Digital black & white : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Dear All!! I never imagined asking this and it is bordering on the heretical, but what sort of print quality can you expect to get from LF black and white negatives that have been produced via a PC and printer? The reason I ask is that I am toying with the idea of having a go at producing digital prints....there I've said it now!! (the "D" word!!) How would a digital print compare with a traditional print on (say) multigrade RC paper? Thanks in advance, Paul

-- paul owen (, February 23, 2001


It can be incredible. It depends of the resolution of your original scan and the quality of your printer. There is a good book on this called MAKING DIGITAL NEGATIVES by Dan Burkholder. Good Luck! John

-- john (, February 23, 2001.

Paul, I remember a couple of years ago, my friend showed me an 8x10 sepia toned print that he had made. Judging by the clarity, the amount of detail the print had and the size, I assumed it was an 8x10 contact print. I was shocked to find out that it was actually a digital print that he had made from his 8x10 neg. I think he used an epson inkjet printer and a heidelberg (i think that's how it's spelled) flatbed scanner. I was very impressed at the quality. Unless you used a loupe on the print, you would have never guessed that it was an inkjet. That was a couple of years ago, I am sure the new printers are even better. I haven't gone that route yet but i would imagine that the manipulation process opens incredible possibilities. Who knows...someday the zone system may be calibrated to your scanner instead of your enlarger!

-- Dave Anton (, February 23, 2001.

I was able to make an interesting comparison of this sort at the Atget exhibit at the International Center of Photography in New York, which had one Iris print alongside many of Atget's albumen prints and some modern albumen prints from Atget negatives. I would assume that given the standards of the exhibit, this would be the best one could expect of a giclee print.

The Iris print was a very beautiful print, but lacked the rich shadow detail and sharp line of the albumen prints. A friend of mine, also a LF photographer, who was with me, speculated that it might just have to do with the difference between an emulsion that floats on a paper surface and ink that is sprayed into and absorbed by the paper. It looked more like a gum bichromate print than an albumen or silver gelatin print. A glossier surface paper might produce a different effect. I wonder what would happen if you fixed and washed a sheet of conventional photographic paper and printed on that.

-- David Goldfarb (, February 23, 2001.

With the correct scan and photoshop and the Burkholder book and ideas you can do what you want. You might also check out and the material written by George De Wolfe. Using the Cone editions quadtone approach and an inexpensive epson printer you can produce excellent digital images from your negs also. bob

-- Bob Moulton (, February 23, 2001.

I have been using digital as a "proofing" procedure for my darkroom prints for about two years now. I use the Minolta Dimage Multi which scans up to 6x9. I don't know what I will use when I go LF. However, I have been extremely pleased with the quaility of the scans and the prints using the Epson 1270 printer. I use Photoshop 6.0. The digital proofs allow me to look at a print before going into the darkroom for FB prints. I know exactly what I want to dodge and burn and the cropping. I will often take digital prints to club meetings for critique. That is the extent of my involvement with digital. I have never seen a digital print that I loved......liked, yes! It is convenient. I seldom shoot color.

Good luck....


-- Robert Bedwell (, February 24, 2001.

May I suggest you read the Caponigro article in the Jan/Feb View Camera mag?

-- John Hennessy (, February 24, 2001.

Paul -

In Seattle is a company called Ivey-Seright that has a very good reputation for printing digitally - whether on photographic paper or traditionally, color or black & white.

Check out their web site at

I've seen some of their color panoramic prints that measure almost 24"x72", and they're beautiful. I believe they were printed on a Durst Lambda, which is a process of exposing photographic paper to a laser. They also do output to Fujix (I think), as well as traditional 4 color work.

Best of luck.


-- Alan Agardi (, February 24, 2001.

Top class Toyotas, Mitsubishi, Nissan and so on, are great cars but can you compare them to Aston Martin, Ferrari, Jaguars and so on? I mean the fascination of producind a print coming out of the traditional processes cannot be compared to a digital print and not on its rational merits but rather on a complex array of irrational and rational merit. Preservation is an issue here, as it stands any method of protection cannot reach the performance of traditional method. Flying a kite in the space age might look like an anachronism, but if you do that you don't do it to get the effect of flying to the moon but to get the feel of the wind in your hands. Printing pictures is the same. The amost Mystical experience of wiggling you hands under your enlarger to produce the magic of dodging or burning gives you another feeling to it. Other than that, I wonder why should one go take a picture with a camera that has changed very little in the last two hundred years and then produce a negative which is scanned and printed with a nowadays technique! Let's go totally digital then it makes a lot more sense! I don't want to equal the famous Englishman John Lud(I vaguely remember) who started a movement against the introduction of the mechanical steam powered loom, but since we do this mostly for fun......I wonder if this is the right way forward. But I might just be an old .(art)!

-- Andrea Milano (, February 25, 2001.

