View Full Version : Why Scan LF B&W Negatives?

6-Oct-2005, 07:29
Speaking here to Black and White only because I don't know color printing well enough to wonder.

The earlier, long thread regarding How To Scan begs the question "WHY?"

It strikes me that there is more mucking about, greater expense, guaranteed obsolescence, a steep learning curve, enormous variations in products, process and outcomes than traditional methods.

What is the attraction to scanning LF negatives? Is a wet darkroom all that bad? Do people prefer to sit on their butt when working? Stay dry? Avoid chemistry? Is the attraction really a desire for new methods simply to avoid mastering the old? Is it just more fun regardless of outcomes? Do you really know that the prints from scanning are better than wet work, and how are they better?

Don Wallace
6-Oct-2005, 08:01
After much frustration, and much help from folks in this group, I finally got my computer/scanner/printer working, but I only do colour. And even then, I only use it to check out what I want to send to the lab for printing, or for family snaps. You are right about obsolescence. The lab can afford much better equipment than I can and they replace it when required. So I leave the really serious colour stuff to them, as I always have.

I scan black and white to save a bit of testing in the darkroom. I can get a feel for what a negative has to offer on the computer, without having to waste paper or chemistry. However, you are quite right. The wet darkroom is so much better than the computer, and darkroom prints are, in my opinion, vastly superior. I am also starting to get into older processes where the differences will be even more obvious.

This is a great time for darkroom aficionados. I bought a Devere 504 with colour head for fifty bucks, and a Durst 5x7 enlarger for another fifty. It also came with a 150mm Rodenstock Rodagon and a 210mm Schneider Componon S. They won't need replacing until after I am dead. I sure hope more people go digital.

6-Oct-2005, 08:04
I prefer scanning to traditional darkroom because I feel I have more control. If you are an avid Photoshop artist you would understand the control that is available and that there are so many avenues to go down in this discussion that I choose not to make this a table of contents about digital darkroom and Photoshop artistry.

Maybe since I started out as a commercial illustrator in my career and then for the next 25 years developed my skills through the world of computer graphics I was swayed more than the average photographer. For years I could not wait until it became affordable for me to switch my darkroom equipment for a commercial quality scanner. Today I still process my film in a Jobo ATL 1000 with no desire to shoot 100% digital, but I scan all my film and do my darkroom duties in Photoshop.

Please do not let this go into another digital argument because the photographers that reject or just simply do not have an interest in learning how to use the digital tools really should not comment or complain about us that do. I would never argue with a photographer that chooses traditional techniques over digital. I just accept and respect their chosen art form. Traditionalist should respect others as well.

Donald Brewster
6-Oct-2005, 08:12
In an ideal world, I'd be contact printing 14x17 negatives. But the real world intervenes. Most of my work gets scanned. Only sometimes do I get to use a darkroom. It's the way it is. I envy those who have the time and space for the darkroom, as well as their skills. I also respect the skills of the photoshop masters that I will never acquire. Commerce more and more requires that latter. Both are a craft.

6-Oct-2005, 08:32
I prefer scanning to traditional darkroom because I feel I have more control. If you are an avid Photoshop artist you would understand the control that is available and that there are so many avenues to go down in this discussion that I choose not to make this a table of contents about digital darkroom and Photoshop artistry.

For the record, a good part of my living is made using Photoshop and Illustrator, and I understand the controls. We need not go down the list, but PS enhanced, modified images are different in so many ways, regardless of the darkroom metaphor, that I'd not call it more control, but a greater and apparent digression from the handwork of traditional darkroom outcomes.

Ed Richards
6-Oct-2005, 08:42
Pure pragmatics. I shoot 4x5 and want to make prints bigger than contacts, but I have no space for a darkroom. I can develop my own film in a Jobo expert drum with a changing bag and not have to have a darkroom, then I scan and print digitally. If space and time were not limited, I would have a darkroom and make big silver prints. I did not say money, because digital is pretty expensive. I have computers already, so the incremental expense is not high. I think there are a lot of artistic reasons to work digitally, but that is not why I do it. I would like to think that I could always print my negatives in silver if the future changed, but I am not so sure that the negatives I target for scanning are the same contrast and density I would need to print on silver.

Eric Leppanen
6-Oct-2005, 08:47
I only took up serious amateur photography several years ago, so I was looking at a serious learning curve whichever way I went (analog or digital). To hasten my development as a photographer, I decided to concentrate my education on image capture (using color and B&W film) and farm out processing and printing to outside experts. I have been very happy with the scanned digital prints I've been getting, but had my B&W work printed using traditional methods because to my eye digital B&W was not yet ready for prime time (lack of DMax, etc.).

The added advantage is using outside printing experts is that I get excellent feedback regarding optimizing my negatives to the requirements of printmaking. To do the same on my own would require taking a bunch of classes and setting up my own home darkroom (analog or digital), a significant undertaking.

The latest generation of inkjet printers appear to have made significant strides in B&W printing, so I will soon be revisiting B&W digital printing again. If they achieve a result very similar to traditional silver printing, then I will switch to B&W digital printing in a heartbeat. There are too many advantages to the added control of digital: 1) added shadow detail can be brought out in contrasty scenes, 2) unwanted elements (an ugly fence, a fellow photographer who got in my way, etc.) can be cloned out, 3) I don't have to shoot additional negatives in the field for N+ development since contrast can be selectively added in the printing stage, etc.

I don't shoot for gallery sales, so I don't get caught up in questions or prejudices as to what printing process I used. I'm free to pick the process that produces the result I want with the least amount of effort. By making the process more productive and less arduous I usually end up taking more photographs in the field.

