View Full Version : D-Max shootout

Frank Petronio
17-May-2005, 23:07
Why don't we end this digital-analog peeing contest once for all?

Let's come up with a round robin test. Each proponent of his or her methodology prints an 8x10 work print on their favorite paper. Make it a fifteen step white to black greyscale target. Pure white and Pure Black. If you like glossy, use glossy. If you like rag paper, use rag.

Send them all to me. Then I will cut the samples into strips, and assemble composite boards showing the entire range. I'll measure each step on a densitometer and make a report to this forum. And I'll send each participant a composite board in return for their submission.

Don't send stuff yet - perhaps someone will suggest a better way to do this. But rather than having these stupid pissing matches everytime there is a digital reference, let's see if those new Epsons can really hold their own against traditional materials.

Somebody else can do the color tests ;-)

Frank Petronio
18-May-2005, 05:33
Do a black to white gradiant, then posterize set at 15 = instant step wedge.

Henry Friedman
18-May-2005, 06:19
You're not going to end the "peeing match", only contribute to it. Why bother? And, what does a DMax scale have to do with creation of quality images? We've all seen evocative work using every sort of artistic medium.

Each of us should (and will) continue to produce work using the techniques that best allow for realization of our personal vision.

David Luttmann
18-May-2005, 06:31

the tests have already been done. The latest Epson in preliminary testing obtains a DMax in excess of 2.4.

Once new drivers are developed as was the case with the original ultrachrome sets, the DMax will probably improve by about 0.1 like last time. Why bother redoing these tests again and again. We have already seen that inkjet matches and in some cases exceeds analog output. How many times do ya need to see the results before you finally accept them?

Juergen Sattler
18-May-2005, 07:27

I don't think the discussion your are referring to is about DMAX at all - it is an emotional discussion and your test will not change their minds at all. To everyone their own printing method - there is no reason to defend one over the other - at least in my opinion. Even if digital printing surpasses analog one of these days (or maybe it even has already), there will still be plenty of folks who will to continue the wet process and there will be plenty of buyers who prefer traditional prints.

Donald Hutton
18-May-2005, 07:56
I don't see the point. I've seen great output from Inkjets and from traditional materials. "Measuring" them against each other has very little merit in my opinion. You can get very nice results either way. They have a different look. I prefer wet for my work; others have differing opinions. Dmax is a small part of a black and white print - if you think measuring Dmax is going to resolve any contest, you really need to go out and have a look at some prints from both media done with some expertise of the media. I think Paul Butzi offers a printing service of sorts - why not prep a digital version, send it off to him and make yourself a wet print of the same negative and use that as a starting point for your personal "pissing contest". A print of a step wedge seems to be one of the more pointless "measurebator" exercises I've heard of in a while.

Ken Lee
18-May-2005, 09:33
It's not just the printer, paper, and ink (plus framing glass, display lighting) which affect the final print brilliance, subtlety, etc. It's the whole process, including subject and interpretation. Not to mention lenses, film, developer, water, temperature... etc.

Since there are so many variables, to compare things, we need standardized testing materials. Nobody claims that targets are the end in themselves, but they make possible a common language, by which we can reach *towards* the goal.

For what it's worth, I have found that my scanner (Microtek 2500F) has nice resolution, but not really enough DMax. Therefore, no matter what scanner, paper, and ink I print with, my images are constrained by that. Any one link can spoil the chain we call workflow.

I am moving to an analog process, because it's more lossless by definition. I recently printed some negatives in Palladium, which I had previously printed via digital workflow. My wife, ever the keen judge of all things artistic, noticed the difference immediately, even though she had no words to describe it. However, if I need to blast out a proof, or a throwaway Christmas card, the digital printer is always there.

As Michael Smith and Paula Chamlee have written on their web site:

"The materials and equipment we use are the same as those available fifty years ago. We don't use them for the sake of tradition; it is just that we have not found anything better in modern materials and equipment."

Frank Petronio
18-May-2005, 09:39
OK, less work. Just an idea as i didn't want Jorge and Dave to get heart attacks.

For the comment about a scanner not having enough Dmax, I don't understand. If you set a black point and white point, then you should be able to print maximum black and total white. What happens inbetween may be the fault of the scanner, but more often I think it is the fault of the photographer!

