Printing first 16x20 sharpness question : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

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 bit less than satisfied with the overall sharpness (when examining up close). I was 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 rather 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 beyond, the image appears sharp on print.

QUESTION: Should a 16x20 enlargement from a sharp transparency appear not so sharp 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 transparency was not as sharp as I thought. I've seen enlargements that appeared sharped 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 sharpest 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 expectations, and I'm less than satisfied thus far.


-- Cedric Thevenaz (, August 30, 2001


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.


-- Doug Paramore (, August 30, 2001.

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?

-- robert (, August 30, 2001.

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.

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (, August 30, 2001.

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.

-- Nathaniel Paust (, August 30, 2001.

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.....

-- Cedric Thevenaz (, August 30, 2001.

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.

-- Nathaniel Paust (, August 30, 2001.

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

-- Q.-Tuan Luong (, August 30, 2001.

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.


-- chris jordan (, August 30, 2001.

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.

-- Gary Frost (, August 30, 2001.

Cedric, it's very hard to communicate how sharp a print is (or should be) in writing or verbally. If this helps any, consider that your enlargement ratio (linear) is about 4X; this is roughly equivalent to a 4" x 6" print from a 35mm neg. So, do your 16x20s seem to have roughly the same sharpness as that, or are they much worse?

-- Bill C (, August 30, 2001.

Far be it for me to correct our host, but a 16x20 print from 4x5 is a 16X enlargement, not 4X. (It's 4X north-south and 4X east-west, thus yielding 16X.)

-- Chad Jarvis (, August 30, 2001.

Sorry Chad but you are wrong, magnification is viewed as surface area, so 8x10=80 square inches, 16x20=320 square inches, divide 320/80 and you get 4, thus a 4x magnification.

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (, August 30, 2001.

I'm Sorry to comment like this but i'm following this post closely (similar experience), isn't the medium 4x5 trans. not 8x10.

Thanks Ck

-- Clark King (, August 30, 2001.

ah, yes.....sorry..I was thinking of 8x10, my apologies to Chad he then is correct 4x5 to 16x20 is a 16x enlargement...

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (, August 31, 2001.

When enlarger lens manufacturers publish "useable" and "optimal" magnification ranges, they would consider a 4x5 enlarged to 16x20 to be a 4x magnification.

For example look at the Rodenstock web page below: (Remove any spaces in the web address added by the response software).

Notice that the 50mm Rodagon has a usable magnification range (what Rodenstock calls "scale") of 2x - 15x and the optimum is 10x. El- Nikkor specifically uses the term "magnification range" in their English language specifications (not available on web).

If magnification range was measured based on area, then an 8x10 inch print from a 35mm negative would be a about a 60X enlargement. (8*10)/ (24*36/645.16). There are 645.16 square millimeters in a square inch. Measured by the increase in the longest dimension, an 8x10 enlargement would be about a 7X enlargement. Obviously when Rodenstock (and other enlarger lens manufacturers) use the term magnification range (or scale) they are using the later definition (increase in longest dimension), and not based on total area.

I am not sure if there is difference between the meaning of "magnification range (scale)" and "enlargement factor." But these terms can be confusing depending on their intended use.

-- Michael Feldman (, August 31, 2001.

Michael, there is a difference between magnification and enlargement. For example for a 35 mm neg (to take your example) if we MAGNIFY the longest part to and 8x10 print then you are correct, 25.4/3.6=7.05, BUT when you are talking about enlargement you are actually magnifying an AREA not a line, which means that a grain of silver halide will look 70 times bigger in an 8x10 print than in a 35 mm print because you have enlarged it's AREA 70 times. If we look at magnification scales then an 8x10 print from a 35 mm 100 ASA would be grainless at 7x since we are talking about micron size grain, thus if you go from 2 microns to 14 microns the difference is not noticeable, but going from 2 microns to 140 microns then you can beguin to see the grain. (BTW I used imaginary numbers for size, I don't know the size of a grain of silver halide..:-0).

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (, August 31, 2001.