Ron Marshall
6-Oct-2005, 08:50
I'm currently living in a small apartment with no space for a darkroom, so scanning is the only option for me.

tim atherton
6-Oct-2005, 09:07
"For the record, a good part of my living is made using Photoshop and
Illustrator, and I understand the controls. We need not go down the list,
but PS enhanced, modified images are different in so many ways, regardless
of the darkroom metaphor, that I'd not call it more control, but a
greater and apparent digression from the handwork of traditional darkroom

I'm not sure exactly what your point is? Nor that what I think you are saying here is an issue at all?

George Losse
6-Oct-2005, 09:13

I scan my LF work only to proof it, not to make final prints from. As a proofing tool, scanning LF negatives has many benefits.

Time - Scanning a negative is much faster then contact proofing.

Costs - I'm on my third scanner but they have still cost less then the paper that would have been needed to contact proof all the negatives I've scanned.

Space - I store all my scans in my laptop in local websites instead of in binders on bookcases. Its also much easier to find images then going through the binders.

Paul Butzi
6-Oct-2005, 09:42

It strikes me that there is more mucking about, greater expense, guaranteed obsolescence, a steep learning curve, enormous variations in products, process and outcomes than traditional methods.

Your argument seems to be that going digital is hard, time consuming, expensive, requires work, and produces inconsistent results.

Sure, it's hard, time consuming, expensive, and requires work. Everything that's worth doing falls into that category, including traditional darkroom work (assuming you're actually trying).

As for product variation and inconsistent results - well, I've run hundreds and hundreds of feet of paper through my printer. Last week I made a comparison print, to compare to one I'd done just after I switched to matte paper. It is indistinguishable from the one made earlier this year, athough it's made on a roll of paper purchased from a different vendor from that first roll. That's pretty good product consistency. Beyond that, one of the charges leveled at digital printing is that everything is perfectly consistent. It's either one, or the other. I know quite a few people printing digitally, and none of them have mentioned product variablility as an issue they've faced at all.

What is the attraction to scanning LF negatives? Is a wet darkroom all that bad? Do people prefer to sit on their butt when working? Stay dry? Avoid chemistry? Is the attraction really a desire for new methods simply to avoid mastering the old?

I still have a fully equipped, comfortable and spacious B&W darkroom. You can go to my website and read extensive reviews of darkroom equipment. I enjoy working in the darkroom; I've written articles on VC printing and I've taught darkroom skills to numerous people.

My preference for digital printing is based on the superior results.

Is it just more fun regardless of outcomes?

No, it's not more fun regardless of outcome. But I definitely enjoy making better prints, so overall it's more enjoyable, yes.

Do you really know that the prints from scanning are better than wet work, and how are they better?

Yes, I really know that the digital prints are better. I know because when I compare the best digital print I can make to the best silver print I can make for the same image, I think the digital print is better. So do the photographers with whom I've been meeting every other week for the past seven years - photographers who've gotten to know my work over the long term, and whose work I respect and judgement I trust. I know the prints are better because the feedback I get when I display them has improved.

6-Oct-2005, 09:45
tim atherton: I'm not sure exactly what your point is? Nor that what I think you are saying here is an issue at all?

And I don't understand your statement. I think you are saying that it does not matter which procedure one uses: digital scans and printing or conventional B&W wet printing. If I am correct, then perhaps I have to rephrase the point you did not understand. I assert that photoshopped manipulations create different outcomes than traditional printing, regardless of the PS metaphors. Exceptions always exist, but PS evinces itself and users' expectations are building on the same so that digital-made prints now tend more of the same and the differences steadily become more apparent - for better or worse. There is no moral in the assertion, no grounds for angst. The differences will become as clear as LF is to 35mm and similar comparisons.

Christopher Perez
6-Oct-2005, 09:55

This week I had a chance to inspect a digital inter-neg Pt/Pd print that someone made. It was so stunning that I nearly fell off my chair.

It seems that scanning B&W negs might work well for photographers who work in one format (say, 4x5), and choose to print in one of the alternative methods (say Pt/Pd) at something greater than the native format of the original image.

I can see where scanning might have it's limitations for how large you can go. But within certain size limits there may be some very compelling reasons for choosing to scan your LF negs.

Taking this one step further: If you really like what can be done to sharpen up the edges of the digital scan, or to increase local contrast, maybe it makes sense to by-pass the chemical print process and go straight from a neg, scan it, manipulate the digital output, and print from your Epson using archival dyes.

I'm not ready to go this route. I don't like the surface texture one gets with most acid free papers, nor do I like the surface Pt/Pd produce. To me (and this is JUST me), it looks like something out of a well printed magazine or coffee table book. I'll stick with the old silver chemical processes for awhile more.

But that Pt/Pd print I saw earlier this week was sure nice.

Bruce Watson
6-Oct-2005, 10:10
Is a wet darkroom all that bad? Yes.

Do people prefer to sit on their butt when working? Yes. You say it like it's a bad thing. You must be young ;-)

Stay dry? Yes.

Avoid chemistry? Yes.

Is the attraction really a desire for new methods simply to avoid mastering the old? No. I mastered the old too. The desire is for better tools that are beyond the scope of the old methods. It's called, for better or worse, progress, and isn't isolated to just darkroom printing. I'll take a word processor program over an old Royal manual typewriter any day, for example, because it's a better tool.

Is it just more fun regardless of outcomes? Yes.

Do you really know that the prints from scanning are better than wet work, and how are they better? Yes. Better shadow detail and better highlight detail in the same print. Better tonal graduations. Not having to shoe-horn the dynamic range of the negative into the more restricted dynamic range of the print -- IOW, much less dodging and burning, and the dodging and burning I do is for creative reasons, not to make up for the shortcomings of the materials.

