful comments!

    Phil Glaser, Oct 10, 2003
  13. Phil, you will be inundated by 'opinions'... I have opinions also and I
    will share them...
    First, you have an outstanding 35mm camera, lens, etc... There are folks
    out there who would give their eye teeth for the technical and optical
    capabilities you already own... Don't spend money for a new digital camera
    at this time... Digital is fine.. I have no problems with digiprints...
    But, building a top quality digi system from scratch will be expensive and
    can wait, for now...

    Second, if you do get enticed back into the darkroom (my strong
    recommendation) DO spend money for a good enlarger lens, Nikkor N, Rodagon,
    or Componon S... Notice, I said lens... I don't care what enlarger you
    have... A rusty, $20, pawn shop, Federal is fine... Ya, you may have to
    tinker with the negative alignment, and you may need to add a piece of opal
    glass to even out the light, and tinker the bulb alignment, but these are
    easy and inexpensive... The lens is what makes the image...

    Third, things have not really changed... Yes, we now have T-grain films, and
    we have C41 B&W negative material, but guess what? We still have Plus-X,
    and Tri-X, and D-76... Or FP4 and D-76... Or APX-100 and D-76... Fuji is
    making some great, fine grain B&W films that will develop nicely in D-76 (I
    can't rattle off the product identifier at this moment)...
    Pick any film/developer combination that catches your fancy - even T-Max or
    Delta) and stick with it for 100 rolls of film before you start chasing that
    magic film and developer combination ... Yup, one hundred rolls...
    (personally, I firmly intend to try wet plates developed in warm urine from
    Himalayan Yaks... it HAS to be a killer combination!)
    But, I digress... To be successful you have to do the SIMPLE task of
    matching your ASA to the film/developer you have selected, in YOUR camera...
    Here are a couple of sources and I highly recommend the first:

    Follow these instructions on calibrating your film ASA -for a given film in
    your camera and in your developer and in calibrating the enlarger to give
    the perfect black, zone 0 in your darkroom and even if you never, never,
    utter the word 'zone' again, or make another wet print again, your digi
    prints will be improved for the rest of your life... You will produce dense
    blacks and sparkling whites on the same print... Get the overall contrast
    and the shadow details on the negative right, and your digi scans will be
    many times easier to make...
    My opinion...

    Cheers ... Denny
    Dennis O'Connor, Oct 10, 2003
  14. Phil Glaser

    John Guest

    There is no ready means from CRT to conventional enlarger printing (for our
    use), but you can create "digitial negatives" for printing, specifically
    contact-printing in the darkroom. No enlarger is necccessary. See Dan
    Burkholder's most excellent book "Making Digital Negatives for Contact
    Printing", ISBN# 0-9649638-6-8
    Good thought.
    John, Oct 10, 2003
  15. Phil Glaser

    Mxsmanic Guest

    Systems like the Fuji Frontier, used by many one-hour and pro labs
    throughout the world, can print to standard photo paper from a digital
    file. You load the file into the machine (it can be a digital file from
    a scan, or a digital file from a digicam, it doesn't matter), and the
    machine uses scanning red, blue, and green lasers to expose ordinary
    color photo paper. The paper is then developed in the usual way, to
    produce a true photographic print. The only difference is that it was
    exposed with scanning lasers, instead of an enlarger. Under good
    conditions, the results from this process are stunning.

    Another popular high-end system is the Durst Lambda, which works in the
    same way. It can produce huge prints of unbelievable quality.

    Today, the best prints are the conventional chemical prints produced by
    these machines from digital files.
    Neither, see above.
    With a tripod, it works, although aligning the pixels in scans is
    delicate. I've done it on extremely rare occasions for scenes with such
    severe contrast that they could not be photographed in their entirety in
    one exposure without losing too much detail at the high or low end.
    I don't use anything except computers and a scanner. I develop my own
    B&W negatives (very easy to do, no fancy equipment required), but
    everything else is done by a lab, except for the actual scanning and
    manipulation of the scans, which I do myself.
    That's up to you, but keep in mind that you need to scan.
    Mxsmanic, Oct 10, 2003
  16. Phil Glaser

    Mxsmanic Guest

    It also has a great deal to do with direct B&W capture of the original

    It is not possible to produce the full gamut of black and white prints
    with conversions from color images. This remains true whether the color
    images are created by digital capture or film capture. For good black
    and white, you MUST shoot the original in black and white.
    Mxsmanic, Oct 10, 2003
  17. Phil Glaser

    Ken Hart Guest


    There are "hybrid" minilabs out there; possibly the most common being the
    Fuji Frontier in nearly every WalMart. (Others are made by Noritsu, Agfa,
    etc.) These machines work similarly to an inkjet printer, but instead of
    squirting 3 (or more) colors of ink onto paper line by line, dot by dot;
    they shoot three colors of light onto ordinary photographic paper, which is
    then processed just like in the darkroom. The source of that image data can
    come from a scanned negative, a memory card, a floppy disk, or the web,
    depending on the options installed on the particular machine.

    Technically, how it works is you would prepare your images on computer using
    whatever software you want, output the image data to whatever storage medium
    the lab can accept (or upload to the lab) in whatever format the lab wants
    to see, they print it, you pay for it.

    Alternatively, there are negative burners that similarly expose film line by
    line, dot by dot, just like the printers only with higher resolution. The
    film is processed and the negs can be printed optically.

    Alternatively, for black and white work (has anyone tried this for color?)
    you could print out your digital image as a negative onto clear media
    (overhead transparency sheets) in the size you want for your final prints,
    and contact print it in the darkroom. (Been there, done that, works OK)

    Ken Hart, Oct 10, 2003
  18. Phil Glaser

    jjs Guest

    Perhaps that is true to the uncritical eye. The common Fiji printer
    dumbs-down resolution to the least common denominator. You have to have an
    eye full of 'merde' to think it's good.
    jjs, Oct 11, 2003
  19. That was a given,......and to further expound,.I was refering to using B&W
    negative films, digital capture.
    Gregory W. Blank, Oct 11, 2003
  20. Although I seen some good lambda's I still must add that a good hand made
    color print made from a color negative has a slightly better rendition. Especially
    if one is required to:

    a) have the lab scan the image, and they don't care how it looks.

    b) have unlimited resources to get the print correct by
    your own methodology. In other words you have no clue how to set up
    and color correct scans and profile the scan to the machine.

    c) I do feel that scans from slide films if handled correctly far and away exceed
    any & all R3000 direct printing methods I have ever witnessed. Ciba's not included.
    Gregory W. Blank, Oct 11, 2003
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