Jorge Gasteazoro
18-May-2005, 10:09
Apparently you were not paying attention Frank. I print pt/pd, on of the processes that has some of the lowest Dmax. So, to me what has the highest Dmax has no importance.

All I am saying is one gets tired of this continual ink jet BS. Before the Dmax of ink jet prints was not even close to any single silver paper, all we heard was..."ah we dont need to have the highest Dmax, it is the final product that counts"....now they are able to obtain a Dmax of 2.4 with just one single paper and one single set of inks which is a Dmax that is easily achieved by any silver paper in the market, and we hear...."ah, we are now the best thing since sliced bread and all of you doing silver printing should know this"....enough is enough, stop the silly claims and comparisons and the pissing matches will end.

Ultimately Frank, you dont like the pissing match...move on.

David Luttmann
18-May-2005, 10:15

I just have a problem with people who value the process more than the final result. This is something that Jorge has admitted. I for one value the final result more than how I got there. This is what my clients want, and therefore it is what works for me. If my inkjet image looks as good as a silver one, the person viewing it will not question whether it is silver based and created by hand, or spit out on inkjet....they will simply value a beautiful print. I'm not trying to change anyones workflow or methods....but, I will speak up when misinformation is spread as a means of justifying old methods. There is nothing wrong with a silver print. There is nothing wrong with an inkjet one. However, the inkjet offers the printer better control, more repeatable results, in less time. I do agree though, people like Jorge have already admited that if inkjet offerred more resolution, better tonality, greater permanence, at a lower cost, he has still said he would choose the silver based image. To me, that doesn't speak of logic....just emotion.

David Luttmann
18-May-2005, 10:28

And Jorge,

If the inkjet print has the same DMax, the same resolution, the same tonality, same permanence, etc,etc, tell me again how silver is better. Based on what you're saying, and what others have found, the inkjet is the same, not any better than silver. So please, clarify how silver can be the same but still better.....or is this the emotional factor that your adding to the print rather than a quantifiable one. If it is, maybe I can think happy thoughts when I hit the print button and we can take care of that difference as well.


Jorge Gasteazoro
18-May-2005, 10:42
Once again, if I only valued the process and produced crap nobody would buy my prints.

I'm not trying to change anyones workflow or methods....but, I will speak up when misinformation is spread as a means of justifying old methods

You say this but were the first one on the other thread posting how silver printers should be made aware of the higest Dmax possible in the world with ink jet prints...once again with a single paper and a single set of inks. As you say I too dont care what people use, but will speak up when misifnormation about ink jet prints is presented.

I do agree though, people like Jorge have already admited that if inkjet offerred more resolution, better tonality, greater permanence, at a lower cost, he has still said he would choose the silver based image. To me, that doesn't speak of logic....just emotion.

That is just it, they do not...and yes I am sure your response will be "they will in the future"....well when that happens get back to me. In the end your "logic" seems to say that having something that looks the same as to the real thing is just fine.....isnt that wishful thinking?

the inkjet is the same, not any better than silver.

LOL...you wish, if this was so people like you would not be trying to come up with silly comparissons and numbers to try and convince us they are the same.....

David A. Goldfarb
18-May-2005, 10:48
I think that most of us could tell the difference between an inkjet and a silver print in a blind comparison. Even if they have the same Dmax, there are enough other differences--surface and gradation above all--that would allow us to tell them apart, emotional issues aside. I don't see them ever becoming interchangeable, any more than platinum, albumen, silver, and B&W C-prints are interchangeable.

I recently participated in the production of a set of prints for just this purpose. We had one 8x10" negative, and I produced an Azo print, another printer did platinum, VanDyke, silver, an inkjet on an office printer, and a few other processes, another did a high-end inkjet print, and there were a few other variations thrown in there including a few wacky things like Xerox copies and inkjets on OHP film. This was for an appraiser who wanted a set of prints for a workshop for art appraisers interested in learning to appraise photographs (and implicitly to suggest that they stay out of it, if they really didn't know what they were doing and couldn't tell a platinum print from a xerox copy). The appraiser matted them all and numbered them, and there was no question as to which prints were the inkjets. The high-end inkjet was a nice inkjet with a look all its own, but it's not as if it could be mistaken for any other kind of print by someone familiar with different print process.

