The truth about LF digital? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread


I want to discuss a gripe I have with how digital for the large format realm is presented in various publications such as View Camera, Camera Arts, Phototechniques etc.

From what I understand there are a variety of ways to achieve a fine print using digital technology. These are using desktop printers and scanning film to produce inkjet prints, desktop scan of negs and reproduction of larger negs for contact printing, drum scanning negs and printing from file, drum scan and make dupe neg in larger format for contact printing, drum scan and have the neg printed via lightjet or simial technology, or using a digital back omitting film altoghether.

The problem I have is I have seen work produced via desktop methods using epson 3000 printers and various aftermarket inksets and software and they do not match up to equivalent silver or platinum, not to mention the inability to produce sizes over 16x20.

Those other methods as proposed by photographers such a Chip Forelli, Charles Cramer, Huntington Witherill, Howard Schaub etc are astronomically expensive. I believe in a previous issue of View Camera Forelli stated that it costs almost $500 to get a negative for printing, and that others propose drum scan (40$ per scan) and then digitally output a larger neg ($40-$60 per neg). I have not seen any of these gentleman's prints in person, but I have read in other posts that they are only equal to the best B&W prints. I understand that Cramer's work is incredible but costs are also in the several hundreds of dollars.

My beef is with the fact that these methods and technologies are thrown around as if we are all going to take out second mortgages in order to go digital and produce the same quality of print, with less permanence than we already acheive.

Does it irk you that these articles never discuss the negatives of digital while only espousing the virtues? I remeber reading a review by one of the above that discussed printers, saying that he had a closet full of printers but the newest (at that time) epson was probably the last he would need to purchase. Of cours untill it breaks down after the warranty runs out or the next last one comes out. I don't know about you, the last time i looked in the closet it was not full of discarded enlargers, just film and paper.

I am not a silver junkie. I believe digital will be part of the future of LF. But why can't the articles inlude the costs of digital method vs the quality of the final product. Can I afford one of the better epson scanners and quadtone inks or whatever the flavor of the month is, yes. But what is the point if the quality is poorer then my silver prints. Some will argue that their prints are better then silver, but I would argue they have not achieved the level of craft they are capable of with traditional materials. Maybe the high dollar technologies are superior, and I understand the need to discuss them, especially for professionals.

Maybe the ability to achieve the highest quality with digital means only an elite few will be able to get those results. The beauty of traditional LF is that I can use the same tools and materials, (and I literally mean same tools and materials) and the only hinderance to making equal or better prints is my ability. In some cases those tools are less expensive for me now then they were for them 50yrs ago.

Alright, done with the rant. My question is do you think we need more honest discussions about digital in the LF realm? Would it not be a benefit to everyone to know the costs and quality issues of various technologies. Am I being cynical to suggest that some of the hype is designed to sell printers and scanners to photographers hoping for great results only to be disappointed when they don't equal the more expensive technologies?

Take it or leave it, would like to see any comments you may have.

-- James Chinn (, January 10, 2002


Like to make a clarification to the previous post. Towards the end I talk about using "the same tools and materials". It should read "using the same tools and materials as the greatest photographers of all time." I apologize for my dreadful proof reading.

-- James Chinn (, January 10, 2002.

Imagine yourself in the 1850s. You are a successful Degarreotype photographer, and all the magazines are full of articles about Fox- Talbot's negative/positive process. You could make more than one print from each "negative." There are some predictions that perhaps some day you may be able to make negatives with dry plates so you don't have to coat them in the darkroom before the photo session. Some crazy author even claims that someday you will be able to make enlargements from the negatives, rather than print only the same size as the original. So what, you say -- have you seen the pittiful lack of detail compared with the best Degarrotypes? This is an analagous situation with wet vs Digital photography at this time.

-- (, January 10, 2002.

The grain size of a good film may be of the order of a few microns. The pixel size on a CCD is orders of magnitude larger. Scaling the CDD and the negative to the same size, one sees that film captures a much larger amount of data, especially so our beloved LF. So the departure point, at present day technology, does not look good for digital, although it may approve. For small prints, this hardly matters because paper simply cannot store as much data as film. For large prints the difference is obvious. LF has two selling points: detail and movements. If you are in it for the former, chemical beats digital at this point in time.

