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Thread: Contact vs. Digital print AND scanners for large format...

  1. #21
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Re: Contact vs. Digital print AND scanners for large format...

    At first it seemed to me like a paradox that a digital print (at negative size) could somehow look more like a contact print than a real contact print of the same neg. The process logically must lose more information than the contact printing process.

    And I realized that it does lose more information. But what matters more is what information it loses vs. what information it emphasizes.

    The contact print preserves much more high frequency (high resolution) detail. The digital print has a cutoff determined by either the scan or the printing process. Below a certain frequency there's no information at all. But with the higher quality processes, that cutoff is below the threshold of human vision, and it's far below the frequencies that our minds use to perceive sharpness.

    So basically the contact print is preserving a huge amount of information that is impossible to apprecieate without a loupe or a microscope.

    The digital print, however, can be made to subtly emphasize edge contrast in the frequency range where we're most sensitive to quality. Sharpening works a lot like the mackie lines/edge effects produced by certain develeopers, except that its magnitude and frequency range can be precisely controlled.

    The result is that a well made digital print can look sharper and more tactile to the naked eye than a well made contact print, but the contact print (assuming it's on glossy paper that doesn't act as a resolution cutoff) can look much more detailed under a loupe.

  2. #22
    bob carnie's Avatar
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    Re: Contact vs. Digital print AND scanners for large format...

    I really like and agree with what is being said in this post.
    Quote Originally Posted by Oren Grad View Post
    Compared to prints on a glossy-surface commercial silver paper, printing on art papers via "alternative processes" such as platinum/palladium throws away some information from the negative in return for other attributes that are desired. Each type of print can be very beautiful in its own way, but they are different.

    Ditto re paulr's point about contact size inkjet prints being "better" than silver contact prints. When printing in inkjet one can use sharpening and other digital post-processing tools to emphasize certain properties of an image that one finds appealing. But it's still a different medium. Anyone may legitimately prefer one or the other, or enjoy both.

    As a general rule, scanning throws away information from the original capture, just like enlarging does. Printing - even contact printing - throws away information from the original capture, too, but printing on a paper with a textured surface throws away more information than printing on a glossy surface. How much information is lost depends on the particulars - if the original capture is crude enough, for example, the loss of information may be immaterial. In any case, whether it matters depends on one's taste in print character, and on how closely and how critically one likes to view prints.

    I think trying to reach a conclusion about which print medium or workflow is "better" in some all-encompassing, objective sense is futile. All of these techniques, in the hands of a skilled practitioner, can be used to make prints that are technically impressive and esthetically expressive. But they look and feel different. You need to figure out which "look and feel" appeals to you. You can do this only by looking at actual prints, not by reading about them or by comparing specifications like nominal output resolution or Dmax, which are uninformative or even misleading when considered in isolation.

  3. #23

    Re: Contact vs. Digital print AND scanners for large format...

    Quote Originally Posted by paulr View Post
    At first it seemed to me like a paradox that a digital print (at negative size) could somehow look more like a contact print than a real contact print of the same neg. The process logically must lose more information than the contact printing process.

    And I realized that it does lose more information. But what matters more is what information it loses vs. what information it emphasizes.

    The contact print preserves much more high frequency (high resolution) detail. The digital print has a cutoff determined by either the scan or the printing process. Below a certain frequency there's no information at all. But with the higher quality processes, that cutoff is below the threshold of human vision, and it's far below the frequencies that our minds use to perceive sharpness.

    So basically the contact print is preserving a huge amount of information that is impossible to apprecieate without a loupe or a microscope.

    The digital print, however, can be made to subtly emphasize edge contrast in the frequency range where we're most sensitive to quality. Sharpening works a lot like the mackie lines/edge effects produced by certain develeopers, except that its magnitude and frequency range can be precisely controlled.

    The result is that a well made digital print can look sharper and more tactile to the naked eye than a well made contact print, but the contact print (assuming it's on glossy paper that doesn't act as a resolution cutoff) can look much more detailed under a loupe.
    Paul, I respectfully disagree with some aspects of this analysis. Not with your having different preferences from mine, just with your framing of them.

    What appeals to me about a good contact print on silver paper is not edginess ("sharper and more tactile"), it's subtlety of tone and detail combined with a sense of transparency. I don't want to get into a debate this time over how much of that is attributable to information at what spatial frequencies and how much to other things; for sure, it's impossible to achieve that transparency on a matt or textured surface, no matter what else you're doing or not doing to the image. But that's not an inkjet thing - it applies to alt-process printing on art papers too.

