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Thread: Which labs still make traditional optical enlargements from 4x5 color negatives?

  1. #11

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    Re: Which labs still make traditional optical enlargements from 4x5 color negatives?

    Quote Originally Posted by Oren Grad View Post
    So which ones are they? I took a few minutes on the web to track down my own short list of high-end color labs that I'd either done business with in the past or was otherwise familiar with, and they've all either switched to digital files, abandoned printing or gone out of business.
    There is one in Madrid, optic RA-4 on demand: http://www.lab35.es/ Manually printed RA-4 , 50x60cm for 50€. Also developing (C-41) a 8x10" sheet for 6.5€, they do LF...

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    Today a manually printed RA-4 is a sign of distinction

    It sports authenticity and a unique natural "glow" that's difficult to describe in technical wording, but it rocks.

  2. #12
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Which labs still make traditional optical enlargements from 4x5 color negatives?

    I'd be making phone calls. Numerous websites have not been sufficiently updated. I'd get ahold of a sales representative for Fuji paper in Asia or North America, who deals with directly with major labs. As of last year, you could get just about anything optically enlarged here in the Bay Area. But a year is a long time in this white hot real estate market, where commercial spaces are getting demolished right and left to make way for expensive condos, etc, unless one is willing to relocate to an unsafe neighborhood surrounded by nightly gunfire. The bigger problem is trying to communicate about visual nuances with some lab at a considerable distance, and the added expense of shipping a completed print even in a tube, which would still have to be mounted locally - an even greater expense than the printing itself. The high gloss surface of Fujiflex is nearly as fussy to mount as the Cibachrome surface it resembles. This would be the case no matter how it was printed. Big laser printers like Lightjet are a major investment. A big enlarger makes a lot more sense for moderate volume. You still need the same RA4 capacity. I just use big drums, even though I was offered a pristine 50 inch wide Kreonite processor for free. I don't want all the hazmat issues of high volume, and I don't print for other people. No matter what, it takes some time and skill to do viable color prints, or even to intelligently communicate your specific needs to a contracted printer. There's just no way around that. I think Bob Carnie of this forum is still relocating his own equipment. He might still offer optical; but frankly, his Lightjet prints come very close to optical in quality because he understands the look of both. And this category of look should be entirely distinguished from inkjet. Unless one is willing to pay a very high price, commercial printers face certain daily obstacles like less than ideal negatives, which need to somehow be affordably corrected before actual printing. And unless one is doing their own printing routinely, it's difficult to get constant feedback about your own exposure and color vision skills. Once something gets scanned, it automatically gets reinterpreted in some manner. Then corrections come into play. So communication skills are just as important as technical control when it comes to a contracted printer. I just find it soooo much easier to print color for myself; but there is no simply getting around a substantial learning curve if you want high quality prints. The ABC's of color neg printing are fairly easy.

  3. #13
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    Re: Which labs still make traditional optical enlargements from 4x5 color negatives?

    Quote Originally Posted by Drew Wiley View Post
    As of last year, you could get just about anything optically enlarged here in the Bay Area.
    At which lab(s)?

  4. #14
    bob carnie's Avatar
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    Re: Which labs still make traditional optical enlargements from 4x5 color negatives?

    I am not aware of any labs that work with fine art photographers that optically print RA4 .. I could make a optical print using my enlarger and a Jobo but I have long ago decided keeping a Colenta processer in tune with RA4 chemicals just not worth it. I feel inkjet prints are much better in so many ways.
    There would need to be the client base that requires this type of production method to make it worth while . The day Ed Burtynski stops doing C prints will be the day the writing is on the wall for RA4 production in Toronto.
    I have a Lambda and had a full RA 4 system not 5 years ago, the marketplace for me at least said get rid of the processing machine.

  5. #15
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Which labs still make traditional optical enlargements from 4x5 color negatives?

    Here the market had nothing to do with it, Bob. RA4 is more economical, and has an entirely different look anyway. The problem was threefold : 1) more stringent hazmat rules which made high volume chemistry more expensive maintenance-wise with respect to zoning permits; 2) the dramatically rising expense of commercial space leases in major urban areas, intended to deliberately push such businesses over a cliff for sake of redevelopment purposes; and 3) the fact that there are less and less potential employees who understand traditional printing, in contrast to the vast mob around here with digital imaging skills. But there are still quite a few private venues - either workshop arrangements or individuals, who still do optical printing. I don't know about the current situation with Bay Area or LA full service labs, since I haven't used any such printing services in many years. I've long been fully equipped to do it myself. But since the RA4 chemistry and its paper selection is the same as laser printing needs, there are really no logistical issues involved when optically printing. Inkjet is another animal entirely, and hardly an ideal substitute for the more seamless look some of us want.

  6. #16
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Which labs still make traditional optical enlargements from 4x5 color negatives?