Ken Lee
18-May-2005, 10:53
"For the comment about a scanner not having enough Dmax, I don't understand. If you set a black point and white point, then you should be able to print maximum black and total white."

Perhaps I was unclear: One big issue with scanners - DMax - is one common in all digital capture - especially when we deal with affordable models that use CCDs to gather the light: how deeply can they read into the dense areas of the target, and still distinguish the different tones ? Similarly, how well can they read the clear areas of the target, and not introduce noise ? An ideal scanner should be able to do both. Interestingly, the really expensive high-end scanners rely on analog devices to do this job.

When scanning negatives, the dense areas represent highlights in the final print: does the scanner blow all these values to pure white, or can it faithfully retain the subtlety found on the negative ? Similarly, the clear areas on the negative contain shadow details. Does the scanner merely represent all those as "black" ? Does it introduce noise that wasn't there, but exists due to signla processing, etc. ?

The same issues will be true, in reverse, when scanning slides: Can the scanner reach into the black areas and get good shadow detail ? Does it blow out on the high values ? After all, it's just a digital camera.

So when we talk about the DMax of a scanner, we mean: How wide a range of brightness in the target, can it handle faithfully ?

tim atherton
18-May-2005, 11:04
DMax is essentially the wrong term (rather like the confusing use of ppi and dpi). More correctly I think it should be termed DRange - for Density range (se the use of D9ensity)max within this below). And isn't really quite talking about the same thing as DMax in printing. You are sort of talking eggs and oranges... sort of roundish things, but in somewhat different circumstances

A colleague who worked on frequency modulation, extremely high end scanner type device design and engineering and other such stuff I don't pretend to understand described it well for me like this once:

Sure, I'd be happy to 'splain it.

"First dRange... The "d" means density (and has nothing to do with dynamic
range), and when measuring density that film records (as in contains valid
image data), there is a minimum value (dMin), and a maximum value (dMax).
The range between these two density points it the density "range", or

Positive film has a clear base...so the dMin for it is going to be quite
low...as compared to negative film, which has a cloudy base...so the dMin
for negative film will be quite a bit higher than positive film. Both films
will pretty much have the same max density, black is still black, whether
it's positive or negative film.

Well, let's say the dMax (blackest part) of both films can be measured at
3.6...and the positive films dMin is .2, and the negative films dMin is
.8... That gives a dRange for the positive film of 3.6 - .2 or 3.4, and for
the positive film 3.6 - .8 or 2.8.

It's purely the film base "offset" that creates the difference in density

For another discussion (after this one if you like ;-)...let's say that the
same range of image tonality could be recorded on either film...just that
negative film would have the range compressed, film density wise that is,
compared to positive film. Also, the "dynamic range" of the film is not the
same as the density range...and the term dynamic range is often misused when
talking about density range."

Larry Gebhardt
18-May-2005, 11:16
I don't like RC paper, whether inkjet or silver. Once I can print an image with an inkjet on a paper surface like Forte or Ilford's glossy fiber based paper inkjets will be more tool I am willing to use to produce most of my black and white prints. I am very happy with the 2200 and the Quadtone rip for some mages, but not others. And it isn't solely because of the dmax issues. But I think I will still preffer to know I made the print with my hands over pushing the print button and getting one more identacle print out of the printer.

I also value hand crafted items over machine made items. I would rather have a well made hand printed image over a well made machine print. The same goes for furniture, paintings over printed copies. I am adding more hand tools to my wood shop, even if they take more time to use than the power tools. I will still use power tools, but a hand planed board is more appealing to me now. Maybe some of it emotion, but I am not a robot, so emotions matter to me. I suspect they do to many print buyers as well.

Larry Gebhardt
18-May-2005, 11:19
Tim, I don't know what your are talking about but it sure doesn't fit in with my observations of transparency and negative films - either color or black and white. I would go back for another expanation.

tim atherton
18-May-2005, 11:25
Larry - it's basically how scanning film work. Don't confuse it with working in adarkroom.