    I don't accept the standard of "you can't tell the difference at normal viewing distances", though others are welcome to it if it suits their tastes and purposes. One of the things I look for in a print is that it be pleasing to me under unassisted viewing (i.e., no loupe) at all possible viewing distances. (That doesn't mean the print looks the same at all viewing distances, nor does it mean that everything has to be a contact print; I also very much enjoy the way the image resolves itself out of the grain in a print modestly enlarged from 35mm TX.) By this standard, no inkjet print looks like a good contact print on glossy silver paper - no way, no how.

    Because of the way these discussions sometimes degenerate, I'm at pains to emphasize once more that any of these preferences is legitimate; none is objectively "superior". Nor am I arguing that hair-splitting over any and every image characteristic is always to be preferred to not hair-splitting. There are things I care about a lot - the particular print characteristics we've been discussing for one, and the subtleties of optical rendering for another. There are other kinds of hair-splitting that are evidently of great concern to others - for example, subtleties of Dmax and print color attributable to different developers - that I don't care about in the least; for all I know, many people who worry about those will be completely umoved by the things I care about. That's fine.

    What's important, especially as guidance to someone newly exploring this craft, is that all of these subtleties do exist, and the only way to find out which ones matter to you is to look at prints that embody them. And in that context, while an inkjet print from a scan may effectively capture - indeed, may more effectively render - specific attributes of a contact print that are important to you, an assertion that judicious use of sharpening obliterates all possible perceptible differences between contact prints and inkjet prints from scans strikes me as objectively false. And an assertion that it somehow captures contact print character more effectively than a contact print itself strikes me as unfortunate semantic game-playing.

  4. #24

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    Re: Contact vs. Digital print AND scanners for large format...

    Quote Originally Posted by audioexcels View Post
    Hi,

    So why would people use larger than say an 8X10 camera when a contact print is not as good as one from a digital workflow? In other words, many use the larger cameras specifically to contact print. But granted the digital scan/ps/inkjet is better or as good makes me wonder why people so much for even an 8X10 camera.

    Trying to figure out what I am missing here...
    One important consideration is that there is a lot more detail in an 8X10 negative than in a 6X7cm or 4X5 negative. At some point of magnification the lack of detail in the smaller negative is going to show up, assuming you hold the print at the optimum viewing distance of about ten inches, or at some other fixed distance.

    So if you have a very large negative, say 8X10 or larger, and scan it, you will have a print with a lot more detail than from a smaller negative. For my own work with alternative processes I find that I definitely get better results by scanning 7X17" and 12X20" negatives and printing from digital files after manipulation. There is no way a print from a negative 4X5 or smaller can capture as much detail, though it may look acceptably sharp.

    In other words, even in the world of digital large negatives still have very definite advantages over small ones, IMHO.

    Sandy King

  5. #25
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Re: Contact vs. Digital print AND scanners for large format...

    Quote Originally Posted by Oren Grad View Post
    What appeals to me about a good contact print on silver paper is not edginess ("sharper and more tactile"), it's subtlety of tone and detail combined with a sense of transparency. I don't want to get into a debate this time over how much of that is attributable to information at what spatial frequencies and how much to other things; for sure, it's impossible to achieve that transparency on a matt or textured surface, no matter what else you're doing or not doing to the image. But that's not an inkjet thing - it applies to alt-process printing on art papers too.
    I'm getting two distinctions from this: subtlety of tone, and transparency (by which I gather you're talking about effects of a glossy vs. matt surface).

    The matt vs. glossy thing is a real issue; if you like the look of of a glossy surface then you need a glossy surface (although usually I can't tell the difference when the print is behind glass ... for better or worse). I've been working on a process for hand varnishing ink prints, because some of mine do work better with a gloss surface. The results of this are stunning, but it's still too high maintenance a process to get consistent results from.

