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Thread: Proof to Print: the contrast difference

  1. #1

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    Proof to Print: the contrast difference

    As I was checking my film development time with a new thermometer over the weekend, it occurred to me that, although the phenomenon is widely recognized by experienced B&W darkroom workers, the loss of contrast from contact print (proof) to enlargement is rarely mentioned in books and tutorials discussing the process, including the Zone System. I don't recall offhand whether Adams mentions it, though he speaks of camera and lens flare/internal reflection diminishing contrast. I don't remember hearing it from Picker's printing video. Many photographers prefer to make a distinctly softer contact, to reveal full detail, and then tend to increase contrast in the enlargement. I find now that the difference tends to be a 1/2 grade, so that a 1 1/2 proof is close to 2 in enlargement.

    The issue presented itself to me a few years ago as I was returning to the darkroom after many years' absence, testing for a different developer, a new meter -- in short, plenty of variables. I was at first shocked that, after carefully controlling for a "perfect" Zone I - VIII in the 4x5 contact (for the densitometrists reading this, I don't densitometrize), my initial enlargements were showing I - VI 1/2 or VII. A year of studious weekend work later, matters were much more under control, and the contrast difference no longer appeared so extreme. It may largely have been due to my previous concentration in photojournalistic photography, mostly 35mm, in which I learned to coax a print from just about any negative and, although I certainly tested quite a bit, after such a long hiatus and shifting formats, I was both more aware of the difference and surprised at how much relearning I had to do! I don't think I used to proof at 1 1/2, but I did prefer a gentler, more "supple" negative, since extra-long contrast ranges were par for the course.

    Just a thought.
    Philip U.

    Sine scientia ars nihil est.
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/156933346@N07/

  2. #2
    Vaughn's Avatar
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    Re: Proof to Print: the contrast difference

    Depends on the light source for the enlarger, also -- differences in development are given in the film companies' instructions for use (enlarging) in condenser and diffusion enlargers.
    "Landscapes exist in the material world yet soar in the realms of the spirit..." Tsung Ping, 5th Century China

  3. #3
    ic-racer's Avatar
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    Re: Proof to Print: the contrast difference

    You can projection print a step wedge and contact print the same wedge. The difference between the two will show how much flare you have in your projection printing system.

  4. #4
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Proof to Print: the contrast difference

    I never proof, but strategize full exposures with simple test strips the same day. Saves a lot of time and error. If I make contact prints instead of enlargement, it's for their own sake, and I optimize them accordingly. Other than the f/stop setting and the time, or other specific enlarger controls, I ignore all the Zone and Grade talk; it's just a distraction totally superfluous to making good prints.

  5. #5

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    Re: Proof to Print: the contrast difference

    When I became concerned about the loss of sharpness and contrast between contacts and enlargements, I began going to larger cameras so I could contact all final images. My 4x5's have mostly gathered dust for about 20 years. Needless to say the enlargers are suffering the same fate.

  6. #6

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    Re: Proof to Print: the contrast difference

    Quote Originally Posted by Ulophot View Post
    the loss of contrast from contact print (proof) to enlargement is rarely mentioned in books and tutorials discussing the process, including the Zone System.

    It is often mentioned, a contact print has the same contrast than a condenser enlargement, if no excessive flare. A diffuser enlarger has lower contrast, and negatives for it may be developed longer for a higher C.I.

    Even it is mentioned in the TMX datasheet (Page 2, Processing section): "To print negatives with a condenser enlarger, you may need to adjust the contrast by reducing your development time; see “Adjusting Film Contrast.”

    https://imaging.kodakalaris.com/site...6_TMax_100.pdf

  7. #7
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Proof to Print: the contrast difference

    Not logical. Condenser enlargement still potentially has bellows flare, reflection issues off glass, lossiness due to the lens, etc. This is particularly the case since most condenser enlargers are rather old. Contact prints have none of these issues.

  8. #8
    Vaughn's Avatar
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    Re: Proof to Print: the contrast difference

    "Proof prints", as I consider them, are meant to be low contrast. As you mentioned, this allows the photographer to see what detail the negative has in the shadows and highlights. Proofs show what is possible with the negative, not what the final print will look like. I use to make them, but I find it easier now to read the negative directly...an advantage with large negatives!
    "Landscapes exist in the material world yet soar in the realms of the spirit..." Tsung Ping, 5th Century China

  9. #9
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Proof to Print: the contrast difference

    I do that even with 35mm negs, Vaughn. Reading color negs is a bit of a headache, however, regardless of size, due to that orange mask. I look at them through a med blue filter, which helps distinguish certain otherwise indistinguishable hues, but these are, of course, inverted color-wise and counter-intuitive. When testing any new color neg film, I might shoot it in 120 and order up a med quality scan which allows me direct viewing; but in the darkroom one always needs to fiddle around awhile to get ideal results. I did bag a hole in one yesterday. I can usually determine in just a few minutes via test strips where to go with b&w negs, even using multiple paper choices, different paper developers, and even several different enlargers. But on any given day, it's interesting how the neg you thought would be easy turns out to be hell to print the way you want it, and the neg you almost threw out turns out magnificently right away. Hope that's not the case with the pancake mix I put in my food kit for the next backpacking trip. I just cooked up the leftover powder for breakfast here this morning, and it seems a bit heavy on the baking soda - a boxed premix, and not my fault, but in the high country you can't redo it!

  10. #10

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    Re: Proof to Print: the contrast difference

    Quote Originally Posted by Drew Wiley View Post
    Not logical. Condenser enlargement still potentially has bellows flare, reflection issues off glass, lossiness due to the lens, etc. This is particularly the case since most condenser enlargers are rather old. Contact prints have none of these issues.
    Condenser type is less prone to flare from the bellows, as condensers concentrates most of the light in the lens glass, while a good diffuser type requires a better design to have low flare from bellows. Both types may have some flare from the lens, and from the wall. Paper reflects most of the lights it receives, say 90%, if the wall is white then some light can be reflected back.

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