What exactly are your observations?

tim atherton
18-May-2005, 11:28
sorry, this bit also has a typo:

"Well, let's say the dMax (blackest part) of both films can be measured at 3.6...and the positive films dMin is .2, and the negative films dMin is .8... That gives a dRange for the positive film of 3.6 - .2 or 3.4, and for the NEGATIVE film 3.6 - .8 or 2.8."

Larry - again, I think you are probably confusing Dynamic range with Density range?

Paddy Quinn
18-May-2005, 11:44
Regarding dRange and dMax, this is why many prosumer scanners (however the manufacturers chose to fudge the listed "DMax" numbers") can usually quite easily capture the full range of a color or black and white negative, but have trouble capturing the full range of a color transparency.

(Note that noise is a different issue)

Larry Gebhardt
18-May-2005, 12:02
Tim, what is your definition of dynamic range in this context? We may be speaking about different things, so here is my interpetation on scanning and printing.

On a hypothetical black and white negative the dMin may be .2 and the dMax may be 1.45. This gives a dRange of 1.25. When you scan this you invert the image and interpret this range from say almost black to almost white. A curve can be used to make this look correct. Printing on paper does the same thing, with paper grades defining the curve and the black and white points.

A transparency has a much higher dRange. The dMin may be .02 where as a the dMax may be 3.0 or more. When you scan this it still needs to be mapped to the same almost white to almost black, but does not need to be inverted. Printing this needs to be compressed to the paper's smaller range.

The big difference is that transparencies need to be viewable as the final result, so they need to have a high dMax to give a good black. Negatives don't because they are only an intermediate step. When you scan either one you map the materials range to your output range.

The different printing methods effectively constrain how black your black can be. Thus on siver you can get a black that absorbs about 4 times as much light (2.4 dmax) over say my 2200 on matte (dMax of 1.8). To me this is an important difference, but to others like Jorge this isn't an issue (sorry if I put words into your mouth Jorge). Why it's important to me is that I can then light the print brighter and have more sparkle and separation in the highlights without making the shadows look muddy. The same reason I love looking at transparencies on a light table.

tim atherton
18-May-2005, 12:20
"Tim, what is your definition of dynamic range in this context? We may be speaking about different things, so here is my interpetation on scanning and printing. "

That was the point of my post. Ken raised the issue of scanners and then printing in the context of a discussion on "DMax"

In dealing with scanners you are dealing with Density Range. In dealign with printing (analog or digital) you are dealing with Dynamic Range. My understanding is that the two are not quite (or even) the same thing. But both terms deal with similar issues and both, slightly confusingly, utlize the term DMax, but to slightly different ends.

BTW - as far as I know, it matters not whether the scanned data has to be inverted or not

Struan Gray
18-May-2005, 12:28
Tim's friend is talking about the range of densities on film. That is, the range of values you would read with a transmission densitometer. Negative film can faithfully record a wider range of scene brightnesses, and if you insist you can record nine, eleven or I have even heard of fourteen stops of scene brightness on long straight-line B+W films like TMX; but any scene that fits within transparency film's five or so stops, will produce a narrower range of film densities on a negative.

This matters with scanners. Not so much because of density range: any scanner that can handle a velvia slide can handle normal pictorial negatives. The real issue is signal to noise. First, because of film base and fog you always loose a few bits at the low end of the scan range, even if you adjust the scanner's analogue gain to match the lower maximum density of a negative. Second, because of that lower maximum density, and the effect of base+fog, you have to expand the digital values to restore a normal sense of contrast, and that expansion amplifies noise too.

This (http://web.telia.com/~u46133221/pics/cn0011.jpg) is a rough scan on an Epson 3200 of a low contrast neg. The blotchy haze is a direct result of my scanner's poor signal to noise, as is the slightly odd loss of saturation in the darker areas like the lower right corner. For this image I rather like the effect, but when I use LF for clarity it's a right pain.

Robert C. McColloch
18-May-2005, 12:58
Henry - Well stated; I'm with you.

Ken Lee
18-May-2005, 13:12
Sorry if I introduced something off-topic, and thanks for clafifying the terminology.

Michael Jones
18-May-2005, 15:29
"If the inkjet print has the same DMax, the same resolution, the same tonality, same permanence, etc, etc, tell me again how silver is better."

Easily: different isn't the same.