Not to mention the far greater choice of substrates and surfaces to print on, or the ease of printing big. But the big reason to do it is the increased control and better tools. It makes it easier to say what you want to say with the print. And that's the reason to make the print in the first place. Because you have something to say.

I'd not call it more control, but a greater and apparent digression from the handwork of traditional darkroom outcomes. Trotting out the old "hand work" argument, eh? Whatever works for you. If that's what you want, then stay in the darkroom. One should use the tools with which one is most comfortable. Absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Interesting that you seem to have already made up your mind, yet you are asking these questions. Having doubts? Asking for opinions isn't going to help with that. The only way to find out what really works for you, is to really do the work yourself and find out. Sorry. But you know there are no easy answers.

tim atherton
6-Oct-2005, 10:20
"Exceptions always exist, but PS evinces itself and users' expectations are building on the same so that digital-made prints now tend more of the same and the differences steadily become more apparent - for better or worse"

I'm not sure I agree that photoshop always (or even) shows and declares itself in the resulting work. It tends to show itself in a certain kind of work (Struth) and it also shows itself in poor work/workmanship (as do, for example IR film or deep red filters where technique triumphs over artistry or craftsmanship). But rather than them being exceptions, I see large swaths of photographic work in which, unless one enquired, or took a loupe to the prints on the gallery wall (and even harder to tell when conveyed in a book), you really couldn't tell how it was produced - one way or the other. Especially, though not only, in colour work. And it most of those cases how the final image is produced is surely of no import. These are not just a few exceptions.

Is this just a matter of degree or a fault line shift? (I tend more towards the former)

What exactly is "the same" that digital made prints always tend towards.

(a facetious argument could be made that LF+ velvia tends to produce a far more obvious example of "the same" that such work tends towards)

But in the end we just tend towards the two incompatible solitudes on this list - one being that digital (photography or just printing) is merely the latest technical extension of photography in the line from negatives to dry plates to sheet film to colour to auto focus (take your pick of innovations) - though one which frees it of many of the technical straight jackets of the past. The other that digital photography/prints (digitogrpahy/fauxtogrpahy/inkjet posters) is a completely different animal, a new thing, as different from photography as photography was from painting - then the one being mechanical, the other organic, and it should be treated and regarded as such. It's unlikely the two views will ever converge on here

6-Oct-2005, 10:25
"We need not go down the list, but PS enhanced, modified images are different in so many ways, regardless of the darkroom metaphor, that I'd not call it more control, but a greater and apparent digression from the handwork of traditional darkroom outcomes."

well, that strikes me as a broad generalization with a healthy dose of bias thrown in. and it's familiar to me because i felt the same way, and came from the same place as you: a black and white photographer who loved the darkroom and considered photoshop a tool only worthy of my day job in the graphic arts.

then a couple of things happened. my favorite paper, which it took me years to master all the nuances of, was discontinued (as i knew it would be some day). so i had to face the choice of finding a new paper that i liked (if even there was one), knowing that i'd have to invest a lot of time learning to print on it, and knowing that it too could be pulled away at any moment ... or go digital, which is a new range of technologies with options that are expanding rather than contracting.

i also found myself embarking on a book project that was perfectly suited to digital printing with carbon pigment quadtone inks. together, these factors led me to take the digital plunge.

here are some of my personal findings:

--How true I stay to the original image is equally a matter of personal choice regardless of what tool I'm using. Photoshop doesn't force me to do unphotographic things to the image just by allowing me to do them ... the same could be said for the darkroom.

--As much as I love my darkroom, the working conditions are better now

--It takes just as much work and skill to get that first print right in photoshop as it does in the darkroom (actually, more right now, since I'm still learning)

--But after that, printing editions is easy. This is a big relief for me, because printing editions using my darkroom process was incredibly difficult and tedious (hard to control, time consuming toning procedures, etc.)

--In general, my digital prints are better than my darkroom prints. And i'm very proud of my darkroom prints

--Scanning pulls more information off the neg than an enlarger can. I used a perfectly aligned enlarger, a glass carrier, and modern apo lens, and there's still no comparison. My $450 scanner, used with shims and wet mounting, is like using a microscope. Between this information density and intelligently applied sharpening, I can make 2X enlargements that look like contact prints. I could not do that with silver prints.

--Because I can print larger editions, I can sell for less. I sold my silver prints for quite a bit more than what the market would sustain most of the time, because they were too f***ing precious. Now I can sell for reasonable money, because it isn't a back breaking ordeal to print an edition of 30.

--I feel relatively future proof. Since my workflow is fully color managed and callibrated, if a paper disappears, an ink gets improved, or a printer gets made obsolete, it's not a big deal to get reasonably similar (and possibly better) results with a new setup.

I still have an attachment to my darkroom processes, and all the gear, and the knowledge that I beat into my head over the years. So I haven't sold it all off. I do wonder what will actually inspire me to make a wet process print again. It might happen, but there's nothing compelling me right now.

James E Galvin
6-Oct-2005, 10:27
When wanting a black and white print, I use a color negative. That lets me, in Photoshop, apply contrast filters after the fact, including filters that aren't made, with channel mixing. For instance, I had a view of Half Dome that looked best in the red channel, but still had a bit of haze. I subtracted some blue channel, and removed the haze. I don't think a deeper red filter would have done the same thing. You can't change the filter on the camera later in the darkroom.

Denis Pleic
6-Oct-2005, 10:35
Space, time and money considerations.

My darkroom is VERY small, and has just enough space for a MF enlarger and bare necessities. Maybe I could fit a 4x5 enlarger there (on the floor!), but where I live those are not easy to come by. When they do, they tend to be expensive.

