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Thread: 4x5 b&w ; scan, or contact print?

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Jul 1999

    4x5 b&w ; scan, or contact print?

    I've recently really got into black and white LF, after some time of using rever sal film only. Prints from slides was easy - go to the lab! However this doesn't seem the best option with b&w, and unfortunately there is no way that I can put a 4x5 enlarger in my apartment, so what are the best options for getting a prin t from my negatives? Several posters have mentioned that they scan their negativ es - am I right in assuming that software packages will then convert the scan in to a positive image which can be printed to a reasonably high quality? If so, wh at options for scanning and printing would people recommend, and what costs gene rally apply? For example, the Nikon 4x5 scanner I have seen is incredibly expens ive - is there a good, not too expensive scanner that will handle 4x5 (and ideal ly also 6x17), or is it best to pay a lab to do this?

    ALternatively, would it be easier to find an old contact printer, and produce tr aditional wet prints? If so, how would I control contrast in the print, other th an using some kind of mask?

  2. #2

    4x5 b&w ; scan, or contact print?

    I'll speak to the traditional wet prints, since I've recently started contact printing 5x7 B&W negatives. I don't know what scanners you've been looking at, but I think only Bill Gates could afford one that could give you the kind of resolution/detail that I've been getting in my prints!!! It's absolutely amazing! At fist glance, you say "yeah, it's sharp, but is it that much sharper than a professional enlargement?" Then you pull out the loupe! I won't even try to describe it with words - the best I could do would be to mail you a print. OH MAN!!! It's kinda crazy, because there is so much detail in the print that your eye would EVER need at normal view distances. I say it's "funny" because you don't need that kinda detail, but it's nice knowing it's there!

    Of course, the downside is your prints will be no bigger than 4x5. But a nicely matted 4x5 of a good subject can be damn nice. It would be a shame to get into LF, only to settle for a computer scan. So, if it were me, I'd scan em for wallpaper on my computer desktop, but for exhibition, you gotta go with the contact print.

    "If so, how would I control contrast in the print, other than using some kind of mask?" Use multi-contrast paper and filters, with a smaller format enlarger as your light source.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Sep 1998

    4x5 b&w ; scan, or contact print?

    4x5 contact prints on AZO with a bit of selenium presented on an appropriate sized mount are like little jewels. They encourage a very intimate viewing, and if the detail and quality is there, they are very satisfying. I dont have the chance to get to any galleries where I live in dairy country, but I would love to see a show done this way.

  4. #4

    4x5 b&w ; scan, or contact print?

    I will support your agrument about the expense of a high quality drum scanner. For 4x5, the Imacon is the considered the low end at about $14,000, while the high end can go to $60,000. A mid range drum scanner for 4x5 that will suffice for up to 10x enlargments, will be about $20k new and about half that used. Of course this does not include the PC, about $4-5K and high end monitor so what you see is what you get in the print... $3 - 4K. So a service bureu sure would make sense. Oh yeah, drum scanners do not work as well with negatives as they do with chrome film.. sorry to report if you use neg. film..

    My suggestion to you is this, find a two good labs that each are good at their respective process, have them each make you a print, then compare? I know I would certainly be interested in your opinion... For me, contact prints are amazing, yes, but very limited in what you can do... it must be a perfect chrome..or neg... and you can only end up with 4x5. With digital, you can save a ton of images that are 70 - 90% perfect and fix them, then elect to print whatever size you want. Of course correcting these mistakes with a lab is very expensive also, most operators will chage $50 hr to work in Photo shop. Hope this helps...

  5. #5

    4x5 b&w ; scan, or contact print?

    I have been using a UMAX Powerlook III scanner (about $1000 street price) with a transparency adapter connected to a Macintosh G-4 and Epson 3000 printer. The results, after you learn the basics of the scanning software and Adobe Photoshop, are spectacular. Incidentally, the Epson 3000 can produce a 17x22 image, which is large enough for almost any normal application. I am using MIS Quadtone archival inks in the Epson along with archival paper manufactured by various companies.