Frank Petronio
18-May-2005, 17:32
Struan - doesn't this mean that you need to adjust your film exposure and processing to suit the scanner then? As you would for a Platinum versus a silver print as well...

Brian Ellis
18-May-2005, 18:59
I don't know of any excellent silver printer who wants to make prints that show the paper's dMax in some area, so who cares if a test strip reveals that silver has a greater dMax than ink jet? Most of the time a silver print that shows the paper's dMax is going to have little or no shadow detail. For that reason even the ANSI standard for determining a silver paper's density range isn't based on dMax, it's based on 90% of dMax as I recall. I like Dick Arentz's statement to the effect that a print doesn't need to display the blackest possible blacks, all it needs are "convincing blacks." Ink jet prints certainly are able to do that.

18-May-2005, 22:08
"For that reason even the ANSI standard for determining a silver paper's density range isn't based on dMax, it's based on 90% of dMax as I recall. I like Dick Arentz's statement to the effect that a print doesn't need to display the blackest possible blacks, all it needs are "convincing blacks." Ink jet prints certainly are able to do that.

That is of course true. But the reason it is true is because it is virtually impossible to match the characteristic curve of films with the printing process at every point on the curve. This is not true of digital prints, as you remark. And it is also not true of prints that are made with digital negatives, either with silver gelatin papers or with the alternative processes. In these cases it is possible to calibrate input with output through the use of an appropriate corrective curve, and produce a much higher useful maximum reflective density. In my own printing of carbon with digital negatives I am able to use about 98-99% of the maximum possible reflection density of the process on the print, without blocking the shadows and retaining maximum highlight detail. And the figure with kallitype and pure palladium, processes in which I have also printed with digital negatives, is not far behind.

To achieve this, however, you need an optimum curve. For that, consider Mark Nelson's book, Precision Digital Negatives. You might get there by other roads, but Nelson's system works extremely well.

Struan Gray
19-May-2005, 00:31
Frank: were I alone on a desert island it would make sense to use a film or processing that made life easier for my 3200, but I don't want to tailor my negs to the weaknesses of what I see as a stop-gap scanner. Better scanners are available, and with time may even become affordable, and I don't want to match my workflow to a temporary weak link. Also, in colour you have to swap films to get the effects of plus and minus development, and I like to keep things simple in the field, with one film and one setting on my meter. I like the look of these sorts of shots when scanned well, or printed conventionally, and mentally adjusting the 3200's proof scans is no harder than the effects of, say, drydown in RA4 printing.

Where I have adjusted to the digitial world is in B+W negatives, where I don't bother with N- development. If anything, a contrasty negative is easier to scan, since scanners are mostly optimised for transparency densities. Of course, you can overdo it, and a scanner won't tame halation or grainy highlights, but in general I now expose for the shadows and let the highlights end up where they will. This assumes the use of TMAX100, where the very long straight line lets you keep adding density to highlights without losing contrast. I do something simiilar in colour, but not when I'm looking for spctroscopic accuracy: Portra 160NC, my favourite film, can turn quite cyan with overexposure.

Brian Ellis
19-May-2005, 04:24
"If anything a contrasty negative is easier to scan since scanners are optimized for transparencies."

I'm not sure what you mean by "easier to scan" but FWIW the usual scanning advice (I thought) is to produce a somewhat flat scan so that as much detail as possible is retained in the scan, then make the appropriate adjustments in Photoshop.

Struan Gray
19-May-2005, 04:47
I was trying to say in shorthand that nobody makes a scanner for just negative film. This means that all dedicated film scanners have to at least pretend to be able to scan an optical density of at least 3.0 if they are to be taken seriously. Few negatives have that much absolute density, and fewer still get as dense as, say, Velvia with it's 4.0 blacks.

Given that, no film scanner is going to have problems seeing into the darkest parts of a typical pictorial negative, so there is normally no need to compress the negative's tonal range by N- development. Given the limitations of some cheap scanners, a more contrasty negative than normal can actually help. With printing paper you need to match the highlight densities to the paper's response curve, but even cheap scanners cope rather well with contrasty negatives. As I indicated in my original comment, all my problems have been with low contrast originals.