So, for the time being, I'm scanning.

When I have something really worth enlarging (and perhaps displaying), I'll have to ask some friends about 60 miles away to let me use their darkroom to print the stuff.

If I had a 4x5 enlarger, I'd still scan first - just to get a working "contact copy".


Donald Qualls
6-Oct-2005, 10:43

The first year I shot 9x12 cm, I didn't have a darkroom. No enlarger, not even a place I could make totally dark without work I didn't have time to do (2 1/2 hours on the freeway every day, on top of working full time, really cuts into your free time), but I did manage to spend $135 for a good used scanner and SCSI card and cable to connect it. It scans 35 mm up to 4x5 glassless, and up to 8x10 transparent originals on the glass (or to A4 for reflective originals); with homemade adapters I've also scanned my 9x12 cm and Minolta 16 negatives (though with a resolution of 2400 ppi the Minolta 16 are at the lower limit of practicality).

Now that I have a darkroom, I'm using the scanner mostly to scan prints, but with budgetary restraints temporarily cutting off my printing paper supply, it's good to have some means of showing my work even with the darkroom on hold.

I don't count the computer in the budget equation, BTW -- I'd have one of these boxes anyway.

Joseph O'Neil
6-Oct-2005, 10:48
I've been using photo editing tools ever since our fmaily moved form a lead set printing press to computerized desktop pulishing when Pagemaker first came out for Windows 3.1.

You don't want to know how much my first 15" CRT monitor cost me. Brrrrr.

anyhow, my choice is to stay in the wet darkroom, depsite having spent tens of thousands on computers, printers, software, etc, etc, over the years. In no particular order, here is why:

- now that everybody seems to ahve a decent if not good digital camera, software,a nd ahome computer, if i get just *one more * "my 12 year old can dot he same thing for a lot less " comment, I swear, I'm gonna jump across the desk and throttle sombody...

- if I ma on a computer all day - or what seems liek all day, the last thing that relaxes me at night is sitting in front of a computer *again*. I insulated my darkroom,a nd painted it all black inside. The quiet, Zen like atmosphere really relaxes me,a nd i find my "creative juices" - as meagre as they are compared to most distinguished members of this list - are a lot better int he darkroom than in front of a computer. I just don't get "into the zone" (pun intended, if you like :) sitting in front of a computer.

- speaking of noise, computers and printer put out a lot of "white noise". In find soft music in the background in my darkroom, sans any other noise source, helps my sense of timing when printing. (I highly reccomend Diana Krall when printing fibre based paper prints. :)

- money wise, copmptuers are a looser in many ways. I have said this before - hobby wise, you can keep going on a computer for a long time. but for business/commerical interests, you have a three year lifespan on your software and hardware.
yes, you can keep a computer going longer than three years, but the proint is, your competition down the street goes out and buys the latest and greatest thingamjig, and you are stuck catching up. For example, I just bought the other day - agian - because one fo my 5 year old printers will nto tlak to my new computer I bought in the spring.

Conversely, my old D2 still gets used. Hell, my old Elwood 4x5 is capable of great prints.

- speakign of redudancy, how can you develop craftsmanship when the buggers who make hardware and software re-invent the wheel every new version. I mean, i learn all teh short cuts, macros, etc, and then poof - they change some silly little thing liek shortcuts on my mouse, etc. Drives you nuts. I don't ahve to relearn how to use a new enalrger every three years.

- Some of you don't like the smell of chemistry eh? Ever hear of a darkroom fan. And what about indoor office ozone air pollution from your equipment?

- when the power goes out, my enlarger and safelight will go a long, long time on my battery backup. By comparison, I have about 5 minutes to shut down my computers during a power blackout,

- Yes, I use Nortons, Zone Alrm Pro and just aobut every other major bit of skyware scanners, anti-virus software, etc, etc. Still I have been nailed hard - twice. Lost many files. Yes, I do use backup - and have done so since day one. But ti's still a pain int he butt. This kinda of crap happens when you accpet disks/CDs from clients. Never had a virus - or a rare earth magnet - wipe out my negatives or prints.

- I dunno about the rest of you, but speaking on personally for my own situaiton, I have sent far more toxinsa nd garbage to the dump - since i went computerized than we ever did using a lead set type printing press or aform darkroom waste. "E-Waste" as the phrase has been coined is a far greater problem than any darkroom waste has been. Your milage may vary, this si just my situation.

- yes, you can transfer files form one older format to a newer format. But hwo many of you guys have actually done that - spent hours and hours, taking old files off 3.5" disks, tape backup,a nd moving them onto CD-roms? What a pain in the butt. I never have to recopy my negatives or prints every 3-5 years.

anyhow, i coudl go on and on and on. I have all the respect in the world for guys using digital - hell, it pays the bills for me and puts food on the table, but I like to think for myself. For example, when I started out in B&W, I shot 35mm,a nd my two favourite cameras were the Nikon FM and th eNikon FM2 (still ahve them). totoally manual, mechanical. I woudln't touch a Nikon F4 or F5 if you gav eme one. Hey, for some work - like a sports photographer - sure - it's the way to go and make a living.