-- Marcus Leonard (, January 10, 2002.

I have taken the course offered by Charles Cramer and Bill Atkinson, to learn "Digital Printing for the Fine Art Photographer", so I can offer a synopsis of the costs involved.

Drum scan of 4x5 film (I have been using West Coast Imaging. Their Tango operator, Jeff Grandy, delivers a truly outstanding scan): $79.95 for a 300MB file. This is sufficient to print at large size (40x50). This is a one-time cost for each image.

LightJet Prints (done by Calypso): $39.60 for one 22x26 print (20x24 image size, with one inch white border).

So, first print is $120.00 in service bureau fees. Tax and shipping pushes it up to $150. For additional prints, subtract the scanning cost.

Of course, you also need a computer, monitor, calibration system, and Photoshop. This is a one time fee for all images, unless you are upgrade crazy. You can use the same computer for many other hobbies (digital video, online shopping, bookkeeping, email, etc.).

The cost of Bill and Charlie's course: $795 (includes a Tango scan and a 20x24 print). When you leave, you will be able to produce fine-quality color prints.

The quality is identical to having a color print made traditionally on Fuji Crystal Archive paper, as this is what the LightJet uses.

For bw, I have this setup:

Heidelberg LinoScan 1450 scanner. One time cost: $730. This scanner is sufficient to print at 16x20, but no larger.

Epson 1160 printer: $200. One time. (Max paper size 13x19.)

PiezographyBW with continuous ink system: $665. One time.

After the $1600, the cost per print is very low: just the cost of the paper and ink.

Quality and comparison of PiezographyBW prints with traditional is an ongoing subject.

I hope this helps to give concrete examples of the exact cost of doing prints the digital way.

-- Michael Chmilar (, January 10, 2002.

true..only daugerrotypes were rather expensive compared to other forms that followed like ambrotypes, ferrotypes, etc....maybe it was the albumen print that did it in...all the same it came down to cost & the ability to mass market the results. Only with a LF scan or capture back, they are _really_ out there in price unless you are in a commercial setting that can justify this expense...I doubt the average user of this forum--which seems to be very fine-art oriented--fits the bill here....we've been looking at these backs since 1996 or so for our in-house studio, and the actual expense of the back is one thing (the first ones I looked at were dicomeds--phew, talk about pricey...), but then there's EVERYTHING else....the whole nine yards....if it's not workflow & storage issues, there's the compromises of the back're not looking at simply adapting a current system to this stuff, you practically have to start over again from the ground up....very hard to do when you're sitting in a studio that's all paid for and works okay....

I hear you though on your rant...I work in an in-house facility for a largish state history's a scary time for us in a way...our peers in the "outside world": the commercial shooters, are all ditching 4x5 and heading for the digital slrs...we're sitting on a large working neg file, and have access to some 1.5 million LF negs, including nitrate & everything else up to 11x14 or so, and dating back to civ war era times....about half the folks around me are saying "you need to go digital"....just because they think they can just press a button and we can cut down on material costs....they think a floppy disc storing camera is a substitute for a full studio and in-house 4x5 lab in both b&w and's out there and it's coming our's the monster know as digital mutated with desktop publishing and consumer point-n-shooters. Everybody's an expert....(present company excluded of course!)

So...our solution? To start planning and begging now to ditch the wet lab, save the money we spend on service contracts for the wet processors and parts, and materials...and go for dedicated film scanners and a Pictro printer.....BUT still shoot film. It's the perfect storage medium, shoot it, run it and throw it in a drawer in safe migration issues, it's there and you don't need electricity to view it....