  6. #6

    4x5 b&w ; scan, or contact print?

    Actually, Bill, drum scanners do a fine job on black and white negatives. I recently drum scanned a lot of slides and negatives, and was stunned at how well the B&W negatives came out. And it is not that drum scanners do a poor job on color negatives, the problem is color negatives do a poor job of storing information. Dan Sapper from Kodak explained it on another board. Slide films hold more information than color negative films. Color negative films have wider contrast latitude, but they compress this latitude into a smaller space than silde films.

    The best bet in FW's case is what Dan suggested. Contact prints. I'd scan the negatives for web use instead of the prints though. Even a $300 scanner can do a good enough job on 4x5 film. But if you're after darkroom quality reproduction you'll need to find a lab with a drum scanner and people who know how to use it for black and white film.

    Check out West Coast Imaging. They do this stuff all the time.

  7. #7

    4x5 b&w ; scan, or contact print?

    Boy! Did you stir up some response! That's great. Why not set up to make contacts in your apartment and send out any big prints? You can use a standard light bulb to make contacts and don't need an enlarger of any kind unless you want to use smaller size contrast filters. I have used such a setup with the white bulbs and with the blue bulbs to give more contrast. Wally-World sells blue bulbs as "party bulbs". To have bigger prints made, first get a good contact and mark that contact for burning and dodging. Then instruct the lab to make the big print to match the contact density and do the necessary burning and dodging. Most black and white CUSTOM labs can make you a good print if you are specific as to what you want. Pay the difference for a black and white custom lab. There are some listed in "SHUTTERBUG". Enjoy your large format black and white work. Doug

  8. #8

    4x5 b&w ; scan, or contact print?

    A question about contact printing:

    With 4x5, what "method" do you use for bringing the negative into contact with the paper? Here are a few methods I can think of:

    1. Print through negative-sleeves 2. Place negative directly on paper with glass on top 3. place negative, and 4x5 piece of paper together in print sleeve

    I am currently using #3 since it makes alignment much easier and I don't worry so much about scratching the negative, etc. But negative sleeves pick up fingerprint smudges and attract dust (I suppose because of their static nature). Also it would be nice to have 4x5 contact prints on 5x7 paper (for example) so I can mount and frame it without having to overmat much.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Jul 1999

    4x5 b&w ; scan, or contact print?

    Gosh ; what a great response! I think I will try some contact prints to begin with. Would it be sensible to try to find a secondhand contact printer (they seem to appear reasonably frequently on ebay), or could I use my existing slide viewing light table as a light source, with the negative and paper firmly positioned on the light table by something heavy (glass, perspex, etc)? Or would this be too crude and difficult to control?

  10. #10

    4x5 b&w ; scan, or contact print?

    Here's another question about contact printing that I'd like to hear thoughts on.

    I've gone through the process described by Fred Picker in his book (Zone VI Workshop) on how to fine-tune your exposure/development. So I now have a routine for contact printing: print until film base + fog is maximum black.

    For every negative I expose (except for gross mistakes) I print at this default. I can of course do these very quickly, no dodging and burning, etc. I find these good measures of how successful I was in capturing what I imagined. I compare these to polaroids (to get a better understanding of how to interpret a polaroid) etc.

    My question is: do (most, many, some) photographers tend to try to make negatives that will print with as little manipulation as possible (optimal negative) or do (most many some) photographers work to develop their printing skills to produce the same/similar results (optimal print). In other words, how much should I obsess about trying to achieve artistic goals with minimal printing modifications?

    Just a thought.

    To anyone who hasn't read Fred Pickers book... I highly recommed it. ASA ratings for film can be off by a stop or so in either direction, and development times can be off by as much as 20 or 30% from suggeted values due to various lenses, development procedures, water quality/temperature, etc. For me the results were pretty close to recommended values. I use calibrated lenses, filtered, temperature monitored water, etc. For others I know the results were drastic: Tri-X speed ratings of 200-250 (instead of 320)

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