While I have not yet embraced the business of digitally printing my negatives, I don't reject the process. I look at it in the same way many painters look at the wide range of tools they have at their disposal. Just because Acrylics and Miscible (sp?) Oils have gained acceptance by modern artists, this doesn't seem to deter others from painting with traditional materials that have been around for hundreds of years like Oils, Egg Tempera, Watercolor, etc. All these various mediums offer many subtle nuances that belong to each of them solely. They each respond differently to the Artist's technique as well. So why not just look at Digital Printmaking as a new medium available to the Photographic Artist? This way, one doesn't eclipse the other, but rather, provides a choice.

-- Robert A. Zeichner (, February 25, 2001.

You cannot tell the difference between a print made from a digital negative and one made in the traditional wet darkroom. I have some prints made from digitally enlarged negs from the Lenswork Collection and they are as good as the originals. I am a neanderthal when it comes to darkroom vs digital but I can see the day when almost all printing will be done digitally. There is so much more that can be done and done more easily in the digital platform. No, I don't think that traditional darkroom work will be put out to pasture but I do think the digital realm will bring many more people into photography. It is so much easier to capture an image digitally and transfer that image to a computer screen and then to a piece of paper support than to load the film, and then unload and stand around in a smelly darkened room washing the film with chemicals, and then trying to coax the image as you saw it or want it to be, and have it come out the same every time. Even my hero Ansel had trouble getting the same results from every print he tried to make. So many variables. The digital platform is not easy to master either. Photoshop for instance is really difficult if you aren't addept with computerese to begin with. But as you progress, you can see the tremendous advatages in the medium. I'm just after repeatable results in my printing. I'm tired of wasting paper. I'm tired of getting somewhere and not having great lightingand either not taking the shot or taking it but having to work my ass off to get a decent print. Then not being able to repeat the print easily. Hello Photoshop. Make a good print in the darkroom, take it to the digital platform, tweek it some more, take said file to a digital printer, get a new negative with all the corrections on it and presto. A digitally made negative which will contact print the same every time. I love it. What a great tool. james

-- james (, February 25, 2001.

Maybe its wrong but I do get pleasure from hauling around 10 kg of camera equipment, sweating away under a dark cloth on a hot summerís day, straining my eyes to see whatís in focus on the ground glass and then spending hours handling noxious chemicals.

However, I also enjoy the time I spend scanning my black and white negatives onto the computer and playing around in Photoshop.

From my own results and the results of others, I am convinced that within a few years (or even sooner) the quality of digital printing is going to equal or even surpass traditional darkroom techniques in all formats including large format.

But so what. There isnít anything mythical about traditional darkroom printing techniques. If the same or better results can be obtained more consistently and more reliably by other techniques then itís time to change. I very much doubt that photographers brought up on digital photography will mourn the passing away of the traditional darkroom.

After all its the quality of our pictures that counts, however they happen to be produced.

-- Philip Y. Graham (, February 25, 2001.

Thanks to everyone who replied with their thoughts and experiences on the question I asked. The reason I am considering digital as an option is that my plans to construct a traditional darkroom have fallen through. I thought that digital may be a viable option in so far as producing prints was concerned, as I will still process my negatives myself (with the help of a changing tent!). My only other option is to convert a ground floor cloakroom into a traditional darkroom. The room is only 160cms by 86cms but I have measured up and think that I will be able to manage. I envisage using an LPL 7452 enlarger and processing the prints in a Nova FB monochrome unit. Can anyone confirm that the baseboard of the LPL is 23 1/4 inches square ( these are the dimensions of the Saunders unit and they are supposed to be one in the same ). This baseboard will fit into one of the recesses, allowing me about 18 inches gap between enlarger and Nova. Your views are most welcome on this option!!!!! Regards Paul

-- paul owen (, February 25, 2001.

To answer the question a few posts back. Yes, you can use fixed out photographic paper for inkjet printing.
The look is very soft, since the ink spreads excessively in the gelatine, but it also loses any trace of the 'dottiness' that can be a giveaway of inkjets. A colour bromoil is about the closest I can come to describing it.

-- Pete Andrews (, February 26, 2001.

Sigh: Now, even on the large format board, I hear hackneyed ridiculous tripe like "you cannot tell the difference between a digital print and a conventional print." Correct that. YOU cannot tell the difference; I can. With all the "beautiful" inkjet and laser-emulsion prints put in front of me, from a range of sources, why is it that they ALWAYS lack the depth and detail of a well made optical print? Why do they always have that artificial, electronic looking edge sharpness that gives them away? Yes, digital prints have come a long way recently, but in my experience, they have not equaled large format prints done the traditional way. I'm not going to sit here and say it's any better or worse whether you like working with chemicals or electrons. I prefer one process; other people prefer another. I will say, however, that I'm sicking of standing out in the sunlight and having a whole crowd of people tell me it's dark as midnight. Get my analogy? Wonder if this has anything to do with the impulse to justify, at any cost, the fact that you threw out your equipment and invested 10,000 in a system that has to work real hard to hide its limitations. . .

-- Joshua Slocum (, February 26, 2001.