But I find - and agin - this is just for me - your milage will vary - the more I slowed down - jumping form my nikon to my Mamyia and later 4x5 - the more I force myself to stop, think - even if it means I spent and entire day just gettign one print "just right" - I find the quality of my work improves.

yes, I do use PhotoPaint (I'm a Corel kinda guy :), and in fact, one piece of work I just did this past week eneded up being used by the local TV station for 6 o'clock news, everybody thought it so well done, but I ahve never looked at anything I have done on a computer and felt any kind of sense of accomplishment. It's the work I do in the wet darkroom that makes me feel good about myself.


james mickelson
6-Oct-2005, 11:21
It is precisely because working in the digital realm gives an artist so much variability that makes this platform so unique and different from the darkroom product. It makes your question seem odd at best to ask. I love the darkroom and it's quiet experience. Yet the same can be said of working at a computer. I love the smells associated with the wet process. Most would look at me as a lunatic too. I can't master or even get past the basics of working in the digital realm. No I'm certainly not stupid (hey! Down in front! Quit laughing!) but don't spend the requisite time learning this process. I do think that the digital platform is superior in so many respects to the traditional darkroom process that it is likely that the wet processes will be relagated to the trashheap of history. I was just looking at a short article about the wet collodian process and it seems to me that why would anyone want to work with such caustic and dangerous chemicals when the same can be made on a computer? Just look at any of the photography sites such as usefilm or photo.net and see what is now being created by formerly laymen who couldn't draw a straight line much less work in a darkroom for many reasons. Images are being created now that could never be made without this new platform. And images that could be created in the darkroom are now so much more easily created and in a shorter time and with much more control. Few people in 10 or 20 years will even remember the wet process, and troglidytes like me. The digital platform gives any artist so much more latitude and expressive avenues that it seems weird that not everyone has jumped on the bandwagon. Where the wet process has made many many legendary images, the new digital platform will unleash art as never before. It will enable tens of thousands of would be artists to finally release all the ideas that heretofore have languished for want of a way to express those ideas and visions. Just as photography was birthed and developed as a new art, so to has this digital art. Embrace it. Yes there is still the romance of the darkroom but look at the burgeoning digital realm as the future. I didn't believe it just a few years ago, but I now truly believe it will help unlease ideas and visions that have languished within and now will finally see the light of day.

Kirk Gittings
6-Oct-2005, 11:39
Digital darkroom is different, not necessarily better. It allows me to solve some problems and express certain nuances that I cannot do with an enlarged silver print, like alter tone and contrast in very small areas on a pixel level. Like Paul I have both darkrooms set up and running.

For the recent retrospective show I did many digital prints of images that were already in the museum collection as silver and Cibachrome versions (purchases from earlier shows). I did not compare the prints until a week before the show hung when we were making a final edit, because I wanted to push the ink print aesthetic as far as I could go and not try and imitate my earlier traditional prints. For me this was both a big test and risk as I had never hung a single ink print before at a public showing. Now with the most important show of my life at hand....I was full of self doubt.

In every case I prefered and hung the pigment ink prints. In addition the traditional prints that I did hang from the collection and the ink prints looked fabulous together, each with its own strenght and beauty. Responce to the show was phenomenal and the highlight of my career.

David Luttmann
6-Oct-2005, 11:58
I like Bruce's comments.

I'll add that I like the convenience of being able to apply different "looks" to the print without changing my process. I can output a high quality color print. Then I can go and do a B&W print, and on that B&W print give it a warmtone, cooltone, platinum tone, sepia tone, etc.

As well, the tonality, for me, is better than anything I dealt with in the darkroom. No more issues of compressed shadows or highlights with different papers, etc.

And if one more person mentions a piece of digital gear becoming "obsolete" just because a newer model comes out.....I'll scream!!! I have an old Canon D30 that works every bit as well as when I bought it years ago. It didn't stop working when a new model came out. I've got a fridge with a few hundred rolls of NPS & NPC. These films still look great even though Fuji has come out with their replacements. My old NPS is NOT rendered obsolete by the introduction of a newer version. So please, let's stop this silly obsolete red herring that is thrown out by people not understanding a new workflow.

Other than that, happy shooting!

Jay W
6-Oct-2005, 12:03
I used to do a lot of darkroom work, but I now find it hard to devote a weekend to printing. If I only go in the darkroom for 3-4 hours, I can only get 1-2 neg printed (B&W), so long hours in the darkroom is the way to be productive. (I.e, I'm washing one set of prints while I'm printing another set.) Color? Holy smokes, that's a "take vacation" affair. It's usually best to "make hay while the sun shines." (If things are printing well, keep printing.)

I also have difficulty getting a lot of work done on the computer, but it's much easier to work for a half hour and stop. Also, if you finish working on an image, you can print it in various sizes without having to do extra work. If you decide a week later that your print needs a little extra of this-or-that, say it should be 5% lighter, you can go back and print out a lighter version in a few minutes. Sometimes I'll have a print framed for a couple weeks and then decide I want something slightly different. It's time consuming to go in the darkroom and recreat a print, even when you have good notes. Even with fairly large volumes of developer, I find the developer drifts (get weaker) as I start running through a half dozen 11x14s.

One more point is that my wife likes having me "available" for conversation (during my computer work as compared to the darkroom work.)

One thing I've been considering, is trying to make internegs on the computer and then contact print in the darkroom. The big advantage of this for me would be in Pt/Pl printing.

Jay Wenner

Steve Bell
6-Oct-2005, 12:14
As I no longer have space for a darkroom, and even when I did, never for a 4x5 enlarger (Beseler 23c was all I could fit in), scanning and printing digitally brought me back to serious photography after a 20 year gap. And this isn't because Photoshop can make an image look nothing like the negative, I prefer to get the image right in the camera and 'photoshop it' as little as possible. I process my own B&W 4x5 film at home, mostly with chemicals that no longer smell. This caught me out once and I developed a tank of film with water. I do miss the darkroom smells. Scanners have got better, as has B&W inkjet printing technology, both with 'out of the box' solutions and via third party inks.

