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Thread: Printing first 16x20 sharpness question

  1. #1

    Printing first 16x20 sharpness question

    Good day and thanks for any responses.... I just had my first 16x20 printed (by Photobition in Seattle) from one of my first transparencies in 4x5. I was a bi t less than satisfied with the overall sharpness (when examining up close). I w as expecting more from all I've read about 4x5 when I launched myself into it. I have a question on what actually to expect on a print, sorry for any naiviete.

    I am using an Arca Swiss field with a Schneider 110XL, fuji velvia quickload. I have educated myself with lots of good info on this site and books and am rathe r meticulous with my process. I followed appropriate procedures including using the OPTIMUM fstop for the focus spread indicated. I examined the transparency (photo of lots of trees and a nice river in motion) on a light table with my 4x Rodenstock loupe. Looked very sharp on the table. But on receipt of the print, it seems soft when looking at it up close. Of course standing at 2 feet and be yond, the image appears sharp on print.

    QUESTION: Should a 16x20 enlargement from a sharp transparency appear not so sh arp when looking very close, but only appear sharp at 2 feet or more and beyond? Perhaps the lab didn't print as well as I would have liked, or perhaps my tran sparency was not as sharp as I thought. I've seen enlargements that appeared sh arped than my image up close. And I'm wondering what might be the case.

    Either way, I truely believe I did the best I could in technique to get the shar pest image on transparency. Any pointers would be greatly appreciated as I plan to make images much larger than 16x20 in the future, 16x20 is my minimum size e xpectations, and I'm less than satisfied thus far.


  2. #2

    Printing first 16x20 sharpness question

    Cedric: It is quite possible that the lab either didn't focus the enlarger criticlly or that the neg "popped" from enlarger heat. I would consult with the lab. You may lose a tiny bit of sharpness due to the enlarging process, but it shouldn't be much. The enlarging paper may not be as sharp as a slide. Without knowing your criteria for sharpness, it is difficult to tell if the print needs to be re- made. If it looks sharp from two feet away, it may be within the limits of the process.


  3. #3

    Printing first 16x20 sharpness question

    cedric a few questions-what type of print was made,i believe photobition no longer makes cibachrome prints so i suspect it was a type r or from an i neg. there are many reasons why it might not be as sharp as you want and the lab could easily be to blame. if you email me we can discuss it further as i am in your area and have had lots of experience with the labs. also, if you want the eventual work to be a print why not shoot color negative material as it will produce a more pleasing result?

  4. #4

    Printing first 16x20 sharpness question

    Cedric, many labs transfer positive material to negative and then print from the negative, I think you have been victim of this...I hate it since I also was in the same situation. Any ways, your print if made from the slide should be as sharp as the slide, I have many 16x20 B&W prints made from negative and there is no noticiable diiference in sharpness.

  5. #5

    Printing first 16x20 sharpness question

    I've had a lot of work printed at Photobition, and they have always been willing to look at and redo any work that I wasn't satisfied with. You should probably just take it back and talk to them about it. I've had them print 16x20 from a 6x7 slide that is sharp right up to the point where your nose touches the print.

    While you're at it, I'd walk next door to Glazers and "test" a 8x or 10x loupe. For big enlargements, I think that you need to examine the original much more than you would for a smaller print simply because you're magnifying so much more (although a 16x20 from 4x5 is the same enlargment as a 4x6 from 35mm).

    I'd like to know how things work out too, since Photobition does all my printing.

  6. #6

    Printing first 16x20 sharpness question

    Thanks already for quick responses.

    Robert: It was printed on an "r" print (not interneg). And yes, my ultimate goal in 4x5 is print making, however, I still like the option of media use in the future which is why I chose trasparencies. Do negs., in your opinion, truly make better prints? I didn't notice much difference in my 35mm photography. Thanks.

