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Thread: Newbie Question: is 8x10 Contact Printing for Me?

  1. #1

    Question Newbie Question: is 8x10 Contact Printing for Me?

    Hello y'all:

    I have been doing some studio work with my digital camera. It does a fine job, but I think with the subject matter I enjoy shooting I want to print big. (Big, to me, means somewhere around 20" x 30".) So, I've been considering MF and LF photography. I have a film background, and have successfully developed 35mm and MF color and B&W film. Frankly, I enjoy the film process more than the digital process anyway.

    I've been considering my options, and I think the main reason I want to print big is that I want the viewer to really be able to savor the detail. I don't necessarily want the real estate on the wall--that to me is simply a side effect.

    Eventually, this lead me to do research on 8x10 contact printing. I'm wondering if this would be ideal for me. Small size, insane detail. I've done some research on the contact print vs. enlarged debate, and it seems to mostly go in circles. I'm hoping, though, to get a notion as to whether or not this would work for me.

    I'm left to wonder, if a high quality digital image isn't upsized, and is printed at 300 dpi, and the eye cannot distinguish any finer division than that, how could a contact print be any better? Perhaps it comes down to tonality more than just straight resolution? (The same holes true for negative enlargements. If the grains are smaller than the eye can see, how could there be a difference?)

    Many of the forums I've read about contact prints vs. enlargements end up with something like "you'll have to try it for yourself to see." While this might be true, it isn't all that helpful to me. If I buy an 8x10 setup, I can't turn around and purchase a 4x5 one. I'd like to hedge my bets by knowing what to expect as much as possible going in. Therefore, if someone could describe what differences I might expect, it would be greatly helpful.

    Some important notes:

    If I were to shoot MF or 4x5, I'd have to scan in the negatives and work digitally from there. I've had an enlarger in the past, but for various reasons, I'm not interested in getting another, and I do want to print myself. So, really, we're comparing the possibilities of a 4x5 digitally enlarged negative to an 8x10 contact print, with the goal being juicy, rich, intense detail that sucks you in.

    Attached is an image I shot today. It's not finished; I need to touch up the background, but this is generally what I'm interested in doing. I really want the detail on these natural artifacts to POP.

    Any thoughts?

    Thanks,

    TA

    Click image for larger version. 

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  2. #2
    Jim Jones's Avatar
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    Re: Newbie Question Regarding Format Options

    It doesn't cost much to buy a basic 4x5 outfit to see if that route satisfies you. A $100 camera, a lens that might cost a little more, and the trays and chemicals for developing satisfy the basic analog needs. Great photographs have been made with less. For optimum results LF demands more attention to detail than do smaller formats. The subtle refinements that make LF photography worthwhile take time to master. Get a copy of Way Beyond Monochrome by Ralph Lambrecht and Chris Woodhouse for guidance and inspiration.

  3. #3

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    Re: Newbie Question Regarding Format Options

    For better or worse, 8x10 is just small potatoes these days.
    Wilhelm (Sarasota)

  4. #4

    Re: Newbie Question Regarding Format Options

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill_1856 View Post
    For better or worse, 8x10 is just small potatoes these days.
    What do you mean by that? Cheap to get into? Or small?

    I'm actually finding the cost of an 8x10 setup a bit discouraging... More just the camera and lens.

  5. #5
    Lachlan 717
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    Re: Newbie Question Regarding Format Options

    Quote Originally Posted by TortoiseAvenger View Post

    I'm actually finding the cost of an 8x10 setup a bit discouraging... More just the camera and lens.
    You could easily get an 8x10" set-up with lens and film holders for the price of a Nikon D810 BODY. Quality has never been (relatively) more affordable!
    Lachlan.