    Oren, there were several big labs with multiple options not long ago. One was forced to relocate both their Berkeley and SF operations to a smaller space just about a year ago; and all I know is that they changed their name (formerly Light Waves) and had to forfeit one of their big dip n dunk machines, so there went our local 8x10 C41 option, and that now has to be done in SoCal. I didn't inquire about any remaining enlarger capacity. The biggest lab of all was owned by a friend now in his late 70's, who offered me the whole nine yards if I'd lease a big storage space and all off haul it all off. I only took one big Durst enlarger. I have no interest in starting up a commercial lab, even with a couple million dollars worth of free gear, especially at my age. That's just toy money to him. He outright owns major swaths of commercial real estate in several cities around here, and is still active in development and construction. One of his massive studios is still intact, but due to his age, he's reduced the operation just to food photography, and no more lab services to the public. Since I didn't want it, nearly all the lab equip per se went to the dump - nearly thirty LF enlargers, plus all kinds of commercial processing gear. He had once owned a six-story highrise studio/lab in downtown SF (Ziba - most of his clients were big overseas corporations, so the local photographic community never knew the sheer scale of it), plus an entire block of downtown Berkeley, with the entire below street level devoted to lab use, and then another two-level 9000 sq ft bldg down the street. He still owns it all, plus more and more each month it seems - one of those people who will keep working insanely until he drops, just for the adrenaline rush, I guess. He sure as heck doesn't need more money. But due to our long-term business relation, I was the only one he'd offer that gear to. He just didn't have the time to parcel it out randomly - a master of several trades, and expert at them all, with his key helpers just as versatile. He made an outright science out of work efficiency. Ran into him again a couple weeks ago, still driving a beat up old van, just like a couple other near-billionaires I have known, keeping a low profile.

  7. #17
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    Re: Which labs still make traditional optical enlargements from 4x5 color negatives?

    Quote Originally Posted by Drew Wiley View Post
    Oren, there were several big labs with multiple options not long ago.
    What were the names of these labs?

  8. #18

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    Re: Which labs still make traditional optical enlargements from 4x5 color negatives?

    Quote Originally Posted by bob carnie View Post
    I feel inkjet prints are much better in so many ways.
    Sure that there are images that are better in an inkjet, no doubt, but also many images may have an advantage in a C print.

    I guess that YMMV, but I've recently seen a fashion work made with optic RA-4 from Portra 160 shot in a RZ 67... and my view is that inkjets are not capable of that, by a great extent, in the inkjets I've never seen those nuances in skin tones and textures, even the clothes had a superb depiction, I was perfectly feeling what touch the fabric would have, smooth cotton or plastic...

    Also this is Spencer Tunick (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spencer_Tunick) inspecting side by side an inkjet, a Lambda C print and LaserLab C Print, from digital capture I guess...


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    https://pdnpulse.pdnonline.com/2015/...-c-prints.html


    LAB35 (http://www.lab35.es/) do all, inkjets and optic RA-4, what shines is the optic RA-4, anyway this requires a good negative from a good photographer that knows how to illuminate. If this is not the case (IMHO) best is being intrusive with Ps and inking a paper .


    Of course market is what rules... but I suspect that Adox is starting to sell RA-4 in sheets again because we have some (still very small, really) optic comeback.

  9. #19
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Which labs still make traditional optical enlargements from 4x5 color negatives?

    Oren, I just revised my post. There were five huge full-service labs in the immediate neighborhood two decades ago (Custom Process, Newell, Ziba, and two I can't remember). That shrunk down to three, then to two until quite recently. People retire. Getting into digital printing too early was the doom of Custom Process, another friend of mind. Now there are numerous local options for film dev up to 4x5, digital printing, and even traditional b&w dev and printing, but color printing has been reduced to inket and laser printing incl Lambda and Lightjet locally. All of that is still within walking distance of my former workplace. It really seems to have little to do with optical vs digital demand. Traditional businesses of all varieties are being forced out - bookstores, shoe repair shops, long-term restaurants, woodshops, picture frame suppliers; techie gentrification is running amuk. Quaint business neighborhoods are now turning into tall dark walled canyons of high priced condos with hyper-expensive ground floor retail space leases. Heavy industry still has a firm foothold around the ports; but there's nothing safe or clean about the effluent that comes from the pharmaceutical and electronics manufacturers either. This tendency has forced businesses to rethink their space demands. I helped cabinet shops and so forth scale down by going to Euro Shop alternative equipment, allowing them to work cleaner and safer in about a fifth the floor space. Photo labs have shrunk down from full-service operations to different specialty tasks apiece, and are surviving quite well in that manner. Big studios are now small ones. Restaurants either sink or swim - and there is an abundance of both kinds.

  10. #20
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    Re: Which labs still make traditional optical enlargements from 4x5 color negatives?

    Thanks, Drew.

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