Digital and/or conventional printing options : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

The last issue of View Camera has a profile of the work of David Fokos. Although it was the superb visualisation and images that initially attracted me, I am equally interested in the technical aspects of how his prints are produced. He produces an 8x10 negative through conventional means, which is then drum scanned and printed on a LightJet 5000 - see this for the results, although Im not sure that my monitor does justice to the pictures.

This article made me think again about a question I asked on this forum earlier this year. Unfortunately even contact printing 4x5 has turned out not to be a viable option for me, although I do control everything up the processed negative. In the absence of being able to set up a conventional darkroom for printing, is the best option to get a good quality scanner and printer to "proof" images (such as the Powerlook / Epson 3000 combination mentioned by a poster to the previous thread)? For outstanding images, I suppose I could then choose to get a conventional custom print prepared by a lab, or alternatively try something like the approach taken by Mr Fokos - is his approach viable for the average LF "serious amateur" photographer, such as myself? Or is the cost of his approach prohibitive?

I would really appreciate the advice of those who understand the practical realities, quality differences and costs of the various options. I dont live in an English speaking country, and it is nigh impossible to chat through the options with a lab / bureau.

-- fw (, June 05, 2000


Drat ; this is the link to Mr Fokos' work.

-- fw (, June 05, 2000.

FW: All of my prints are digital these days. I shoot only color transparencies, in 4x5. The film is developed at my local "pro" lab, then I send it off to the printer. A good digital printer needs a high- resolution drum scan. This kind of scanner, and the accompanying computer hardware, is cost-prohibitive for all but the most well-heeled among us. There are a number of good labs in the US that do Lightjet prints that won't cost you a fortune. If you'd like links to some, let me know and I'll send them to you privately.

-- john costo (, June 05, 2000.

John and others,

Might it be worth setting up a "digital labs" chart/thread/section/link-list on this web site, listing good vendors for scanning and digital printing? After all, we're not shy about announcing it when we have a good experience with F Stops Here, or Darkroom Innovations, or Quality Camera, or Badger Graphics. It seems that for some years to come (that is until home scanners and printers equal drum scanners and LightJets!) many users of this site will be wanting to have superb (i.e., better than home-quality) output of at least some of their photographs.

Just a thought.

-- Simon (, June 05, 2000.

You can't even set up for simple 4x5 contact prints? A ceiling light, two or three small trays (or pie plates) and a sink for rinsing is too much to set up? You can even get by without a normal sink as long as you have someplace to get & dump water. It is a lot simpler and less expensive than digital.

-- Dan Smith (, June 05, 2000.

I have been maintaining a list for a while now. Here's what I have: Bruce Bennett labs, Calypso Imaging, Color Folio, Evercolor Fine Art, FinePrint, West Coast Imaging, and the person I use, Bill Nordstrom, who doesn't have a web site but who you can contact by email at

-- john costo (, June 05, 2000.

Excellent list! I've also looked at the website and they may have potential too.

One thing interesting to me was that the View Camera photos by David Fokos were printed on color paper. After seeing Bill Nordstrom's ad in View Camera, I talked to him (he's a leader in the field, I understand) about a year ago, asking whether I could get a "high- quality black-and-white print" that would look like a darkroom- generated print. He said that color shifts could be a problem for b&w traditionalists (probably like the shifts on one-hour-lab prints of XP2 or T400CN) and thus I believe he primarily worked with color negs. I don't know if that situation is changed--with any of the labs listed here--but I personally did not find the tonality of the Fokos pictures in View Camera (which were printed on color paper) objectionable; they were in fact rather pleasing in a Michael Kenna sort of way. So when inquiring at these labs, that might be something to keep in mind: asking what's involved in printing monochrome negscans on color paper (if indeed LightJets don't do well on traditional b&w paper). Maybe some of the labs can provide samples on request? I'd even pay a few bucks for such samples, in light of the high costs at stake. . . .

-- Simon (, June 05, 2000.

LightJets are color - and wonderful color - prints. You should not try to do black & white with color materials.

A better way to approach this might be to take a look at Dan Burkholder's book "Making Digital Negatives for Contact Printing". His approach is similar to Mr. Fokos's, but he stays B&W. His website is He will also be teaching a 5-day class at ICP in NY in July. If I can work around the camp's bus schedule, I'll be there.


-- Richard Coda (, June 05, 2000.

Rich, I agree that Dan Burkholder is on to something good, and he did indeed literally write the book on making large negatives. But unlike darkroom prints, LightJet prints are not subject to optical limitations during enlargement (and to sizes as large as 48x96, should you REALLY like your photos!), and I suspect that many photographers, galleries, and print buyers would be more than satisfied with the kind of quality that David Fokos got using LightJet with b&w negs.

