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

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  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 Joshua Dunn View Post
    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
    Joshua,

    Thanks for your input! I checked out your website, and I have to say, your work is fantastic. Your interior shots remind me of Candida Höfer's work.

    Did you use a medium format back for some of your work?

    Anyway, yeah, you're right about the printer limitation. I probably won't go higher than 60", at least at first, but I'm sure I'll go more than 60" horizontally. I have a medium format 6x17 back that I was thinking of using for landscape photography and blowing it up as well, 60" vertically and more than 120" horizontally. Do you think I could get results if I use, say, Fuji Velvia 50 with a medium format 6x17 back?

    Thanks again!

  4. #4

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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
    Do you think I could get results if I use, say, Fuji Velvia 50 with a medium format 6x17 back?
    Potentially yes - it's not difficult to take a 6300ppi scan of 120 on a Flextight (which works out to be somewhere over 6000ppi, allowing for small variances in mechanical precision) - you need to scan the film with the 24x36x6 holder, stepping it over with a decent overlap for three scans, then stitch it with your preferred software. Works rather well, & puts you at around 46-47" at 300ppi on the short side. The results can be rather mind-blowing if your camera has a really good lens & the film was flat enough. That said, the 6gb file you're going to have from 6x17 at that resolution is not going to be fun to deal with on anything other than a decently high powered machine.

    I'd also preferentially use negative film for sharper results unless the colour palette of Velvia is essential.

    Other couple of things: disregard the claims being made about the supposed resolution of the Flextight - it delivers 2040 at the 4x5 settings with excellent MTF performance (the bit that really matters) - the claims otherwise are based on a fundamental/ wilful lack of understanding (and lack of knowledge/ experience) about how it operates.
    With regard to drum scanners it's a question of how much resolution of 'granularity' you want - anything over 2540-3000ppi is realistically going beyond the abilities of the lens/ camera/ 4x5 film flatness to hold everything in adequately precise relationships, let alone your tripod & subject's abilities to hold still! My own experience tends towards aiming for a low 2000's resolution & using sensible upscaling (preserve details 2.0 is pretty amazingly good at this) if needed to ensure that print resolution doesn't drop too far below 225-250ppi which is where I find resolution degradation becomes really objectionable at moderately close distance.

  5. #5

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

    Thank you for the comparison to Höfer, that's a huge compliment.

    For most of the work on my website I used a multiple row, high dynamic range focused stacked process shot on a full frame DSLR with a 50mm prime. I have (and will in the future) used medium format backs. But bouncing between film and digital is bad enough and the medium format camera i want is $50K so it's pretty much out of reach right now.

    As far as going from a 6x17 format to a 60x170, yes it is possible but there a lot of technical considerations. Obviously it needs to be a technically near perfect shot, and then I would recommend drum scanning it. That will offset ay problems with film flatness or newton rings. With the right drum scanner (some have lower resolution than you might think) you will be able to get any size you need. Not every image looks good printed that large so conceptually it needs to make sense to the viewer. Don't just print large because you can. You are also talking about a 14’ print, which has its own considerations including framing and finding a wall it will fit on. Most galleries don't have a single wall space that large. Many people buy "smaller" versions of my work not because they can't afford the larger print, it's because they don't have anywhere they can put it and those are prints 8' in length.

    Hope this helps!

    -Joshua
    Last edited by Joshua Dunn; 16-Jun-2019 at 12:45. Reason: Wrote “ instead of ‘

  6. #6

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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.

  7. #7

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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....

  8. #8
    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.

  9. #9
    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.

  10. #10
    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

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