    You miss 100% of the shots you never take. -- Wayne Gretzky

  6. #6

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    Re: Newbie Question Regarding Format Options

    I've been good at buying stuff. If I were to pick my "best buys" and assemble an 8x10 kit, it would come in at around $400, and I think that number would be hard to beat, except by more luck than I had.
    --8x10 Ansco view, $120
    --302mm Enlarging Raptar, $50 (yes, it works fine)
    --Packard shutter with sync, $50
    --3- 8x10 holders, $90 (you can find these all day at that price)
    --a big tripod, for another $100 (also easy to find)

    That's not counting developing. I opted for Vinnie's larger tanks and hangers, which added about $250, but there are cheaper ways.

    For $1200 and some careful shopping it would be easy to assemble a pretty nice kit. Those numbers may seem daunting, but the quality of 8x10 has to be seen to believed, and it's worth the money. As Lachlan says, we spend that kind of bucks easily on modern new equipment that's going to be obsolete and valueless in ten years.

    The part you need to think about that will really bite you is the film. I had a couple of LF cameras in 4x5 and 5x7 but couldn't justify feeding them until I discovered x-ray film. That's what flipped me into being a LF user, and with x-ray film prices being around 1975 regular film prices, I quickly decided to move up to 8x10. If I had to pay modern film costs I just wouldn't have ever done it. Color? Forget it. That's too rich for me, still.
    Thanks, but I'd rather just watch:
    Large format: http://flickr.com/michaeldarnton
    Mostly 35mm: http://flickr.com/mdarnton
    You want digital, color, etc?: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stradofear

  7. #7

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    Re: Newbie Question Regarding Format Options

    Everything in photography (at least, analog) is a trade-off... If you plan to shoot film, then scan, in my experience the larger the film area the less demands on the scanner. For example, a relatively low cost flatbed scanner will enable beautiful, large prints to be made from 8x10 film; as one moves down in film size it seems that higher and higher quality scanners are required. When you get to MF and certainly 35mm, IMO flatbed scanners really aren't up to the task. If you shoot film and print in the wet darkroom, basically the same rules apply. No enlargement will ever, again IMO, match the quality and "look" of an 8x10 contact print. Keep in mind here that I'm talking at the highest level of printing. For fact, many years ago when I got into 8x10 I shot the same scene on the same film, processed in the same developer, etc, on both 4x5 and 8x10; then, I enlarged the 4x5 to 8x10 (only a 2x enlargement) and contact printed the 8x10...the differences were subtle, but easy to see! I remember also being stunned by the "presence" of the contact print. I was sold and didn't shoot any other format for about 10 years.

    Lots to think about and consider...good luck!

  8. #8

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    Re: Newbie Question Regarding Format Options

    I certainly agree with that, so let me add my own printing setup:
    --HP G4050 scanner, $175 (good down to 4x5; crap on smaller film than that)
    --Canon Pro-100 printer, $100 (Canon blows them out, regularly; they print up to 13x19")

    I have a wall covered with 35mm prints and large format, all as 8x10 digital glossy work prints pinned to the wall. You wouldn't think there'd be a difference in this size and media, but there is--enough for non-photographer visitors to see it, too!
    Thanks, but I'd rather just watch:
    Large format: http://flickr.com/michaeldarnton
    Mostly 35mm: http://flickr.com/mdarnton
    You want digital, color, etc?: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stradofear

  9. #9

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    Re: Newbie Question Regarding Format Options

    I had a brief fling with 8x10, but it didn't deliver the "wow" factor I had hoped for. I couldn't see that much difference between an 8x10 contact print and an 8x10 enlargement from a 4x5 negative.
    Plus, at my age (a phrase I thought I'd never use), 8x10 is just too damn heavy to lug around.

  10. #10
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    Re: Newbie Question Regarding Format Options

    TA: if you're looking for "wow", you are likely to be disappointed. Contact printing is about subtlety of tone and detail, and IMO serves most effectively in quiet pictures that reveal themselves fully only with extended acquaintance. Many viewers will never see the differences, or will see them but not consider them important.

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