I've been making a living as a photographer for over 20 years (first as a Combat Photographer in the Air Force, and now as a medical photgrapher for the past 11 years). The first camera I ever shot was an old Kodak monorail, and I've been in love with large format ever since. I have been producing Fine Art images with my only personally owned film-based camera (an old Graflex Super-Speed Graphic) for many years, and relish my time in the print room.
As a professional, I was introduced to digital imaging during Operation Desert Shield/ Desert Storm in 1990, with very low-res Sony Mavica. Digital imaging has come a long way since those early days, and I've been through several computers, digital cameras, printers (both Dye Sublimation and ink jet), and versions of Photoshop. The technology has steadily improved to the point that digital rivals film in many ways. However, the quality of digital prints still cant compare to a well-done fiber print. This sad fact was brought into sharp focus recently when I decided to make my first 16 bit scans of some of my favorite 4x5 negatives. This was the first time in many years that I have tried to digitize my Fine Art images, as the technology simply could'nt do justice to the images in the past. Although some of these negatives can be a real challenge in the darkroom, it was fairly easy to correct the negative's shortcomings in Photoshop CS to produce images that surpass even my best darkroom efforts. The ability to manipulate the tonal scale of a 400 MB image is mindboggling. But, neither my inkjet, nor my aging dye sub printer can bring those tones to life.
To be honest, I really dont want to print them electronically anyways. Ideally, I want to be able to make fiber prints directly from my corrected digital files, with no internegative required, and then be able to hand-soup the paper as I've always done. Is there any enlarger currently on the market, or in the works that can do this? If not, can someone recommend a good source for large format film output from a digital file. At least that way, I could still take advantage of a widely extended tonal scale (assuming that the film and paper are capable of reproducing such a long scale).
Just as a brain-storming session for this wonderful brain-trust: If it does'nt already exist; what would it take to produce an enlarger that could read digital files, and project a high resolution image onto photo paper to make varying sized enlargements without a negative? Do you think manufacturors will ever see a large enough market to justify the expense of producing such a beast?