Digital can be beautiful just as can original LF work from the traditional darkroom. The big question right now is "How long will this stuff last?" Truth is, we don't really know yet.

Epson has a beautiful printer that makes images with matched inks & papers that are said to last up to 200 years. This is with accelerated age testing. Not a WAG (Wild Ass Guess), but repeatable testing. Trouble is, it is just that... testing. Controlled and in a good lab, but still just a test. Remember just a few months ago when a lot of the "15-25 year" images started fading out one of the color layers, often within weeks of being printed? Ozone was the culprit here. Somehow the accelerated aging testing didn't account for ozone.

What will the next surprise be?

Will our faith in digital miracles follow the same frustrating & damnable course of RC paper? You remember RC paper, don't you? "It is just as good as fibre paper." "If anything, it will outlast Fibre paper because it won't expand & contract... and on and on and on". Yet, every time we have been told how good it is and how is is "just as good, or even better" we get bit in the butt.

There are many good reasons to try digital, but the short term tests & faith are not in the mix.

If you like how the images look then use the stuff. But don't give guarantees for the expected life of the print unless you are willing to back them up. You may have to... and you may well find all the claims true.

As for digital negs and whatever. If it works, fine. For some, even with Burkholders book, G4 macs & photoshop, better results are made by using the 'old fashioned' way. Doing it with silver. In the darkroom.

Not everyone wants the same results & we don't have to follow 'one true way' to get there either.

But given a choice I would rather have an original print from a craftsman than one from a pixelographer any day. Again, that is subject to change. Good as I have seen in digital printing so far I have not seen the same quality as I observe in a fine LF contact print.

Use digital & push the envelope with it. If all you do is try to copy what you are doing with traditional photography you are wasting your time. We already have traditional photography & an excellent photographer can do more with it than most will ever attempt with a computer. (see Elle Schuster here... her work done in camera with her Sinar is stunning and, if anything, even better than her newer digital work)

Digital is a different animal & those who will use it to push their creativity in ways the camera will not allow will use some of its potential. Those who copy 'real photos' will sit around rehashing the never ending updated version of the old argument of 'how many angels can dance on the head of a pin."

-- Dan Smith (, February 26, 2001.

I too can usually tell a digital "print" from a silver print. The operative words here are "print" and "usually". I have been fooled. Go to Carmel and look at some of the prints there and ask how they were printed. You will be amazed. What I am amazed at are the reproductions or should I say products of digitally made negatives and the contact prints made of them by hand on silver paper. I own some and can't tell the difference. I have put my "Decending Angel" which is from a digitally made neg printed by hand on silver paper right next to a silver print of the same image and with a strong loupe could not tell the difference. Lenswork offers these prints for substantially less than a print done by hand by the artists involved in the collection being offered. These are prints made from scanned images that are then output to negative material and printed by hand as contact prints on regular silver gelatin material. And they are beautiful. And they are reproducible. When you have an image that has to have a lot of intricate dodging and burning to get the print you want, digital is the only viable way the get the same quality from the image every time. You don't have to waste paper or time dodging and burning, selectively bleaching and spotting the prints. You don't have to spend time and effort making contrast and unsharp masks. You do it in the computer and output it to negative film with a high dollar printer. But you do have to master the digital platform so it ain't an easy gig in the least. Digital will expand the art of photography many fold. It will allow images to be made that are residing only in the creators mind now. The things created will be limited only by the mind of the artist. The same arguments we're hearing now were the same arguments being discussed heatedly during the turn of the century. Digital will come. Embrace it. Many including me will use it as a tool to enhance what I do in the darkroom now but many will create wonderful images directly on the digital platform. This is unfolding now. james

-- james (, February 26, 2001.


Which approach did you use? The 450 line screen halftones or the hi- res diffusion bitmaps?

I am struggling with this myself. Being a graphic designer by day, I feel a halftone is a halftone - period. I also have several Lenswork prints - extraordinary prints, but upon close inspection (as I do with contact prints, as well) there are those damned dots. I hate them. I would like to go with the bitmap route, but as I am [currently] on PC, I can't use the Icefields software that Dan Burkholder recommends.


-- Richard M. Coda (, March 01, 2001.

If anyone has not seen them yet, you may want to take a look at Cone's new Piezography for the Epson Stylus Pro 7ooo printer. Cone is using a RIP (Raster Image Processor) that overides Epsons dither. Using a 4x loupe there were no dots to be found. Yes, no dots and excellent continuous tone images. No digital edge artifacts either.

Printing a step wedge one can find in excess of 21 well defined clear steps. In fact, utilizing Hahnnemuhle William Turner, I was able to make out almost 30 distinct tones!

Holding a Cone print and one of my platinum/palladium prints side by side was a great pleasure. The Cone Piezography print was more like platinum in is tonal range and 3 dimensionality than silver. I do not believe this process will replace silver or platinum, it is just another excellent process. I believe some are calling it the Carbon Piezotype.


-- Mike Kravit (, March 31, 2001.

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