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Thread: Conventional enlarger or scan and process?

  1. #1
    LJ Segil
    Join Date
    Jun 2007
    Highland Park, IL

    Conventional enlarger or scan and process?

    I have an opportunity to pick up a 4x5 enlarger (Omega D5 Chromega, I think, still need to do some homework on that, but color capable anyway) for a very nominal price. My existing workflow is to scan my negs and trannies on a Nikon Coolscan 9000 for 35mm and MF, and an Epson V750 for sheet film. I am pretty comfortable manipulating the scans in Photoshop to get a decent final printed image (inkjet), and have made satisfactory prints up to 17x25" this way. Am I likely to find an improvement in my results using darkroom enlarging rather than scanning, or will I just be trading time at a computer for time in a darkroom? Currently I shoot mostly color, and send all my film out for commercial development (working slowly towards doing my own B&W development, and had been planning on contact printing for 8x10, maybe 5x7 and depending on what the future brings, perhaps 4x10 as well, so I might be moving towards a bit of a darkroom setup regardless of the enlarger decision). Anyway, I guess my basic question is the relative quality I might expect from good old fashioned enlargements and chemical processing vs my current electronic workflow (and keeping in mind that I will be learning darkroom skills from scratch, as opposed to being at least part way up the electronic learning curve). From the little reading I have done, I gather that if I want to try any alt processes down the line that they mostly involve contact printing anyway, true? Would the enlarger open up any other printing options that I cannot achieve electronically or by contact printing? Bottom line, is it worth the cost and trouble to learn the art of using an enlarger, would an increment in quality and available processes justify a substantial investment of time, carpentry, and money? My inclincation is that the benefit does not justify the time, effort, and expense, but I hope to learn more and perhaps otherwise from all of you and your collective experience.
    Thanks ahead of time for your help and guidance,

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Dec 2006

    Re: Conventional enlarger or scan and process?

    It takes a substantial investment and technical know how to build an effective color darkroom. In addition, the color chemicals are quite toxic, so you need to have first-rate ventilation. The question should really be, are you someone whose best work results from involving the brain and hands together or whose best work is achieved through the mental manipulations of the computer? If your mind and hands work together in a way that is greater than the sum of each than you are better off with a darkroom. If you work best indirectly through control of machines, then stick with what you have. It is a matter of temperament, natural predisposition and aesthetics. What matters to you?

  3. #3
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    USA, North Carolina

    Re: Conventional enlarger or scan and process?

    This topic -- inkjet vs. darkroom -- has been discussed to death here. It's quite a religious argument. You'll get zero consensus. Zero.

    What I always advise is using the method(s) with which you, personally, are comfortable. Because if you are comfortable with your tools they become second nature to you. This in turn allows you to focus more on the art. Which is, I think, the point.

    Bruce Watson

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Dec 1997
    Baraboo, Wisconsin

    Re: Conventional enlarger or scan and process?

    I used a darkroom for about 15 years. I started scanning and printing digitally with the idea that I'd make proofs digitally and then make the final prints in my darkroom. That lasted about a week. After that I never saw the inside of the darkroom again except to process film because the darkroom seemed very limiting once I saw what I could do by printing digitally. That was especially true with color, where there isn't much you can do in a darkroom other than getting the exposure and color balance correct, unless you get involved with masking.

    But that was just my experience. If you think a darkroom would be interesting and enjoyable, and if you have the space for it, by all means give it a try. Darkroom gear is going for almost nothing, it's not like the old days when a really nice darkroom could cost many thousands of dollars, so you shouldn't be out much money if you try it and decide it isn't for you.
    Brian Ellis
    Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you do criticize them you'll be
    a mile away and you'll have their shoes.

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