4x5 b&w ; scan, or contact print?

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I've recently really got into black and white LF, after some time of using reversal film only. Prints from slides was easy - go to the lab! However this doesn't seem the best option with b&w, and unfortunately there is no way that I can put a 4x5 enlarger in my apartment, so what are the best options for getting a print from my negatives? Several posters have mentioned that they scan their negatives - am I right in assuming that software packages will then convert the scan into a positive image which can be printed to a reasonably high quality? If so, what options for scanning and printing would people recommend, and what costs generally apply? For example, the Nikon 4x5 scanner I have seen is incredibly expensive - is there a good, not too expensive scanner that will handle 4x5 (and ideally also 6x17), or is it best to pay a lab to do this?

ALternatively, would it be easier to find an old contact printer, and produce traditional wet prints? If so, how would I control contrast in the print, other than using some kind of mask?

-- fw (finneganswake@altavista.net), January 17, 2000


If you are going to make contact prints, go with what some of the best in the business use. Try Michael A. Smith Amidol mixture(view camera magazine article) and Kodak Azo paper. Nice stuff & it gets excellent results. Then, get a flatbed scanner & scan the contact print. Not as elegant & probably not quite as sharp as the Nikon or drum scanners, but thousands of dollars less expensive.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), January 17, 2000.

I'll speak to the traditional wet prints, since I've recently started contact printing 5x7 B&W negatives. I don't know what scanners you've been looking at, but I think only Bill Gates could afford one that could give you the kind of resolution/detail that I've been getting in my prints!!! It's absolutely amazing! At fist glance, you say "yeah, it's sharp, but is it that much sharper than a professional enlargement?" Then you pull out the loupe! I won't even try to describe it with words - the best I could do would be to mail you a print. OH MAN!!! It's kinda crazy, because there is so much detail in the print that your eye would EVER need at normal view distances. I say it's "funny" because you don't need that kinda detail, but it's nice knowing it's there!

Of course, the downside is your prints will be no bigger than 4x5. But a nicely matted 4x5 of a good subject can be damn nice. It would be a shame to get into LF, only to settle for a computer scan. So, if it were me, I'd scan em for wallpaper on my computer desktop, but for exhibition, you gotta go with the contact print.

"If so, how would I control contrast in the print, other than using some kind of mask?" Use multi-contrast paper and filters, with a smaller format enlarger as your light source.

-- sheldon hambrick (sheldon_hambrick@hotmail.com), January 17, 2000.

4x5 contact prints on AZO with a bit of selenium presented on an appropriate sized mount are like little jewels. They encourage a very intimate viewing, and if the detail and quality is there, they are very satisfying. I dont have the chance to get to any galleries where I live in dairy country, but I would love to see a show done this way.

-- Tony Brent (ajbrent@mich.com), January 17, 2000.

I will support your agrument about the expense of a high quality drum scanner. For 4x5, the Imacon is the considered the low end at about $14,000, while the high end can go to $60,000. A mid range drum scanner for 4x5 that will suffice for up to 10x enlargments, will be about $20k new and about half that used. Of course this does not include the PC, about $4-5K and high end monitor so what you see is what you get in the print... $3 - 4K. So a service bureu sure would make sense. Oh yeah, drum scanners do not work as well with negatives as they do with chrome film.. sorry to report if you use neg. film..

My suggestion to you is this, find a two good labs that each are good at their respective process, have them each make you a print, then compare? I know I would certainly be interested in your opinion... For me, contact prints are amazing, yes, but very limited in what you can do... it must be a perfect chrome..or neg... and you can only end up with 4x5. With digital, you can save a ton of images that are 70 - 90% perfect and fix them, then elect to print whatever size you want. Of course correcting these mistakes with a lab is very expensive also, most operators will chage $50 hr to work in Photo shop. Hope this helps...

-- Bill Glickman (bglick@pclv.com), January 17, 2000.

I have been using a UMAX Powerlook III scanner (about $1000 street price) with a transparency adapter connected to a Macintosh G-4 and Epson 3000 printer. The results, after you learn the basics of the scanning software and Adobe Photoshop, are spectacular. Incidentally, the Epson 3000 can produce a 17x22 image, which is large enough for almost any normal application. I am using MIS Quadtone archival inks in the Epson along with archival paper manufactured by various companies.

-- (marklipton@earthlink.net), January 18, 2000.

