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Thread: RA-4/color darkroom printing in 2021

  1. #1

    RA-4/color darkroom printing in 2021

    I'm going to try to ask this question without sounding like I'm trying to start an argument. Its something I've been curious about for a while but I couldn't find an answer to without making a post.

    Are there any technical or aesthetic reasons to choose color darkroom printing in 2021 over a digital or hybrid workflow?

    Obviously many of the reasons why someone would wet print color are going to be the same as why I wet print black and white:
    -They like the process, are a purist, or never wanted to move away from process to begin with.
    -Better sharpness than a film scan could produce (short of a drum scan)
    -The novelty of an analog workflow in a now digital world

    From the sounds of it, cibachrome/ilfochrome prints were something to behold. I imagine that direct positive images made from slide film can look quiet special given that slide film, in my option, is pretty special looking as is. Unfortunately that stuff has been long gone since before I got into photography. Do modern RA-4 prints retain any of those qualities or is there something else special about them? My only experience with RA-4 prints is a lightjet print on Fuji Crystal Archive paper from a lab, but the colors came out wrong on that print and the results were overall pretty lack luster so that may be a poor reference point.

    For some context, I really like the results I get with my black and white darkroom. A good print has some "sparkle" that I can't objectively put into words. I have made pigment inkjet prints at home for a while on fine art paper, but they haven't really stood up to the results of some of my better wet prints. Though I am sure a proper lab could make something better than I could digitally. Side note: Canson makes some awesome matt cotton rag paper if you are into that look.

  2. #2
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: RA-4/color darkroom printing in 2021

    Hell yes. It's direct, for one thing. No intermediate scanning or software whatevers. Probably overall faster and less expensive, that is, once you get through the basic learning curve and are properly equipped. And once that is optimized (if one is patient enough to go that far), you can attain more nuanced and finer detailed prints than possible digitally, especially from large format originals. If you like tactility rather than sitting on your sore butt longer than needed (like I'm doing now, posting this), darkroom workflow has its appeal. But there's also chemicals to deal with, so you have to also learn how to safely handle the fumes and so forth.

    One can not only replicate the Ciba look, but improve upon it. The secret is Fujiflex Supergloss medium. And you enlarge directly from color negatives onto that, and develop conventionally, RA4. But that's distinctly down the line somewhat in terms of the learning curve and degree of investment. Start with something less expensive like cut sheet Fuji CAii glossy RC paper. It takes time to fine tune the proper skills. But the theory and basic process itself is simple. Over time you can ask more specific questions. But overall, if you're willing to commit to color darkroom workflow, there simply ain't no cookin' as good as home cookin'.

  3. #3

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    Re: RA-4/color darkroom printing in 2021

    I would say no. The remaining reason to do darkroom work, in my opinion, is really just that you enjoy it more than working digitally.

    Quote Originally Posted by cirwin2010 View Post
    I'm going to try to ask this question without sounding like I'm trying to start an argument. Its something I've been curious about for a while but I couldn't find an answer to without making a post.

    Are there any technical or aesthetic reasons to choose color darkroom printing in 2021 over a digital or hybrid workflow?

    Obviously many of the reasons why someone would wet print color are going to be the same as why I wet print black and white:
    -They like the process, are a purist, or never wanted to move away from process to begin with.
    -Better sharpness than a film scan could produce (short of a drum scan)
    -The novelty of an analog workflow in a now digital world

    From the sounds of it, cibachrome/ilfochrome prints were something to behold. I imagine that direct positive images made from slide film can look quiet special given that slide film, in my option, is pretty special looking as is. Unfortunately that stuff has been long gone since before I got into photography. Do modern RA-4 prints retain any of those qualities or is there something else special about them? My only experience with RA-4 prints is a lightjet print on Fuji Crystal Archive paper from a lab, but the colors came out wrong on that print and the results were overall pretty lack luster so that may be a poor reference point.

    For some context, I really like the results I get with my black and white darkroom. A good print has some "sparkle" that I can't objectively put into words. I have made pigment inkjet prints at home for a while on fine art paper, but they haven't really stood up to the results of some of my better wet prints. Though I am sure a proper lab could make something better than I could digitally. Side note: Canson makes some awesome matt cotton rag paper if you are into that look.

  4. #4
    Corran's Avatar
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    Re: RA-4/color darkroom printing in 2021

    Darkroom printing (be it b&w or color) is a handmade, directly involved process, and digital prints of any sort are simply not.