But as to your question? Well, depends upon who the users of this forum are...personally, I'm interested in keeping up with that stuff because I don't want to be out of job in 5 yrs. time...but for the individual shooter of LF? Forget's all marketing hype, if you're a millionaire--okay--but if you can't make up the money you invested on a back in a job or two, you don't need one. It's not even remotely close to the same experience...we looked at the new Leaf C-Most back recently and it was incredible, the quality of a raw file...the ease of the interface, and all that, even the price. But to fit this thing on a 4x5 was anything but great. More compromises. You'd need one of those small 2-1/4 views to use the thing, but then add another 4K to the price tag there, and then new lenses to boot....and yet, some big museums are using these things already...and it's surprising the number of museums in this country that have ditched their wetlabs too....people seem to love to praise the "archival-ness" here of fiber (I know I've been on a year long rant against this, forgive me, but I see the irony in it coming from another community so to speak), and yet these big, big museums up in DC are churning out RC prints, and now are doing dye-subs and even selling inkjets to patrons....they don't claim them to be archival, and neither do we, but then that doesn't stop them from using cheaper and more cost-effective materials like their counterparts in the "outside world"....

ahh, now I feel MY rant coming on....but I do wish you all would shoot film and lots of it. keep it in production, becuase the pros won' always, MY OPINIONS ONLY.

-- DK Thompson (, January 10, 2002.

Response to bmitch: Actually, it's not clear whether the present film and digital situation is analogous to the old daguerre and pos/neg situation. Only time will tell if digital really will drive film out altogether. There are some reasons noted in the previous responses to think this will not happen. I suspect the two will coexist for my lifetime, anyhow. I'm fairly sure film will remain in use by some group, no matter how large or small. We still have (again have, really) platinum and other archaic processes, including daguerrotyping, even though these processes were overwhelmed by silver printing and pos/neg respectively. There's a good reason for that, too: Platinum printing does things no other process can do. Period. This is even true of daguerrotyping, which to this day produces the most brilliant type of photographic image ever achieved. -jeff buckels (albuquerque)

-- Jeff Buckels (, January 10, 2002.


Your statement makes good sense to me. A while back, I asked a question about the way in which digital gismoes were being marketed by a photographic magazine. My rather rude question about marketing by specific writers was not directly answered by the publisher. Instead, smoke-and-mirror statements were offered (I do not want to restart that rather fruitless debate). In any case, there is reason to be concerned. Many people are apparently taking manufacturers' claims at face value. Recently, I spoke with the Senior Photographic Conservator of the Library of Congress. He said that people working in conservasion have serious doubts about the longevity of complexly layered digital papers. At every step we are being told that this is the way of the future. Well, I think photographers might do well to wait until the technology matures before they cash in their film cow.

-- Michael Alpert (, January 10, 2002.

Hello James. I too hate the front-end costs of digital printing, but for me the quality makes it work it. My printing method starts with a 16-bit drum scan made on a Tango, which costs more than a hundred dollars per image. Multiply that times about 120 images so far, and the scanning cost is pretty astronomical. But, when I consider the expense I incurred to get those 120 4x5 transparencies, in terms of money on equipment and processing and wasted film and travel expenses, not to mention the TIME investment, etc., then the additional marginal cost of a 600 MB drum scan actually isn't that significant. My personal aesthetic about printing is that this is the ONE thing in the world that I don't have to compromise about, so I'm taking the highest possible road, regardless of the cost. And maybe sometime when I'm in my 70's or 80's, I might even turn my first dollar of "profit" from my photography...

~chris jordan (Seattle)

-- chris jordan (, January 10, 2002.

I guess that I failed to make my point. Despite the almost immediate replacement of Daugerrotype photography, it took almost another 50 years before the negative/positive process actually began to live up to its potential, and approach the quality of Daugerrotypes. (Also to point out one of the truisms of photography: "It is impossible to spell Daguerre correctly." Probably a quote from St. Ansel, or David Vestal, or someone really clever like Eliott Erwitt.)

-- (, January 10, 2002.

I'll admit they're absolutely stunning, we have quite a few in our collection, but the tintypes did them in more than anything....tintypes were around for like 50-60 years almost and were dirt cheap & easy to produce in comparison. Yet they were a poor substitute for those cased images....

