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Thread: Cibachrome vs Digital Prints

  1. #1

    Cibachrome vs Digital Prints

    I am new to Large Format, shooting landscapes on 4x5 transparency film. I have been impressed with the quality from both inkjet and digital lab prints. Having not seen Cibachrome (ie Ilfordchrome now) prints from large format 4x5 I am interested in hearing opinions on how Ilfordchrome stands up against the new digital prints. I used to make Cibachromes from 35mm. The Archival qualitys aside how does Ilfordchrome compare in terms of resolution, apparent sharpness and colour reproduction to the newer digital prints such as lightjets and LEDs? The reason I am asking this is I am looking at purchasing a used 4x5 enlarger for B&W but may consider doing my own Ilfordchomes.

  2. #2

    Cibachrome vs Digital Prints

    I agree with Dan. I've had both done and the cibachrome has much better colors. Plus, in the "white" areas you don't get plain paper sticking through against glossy ink. However, I've also been impressed with the digital prints for their lower cost and very good quality. I don't think that digital prints will ever be quite like real color photographic prints because of the vastly different process involved. However, for many applications I prefer digital prints -- when I do a theatre shoot and need to get the prints done the next day, nothing but digital will work!

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Sep 2003

    Cibachrome vs Digital Prints

    Hi Robert,

    Last year I had the same question and was also considering learning to print Illfochrome. I traveled to see Christopher Burketts work (his book Intimation of Paradise is a good reproduction of his originals) and to Thomas Mangelsen's gallery (I dont believe Mr Mangelsen is the printmaker). I expected to have a difficult time choosing between digital output and Ilfochrome.

    But after seeing dozens of Ilfordchrome prints, I knew immediately that Ilfordchrome was inferior for how I see my final color prints. I found unatural color shifts, a lack of good tonality, very blocked-up shadows, and a strong "pop" to the images that does not represent nature to me.

    Also check with Ilford as I believe they have shortened the projected life expectancy of these prints.


  4. #4
    Founder QT Luong's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 1997
    San Jose, CA

    Cibachrome vs Digital Prints

    Take into consideration the fact that getting fine control with Ilfochrome printing is considerably more difficult than in the digital darkroom. You might have to be a master printer (like Burkett) to achieve results that compare to average digital prints. Ilfochrome and digital prints do have a different look. Depending on the image and the viewer, either one could be superior. Recently, the "hand-made" aspect of Ilfochrome seems to have added some marketability.

  5. #5

    Cibachrome vs Digital Prints

    I had a Lambda print made by a pro lab from a 2 1/4 x 4 1/2 transparancy. I was shocked at the lack of resolution. I might as well have done a crop from 35mm.

    I sent the same transparancy to a lab in Austin Tx and had an Ilfochrome made. They are very different. To me the Ilfochrome wins hands down but I suspect many would like the digital better.

    One reason I like large format is the ability to capture detail. The above print has the horizon in it, and I think that when you have a distant horizon in a photograph with detail on the horizon, people will look to see what they can see. I have also watched people "sniff" photographs at our local museum so I don't buy the arguement that you shouldn't get close enough to tell the difference.

    One print our local museum displays ocasionally is an Ansel Adams picture of San Francisco from the hills. You can read the signs on the stores if your eyes are good enough and you get close enough.

    You can't do that sort of thing with a 400 dpi Lambda.

  6. #6
    tim atherton's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 1998

    Cibachrome vs Digital Prints

    Neal - you need a good digital printer just as you always needed a good Ciba printer (in all the years I had getting transparencies printed and all the labs I tried I only ever found two really good printers).

    You should take a look at some of Chris Jordan's (very large) prints - I think you'd be blown away - not just by the colour, but by the detail.

    Sounds like your scan wasn't very good to start off with - I saw some of Paul Grahams 6' wide or so prints from his new project (and book) American Nights - scanned from MF and digitally printed - quite stunning with excellent detail 0 400dpi from a hi-res scan is certianly enough to show the sort of detail you are talking about.

    Robert - digital (lightjet or Ultrachrome etc) colour prints will have something of a different look from ilfochromes - the look is just different (but then the best printer I ever found for colour tranny stuff used the Fuji process - hand done, mom and pop shop in Montreal - a real artisan - the Fuji stuff also "looked different" from Ilfochromes). That aside - you can get very very good colour prints from those processes.