    As far as subtlety of tone goes, i can only speak of the examples I have experience with (my silver prints vs. my ink prints of the same images). But I see much greater subtlety of tone in the ink prints than I was able to get from the silver prints. My silver prints (which I've always been proud of) in some cases look hard and coarse next to the ink versions. The ink prints have a more alt process look ... a very long straight line section that emphasizes subtle tonal separation much farther into the shadows and highlights than silver paper does. This is a particular "look" ... I don't think one kind of scale is superior overall than another ... but for images that benefit from this kind of subtle separation over a long range of tones, I like ink better. For images that benefit from more dramatic contrasts, I usually like silver better. But curiously, I've found I'm not very good at predicting which process I'll prefer for which image.

  6. #26

    Re: Contact vs. Digital print AND scanners for large format...

    Quote Originally Posted by paulr View Post
    As far as subtlety of tone goes, i can only speak of the examples I have experience with (my silver prints vs. my ink prints of the same images). But I see much greater subtlety of tone in the ink prints than I was able to get from the silver prints. My silver prints (which I've always been proud of) in some cases look hard and coarse next to the ink versions. The ink prints have a more alt process look ... a very long straight line section that emphasizes subtle tonal separation much farther into the shadows and highlights than silver paper does. This is a particular "look" ... I don't think one kind of scale is superior overall than another ... but for images that benefit from this kind of subtle separation over a long range of tones, I like ink better. For images that benefit from more dramatic contrasts, I usually like silver better. But curiously, I've found I'm not very good at predicting which process I'll prefer for which image.
    Interesting points. "Tonal subtlety" is a subtle thing. In most situations I prefer a long-scaled, "full information" print myself, but I prefer to achieve it via adequate exposure of the negative together with a good match between film and paper curves. The vagaries of field work, the choice of characteristics among commercially available silver papers, and the limits of my own skill being what they are, of course, I can't always get what I want. C'est la vie.

  7. #27

    Re: Contact vs. Digital print AND scanners for large format...

    Quote Originally Posted by bob carnie View Post
    I really like and agree with what is being said in this post.
    Thanks, Bob.

  8. #28

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    Re: Contact vs. Digital print AND scanners for large format...

    Quote Originally Posted by audioexcels View Post
    Hi Sandy,

    One more clarification needed...when you speak of "in camera negative"...what do you mean by this?

    I may have some further questions once this one is answered.
    An in-camera negative is one made in the camera. I differentiate between in-camera negatives and second generation negatives made by either wet processing or digitally.

    Sandy King

  9. #29

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    Re: Contact vs. Digital print AND scanners for large format...

    Quote Originally Posted by sanking View Post
    An in-camera negative is one made in the camera. I differentiate between in-camera negatives and second generation negatives made by either wet processing or digitally.

    Sandy King
    This has been a very good discussion that from what I can see, brings me to conclude 1) Regardless, film size does matter. Whether it be on contact or via digital, the final print from the larger film will have that much more information/resolution...it should also help to print larger without any grain.

    2) Contact or digital can have equally pleasing looks, sometimes with the Contact via proper exposure/processing being the better of the two, sometimes the post-processing with the digital being the better of the two.

    In sum, it seems to me that contact printing should be done, especially when one has a larger camera because it does not take as long, and with extensive learning/understanding of how to mix in different chemicals to "alter" the original a bit, the contact can look exceptional (there is a person on Flickr with images that are phenomenal due to her amazing talent of knowing how to "treat" the contact and tweak it how she likes/prefers). At the same time, the digital flow may take longer, and even be something of a journey that involves not just nailing down a nice image in a week, but looking back on that image through time to see what else can be done to it. The advantage of having a digital file rather than a printed image to go off of is quite nice for future correcting/knowledge/advances/etc. This is just my opinion on it all and from what I have been reading.

    Sandy, I must ask one last question...what is an in camera negative and how do I make one? How is it different this way than taking the image to the tray and tray developinging it?

  10. #30
    Whatever David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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    Re: Contact vs. Digital print AND scanners for large format...

    An in-camera negative is not developed in the camera (well, there are such things, but that's not what's being discussed here).

    The comparison is being made between a large negative made normally with a large camera, and an enlarged negative made either with an enlarger or digitally. If you take a 35mm negative, blow it up to a positive on 11x14" ortho film, and then contact print that positive to another sheet of ortho film to make a negative--that's an enlarged neg. If you make a small print from a negative and then photograph the small print with a large camera--that's an enlarged neg. If you take a 35mm neg and scan it and print it out as a negative on an 11x14" sheet of overhead projector film--that's an enlarged negative. If you take a photograph with an 11x14" camera--that's an in-camera negative.

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