Steven Barall
6-Oct-2005, 12:17
The best system is the one that you are actually going to use. If you're affraid of the dark building a darkroom probably isn't the best choice for you so just go digital. If your VCR has been blinking 12:00 for the past ten years then maybe you need a darkroom. All of these things are just tools. Which tool is better, a hammer or a screwdriver?

If you live the old paradigm of Photography As Craft that's great but don't expect everyone else in the world to live the way you do. Any given photo has it's own requirements and if they can be satisfied in the dark well tha'ts great but maybe for some people a different kind of control is required so Photoshop is used instead. And don't even go to the argument that photos converted to ones and zeros loose their purity and reality. Photos have very little relation to reality anyway including and especially nature no matter how sharp your lens or how big your film.

Personally, I'm just interested in looking at photos and I don't care how they are made.

Christopher Perez
6-Oct-2005, 12:21
For the guys who love the digital process - how large can you go from a 4800dpi scanned 4x5 image and retain print resolution equal or apparently better than with silver processes?

Alan Davenport
6-Oct-2005, 12:39
What is the attraction to scanning LF negatives? LF films are attractive regardless of how they are processed, and regardless if they are negatives or transparencies.

Is a wet darkroom all that bad? Yes, it is. Thanks for asking. I spent 20 years doing my photography in wet darkrooms. This is so much nicer.

Do people prefer to sit on their butt when working? Does a bear....

Stay dry? And drink coffee while working!

Avoid chemistry? That's a big plus, alright.

Do you really know that the prints from scanning are better than wet work, and how are they better? No. Nor do folks who work exclusively in a wet environment, really know that they could not have achieved equal or better results via a digital workflow. They are simply different paths.

Variable contrast. Masking. Burning and dodging. Even substituting a dramatic sky for a featureless one. These are all things that were being done decades ago in the darkroom, and accepted. I submit that virtually everything that is done digitally, has a wet darkroom analogue. It's all photography, and I don't give a darn how someone gets to the end point.

David Luttmann
6-Oct-2005, 12:45

Are you referring to a "4800 dpi" scan from a consumer flatbed, or a true high end scan from an Imacon for example? A 2400 dpi scan from an Imacon will show more detail and have a greater dynamic range than a 4800 dpi scan from a consumer flatbed like that of the Epson 4990.

From an Epson, you are just as limited from lack of dynamic range as from its lack of resolving power. From a high end scan at say, 4000 dpi, you can have incredible 40x50 prints from a lightjet or inkjet printer.

Ken Lee
6-Oct-2005, 13:32
Because of digital sharpening (which can be done in selected areas, while leaving others along (clouds for example)) a scanned image, at the same size as an enlargement, can appear sharper than the original. Professor Evens has discussed this from time to time.

Once you resolve down to the size of the film grain (or dye clouds in color) there is little point in scanning at higher resolution. Somewhere between 2500 and 3000 ppi will get you there, depending on the film, in my humble experience with dedicated film scanners like Nikon and Minolta.

I went from inkjet prints, back to in-camera-negative contact printing, due to the longevity of the final print: Pt/Pd prints, in particular. However, a digitally scanned negative can certainly find its way to a platinum print, or a silver print, via the digital internegative method, mentioned by Chris. That may represent the best of "both" worlds.

Whatevver else, it will certainly keep workshop instructors busy !

Struan Gray
6-Oct-2005, 13:42
I love the look of ink on paper. I'd really like to be doing lithography or photogravure, but that's a dream for the future, so for now I get my kicks from inkjet.

I have a lot of experience of image processing and general digital imaging from my work. It's a transparent tool for me, and it feels natural to use it.

In the analogue realm I would want to mask, and mask the masks and mask the masks of the masks. Not for 'effects', but to dodge and burn only the things I want to dodge and burn. Analogue gives you good control over tonal relationships but only clumsy control over the spatial distribution of those tones. The example image here (http://web.telia.com/~u46133221/pics/seacacia_web.jpg) would have been impossible for me to print in a conventional darkroom. I haven't played any photoshop tricks or cloned or moved anything, but I have dodged and burned individual leaves and twigs to enhance the all-over feel. No overall tonal manipulation would have done the trick, and manual analogue dodging would have been like keyhole surgury on speed.

I have no space at home for a decent darkroom, and not enough time to use the ones available to me away from my flat. Digital imaging is compatible with small kids and fevers in a way that a tray of dektol simply cannot be. Lurking excema makes me wary of chemicals or long periods in gloves.

I enjoy darkroom work, and if I ever get my 12x15" beast in action I will happily work in analogue with that, but for 4x5 and smaller analogue would feel artificial and not offer me any real benefits.

Sanders McNew
6-Oct-2005, 15:28
I shoot in 4x5 and 5x7, all B+W. After several years of scanning and printing on an Epson 7600, I've sold my printer and retreated back to the darkroom. Living in New York City, "darkroom" for me is a walk-in closet with an Omega D-2, no plumbing, no ventilation -- and don't slop the LPD on the laundered shirts and ties, please.

I went back to darkroom work because I could never accustom my eye to see an inkjet print as a proper substitute for a silver gelatin print. I am 47 years old -- a silver gelatin print is my paradigm. But a younger person growing up in this digital world will probably see an inkjet print as "right," and will regard a silver gelatin print with the same whiff of quaintness that I feel when I look at a daguerrotype.

But have you really, really looked at a daguerrotype? They have incredible light and clarity, a presence that silver gelatin never matched. The convenience of silver gelatin ended the daguerrotype, not the image quality. And maybe the same will be true of digital imaging. There are traits inherent in current inkjet technology that leave the print looking flat, inferior to my eye. The digital world sacrifices quality for instant gratification and convenience. Is that any different, really, from the death of the daguerrotype a hundred years ago?.

