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Thread: How Large Can I Print a 4x5 Drum-Scanned Negative Before The Resolution Degrades?

  1. #1

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    How Large Can I Print a 4x5 Drum-Scanned Negative Before The Resolution Degrades?

    For some of my fine art LF work, I'd like to print my drum-scanned or Hasselblad-Imacon Flextight-scanned 4x5 (100 ISO) negatives/transparencies to 6' x 8' in size.

    That said, in your experience or opinion, how large can I print a single drum-scanned or Flextight-scanned 4x5 (100 ISO) negative/transparency before the resolution degrades into horrible/unusable territory?

    I'm interested in the fact that Jeff Wall uses a 4x5 Linhof camera and is seemingly able to get amazingly high detailed and extremely LARGE (like 6' x 8') prints with just one 4x5 negative. How does he do that without the digital manipulation technique of combining many 4x5 negatives into a montage?

    I'm looking forward to seeing what you guys have to say.

  2. #2

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    Re: How Large Can I Print a 4x5 Drum-Scanned Negative Before The Resolution Degrades?

    This is not that easy to answer as it involves a lot of variables that that depend both on the original 4x5 and the scanner/operator. “Resolution Degrading” is subjective as well, what you consider degrading another person may not, especially when viewed far enough away to take in such a large print. All things being equal you shouldn’t have a problem going to that much of an enlargement. Think of it another way. If you print a 35mm negative full frame on a 17x22” size paper, accounting for borders (proportionally they are different so you will have wider borders top and bottom) it’s around a 15x enlargement. That will be pretty close to going from 4x5 to a 6’x8’ print. However there is a larger issue with going that big.

    Most fine art printers do not go to 6’ wide (72”), they go to 60”. There are a few that go to 64” but most paper manufacturers that make fine art paper only go to 60”. So if you are going to a 64” print you are really limiting your paper choices. If you are going to go larger than 60” you will be printing on graphic arts printers, not fine art printers. So not only are your paper choices limited because of the 72" size you cannot get the most out of your scanned 4x5 because it is being printed on a graphic arts printer and media as opposed to a fine art printer. Again, these are subjective choices but they do need to be taken into consideration. What I would recommend is getting a really well done scan and printing on a 60” fine art printer.

    If you look at my website and go to the blog section you can see some of my work with people standing next to it for scale. I print all of my own work on a 60” fine art printer and most of those works are around 5’x7’ to 5’x8’.

    Hope this helps.

    -Joshua
    www.joshuadunnphotography.com

  3. #3

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    Re: How Large Can I Print a 4x5 Drum-Scanned Negative Before The Resolution Degrades?

    Quote Originally Posted by manfrominternet View Post
    For some of my fine art LF work, I'd like to print my drum-scanned or Hasselblad-Imacon Flextight-scanned 4x5 (100 ISO) negatives/transparencies to 6' x 8' in size.

    That said, in your experience or opinion, how large can I print a single drum-scanned or Flextight-scanned 4x5 (100 ISO) negative/transparency before the resolution degrades into horrible/unusable territory?

    I'm interested in the fact that Jeff Wall uses a 4x5 Linhof camera and is seemingly able to get amazingly high detailed and extremely LARGE (like 6' x 8') prints with just one 4x5 negative. How does he do that without the digital manipulation technique of combining many 4x5 negatives into a montage?

    I'm looking forward to seeing what you guys have to say.
    The flextight makes 2000dpi scans for 4x5 negatives, that are some 1800dpi effective, at to 300pixels per inch graphic arts standard quality this is 1800x5/300 = 30" = 75cm for the long side.

    This is in theory, some people want more or less "sharpness" at reading distance for a big print... sure a 2m print will also look perfect if seen at (say) 1m distance, but if inspected at reading distance then it won't be perfect.

    The hassie is very good for 35mm film but it gets a less good performer as the format gets larger...

    You may scan with a true drum at 4000dpi, but then you will also require that the negative is very, very sharp to take some advantage from that.

    IMHO it's also very important how the scan is processed, using the right algorithms and settings for the sharpening and the size matching to the printer output is very critical.

  4. #4

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    Re: How Large Can I Print a 4x5 Drum-Scanned Negative Before The Resolution Degrades?

    Why don't you make some test prints and see for yourself? Choose an area of your photograph where you would expect to be able to tell the difference between prints of your desired size made using various input file resolutions, and then make comparison prints of those small areas. Put them up on your wall and look at them for a few days under different lighting conditions and at different distances. Can you actually tell the difference between the various resolutions? Can other people? And do the differences actually matter? Only you can judge. For what it's worth, I would say that if you can only tell the difference between the highest and lowest resolution prints with a loupe, then you're fine with the lowest resolution.

    FYI, the billboards you're seeing as you drive down the highway probably have a resolution of 15 ppi. They look fine from the highway, right? Apparently it's possible to make really large prints from small files if the print is matched to the purpose and the viewing distance is accounted for....

  5. #5
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: How Large Can I Print a 4x5 Drum-Scanned Negative Before The Resolution Degrades?

    Now digital billboards are getting routine. Their "pixels" are about six inches square apiece. But with a "normal viewing distance" the length of a football field, going past at 70mph, nobody cares. But when it comes to situations where we do care, it's a different story.
    And unfortunately, no 4x5 shot enlarged to eight feet is going to look anywhere even vaguely sharp up close, no matter how it is printed. That's almost a 20X enlargement! So it's all is based on how you intend it to be displayed, and what you're personal expectations of image quality are at a given distance. Make smaller test samples first and pin them up.