As for the LOC, well they're straddling the fence so to speak...all those places up in DC--the Smithsonian, NARA and the LOC are _all_, and have been for longer than most places in the commmercial world, dabbling in digitization projects. Just ask NARA about their program using the big laserdisc storage medium in the early 90's....or the LOC on the workflow of the American Memory Project....or ask the Air & Space Museum about the "paper prints"--inkjets they offer to patrons now, or the dye-subs they make for the SITES traveling exhibits...or NARA's use of lightjet type c-prints for their exhibitry as well....not much different than my museum--using RC prints and now, we too, use lightjet output for murals etc. Even the LOC offers a pretty wide range of RC materials on their Photo Services list....of course, they're one of the few places left in this country that still offer an "archival" fiber print, but then you have to pay about 3 times as much for it as well...but, it's the LOC, I actually believe it would be a great fiber print. NARA doesn't offer fiber prints right off the bat, either...most of their vendors use RC paper for patrons. There's at least one branch of the Smithsonian that uses digital capture as like I was saying on the other thread, museums & archives are split up into different working groups and disciplines....and they just about all have a function that's similar to more commercial lab/service bureau as well. Nobody in these institutions will claim that an inkjet or an RC print is a longlasting medium, but that won't stop them from using the stuff on a daily basis either. If you wanted to get cynical & sarcastic with your questions ( I wouldn't advocate this & hate to bring it up--really), you could start asking questions about microfilm projects. As to what medium is archival, is always in flux...because you never know really until it's too late. Those accelerated tests don't reveal everything....they're just good guesses and need to be interpeted just right. Every industry person, company etc. can put their own spin on the results as the end you can't please everyone...look at the brittle books programs. The archives community will stand firm that microfilming is IT, it's the standard to which all else is matched...and yet people on the "outside" have a problem with that at times, or can't put it in perspective....this is the same way with rc prints, or with any of this other's like there's a conspiracy or something to microfilm a newspaper & throw it away. Like there's a bottomless pit of money & space to store everything on earth. So....ah, where was I?? Well, digital is the same way.....I was at the Smithsonian in 1997 for a conference on archiving photo collections in the digital was sponsored by SCMRE/CAL...that's the professional development wing of the Smithsonian...probably one of the best paper/object conservation labs in the country. NARA and the IPI, and researchers in plastics, data storage etc. were all there as speakers. At the time, the general message was "don't do it (digitization), it's too's a mistake, let someone else make that mistake, not you..." it was like a mantra....and yet that didn't stop, look at American Memory, NAIL etc. And then get a copy of that report to congress by the LOC about what they see their role as being in the "digital age"'s not all fiber printing, I'll tell you that the end what it is, is using materials for ACCESS and using storage for preservation.....and what this means now is very close to what got people upset about the Corbis/Bettman's putting everything safely away underground or in a vault forever, and limiting access to "surrogate" copies--i.e. scans or prints.

I should add here that we're involved in similar type program as well....I don't know if it's good or bad, but it's the way things are going--online.

If you want to read an interesting article on accelerated aging tests and variables in inkjet inks & longevity....pigments v.s. dye sets, and pollutants...I can probably dig the links out for you...needless to say it wasn't as optimistic as the advertisements make it sound....a c-print or an RC print looks pretty darn good in comparison to some of this stuff.

I left out the lab part though...yeah, you could farm it all out...just today we were getting a PO together for about 10 murals and assorted prints that we need the old days (last year) we'd get this done using trad. materials....4x5 bumped up to 8x10 and using ciba mural papers, or some b&w rc, maybe c-prints if the exhibit was short term. Now, it's all 4x5's drum scanned and everything done on a lightjet printer using either cibas or b&w mural paper. the cost including the scans and a wide array of mounting, including to MDF and Sintra, and laminates as well? Just a little more than $5k....that's a good deal....and probably will be a better product in the end as well.

I don't think it's going to kill LF from an enthusiast's point of view, but from a commercial lab viewpoint, or a's coming along fast now. As always, my opinions only.

-- DK Thompson (, January 10, 2002.