    Also I never want to have to deal with an inkjet printer again and any non-inkjet process is not generally available to the home user. Whilst I still make (order) digital prints for some applications I don't particularly care for it.
    Bryan | Blog | YouTube | Instagram | Portfolio
    All comments and thoughtful critique welcome

  5. #5
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    Re: RA-4/color darkroom printing in 2021

    Quote Originally Posted by cirwin2010 View Post
    Are there any technical or aesthetic reasons to choose color darkroom printing in 2021 over a digital or hybrid workflow?
    Just as with B&W: the prints have a distinctive look and feel compared to inkjet or to commercial laser printing to silver halide paper. Either you care about the difference or you don't. That's up to you.

  6. #6
    Ironage's Avatar
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    Re: RA-4/color darkroom printing in 2021

    Thanks for asking!

    The digital images being made today are amazingly perfect. The are ideal, but not more real. I prefer straight shooting.

    Iíve been dabbling in color since the early 80ís and have old work to print since I finally have a decent darkroom to print color. I gave color scanning and digital cameras a try for several years. Digital was frustrating and makes me literally angry. Every time you get something to work right, they update the system and you have to work the bugs again! Not having a deep pocket, the gear I could afford didnít give results that came close to wet prints I can make myself using classic tools.

    As a hobbiest, the enjoyment factor is primary.

    I was recently at an historical event using a simple classic Nikonos III to shoot while a professional came and stood in front of me right in my anticipated image with two heavy digital cameras with huge lenses. I felt sorry for the poor beast of burden, I know I had fun, and I heard the angry spectators whose view was blocked. The people around me found my gear interesting and I had positive personal interactions with lose around me.

    Simple, donít get angry and donít anger others, shoot film. Especially if its a hobby.
    ...Dilettante! Who you calling a Dilettante?

  7. #7
    bob carnie's Avatar
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    Re: RA-4/color darkroom printing in 2021

    Reflecting on this question I have to say that if I decided to go back to RA4 printing I would get the equipment I used in college - Chromega enlarger with good lens and a K16 processor. Simplicity , hands on , totally reliable. I have spent my whole career printing for others since I graduated from photo school in 1976 and I have grown up with colour C prints.

    I must admit I will never allow another automatic roller transport into my life, as Drew points out it is another learning curve and C type process requires paper to run through it to keep the balance proper. Not the case with a K16 machine which is one shot, much like a Jobo.

    I do like the look of C print , it has a tonal value that is distinctive but I must say now that I have printed on a modern Canon pigment printer I would not favour any one print over the other. When I hear people dissing inkjet prints I am sure that they have never seen good quality inkjet prints.

    I do not like the FACT that C prints are dyes and will fade , for some the immediate reality of the print is satisfaction enough, as a professional printer I want to know my prints last therefore I moved to BW fibre and now tri colour gum over palladium.


    So in my view OP should consider this as I can say with knowledge that printing colour negatives on an enlarger using a wet process is IMO one of most satisfactory experiences I have ever had in my life and would encourage anyone to give it a go.
    But I must admit I get the same satisfaction today printing the way I do , got to go downstairs right now I have layers of cyan to put on my prints.

  8. #8
    Ironage's Avatar
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    Re: RA-4/color darkroom printing in 2021

    Bob, you are to be admired for using such a handcrafted archival process. Maybe someday when I get my color correction down on c prints I will venture into this.
    ...Dilettante! Who you calling a Dilettante?

  9. #9
    bob carnie's Avatar
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    Re: RA-4/color darkroom printing in 2021

    Quote Originally Posted by Ironage View Post
    Bob, you are to be admired for using such a handcrafted archival process. Maybe someday when I get my color correction down on c prints I will venture into this.
    It is well worth heading down the wormhole.

  10. #10
    http://www.spiritsofsilver.com tgtaylor's Avatar
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    Re: RA-4/color darkroom printing in 2021

    Once you get the knack for it RA4 printing is routine: The first step is to obtain the correct density - which is the key to the success or failure of the image – and the second is color correction. I use a Jobo which means that I wash drums between prints. I have 2 8x10 test drums for that purpose with one drum drying while I'm exposing for the 2d. Once you have the correct print density then you color correct. To do this correctly you need a print viewing station and print viewing kit:

    https://shop.leefiltersusa.com/Viewi...Density-VK.htm
    https://www.gtilite.com/products/des...color-viewers/

    The viewing stations are still made although they went-up considerably in price since I bought mine. I don't think the viewing kits are made anymore so you'll have to purchase used usually at a premium of what they were new. Here's an example of what's possible with a 4x5 C-41 negative and an 11x14 RA4 print:


    It doesn't look quite like that in person. The white dome is dirty and the colors of the stone have faded somewhat with time. However the correct filter pack cleaned-up the dome and brought back the colors.

    Thomas

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