Actually, Bill, drum scanners do a fine job on black and white negatives. I recently drum scanned a lot of slides and negatives, and was stunned at how well the B&W negatives came out. And it is not that drum scanners do a poor job on color negatives, the problem is color negatives do a poor job of storing information. Dan Sapper from Kodak explained it on another board. Slide films hold more information than color negative films. Color negative films have wider contrast latitude, but they compress this latitude into a smaller space than silde films.

The best bet in FW's case is what Dan suggested. Contact prints. I'd scan the negatives for web use instead of the prints though. Even a $300 scanner can do a good enough job on 4x5 film. But if you're after darkroom quality reproduction you'll need to find a lab with a drum scanner and people who know how to use it for black and white film.

Check out West Coast Imaging. They do this stuff all the time.

-- Darron Spohn (dspohn@photobitstream.com), January 18, 2000.

Boy! Did you stir up some response! That's great. Why not set up to make contacts in your apartment and send out any big prints? You can use a standard light bulb to make contacts and don't need an enlarger of any kind unless you want to use smaller size contrast filters. I have used such a setup with the white bulbs and with the blue bulbs to give more contrast. Wally-World sells blue bulbs as "party bulbs". To have bigger prints made, first get a good contact and mark that contact for burning and dodging. Then instruct the lab to make the big print to match the contact density and do the necessary burning and dodging. Most black and white CUSTOM labs can make you a good print if you are specific as to what you want. Pay the difference for a black and white custom lab. There are some listed in "SHUTTERBUG". Enjoy your large format black and white work. Doug

-- Doug Paramore (dougmary@alanet.com), January 18, 2000.

A question about contact printing:

With 4x5, what "method" do you use for bringing the negative into contact with the paper? Here are a few methods I can think of:

1. Print through negative-sleeves 2. Place negative directly on paper with glass on top 3. place negative, and 4x5 piece of paper together in print sleeve

I am currently using #3 since it makes alignment much easier and I don't worry so much about scratching the negative, etc. But negative sleeves pick up fingerprint smudges and attract dust (I suppose because of their static nature). Also it would be nice to have 4x5 contact prints on 5x7 paper (for example) so I can mount and frame it without having to overmat much.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

-- Rusty Brooks (rbrooks@utdallas.edu), January 18, 2000.

First, forget contact printing with negative sleeves. Their density isn't what good glass is and with a delicate print will show differences. They also scratch & ding more easily with use. For storage, forget them also & instead get the interleaving mylar or polypro folders from Light Impressions & put it in a polypro or interleaving paper storage envelope you can write on with pencil-to record your neg number, etc. Contact print directly on the paper with glass above, with a pressure on the glass like a contact printing frame gives. This will give the sharpest contact print & will take away the 'oops' factor of having paper curl push the glass away from the negative/paper sandwich. Use contact paper larger than your negative. In handling after you process it, you will have extra space around the image as a safety margin & to show a clean, consistent surround of your image. It will also enable you to write notes on a work print-directions as to how to do the final print, etc., to keep in your files if you want to. Setting up for contact printing is easy-use pyrex pie plates if you want as chemistry doesn't get absorbed, but if you are nervous-don't use them to cook on. Keep it very simple. Try reading some of Michael A. Smiths articles in View Camera. Read some of Weston's materials. Look at the images of Morley Baer & others who did a lot of contact printing. With few really good images being done, why waste a lot of time on trying to get less than your best work in final print form, whether contact or enlarged? Work a bit slower with LF & print the finest images you have. Be adventuresome in shooting as long as it helps you to learn, improve & enjoy what you are doing. The suggestion of sending out for enlargements is a good one, especially if you don't have the space for an enlarger/trays/etc. If you really enjoy the contact printing you can do a good scan & have an enlarged negative made to size & contact print it as well. This keeps your working habits the same & allows you to get larger images of the negatives you would like to see bigger.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), January 18, 2000.

Gosh ; what a great response! I think I will try some contact prints to begin with. Would it be sensible to try to find a secondhand contact printer (they seem to appear reasonably frequently on ebay), or could I use my existing slide viewing light table as a light source, with the negative and paper firmly positioned on the light table by something heavy (glass, perspex, etc)? Or would this be too crude and difficult to control?

-- (finneganswake@altavista.net), January 18, 2000.

Here's another question about contact printing that I'd like to hear thoughts on.