  6. #6
    Jim Jones's Avatar
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    Re: How Large Can I Print a 4x5 Drum-Scanned Negative Before The Resolution Degrades?

    The New York Grand Station Colorama transparencies were enlarged to 60 feet wide from originals sometimes less than 4x5. Since they couldn't be viewed close up, they were impressive.

  7. #7
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
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    Re: How Large Can I Print a 4x5 Drum-Scanned Negative Before The Resolution Degrades?

    Quote Originally Posted by manfrominternet View Post
    For some of my fine art LF work, I'd like to print my drum-scanned or Hasselblad-Imacon Flextight-scanned 4x5 (100 ISO) negatives/transparencies to 6' x 8' in size.
    Let's start from the opposite end of the question, shall we? Assuming you make a print that big, how will you frame it? How will you transport it? These are not trivial questions. A 6x8 foot print will frame out to be something larger, but it's already bigger than you can fit into a minivan or the bed of a full sized pickup truck. So even assuming you hand it off to a framer to frame, how will you get it home, or to a gallery?

    If conventional framing, how big is the largest size of matte board you can source? How about the biggest piece of glazing? If that glazing is glass, how much will it weigh?

    I'm just sayin', before you start dreaming of prints that big, you have to think about the practicalities of prints that big.

    Quote Originally Posted by manfrominternet View Post
    That said, in your experience or opinion, how large can I print a single drum-scanned or Flextight-scanned 4x5 (100 ISO) negative/transparency before the resolution degrades into horrible/unusable territory?
    Technically, you can print it as big as you wish (or can afford). There's no technical reason you can't. How do you think they get those building sized prints in Times Square NYC? Those damn things cover the side of an entire building, up to five or so stories high. And from across the street (which is the only vantage point available that lets you see the thing, or at least parts of it) they look pretty darn sharp. But they might be printed as low as 3 ppi.

    As to "resolution", it depends on your taste, and where you'll be standing relative to the print. If the question is, how big a print can I make that looks "nose sharp" (it looks sharp with your nose right on the print), you'll get answers ranging from 4x enlargement up to 8-10x or so. Much depends on the film, your exposure and development, your skills with a view camera, how the film is scanned and how good the scanner operator is, etc. For conventional darkroom prints replace the scanning questions with darkroom printing questions -- a good darkroom muralist can do amazing work, but there are limits here too.

    But none of this addresses the *real* problem. And that is, how do you find a photograph that's worth printing this big? This is the "art problem" not the "technical problem" of printing big. If it's not art, printing it big won't make it art (despite what Mr. Wall's agent might think). In fact, printing it big can make it a parody of art. That's a fine line; be careful when you walk it.

    Bruce Watson

  8. #8
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: How Large Can I Print a 4x5 Drum-Scanned Negative Before The Resolution Degrades?

    Jim, I once talked at length with the lab owner/director who once did a lot of that Colorama in dye transfer. A number of them were 35mm originals. So really, a postage stamp could hypothetically be enlarged to the size of an airplane hanger if done wallpaper-style in sections. There is all kinds of faux Baroque marble and gold leafing on walls & ceilings in Las Vegas done in carefully spliced sections - basically just fancy photomechanical wallpaper, done distinctly better than billboards. ... But Bruce, "nose sharp" at 8X ? - It's take darn good technique. Yeah, I've done quite a few 30x40 prints optically enlarged from 4x5; but I like the results a lot better from 8x10 film going that size. And this is about technique. Everyone seems to want to make big prints these day - way too big if they expect anything but mush viewed up close. Digitally stitched exposures might overcome that, but tend to look fake to me. Not my cup of tea, but it's a fad right now too. But "art" - what the heck does that mean? When a term potentially means anything, it means nothing. Everyone in this town with green hair and a nose ring claims to be an artist. It is tricky to mount, frame, and ship especially big prints. That is best done by an appropriately equipped expert. I've seen em charge as much as $40,000 just to frame a single big image. But big prints can be done big with clear laminate overcoating much cheaper and hung canvas style, like sofa decor. Doing backlit transparent material or shiny Ciba or Fujiflex medium, ya gotta know yer stuff. ... I might be a bit cynical, but I'll bet those Jeff Wall prints would look awfully fuzzy to me up close if they're really that big, because I know what's involved in making precise color prints.

  9. #9
    Tin Can's Avatar
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    Re: How Large Can I Print a 4x5 Drum-Scanned Negative Before The Resolution Degrades?

    Also depends on subject.

    I am inkjet printing a 3X4 ft image in a 4X5 ft found wood frame made with a Nikon P&S of the closest interesting thing from right outside my door. Up-sized in PS.

    The scene is a crumbling concrete bridge completely covered with graffiti art. Now sandblasted away or I would re-shoot. I also moved out because the yuppies were coming.

    Very colorful and almost nothing needs to be sharp. The signs looks fine.

    I made a test print at 30X40" unmounted. Been looking at it for a year.

    The final will be matt finish on Sintra with gloss over.

    I will use https://www.megaprint.com/prices-sizes-prints.php They will ship a mounted 3X4 ft print. 5X10 ft in a tube. Made in USA.

    The Witch
    1-The-Witch-30x42 by TIN CAN COLLEGE, on Flickr

    Gone

    1-What Witch by TIN CAN COLLEGE, on Flickr
    Vive la révolution!

  10. #10
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: How Large Can I Print a 4x5 Drum-Scanned Negative Before The Resolution Degrades?

    Color can often be used in lieu of detail, but I prefer both. Working on such a thing right now. But how you did pull that shot off without getting mugged, Randy? Some people call it "street art". I call it vandalism. But gang members call it competition for tagging surface, and sometimes shoot the people doing it.

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