Sanders McNew


6-Oct-2005, 15:59
Sanders makes a good point that (currently, at least) there's no inkjet process that's as good as a silver print at looking like a silver print. If your work relies on blacks that are that black, and a surface that's that shiny, ink isn't for you just yet. I'm coming close by varnishing carbon pigment prints, but this is involved enough to be seen as a hybrid process.

And yes, silver prints are not as good as daguerrotypes at lookng like daguerrotypes; nor are they as good at looking like platinum prints as platinum prints. All these processes are best at looking like what they are. And pigment inkjets can look amazing in this context.

In color, I'm not sure if this line of reasoning holds up. I'm starting to think that inkjets can look better, even at a lot of the things that c-prints and cibachromes do best.

6-Oct-2005, 16:49
Thanks to all who responded. It was helpfull to learn of the many individual perspectives, each valid, and the lot of which when summarized into similarities, are not very interesting after all. So, here is to making pictures, not words.

I'll post soon with a question regarding the merits of printing on black velvet (clearly a digital application) and mirrors (silver, of course.)

Or maybe I won't.

David R Munson
6-Oct-2005, 17:43
Here's my two cents.

I'm sure a good portion of you saw my recent thread in which I offered up my 4x5 enlarger for free. I'm sure some of you who saw it wondered why I would do such a thing. I'll explain.

I picked up both of my enlargers (there was also a Leica 35mm) in high school, when I was given then by one of my teachers. I used and loved them rabidly until I left for college in 2000. For the next 3 1/2 years, I only used then when home on break, and then I usually just made proof sheets and waited to get back to OU to do the printing part. In November of 2003 I finished college, went back to MO for a few months, then left for Chicago to spend eight monts as a freelance photo assistant. The enlargers stayed home, packed in the boxes that they were put in when my parents moved away from Ohio a year before that. Between last November and now, I have not had a darkroom proper, and since I moved into a new house with my lady friend, the chances of my constructing one have dropped to zero. Before I came to my current residence, I would periodically set up shop in the basement on my mother's washer and dryer, but I could only print at night and had to hang quilts over windows to get things even vaguely dark enough. Processing film was easy enough, but printing was a bear. I produced one set of TEN (ten total, not sets)exhibition-quality prints (from different negatives) and it took me two weeks of nightly work in that basement hole to even do that. Absolutely maddening.

I love making silver prints, I really do. However, it's just not remotely practical for me at this point in my life and that's only going to get worse until I go to grad school, and who knows when the heck that will be.

What is practical for me, though, is a mixed workflow. I can spread out a drop sheet on the kitchen counter and process my film there in daylight tanks for rolls and a Jobo drum on rollers for 4x5. Following the dev, I can scan on my Epson 4990 and output on my inkjet printer. I get excellent results and the fact that I do not have a darkroom is a moot point.

It goes farther than that, though. I don't just do the mixed workflow thing because I can't have a darkroom at this point in my life. I do the mixed workflow because it works extremely well for me. The results I get working this way come a lot closer to what I see in my mind when I make the photograph than I could ever get in the darkroom. I can make minute adjustments that would be practically impossible in the darkroom without going to extraordinary lengths. I can fix things that really would be impossible for me to do in the darkroom.

Do I see no value in darkroom work? Hardly. As I said before, I love it. However, I am finding that it is not the best option for me. I can do more in less time with greater success with a mixed workflow than could before when I only did silver. It also streamlines the process for putting everything online (http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidrmunson/), which is very important to me. I think inkjet prints, done right, are great. If I want a different look or need a non-inkjet print for something, I get prints from my digital files by way of places like West Coast Digital or Shutterfly. Are any of these silver prints? No, but I'm also not pretending that they are. They are what they are and I appreciate them for that.

My style of working isn't for everyone. But you know what? If working this way gets me closer to achieving the photographs I see in my mind, then I don't care about anything else. It works for me, and works very well indeed. That's why I scan my negs, LF and otherwise.

Tom Westbrook
7-Oct-2005, 09:03
I used to scan my negs more often than I do now, but, contrary to others experience, I found analog contacts much quicker and less annoying to produce. I usually process 20-30 sheets of 4x5 and maybe 4 or more rolls of 120 and 135 at a time and just spend a couple of hours in my dark/laudryroom cranking out the contact sheets. I did recently pick up an Coolscan V Nikon film scanner for putting 35mm stuff on the web and it takes me an hour per 36 exp roll to get thru just scanning/editing--maddening. I'm stuck with it for color stuff, but wet-contact the BW.

I have this Epson R800 printer I got last year that's been gathering dust because I just don't seem to get around to using it very much. The prints are OK, so long as the image doesn’t have much in the way of specular highlights, but I mostly only use it for color stuff and 4x6 B&W prints for pinning to my cubicle wall at work to mull over. I hate it that if I don't use the damn thing a lot that I have to waste all kinds of very expensive ink just getting the head cleaned out and useable again, which makes me want to use it even less.

I agree that the choice of tools is a personal one. After all, everyone is entitled to their own stupid opinion. Some day I'll send a couple of negs off to a good pro printer so I can get samples back of the state of the art, but I'm not in any big hurry. I won't be spending any more money on digital equipment for a while. I will be spending money finding a replacement for Polymax, though.

Edward Mast
7-Oct-2005, 13:05
I much prefer working in a "light" room than a darkroom when printing. And I do think my inkjet prints are generally superior to my darkroom prints. I say this as one who has only the most basic photoshop skills. On the other hand, I do enjoy the process of using a 4x5 camera and I don't mind developing the 4x5's. To quote I'll-never-forget-what's-his-name, "follow your bliss".

