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I am a newcomer to LF (4x5) altough I have been photographing and processing my own film on and off for about 10 years. Has the state of the art progressed to t he point where a photographer can duplicate the work on a computer that he would have done in a conventional darkroom? If this is not true today how long before it will be true? I am thinking of making a considerable investment in a darkroo m (conventional or digital?) and I am not up to speed on the digital aspect. What is required and how much it will cost. Thanks Jack Leonard
Check out West Coast Imaging ( http://www.westcoastimaging.com ). They are doing this, and have some helpful articles on the process.
As posed, a difficult question to answer. Your question begs more questions!
What type of equipment are you using in the conventional darkroom? What are your skill levels in the conventional darkroom?
A very good operator in a conventional darkroom will produce a finer product than a mediocre operator using a computer, just as a very good computer operator, using good equipment, will produce a better product than a mediocre conventional darkroom operator.
No matter what the people who would sell you digital equipment say, digital is not "plug and play"! Snapshots, yes. Fine quality, no.
Oh come on Barry. Digital is too plug and play. You plug your $70,000 scanner into your $5,000 computer, then play with your $5,000 densitometer to create ColorSync profiles for your scanner and your $250,000 printer. After all that, if you're good enough, you can get better results than you can with a $10,000 home darkroom. At least for color. Black and white? Well, it looks good on my monitor, but I haven't tried any of the new alternative print processes yet. I've heard good things about Iris Giclee printers, but the output is pretty expensive.
Seriously - if you have a relatively new Macintosh and are willing to invest in 512 MB RAM, more hard drives than you ever thought you'd need, a colorimiter, and the time to learn PhotoShop - then you can do better color on a computer than in a darkroom. If you're using Windows, well, good luck.
For black and white, stick with a darkroom unless you like to live on the bleeding edge.
I think the most important question to ask yourself Jack, is: "how long am I planning to be doing photography for?". If your photographic life expectancy is more than 10 years, go digital young man. You can set up a digital darkroom for about the same cost as a conventional one. (Unfortunately, at the moment, the most cost-effective road to quality digital is via film, so you need wet photography equipment as well.) Colorimeter? You don't need one if you've got eyes in your head. How many photographers use a colour temperature meter, or even shoot a colour swatch regularly? Besides, as any printer will tell you: Correct colour isn't necessarily the best colour. Do you compensate for a sunset with a blue filter? Digital is not another world, it's just another medium, and an extension of conventional photography. Get to grips with digital now, then your skills can grow along with the technology. Try to pretend it'll all go away by all means, but be prepared to mortgage your house for a box of film in a few years time.
I remember hearing people say that you'd have to mortgage your house to get black & white film once color was established. They say that painters were worried about the same eventuality when black & white photography came into its own. I know a number of painters and paint prices are still affordable. Painters probably put fear in the heads and hearts of the cave-wall drawers or some other creative group, but I think there is something called grafitti art out there still. We have all the media still that were supposed to have been deep-sixed by the new medium on the block. There will be something in the future that strikes fear in all of those who invest their vision and money in digital. Do what floats you boat and don't worry about what will kill what. Ansel Adams had a great attitude. His only regret was that he would not live to see what comes next, but he still embraced to the end his beloved black & white traditional photography. As long as people buy, the photo manufacturers would never stop producing something that sells, so keep buying and let your money vote.
warning...blatant opinion to follow....
Digital is simply another printing process. You can duplicate many of the techniques used in the color darkroom using digital techniques, and there are somethings which can be acomplished more easily with digital than in a 'conventional' color darkroom.
Just as platinum and palladium printing are 'alternative' processes for pinting black and white negatives, so is digital output for my chromes.
the advice posted to contact WCi is a good starting point. Rich Seiling and other employees there are real (good) photographers, and the company isn't just a service bureau with a Tango. If you'd like to try printing some of your chromes or negatives digitally, pick one and let them run with it.
If you'd like to try printing digitally yourself from 4X5, Darron's advice is spot-on. You can get started with as little as a $2500.00 investment, but as with most things, more money buys you more refined, faster, and more accurate tools.
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