The point about making a flat initial scan is a different issue. I agree entirely that it makes more sense to set the contrast in an editing program where you have total control, than in the scanner driver where you often cannot judge the effect of your choices until it's too late. Also, if you scan to a high bit depth you can do local contrast adjustments without losing tonal nuances. I quite often use large-radius unsharp masks, which works best if you don't let the scanner driver clip or compress the end-range data.

Sorry if I've dragged this a long way off topic. The point is similar to the original responses vis-a-vis prints: Dmax is these days mostly a pointless marketing metric. Other aspects of performance are more important because almost all tools available have enough Dmax to get the job done.

19-May-2005, 12:17
"people like Jorge have already admited that if inkjet offerred more resolution, better tonality, greater permanence, at a lower cost, he has still said he would choose the silver based image. To me, that doesn't speak of logic....just emotion."

We're not talking about building suspension bridges here ... I thought we were talking about making art. I would expect the process to be emotional. More specifically, I think that in an emotional way the process needs to feel right to you. It needs to inspire you to work with it. A medium's is theoretically capabilities are different from what it's capable of doing in your hands, guided by your imagination.

I used to be a darkroom fanatic, and promised the world I would never stoop to using digital for my personal work (even though I used it professionally every day). Part of this was based on how much better darkrooms prints looked than any digital prints at the time. But a big part was my love of the process. Being in the dark, working with alchemy of the whole process, using hundred year-old formulas, inventing new ones ... it was all an inextricable part of what I loved. It inspired me, and so the process itself nurtured my ideas. I couldn't imagine ever having that kind of relationship with a computer screen and a plastic printer.

Things have been changing recently. For one, the paper that I printed on for over ten years finally disappeared, as I knew it would eventually. And for another, my experiments with the Piezography process have started bearing fruit. I've been using this quadtone carbon inkjet process for a book project, and have been experimenting with hand-applied varnishes to control the surface gloss and shadow depth. I am now starting to see prints that, for my esthetic, go beyond what I thought was possible. They have a dynamic range that comes close to the richest silver prints I've ever seen, combined with midtone separation (a long straight line section) that exceeds any platinum or palladium print I've ever seen. And the tonal scale is infinitely adjustable. It's early, and I'm still learning the process. But if it goes as well as it might, I will surely fall in love with it the same way I fell in love with my darkroom. My enlarger could end up on ebay sometime in the next year.

I never thought I'd say this. But the world is changing, and this is one case where I can adapt to it without lowering my standards.

Oh, and D-max? I don't have a densitometer. compared with my Fortezo prints, developed in Ansco 130 or Amidol, toned in selenium and nelson gold, I'd say the varnished piezo prints come within about a half of a "zone" ... not as desnse, but way more than dense enough to give a sense of swimingly deep, detail-rich shadows.

David Luttmann
19-May-2005, 13:57
Careful Paul,

You're probably going to get Jorge jumping down your throat screaming blasphemy & bias ;-) Your results are pretty much echoing mine. Ihave found that mounted prints behind glass were identical to my best silver work. However, because of the lack of shadow compression which is a problem with silver, I find I can dig deeper into the shadows with B&W Carbon Pigment inkjet printing. I believe this results in a larger usable dynamic range.

The world is changing. For my portrait, wedding and commercial work, I find my Canon 1DS is more often than not, more than enough for the job. Only when I'm printing large do I pull out the 4x5. For my personal work, mainly B&W, I use everything....digital, MF 6x7 & LF 4X5.

If the final print is pleasing to my eyes and my customers, than I don't care whether it's silver, pt/pd on gum, or inkjet.....and neither have my customers.

Best of luck on your inkjet progress.

19-May-2005, 14:03
if artists can't enjoy some blasphemy and bias, then who can??

Brian Ellis
19-May-2005, 21:44
Hi Paul - What varnishes are you using and on what paper? Is this done with color or b&w prints or both?

20-May-2005, 08:38
i've been working only with piezotone inks and with photorag paper (though i used moab entrada briefly, and found it worked with varnish in a similar way).

this is all a work in progress. the best resutls (aesthetically) have been from mineral spirits based acrylic spray varnish, but it's too toxic and slow drying to be practical. my next experiment will be with airbrushing water based acrylic varnish. i'm sure i can get it to work, but there are a lot of details to figure out.

the preliminary results are stunning.