John C Murphy
8-Oct-2005, 12:29
I shut down my wet darkroom a few months ago because I was spending too much time in it and my little daughter was knocking on the door for her daddy to come out. Yes, I definitely lost something in my prints because my computer setup needs to be updated to accommodate 16-bit grayscale scans.

By the way, the phrase "begs the question" traditionally has not been used as you did here. (You used it as though it were synonymous with "demands the following question...") Typically, it is a term used in formal logic term to indicate that the speaker has already assumed the validity of the premise they are trying to prove, which is something logic does not permit.

Brian Ellis
8-Oct-2005, 23:05
The answer to your question is that you scan your negatives so you can get them into your computer. You get them into your computer because that's necessary if you wish to be able to edit and print digitally, which many people do because they believe they can make better prints digitally than they can make in a darkroom. But if you like to print in a darkroom then the answer to your question is that there is no reason to scan your negtives.

Don Wallace
11-Oct-2005, 14:58
This has been a very informative thread. It seems that most are going digital. Is there anyone else like me, who is taking b&w BACKWARD in time? I hope to be able to dispense with an enlarger eventually and shoot only 5x7 and 8x10 for contact printing, including Victorian processes like pt/pd. I like the deliberate limitation. Sort of like those guys who make furniture only with 19th century tools. They can't make everything, and they can't make what they make as quickly. What they do make has a different character

I also play an acoustic guitar and don't use a pickup in it, using the microphone on the stage when I play professionally. I notice that a number of country/bluegrass bands are going back to this as well (Alison Kraus for example) because of way it sounds.

I cook a lot and never use a food processor to make curry paste from scratch. I actually pound it all together in a mortar and pestle, just like they did originally.

I guess if your workflow requires it, digital is the answer. But I really love the idea of slowing down just for the sheer contemplative slowing down of it all.

11-Oct-2005, 15:06
Don Wallace This has been a very informative thread. It seems that most are going digital. Is there anyone else like me, who is taking b&w BACKWARD in time? I hope to be able to dispense with an enlarger eventually and shoot only 5x7 and 8x10 for contact printing, [...]

Yes, I would like to do that in 8x10 or larger, however as a concession to modernisim (of the twenties?) I would like to have a multi-bulb contact printer - you know the type in which one can switch on/off any of dozens of bulbs to control local exposure. Forgive me for that nonpurist thing.

So that raises the question - has anyone made one? The used printers I've seen use hard-to-find bulbs and are generally a wreck.

(FWIW, several years ago when IBM had a laptop with a transparent screen that could be removed and placed on a transparency projector, I made a half-hearted attempt to use it as a contact-printing masking device. The confluence of tech and wet met head-on and I gave it up. Seemed silly.)

David A. Goldfarb
11-Oct-2005, 18:24
I just took an albumen workshop, so I'm certainly going backward. I scan B&W negs so that I can put some of my work on the Web, but I have no interest in printing B&W digitally. The prints are just unattractive in comparison to traditional prints.

I like LightJet and Chromira for color, so I send out work for that purpose occasionally, but I don't own any printer for photographs.

Oren Grad
11-Oct-2005, 18:46
I own neither photo/film scanner nor inkjet printer. My interest these days is mostly in contact prints on ordinary silver paper from negatives made in odd formats with really old cameras. I've been putting some effort recently into educating myself about monochrome inkjet prints by seeking out and studying prints representing a range of photographers and printer/ink/paper combinations, but so far I've not seen anything that has any appeal to me - if anything, what I've seen so far has just strengthened my interest in traditional silver prints.

17-Oct-2005, 12:47
I have loved working in the quiet, cool solitude of the darkroom--so much so that my first marriage crashed because of it. Older and wiser, I can Photoshop in the same computer room as my daughter and second wife, and frequently we have important discussions while we work.

I did price the possibility of a wet darkroom when we bought our house a few years ago. Adding plumbed space to a 10x10 darkroom--a single-use space--would have added $40,000 to the cost of the house in our area. So when comparing the cost of the "digital darkroom" to a wet darkroom, I start with $40,000 and add the equipment (which has no other use) to that...I thus estimated the total cost of a wet darkroom with professional capabilities at over $55,000. Our computer room, of course, gets a lot more use than just my scanning and Photoshopping (and I do the wet processing of my 4x5 negatives in the laundry room, another dual-use facility).

Even then, a wet darkroom I could have built in my home would still not have been capable of producing quality 40x50-inch prints. I would still have had to go to a professional lab for that, as I do now.

Paul Butzi has made a point on his website that bears repeating. His point, as I understand it, is that silver printing has a beauty of its own, but the beauty of a silver print does not obviate the innate beauty that a good inkjet print has on its own. More, any person is perfectly free to prefer one or the other, or to enjoy both in its own way.

"But we don't have to. Inkjet printing lets us make prints that look like platinum prints, or cyanotypes, or Van Dyke prints - and do it easily. We're free to explore new surface textures, including the lovely smooth finish of hot press watercolor paper. We're free to choose papers without optical brighteners, papers which are acid free, papers that feel differently in your hand and have different looks. Sure, those things were possible with silver printing, but when we smeared gelatin silver emulsion on canvas, or watercolor paper, we lost the strengths of silver printing, and kept the weaknesses. That's not the case with inkjet printing."


There are beautiful women of every skin color, hair color, and eye color, and each is beautiful in her own right BECAUSE of it, not in spite of it. Sophia Loren would not look so beautiful dyed blonde with blue contact lenses. The man who sees beauty in women of only one skin color, one eye color, or one hair color is the poorer and unhappier man for it. For the rest, "the world is full of beautiful women."