I've gone through the process described by Fred Picker in his book (Zone VI Workshop) on how to fine-tune your exposure/development. So I now have a routine for contact printing: print until film base + fog is maximum black.

For every negative I expose (except for gross mistakes) I print at this default. I can of course do these very quickly, no dodging and burning, etc. I find these good measures of how successful I was in capturing what I imagined. I compare these to polaroids (to get a better understanding of how to interpret a polaroid) etc.

My question is: do (most, many, some) photographers tend to try to make negatives that will print with as little manipulation as possible (optimal negative) or do (most many some) photographers work to develop their printing skills to produce the same/similar results (optimal print). In other words, how much should I obsess about trying to achieve artistic goals with minimal printing modifications?

Just a thought.

To anyone who hasn't read Fred Pickers book... I highly recommed it. ASA ratings for film can be off by a stop or so in either direction, and development times can be off by as much as 20 or 30% from suggeted values due to various lenses, development procedures, water quality/temperature, etc. For me the results were pretty close to recommended values. I use calibrated lenses, filtered, temperature monitored water, etc. For others I know the results were drastic: Tri-X speed ratings of 200-250 (instead of 320)

-- Rusty Brooks (rbrooks@utdallas.edu), January 18, 2000.

The calibration game gets tiring & time consuming both. Take pictures & fine tune from there. There is enough slop in most LF systems to make calibration a joke at best, especially in field work in varying temperatures. If you err with your B&W, err on the side of overexposure-you still have shadow detail. Get too damn technical & perfect with all your metering, putting shadows right on the edge, etc., and when you hit the little slop factor you have clear negative & no shadow detail at all. If you are contact printing, don't be afraid of a negative a bit more dense than you might be used to for enlarging. This is not an excuse to get sloppy. It is a working method that will allow for some of the play you have that adds up during each step you take in getting to the final print. Don't make it more difficult than it has to be. Face the fact that even with all the testing in the world not all your negatives will be perfect & go out and photograph rather than spending six months in testing everything.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), January 19, 2000.

Contact printing is very nice but you said you have a 4x5 camera. Contact prints of 4x5 negatives are generally too small to be very practical in terms of showing them to anyone and not really very satisfactory even just for yourself. 5x7 is generally considered to be the smallest size that can produce a usable contact print (usable in the sense of exhibiting, even to friends). 4x5 film scanners are very expensive, as you've discovered. However, the flat bed scanners supposedly have been improving to a point where you can do something with the print other than just show it over the web. I don't have any personal experience with them. Unfortunately with 4x5 negatives I think you really need an enlarger or a good lab to get the kind of quality you should be getting out of large format.

-- Brian Ellis (bellis@tampabay.rr.com), January 23, 2000.

My answer to contact print or enlarge or scan was settled when a salesman at Chicago's Standard Photo [now gone or moved] noticed me drooling over an 8x10 Burke & James then [long ago] marked at $100. He offered it to me for $50 and I grabbed it, later finding a 14" Commercial Ektar. I knew I had neither space nor money for an 8x10 enlarger, not even for a 4x5 enlarger, and this was the pre-digital age, so contact prints were the way to go. Here was my simple set up for 8x10 contacts. I put the negative and paper in a wooden printing frame [glass front, metal spring back]. This I set down, face up, on a shelf or bench. Overhead, I suspended by its electrical cord an electric light, with 7 or 15w bulb, in a large reflector. For a diffuser, I covered the reflector with double thickness of white plastic garbage bag. To increase or decrease light intensity, I would lower or raise the light by releasing or pulling the electrical cord, which ran through an 'eye' or pulley screwed into the ceiling. The cord was plugged into a Time-O-Light. That's all you need, but for quicker operation, instead of a printing frame I now use a hinged glass contact printer, mine is called a "Profile Custom Proofer." Color is another matter, however, and at present I have a few transparencies scanned [about $10 each, here] onto a CD, and can use very delicate controls even on an old Pentium 60 and even with Photoshop Deluxe [i.e., the simple sample version] into an Epson 700, which looks kind of like a new-art print when using Strathmore Velvet [matte] paper. The cost of scans gets excessive you have a lot, and scanners are getting better all the time, so I won't even try to write about THAT. Good fortune. Have fun and do good work! --Joe Sonneman, photographer, Juneau, Alaska

-- Joe Sonneman (senator@gci.net), December 29, 2000.

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