View Full Version : Why Are My Polaroids Sharper Than My Proofs?

Scott Rosenberg
26-Apr-2004, 16:09
good day...

i've got a real head scratcher here; i even put it to the guys at my lab and they couldn't give me a satisfactory answer.

this past weekend i took my 'new' tech IV out to do an engagement shoot. i was using polaroid type 54 film with a 545i back and neopan across 100 with the fuji readyload holder.

i just recieved the contact sheets back from the lab, and when i compare them to the polaroids, they are neither as contrasty or sharp! i was expecting the polaroids to be inferior to the proofs, when they are, in fact, the best pictures of the lot.

any ideas as to why the polaroids look so much better than the proofs?

film flatness in the backs? poor printing of the contact sheets? has anybody experienced this?

thanks, scott

Dean Cookson
26-Apr-2004, 16:38
I've certainly seen professional labs contact print proofs with the negatives in the storage pages. That tends to not do anything good to the print sharpness or contrast. How do the negatives look under a loupe? Are they sharp and contrasty? If so, it was probably the printing.

Darin Cozine
26-Apr-2004, 17:58
Proofs are just that: proofs. whereas polaroids are an original photograph/negative. Incidentaly, I got to see some of the slides of the huge 20x24 polaroid viewcam in action last weekend. I must say that I was impressed.

David A. Goldfarb
26-Apr-2004, 19:04
Look at the negs with a loupe on a light table to see if they are sharp. That will help you rule out the lab's proofing procedure as a source of the problem. If they were proofing the negs in the sleeves or with inadequate pressure, that would explain the problem.

It would be normal for the negs to be sharper than the Polaroids, but not the other way around as you are reporting.

If the Polaroids are sharper than the negs (setting aside the contacts), I suspect your groundglass is out of registration (or from the glass half full perspective--your groundglass is in registration with your Polaroid holder, but not with your Readyload holders), or there is a film flatness problem with the Readyloads, or perhaps the Readyload holder wasn't inserted or loaded properly. You might try a couple of regular filmholders just to rule out problems associated with the Readyloads before sending the camera for adjustment.

26-Apr-2004, 20:20
Though I have no complaints about their enlargements, the lab I use is somewhat careless about proofs. Maybe a nicer way of stating it would be that they keep the cost of proofs as low as possible. Seems like the most likely explanation for your problem as well.

Please let us know what you find out, this is interesting and useful.

Gary J. McCutcheon
26-Apr-2004, 20:58
I've used type 54 polaroid for years as a composition and exposure test for 4x5 and 120 transparency film. It is very accurate for this purpose, but I've never found it sharper than the transparencies. The polaroids are usually softer and are only good exposure indicators. The film is right on when testing for transparency exposure. I've used type 55 for the negative and it is always sharp, but the print always leaves a bit to be desired as far as exposure and sharpness. Your contact proofs may not be flat or, as other posts have indicated, the contacts may be printed through the neg. preservers. Check with your lab. Labs need lots of communication.


Scott Atkinson
26-Apr-2004, 21:01
Not to muddy the waters, but there's one other possibility. You're using two different backs--the Polaroid back and the Fuji Quickload. It's always possible that they're not aligning in the exact same film plane. When I'm proofing with 4x5 Polaroid, I leave the 545 back in place and shoot the quickload/readyload final film with that, too. That said, I do know a lot of people who switch to the second, supposedly flatter back for the "real" film, and seem to have no problem, either.

tor kviljo
27-Apr-2004, 01:23
Some of the newer Polaroid emulsions are very sharp, and are promoted by Polaroid as suitable for final art (through scanning). I belive the Pro100 is the one most favored here, and I don't know if the 54 is using emulsion dev. from this one & thus benefiting from high resolution positives, but I had great results when I (a brief & expensive periode) were experimenting with the 8"x10" machine using 809 Polacolor: a series of still-life including plants with minute details were impressively sharp - could hardly be improved upon as resolution/sharpeness allready were in the "need for loupe" category. I would have loved to use the pola a bit more, but expenses ruled this out as the 809 were about $$ 250 a case (15 exp) here in Norway.