-- Simon (, June 05, 2000.

I bought Burkholder's book last month. Even with degrees in engineering and physics and 48 years experience in the darkroom, I don't understand hardly any of it.

-- Bill Mitchell (, June 05, 2000.

Not an answer, but another question. I would wonder if there are price, quality, service differences among the sources John C. listed. As this is a fairly expensive adventure, it's a little prohibitive to try here and there to see who's best.

-- Roger Rouch (, June 05, 2000.

And there-in lays the problem with the digital realm. It is upon us and many can do amazing things with it but, no, the galleries and buyers aren't yet interested in fine art on run of the mill printers. Iris and the like are being offered, though they are extremely expensive, but don't command the dollars that prints made the traditional way do. It will become the norm in time but not yet. Lenswork Magazine has an offer that is wonderful for people like me that want to have fine art by great masters but can't afford the bucks to buy it. The masters (Wynn Bullock, Huntington Whitherill, Barnbaum, Dusard, ect) produce a print that is just as they want it to look and lenswork has that print scanned and outputted back(?) producing a negative of whatever proportions the artist wants it to be. That neg is then contact printed to the artists satisfaction and offered for sale through the magazine for substantially less than a similar print done by the hand of the artist. I purchased one and it is exactly the same as a print I see all the time in LA that I can't afford even if I sold my wife and first born. And it is done on normal photographic paper (FB). You have to see it to believe it. I am going to get my negs scanned to files(I have a very good scanner and very large memory) and take the files to a bureau to have them outputted onto neg material and print them as contact prints in my darkroom. Already burned and dodged. One of the questions I have though is what do the tonalities become for an enlarged neg? You have to fill in the spaces so what goes in between the original spaces and how does it look? James

-- james (, June 05, 2000.

First off, sorry that my list wasn't in HTML format. I looked for a link which would provide instruction on how to tag the sites, but couldn't find one. Second, the first Lightjet print is always a little pricey (about $150 for a 16x20), but reprints (at the same time or in the future) are cheap, and they're identical. So if you're selling your work, that's a relief. Last, the Lightjet prints I have are the best prints I've EVER had. They are of the jaw-drop variety, and I doubt it's because I'm a great photographer, because I'm not. The colors are so sharp and vivid and similar to the original chrome. You really owe it to yourself to experience the Lightjet just once.

-- john costo (, June 05, 2000.

I agree about LensWork Quarterly-I think Brooks Jensen had hit upon a workable marriage of traditional and digital, getting the best from each medium. However, I remember John Swarkowski lecturing about 12 years ago that "soon" that the images in laser printed fine art books would be indsitinguishable from photographic prints!

-- David Stein (, June 06, 2000.

I agree about LensWork Quarterly-I think Brooks Jensen had hit upon a workable marriage of traditional and digital, getting the best from each medium. However, I remember John Swarkowski lecturing about 12 years ago that "soon" the images in laser printed fine art books would be indsitinguishable from photographic prints!

-- David Stein (, June 06, 2000.

I'm guessing that Szarkowski was referring to laser-scanned negatives, the quality of which greatly impressed Ansel himself (see p. 251 and 364 of Adams' autobiography). Indeed, I'd wager that to the average person on the street, any of the laser-scanned duotones printed in any of Ansel's books or calendars produced by Little Brown and Gardner Lithograph (for more than 15 years now) ARE indistinguishable from an original print.

-- Simon (, June 06, 2000.

First sentence of my post immediately above SHOULD read,

"I'm guessing that Szarkowski was referring to fine art books that were printed from laser-scanned negatives. . . "

-- Simon (, June 06, 2000.

Yes but by the time I've gone to that much trouble and expense to make a photograph, I don't really care much about the average person on the street. It's the picky people I'm out to please.

-- Erik Ryberg (, June 06, 2000.

I like many others have come to the conclusion, digital is the wave of the future. So many unusable chromes can be saved and made into great I started using Photoshop and was amazed at its power, the ultimate photographers tool.

But, I became very frustrated with the exhorbitant price of drum scans at service bureaus, and the varying quality... and considering the amount of chromes I shoot, (4x5 & 8x10), I bit the bullet and bought a brand spanking new Howtek 8000 drum scanner, 8000 optical dpi, 4.2 Dmax, 4.0 D range. Although the hardware / software package was outrageously expensive, ($28,000) I felt it was my only missing link. Without a high quality scan, you are defeating the benefits of the digital process. Now, I am getting much better scans and in the long run, maybe many years, it might pay for itself?? If users on this forum are interested in getting high quality drum scans, but do not always need them "next day" I would be willing to do them at substantial discounts vs. service bureaus. Email me if you are interested.

-- Bill Glickman (, June 06, 2000.

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