Scale in Rodenstock literature is lineal magnification.

4X on 4x5 lens means a 16 x20" print.

-- Bob Salomon (, August 31, 2001.


could you explain in more detail your distinction between magnification and enlargement? just the first sentence or two of your last post as i'm having trouble understanding. if i switch the terms the sentence still makes sense to me so i don't think i understand.

-- adam (, August 31, 2001.

"Scale in Rodenstock literature is lineal magnification."

isn't this because enlargement is commonly the same (or close to the same) in both dimensions? it is unusual to enlarge only one dimension of a piece of film, except of course cropped panoramics. as a 16x enlargement could be 16x only one way, 4x both ways, 8x one way 2x the other, etc., it seems easier to think of it in terms of line and not area. at least the manufacturers can agree on terms.

-- adam (, August 31, 2001.

Magnify=linear amplification.

Enlargement=Area amplification

As you can see from Bob's post Rodenstock and most other manufacturers use linear magnification for best "enlargement" but this is misleading

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (, August 31, 2001.

interesting. this is the first time i have heard those terms are dimension specific. most definitions i know say the terms are basically interchangeable. or is that just for common usage and your distinction more scientific? is then the term "magnifying glass" also misleading? should it be more properly called an "enlarging glass"?

bob, have the manufacturers been (unwittingly) misleading us or is this just a case of poor usage?

-- adam (, August 31, 2001.

Adam, I always thought of it as what are we enlarging? a grain is not a line, it has an area. If we are going to be truly nitpicking the grain has volume, but when we enlarge we are only seeing two dimensions, not 3(volume) or 1 (linear), as the term linear magnification implies. Maybe I am wrong or maybe I am being too specific.

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (, August 31, 2001.

Thanks again everyone for the helpful information. I believe, like those who have commented, that there is either a problem with the printing, or my transparency isn't as sharp as I thought. I wish sometimes this forum could be "virtual", i.e. I could somehow show you both items since I'm sure all of your valuable experiences would tell me exactly what it is that I'm dealing with. Unfortunately, I'm on my own, like many I'm sure, to deal with trouble shooting, except for all your written help.

I will take the transparency AND the print to Photobition in the next week or so (again, I'm not close by), find an "expert" hopefully, and discuss the issue. I'll post the results........even if it means admitting that I'm blind as a bat.


-- Cedric Thevenaz (, August 31, 2001.

hi cedric yes there is a substantial difference in prints made from negatives and those from transparencies. as transparencies are viewd with light from behind and prints are viewed by reflective light it is often near impossible to get a print to get a print from a chrome to look just like the chrome,with the full scale of color and density in the chrome. in additionif what you primarily desire is a print to show then a color neg to final exhibition quality print will probably give a better result. in addition you can with digital technology or otherwise create a film positive from the negative. unfortunately there are often color shifts(crossovers) in positive to positive prints that are difficult to correct and in general i find i am always disappointed in prints from chromes unless they are 1) dye-transfer print 2)well done cibachromes with masking 3)tri-color carbon prints i addition it is of course hard to say without looking at original prints but often what a lab produces is not what one can gey from either doing it oneself or establishing a close working relationship with the actual printer. unfortunately in large labs that is rarely possible. in the end however sharpness is only one criteria for an image,and if it is a wonderful image it will hold even if it is not tack sharp. as others have stated if you view many of the images by ansel, minor white, and others they are sharp but not always "tack " sharp-they are still

-- robert (, August 31, 2001.

You really ought to forget about conventional enlarging and switch to digital printing based on a Tango drum scan. Contact West Coast Imaging, Calypso Imaging (both in California) or similar outfit and compare. You won't go back--and you won't have to worry about silly issues like whether the original was flat in the enlarger, or focused properly.

-- lloyd chambers (, August 31, 2001.

it must have been very hot in the room when i typed my second post. enlargements, even cropped panoramics, are always by the same factor for both dimensions. i guess an anamorphic lens would give different enlargement factors, though.

-- adam (, August 31, 2001.

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