    Nathanial: Sounds like you are happy with Photobition, thats good to know. I presumed they were top notch, which is why I was kind of doubting my expectations first. I did have thoughts about using a more powerful loupe, but as you said, my enlargement was only 4x, which is what my current loupe is, should have been sufficient I believe.

    I think taking the print in to the lab with my questions would probably be a good idea. Since I live in Bellingham (1.5hr drive), its kind of difficult to go back and forth, I do all this by mail.

    Thanks for any further comments.....

  7. #7

    Printing first 16x20 sharpness question

    I've really appreciated their printing in the past... I've had very few complaints. Of course, it didn't hurt that I only lived a short walk away and could walk over just to chat every once in a while.

    I have to admit though that the largest 4x5 print that I've had them make was only an 11x14 (type r print from astia). It was "nose sharp" though... you could stick your nose up to it and almost see desks inside the far away office buildings.

    I'm still leaning towards the idea that you need to check the transparency under more magnification. When you get up close to a 16x20 print, you're "not really" looking at a 16x20 print anymore. Instead, you're looking at detail that wouldn't become visible at normal viewing distance until you got to a much larger print. (I'm not sure if this idea really makes sense, people can correct me if I'm wrong.)

    Maybe you should just drive down on Saturday. Remember, they close at 1 on Saturdays though.

  8. #8
    Founder QT Luong's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 1997
    San Jose, CA

    Printing first 16x20 sharpness question

    Since 16x20 is 4x from 4x5, if your transparency looks very sharp under the loupe, the print should be about as sharp.

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Mar 2001

    Printing first 16x20 sharpness question

    hey guys. chris jordan from seattle checking in with a quick comment. whoever said that a 16x20 print should be "as sharp as the transparency" is a bit overly optimistic. the process of optical printing (i.e., putting the transparency in a non-flat carrier, projecting that through an aperture and at least six layers of glass and all of the accompanying dust, onto non-flat paper which reflects light around within its own structure, and none of these components are ever perfectly aligned with each other) inevitably introduces a measure of fuzziness into a print.

    16x20 is also a substantial enlargment from 4x5, and consequently any fuzziness in the original transparency (caused by all the same stuff as above, except it happened inside the camera) will be enlarged by a factor of four. the consequence of all of this is, don't expect "nose-sharp" prints unless you're enlarging only to 8x10 or 11x14 max, or if you're shooting 8x10 originals.

    but, don't worry-- all is not lost. if you look at 20x24" high-quality photographic prints made by people who use 4x5 (John Sexton, for example, and Bruce Barnbaum locally), you will see that they are ALL slightly unsharp when you put your nose against them. Ansel's 20x24" prints are notoriously fuzzy, and many of Edward Weston's are horrendously fuzzy even though he made contact prints, because he shot a lot of his images at f/128 using a special aperture he developed (not knowing about the image degradation caused by such tiny apertures).

    so, what i'm saying is, make the best quality prints you can, of the best images you take, and by the time they get up on a wall at normal viewing distance they'll look beautiful.


  10. #10

    Join Date
    Oct 1998

    Printing first 16x20 sharpness question

    Rest assured, something is wrong in the process whether it's on the film or in the printing. If an interneg was used and the transparency is sharp, (get an 8-10X loupe for this) first suspect is the interneg. Use a direct reversal print like Ilfochrome or Fuji R paper. Yes, there are losses in resolution with conventional enlarging vs. direct scan to digital print, but nothing to the degree you describe. 16X20 is a nice, comfortable, working size for 4X5 format. Anything 11X14 to 20X24 is. I looked again at some 16X20 B&W (tmax & delta 100 on Ilford MG IV) and Color (Ilfochrome). As close as my eyes will focus (11 inches now) nothing less than very sharp. So I put on Edel 3.75 reading glasses, got my nose in for a closer look. Not a trace of grain and nothing less than very sharp out to the corners. This is with the best lenses though,,, I wouldn't say the same with my pinhole work. Take your transparency and print back to your printers and ask them what is wrong.

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