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Thread: Huge Prints From 4X5 Film

  1. #1
    Is that a Hassleblad? Brian Vuillemenot's Avatar
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    Huge Prints From 4X5 Film

    Hello all,

    I'm thinking about getting some very large prints made from 4X5 transparency film (30X40, 40X50, and/or 50X60). The transparencies will be drum scanned and digitally printed. I have two questions aboout this:



    1) How large can a digital print be made from a 4X5 transparency without considerable loss of quality? I understand that "considerable loss of quality" is open to a lot of interpretation and personal preference, so I'd just like to hear how large a print you made or had printed and what you though of it.



    2) At what size enlargement does 8X10 begin to surpass the quality attainable from 4X5? Let's imagine one were to make two identical exposures on 4X5 and 8X10 inch film, with the same angle of view (150 on 4X5 vs. 300 on 8X10) high quality, modern multi-coated lens, the same fine grain film (Velvia), shot at the optimal f stop on comparable cameras, and have prints made. In other words, the only thing limiting quality would be the size of the film. Would a considerable difference be noticable comparing 30X40 inch prints? How about at 20 X 24? What about really large prints? (50X60)?



    Thanks for your input!
    Brian Vuillemenot

  2. #2
    Eric Woodbury
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    Huge Prints From 4X5 Film

    Brian,

    I saw Yann Arthus-Betrand prints from his book "Earth from Above" in London. The prints were outside and huge, 40x60 at least. I think he used 35mm, for sure it was roll film. They were very impressive and loss of quality was not a bit issue when viewing them. So, not only does it depend on what you mean by 'consideralbe loss of quality', but also what quality it is you are trying to preserve. If it is definition and smoothness, then the bigger negative is always better, always, unless you are shooting on a shaky tripod or on a windy day. Look at gigapxl.org for a big camera, big prints, and good analysis.

    Remember, you take different pictures with different cameras.
    my picture blog
    ejwoodbury.blogspot.com

  3. #3

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    Huge Prints From 4X5 Film

    Brian: I haven't personally done this and pretty much shoot exclusively B&W. I have, however, been to the Mountain Light gallery in Bishop and saw prints much larger than you are talking about made off scans of Galen Rowell's 35 mm negatives. They looked incredible. You don't look at something that big by sticking your nose up to it. From a reasonable viewing distance the end result was fabulous to my eye. I think making the most of a 4X5 negative you shouldn't have any trouble at all in the sizes you are talking about.

  4. #4
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
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    Huge Prints From 4X5 Film

    Largely (pun intended) it depends on the image.

    For reference, I have made a number of approx. 10x enlargements of 5x4 Tri-X -- 125 x 100 cm prints. I drum scan the negatives, then print on an inkjet printer using PiezoTone inks onto canvas. The print is then varnished and stretched over stretcher bars like you would an oil painting. The prints are excellent. They have no visible grain and are nose sharp. I can clearly enlarge a little more without much degradation of the images, but that's as big as I can conveniently print them. If it makes you feel any better, I've sold a few this size also, so apparently customers like them too.

    For color tranny film, you should be fine at your 50" size (that would be roughly 50 x 62.5 inches, or 12.5x enlargement). At that level, there's no pressing need to go to 10x8 originals.

    That said, all other things being equal, I think you'll see a difference in quality from prints made from 5x4 originals and 10x8 originals fairly quickly. Say about 6-8x enlargement for 5x4, which is about 3-4x enlargement for 10x8. You'll get better tonality, smoother transitions, somewhat better sharpness -- all the things you would expect from having four times the film area.

    Sadly, you will be limited not by film size but by current computer and scanner technology. You can't scan a 10x8 original at 4000ppi because the resulting file is way too big for 32bit OSes to handle. From a practical standpoint, you top out at around 1.5GB file size these days. Photoshop is dying at that level, and you can spend lots of time waiting (I'm talking go-down-stairs-and-eat-a-snack wait times) between operations on even the fastest hardware. So eventhough you have more information on your 10x8 film, you can't access it all digitally.

    All I'm saying is, 10x8 is not all that much better than 5x4 film when you are running a digital printing workflow. Some better? Yes. But do you get the full benefit of the 4x more film area? No.

    Bruce Watson

  5. #5

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    Huge Prints From 4X5 Film

    Depends on the viewing distance and subject matter. Photos of people can usually be enlarged a great deal yet still look great. Architectural shots fall apart quickly with a great deal of enlargement.

    I too saw the shots at Mountain Light in Bishop. IMHO they were enlarged far too much, and did not hold up well at all. Colors were rough looking, juiced yet muddy and there were strange halo effects around edges in a lot of them. From a longer distance they would have looked great. I found it disturbing to look at them from a distance of 10-15 feet. On the other hand, the photos that could not have been taken any other way than smaller format were very successful and great - so again, subject matter really makes a big difference. Many truly excellent photos there, breathtaking photos some of them, but just too big for quality. Believe me, I'm not knocking the outstanding work shown at Mountain Light. Lightjets do a fair amount of sharpening and interpolation - so be sure not to oversharpen your work.