James, Yes. I've been disappointed with virtually every computer thingy so far because of the "up-front" hype. I'd get something and learn it and say "that's it??" "Hell I thought this thing was going to wash the car while I was in bed at night."

On a deeper note...I think the whole debate revolves around personality types, giftedness, and values. What drew me to this hobby in the beginning was that if I had the right combination of gifts, a good eye, good problem solving skills, some mechanical abilities, and some common sense, there were really no other issues (called $$money$$) that would divide the haves and have-nots, the big boys and the rest of us. A good analogy is the drag racing sport. Years ago a father and son could put together a scrappy looking rail job with a flathead that was about as good as anybody elses. Never did, but it looked like fun to me. But in the intervening years I watched as it became a sport that you had to either be a millionaire or have a corporate sponsor. I fear that will happen in large format artistic photography. I hope it doesn't.

On giftedness FWIW. There are those folks that just think in computer algorithms. Computer stuff is fun and easy for them, while cameras and darkroom craft is not. The possibilities on the horizon look exciting to them. I'm not in that group. Computers frustrate me to, well, fury. While traditional camera craft is a satisfying and relaxing outlet. I'll keep doing what I'm good at a while longer, and I know the computer folks will keep pressing ahead.

Meanwhile, as you say, a balanced approach that was weighted somewhere in reality would be refreshing.

-- Jim Galli (, January 10, 2002.

What's going on between digital and film in Europe, Australia, and South America, everywhere? I'd be interested in hearing what Armin Seeholzer, Paul Shiliger, and the rest of the world have to say about the issue.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, January 10, 2002.

I picked up an Acer scanner at Office Max for $30 (thirty dollars), and used a $200 epson printer and a 500Mhz PC (probably worth $250 today) to make a 12x18 print that most people find as satisfying as one made by a $200K printer (Lightjet) and a $60K scanner (Tango). Like with the rest of photo equipment, many people would like to have you believe that you need the latest and greatest to do good digital work. Sure, it makes it easier, and in some cases it is necessary, but most of the time not.

-- Q.-Tuan Luong (, January 10, 2002.

Hi all

Here in little Switzerland is the situation like this. Many of the older professionells stay with the film and the old labor way. From the younger pros are almost all in digital. I just got an AD from a big Photostudio and I was then taking with thad boss because he was selling 2 Sinars P to abgrade his digital equipment he told me he works to 95% Digital now and he started 5 years ago with it! Bad I also know thad many of them have hard times to survive, because of the large investment they did! I`m as parttime pro like not to invest in something thad is in 1 year old. And thad Magazin for that I work most they still want MF or LF slides only for portraits and little pictures they accept 35mm slides. But of course I have also meanwile 2 scanners and a Nikon coolpixs 990 and an almost usebell printer, but in my case I like the darkroom more then the digiwork, but it will be in future a coexistence in my case. But the man point will be how many labs will survive in the future, I think not to many here in good old swiss! But film will go on for a while!

-- Armin Seeholzer (, January 10, 2002.

fyi--west coast imaging has a free Piezography print sample that you can order, I found it to be way below the quality hype that I had heard. I don't think I will mind having to go to digital prints, if ever, however, I am worried that with all the photo papers being discontinued or reduced in availability, that I will be forced to do so before the digital quality is up to snuff.

-- mark lindsey (, January 10, 2002.


I think "Digital" has already conquered the professional studios. And this has much to do with the fact that Pre Press went digital quite some time before. If the source of almost all commercial print products is a digital picture, that it seem logical and foreseeable that a complete digital production line has more advantages than a bright light "darkroom" or the disappearance of the ecologically harmful chemistry.

I think that the situation is different for Fine Print and Amateur Photography. The former did not need to invest into digital equipment as long as there is not a significant quality improvement (which is still an ongoing discussion). The latter will not invest into digital equipment as long as the price-performance ratio has not a clear advantage and it is much easier to handle. "Easier to handle" does not mean digital vs. conventional darkroom, it means that you can store some 300MB of information on a single film sheet within a fraction of a second. Connecting computer and storage devices may not be an obstacle in a studio but definitely is in the field today. Imagine traveling with digital LF-equipment! This all might be solved in the future somehow. Maybe we can store terabytes of data on sugar-cube sized storage devices some day. But this is still science fiction. And neither the Fine Print nor the Amateur Photographer feels comfortable with the marketing statements, that a digital picture needs less information to be competitive with a conventional one. This might be true at first sight. But for me, one reason to use LF is the fact that you can recognize more details each time you look at the pictures, even after years.