Scott Rosenberg
27-Apr-2004, 08:10
thanks everyone... i'm in dallas, texas and have been using BWC for years. however, the last several jobs i've had them do i've been very disappointed with. guess it's time to start shopping for a new lab.

the contacts were printed through the sleve... i can see the text from the top of the sleve on my sheets. what's more, the letters go in and out of focus, so i suspect someone forgot to put a piece of glass over the sheet.

i just went back to the lab and dropped off the negs, contact prints, and polaroid, and they begrudgingly agreed to print the proofs again after their technicians look over my material. once i hear back from them, i'll post their findings.

a couple of newbie questions: -if my groundglass was in fact out of registration, wouldn't both the polaroid and the negs have been soft, as i focused on the groudglass for both?

-if i just use the 545i holder for the readyloads and quickloads, am i asking for film flatness problems? does anyone just use the polaroid holder as a do-it-all?

that the 545i holder and the fuji readyload holder may not be equidistant from the groundglass makes sense... i guess i'll run a few tests with using the neopan in the polaroid holder and see what results. the only other pictures i've taken were with a grafmatic backs that leaked, though the chromes i got back that weren't ruined seemed to be sharp.

thanks again! scott

Scott Rosenberg
27-Apr-2004, 14:48
cxc, et al-

BWC went back and checked the equipment used to make my contact sheets, and they found that the foam pad that keeps the paper flush against the glass had deteriorated and needed to be replaced. they are going make the necessary repairs and reprint my contact sheets.

i only hope this batch comes back as sharp as the polaroids... they looked GREAT!

BWC is a very highly regarded pro lab in the dallas-fort worth area - what is a bit alarming is that those contact sheets made it out without someone noticing. as i stated earlier, after several years of good service, i have been very disappointed by BWC my last few times in. i think it's time to start looking for a new lab... any recommendations for the DFW area?

thanks for all the great inputs earlier, scott

Scott Rosenberg
2-May-2004, 08:25
for anybody still following this thread, or for anyone who may stumble across it in the future, i figured i'd put a final update.

the second set of proofs i got back were better, but still not as sharp nor contrasty as the type 54s, so i designed a little experiment to determine if the camera, back, or film was the weak link.

i took identical pictures in fairly rapid succession using the following setup: -neopan box 1 in quickload back -neopan box 2 in quickload back -neopan box 1 in 545i back -neopan box 1 in 545i back -tmax in 545i back -polaroid type 54 in 545i back

i had contact sheets made, this time out of the plastic holder. the sheets came back looking EXCELLENT. there is no difference whatsoever between shooting in the 545i back and the quickload back - good news, now i know i only have to carry the 545i regardless of whether i'm shooting fuji or kodak emulsions.

the only appreciable difference was that the tmax had blown highlights (of course) while the neopan looked great. too bad i can't buy that stuff locally!

the best shot of the batch can from a neopan neg shot in the 545i back, though the difference between that one and the ones from the quickload back were only noticeable under 6x magnification, and even then it was slight.

i guess my take-away from this little adventure is that my 545i is an acceptable stand-in for the quickload back and to always expect some softness in the focus if the contact sheets are printed through the plastic holder.


Scott Rosenberg
3-May-2004, 09:50
i would be remiss if i didn't mention the great service i continue to get from the good folks at midwest photo. when i first noticed the issue discussed in this thread, i called jim at midwest and he, before i even fully diagnosed the problem, offered to do anything he possibly could to help me remedy the situation. he offered to send me a new box of film to test, even a new fuji back. these offers all come completely unsolicited from a real desire to satisfy his customer before all things.

if you are looking for large format equipment of any type, do yourself a huge favor and call jim before making any purchases. he is a pleasure to do business with, your items will come packaged VERY well, and he will stand behind everything he sells. what's best, he is a shooter and uses personally what he sells - he won't steer you wrong.


Dean Cookson
3-May-2004, 10:26
Seconded. Jim is good people. I got to meet him face to face at the LF Conference (and wound up giving him a bunch of money as a result. :-)) He's clearly one of those guys that understands how to run a successful business: Treat the customers well, give them fair prices and they'll both come back and say good things about you to their friends. As a result of my experience with Jim in Monterey, MPEX will be the first place I shop any time I need camera gear.