    If you want the best overall print from your MF and LF chromes, consider having an Ilfochrome made instead. Without the artifacts of scanning, or a scanner trying to approximate the grain information on the film, things come out much, much better in a larger print. If you are lucky, you can have John Weldon make you a print that will be truly first rate, and one that will probably look smoother and more alive than the typical lightjet. All-analog prints, done with great skill, seem to show qualities that far surpass the lightjet prints. The best part is that if your shot does not need fixing in Photoshop, you can skip all that time and trouble.

    A flip-side example is the common billboard. When viewed from across the street, they can seem to have amazing clarity. The actual images on them are very very low resolution. Chances are good that even a 35mm would do for many billboard applications.

  6. #6

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    Huge Prints From 4X5 Film

    The largest color digital print (drum scanned, printed on Lightjet) I've had made from 4x5 was approximately 26 x 35", and I wasn't happy with it. It was a landscape shot with mountains, a lake, and lots of vegetation; the neg was sharp, but the print tonality was mediocre and fine detail was lacking (pine needles on a foreground pine tree looked soft, distant shrubs looked like poofballs, etc.). It looked like it had been enlarged too much.

    Currently I have four 16x20" drum scanned 4x5-based color digital prints, and one 20x25" drum scanned 8x10-based color digital print mounted on my living room wall. While the quality of the compositions (all landscapes) is comparable, everyone immediately ooo's and ahh's over the 8x10-based print, saying it looks much sharper, three-dimensional, and "real."

    Personally, I think 8x10 significantly outperforms 4x5 at print sizes of 20x24" and larger. Chris Jordan if I recall correctly has said he starts seeing differences between 4x5 and 8x10 at a 16x20" print size. So at the print sizes you are talking about, you will definitely see a difference. How much will depend on subject matter. Landscapes (particularly with vegetation) are very resolution-intensive, and quickly benefit from the larger format. Other subjects are less sensitive. You may want to consider making 8x10" test prints at the enlargement factors you are considering, and see how much of a difference 4x5 vs. 8x10 will make in your particular application.

  7. #7
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Huge Prints From 4X5 Film

    I've only made one big print (40x50 inches) from 4x5. It was done traditionally on black and white photo paper. I don't think your results would be significantly different from this doing it digitally, assuming you got a good scan. A 3600 dpi scan would very easily capture all the detail visible in this print.

    As far as how good the print looks, as others said, it depends on how close you get. People naturally stand back from a mural (in my case it helps that a couch is in the way From a few feet back it sparkles. Looking at it the way you would an 8x10 it's very soft.

    One advantage to digital is that you'd be able to sharpen it. Done well, this would imporve the visual quality, but obviously won't add detail that isn't there.

  8. #8

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    Huge Prints From 4X5 Film

    Brian, a ton of variables...... To show the extremes......

    Worst case 4x5 scenario, huge DOF, high f stop, f32, color neg film, mid to old vintage lens, wind, color neg film, camera / film alignment issues, mediocre scan quality, mediocre digital sharpening..... largest print deemed sharp ? 16x20" (4x enlargement)

    Best case scenario from above, using high resolving B&W film, shallow DOF, modern lens, tight camera, great scan, great digital sharpening, etc. etc. This image can surely withstand up to 16x enlargement as deemed as sharp as the one above, or 64 x 80".

    As for the differences between 4x5 and 810, if both cameras are tight, and all things being equal, and focussed at infinity, you will gain almost 2x the sharpness, the only losses is the fact the lenses are less sharp with such a large image circle. so 1.7x would be fair. now, if you have lots of DOF in the image, the improvement can be reduced to barely noticeable to the eye.

    You gotta pin down the variables a bit better to get the answers you are looking for, and the answer can vary from image to image based on the variables.... A good starting point is using a loupe and examine at different magnfication if its "after the fact" and next, take the scan and print small crops.

  9. #9
    Is that a Hassleblad? Brian Vuillemenot's Avatar
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    Huge Prints From 4X5 Film

    Thanks everyone for your answers,



    As I thought, individual opinions and experiences vary widely, so it looks like I'll just have to try it out for myself and see if I like the results!
    Brian Vuillemenot

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    Huge Prints From 4X5 Film

    I would agree with your conclusion, you have to try it yourself and see if it meets your standards.

    I have been to the Mountain Light gallery in Bishop many times and seen Galen Rowell's prints. They look great from a distance, but if I get anywhere close to them (and I don't mean inches), to my eye they look pretty bad. They sell well, but we all bring our own criteria to viewing them and they are not to my tastes. Much too large for the chromes.

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