But the digital trend will have an impact on all photographers. On the one hand, it is quite inexpensive now to invest into conventional photography with all the professional studio photographers selling there whole equipment. On the other hand, the variety will change. There will be less options on conventional an more options on digital photography. Nobody will be able to prevent this.

It may sound funny, but technological progress is a problem for digital photography on the long run. Think of the storage tapes you used to use in 1990 to back up your hard disk. Ever tried to read one on a current computer? Not a problem, because you will no longer need the data on them. But what about your pictures? Can you take it for granted, that a 4mm-, 8mm- or DLT-Tape can be read in 10 years? Not only a problem of the physical devices, but you also need the right device drivers for the operating systems in use then and application software that packed the data on the tape in a particular manner. Even the organic material used to record data on CD- and DVD-ROMs is suspicious not to last 10 or 20 years. You even might have trouble reading your 5 Years old CD-ROMs, because they have had  recorded on devices with much more physical tolerance than the current high-speed-models allow. So you will have to convert your archive from time to time to keep up with the technological development. A cost factor not calculated by most engaged in digital photography and probably fatal for stock photo agencies. Of course, it's never been easier to backup your photo stock. But that may not be an advantage, too...


-- Thilo Schmid (, January 11, 2002.

It would be a good idea, if we want to see the future, to look how the digital process has changed the world of audio. Digital recording and replay came into the domestic market in the early 80's - we were told that the CD produced 'perfect sound forever' - you could chuck away your record players and vinyl. For the mass market consumer this was indeed the case and CD had a demonstatable advantage in sound and convinience over your average all in one tower system. However in the upper regions of the audio world all was not well if you owned an expensive high definition (true Hi-Fi) it would reproduce better sound - quite simply the CD standard was found to be too low a standard to capture all the detail on a recording. Today there is a large body of people in the audio world who stick with vinyl - because it sounds better. There are now emerging new higher definition digital audio formats - HDCD,SACD DVDA which aim to improve on the original 'PERFECT SOUND FOREVER' - to satisfy the more descerning ear. As a group LF photographers are analagous to 'high end' audio enthusiasts we are concerned with issues of detail , tone and colour fidelity which are simply not in the realm of consumer photo market. It's taken nearly 20 years to get from the original CD to the possibilities of the new format - we are perhaps 5 years into digital. I still see people buying expensive record players well into the forseable future and there is much evidence that the market is growing and will exist alongside other formats. In the same way I can not see traditional wet methods of photography disapearing - it's just another path. Technicaly it all comes down to a simple principle (in audio and photography) the storage and reproduction in traditional methods is a continuous tone method - magnify an anologue sound wave or a density transition from light to dark as much as you like and in theory it should be a smooth line . Do the same with a digital signal and by it's nature it is stepped. More sampling and the steps are smaller but they are still there and at the moment with digital imaging you have to spend a lot of money to get the high sample rates throughout the tonal range of an image to get close to the wet process. Will it ever be cheap though? - if consumers demand better imaging then yes but to be honest the quality I can get from a Nikon 4000ED 35mm scanner (with admitedly a lot of photoshop knowledge) is more than most consumers will ever need and is well up my professional needs on jobs using 35mm. I will never go into a darkroom again to do 35mm (there has been a watershed from my previous Nikon LS2000/Epson Photo 750 to my present 4000ED/890photo)- I can see and appreciate a good wet print alright but I'm more interested in the image than the surface - it's now good enough! The distance is still big between what I can get with a desktop flatbed ( even with my command of photoshop) and a lambda/LED print and what I would expect from a cibachrome or a fiber B&W print - give it another 5 years! BTW I have a moderatley expensive CD player and record player but I can't say one is better than the other - they are just different.