    The big difference is in what a (good) scan from a transparency (or neg) allows you (or a good lab) to do in terms of colour adjustments, contrast, hue etc etc. Not only are these easy to do globally, but you can control them locally on the print in ways that a wet darkroom colour printer can't even dream of. It's this ability that someone like Chris Jordan uses to the full to produce stunning prints. His prints recently came within one point of winning the prestigious Photo Espana event. A friend and photographer who was also attending (and is a darned good colour and B&W worker himself) was completely blown away by the prints he saw there from Chris.

    So in short - a) you really need to compare like with like (not bad digital work with good wet colour work or vice versa) and b) color digital printing will not only produce good prints, but it will give you a level of control and adjustment that is far greater than was ever available before. tim
    You'd be amazed how small the demand is for pictures of trees... - Fred Astaire to Audrey Hepburn blog

  7. #7

    Cibachrome vs Digital Prints

    Thank you all for taking the time to reply to my question.

    I had a look at some of my old 35mm Cibachromes and I have to agree with Dan and Paul the colour really does pack some punch. I will try and find a good Lab that still does Ilfordchromes and have one of my 4x5s printed. I will also have the same chrome printed digitally and see which one I prefer. Going the digital printing path is very tempting. I am not into manipulation of the image. I like the print to look as close as possible to the slide on the lightbox. However I find tools in photoshop such as the clone stamp for removing dust specks or the crop tool and unsharp masking invaluable. There is not that much Large Format Colour Landscape photography here in New Zealand, sadly many enthusiastes are abandoning film in droves and buying 35mm digitals. Some day I hope to travel to the States and view the works of the photographers mentioned.

    Kind Regards


  8. #8

    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Fremantle, Western Australia

    Cibachrome vs Digital Prints


    Some labs will print digitally onto Ilfochrome if required. Ken Duncan's lab will, and there are a few others which I can't think of right now.

    I use Pixel Perfect in Sydney. They print onto Kodak Endura Metallic (among other paper types) which has that same glow as Ilfochrome. I love it and so do most of the people who wander through my gallery. Give them a try and compare it to your Cibachromes.


  9. #9

    Cibachrome vs Digital Prints

    I was with Chris at Photoespaña, and yeah, I was blown away. I saw a lot of prints and compared all kind of ctype, ciba, digi this, digi that. Chris's prints are out of this world. he gets a drum scan, from a tango. Not just anyold drum scan, but he's worked with a few guys and has one he trusts. he very often brackets and combines negs or trannies to get maximum tonal range. he uses a lot of layers. His sharpening technique can take hours for the machine to process. He then handcoats the print so its fully archival and he doesn't need glass. He uses epson semi matte on a 9600. I use Ilford smooth gloss on a 2200 and I'm getting tonality and gamut to die for. Totally stuffs ciba or analogue ctypes BUT you have to be in control of the whole chain. There's a new ilford paper out which is ultra glossy for that ciba look.

  10. #10

    Cibachrome vs Digital Prints

    Hello Robert,

    I truely recommend Ilfochrome Classic Deluxe prints. I have done them both and after four years of high end digital output with Fuji Crystal Archive, I have gone back to the hand made Ilfochromes. I just switch to Ilfochrome at the beginning of the year and I have almost trippled my sales compared to last year (I actually did more shows last year.) People see the difference and feel very good about their purchase. In the first time and a long time...I feel like an artist again.

    Not all images look good as Ilfochromes, it does take some time to learn the editing of images that are chosen for the Ilfochromes process. I do not recommend trying to print Ilfochromes on your own at first. I would choose a good lab that is known for their printing and techneques. It takes a very long time to learn the masking techneques which is required to print most Ilfochromes. Learn the limites of your prints and as you grow a relationship with your lab, let them know that you would like to print your own in the future and they should help you on your way.

    The Ilfochrome process is not easy, convienent, and cheap, if it was....everybody would be doing it.

    I hope you make the right choice...just remember, nothing beats a well printed hand made image....nothing.

    Happy shooting!!!

    Shane Knight

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