-- John Griffin (, January 11, 2002.

John G.: But here's the question, are LP's still being manufactured to this day? I don't think so, but I may be wrong. andre

-- Andre Noble (, January 12, 2002.

Yes LP's are still manufactured today and there are quite a few specialist firms who are reissuing special pressings of old recordings. The other factor is the huge amount of records in existing private collections - enough to see the medium into the future. My question would be how long are the major manufacturers going to keep making LF materials ? - particularly the 'specialist' B&W emulsions and papers? - I hope (and am sure)there will be a similar small specialist industry keeping it going. John

-- John Griffin (, January 14, 2002.

"The grain size of a good film may be of the order of a few microns. The pixel size on a CCD is orders of magnitude larger." - Rubbish!
A 4000dpi scanner has a pixel spacing of 6.35 microns, not even one order of magnitude larger.
Another thing that the anti-digital lobby fail to mention is that a single pixel can show 255 shades of grey, or 16.5 million different colours, whereas an individual film grain or dye-cloud can be just one colour.
By all means, let's debate the different qualities of film versus digital, but let's get our facts right when we do so.

-- Pete Andrews (, January 14, 2002.

Yeah...some people do still put out LPs, but it's a very small niche market. Not a profitable one that my offtime I do some freelance work and it's mostly commercial work for small recording labels. I started off working mostly for vinyl recordings, but in the past decade or so this has tapered into CDs mostly. Even people who like the idea of putting out vinyl, will still most likely do a cd package because vinyl doesn't sell. The major distributors will not carry it, and it's pretty expensive compared to pressing & packaging a cd. Like 'em or not, CDs are dirt cheap to manufacture, and from a design persepective, cd booklets, tray cards, the discs themselves...all are open to more possibilities...

I collect records as well, going back to 78's. There are still companies that make high-end turntables for 78's, there are still folks who collect cylinders etc. too...there will always be enthusiasts out there for this type of should see some of the things patrons are interested in here at the museum...thread counts on military uniforms, etc. We collect TVs as well, and have a good representation of the technology going back to the Baird shortwave tv's of the 30's. There are people all over the world into early tv's, no matter how obsolete the debate a specific trend in technology is nothing happens all throughout history, no matter what the subject is.

LF will live on in the same way...BUT what is important now is that alot of you all say that a 35 mm scanner or a digital slr is good enough....well *maybe* for some things, but I see it definitely lacking as far as the perspective control you get from a view camera. The only digital interface allowing you full control is a scanning back...and the limitations there are pretty big. All these other capture backs are very similar to the early digital slrs doubling or tripling focal lengths....and then reducing the amount it takes to do a movement as well....a tiny little shift becomes a's all compromise in the end with these backs. Either you need all new lenses , all new lighting gear, or both.

What has changed though, is what the clients need in the end, and what the styles are as that sorta brings you closer to the LP vs. cd analogy or even beta v.s. VHS...or even farther back in time, 78 vs LP. The thing that will dictate this in the end is what the majority of the public flocks too....and the die-hard enthusiasts and collectors will always stick by their chosen medium as a "better" thing. My opinions as always.

-- DK Thompson (, January 14, 2002.

"Another thing that the anti-digital lobby fail to mention is that a single pixel can show 255 shades of grey, or 16.5 million different colours, whereas an individual film grain or dye-cloud can be just one colour."

That is rubbish also! each single pixel can "depict" 225 shades of gray, so does each grain of silver. Further more each grain of silver can depict an infinity number of shades of gray depending on the intesity of the light that falls on it. The capability of depicting the number of shades does not mean you have all those shades in one pixel at one time. So please do not make digital to be more than it is! that is exactly the problem with digital and the complaint of the poster, you all come out and make these statements which a lot of the time are ludicrous....

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (, January 14, 2002.


a grain of silver appears either black or not a grain of silver at all (some are joking, that this is *real* digital while what is thought to be Digital Photography is an analogous energy level on the CCD, which is interpreted against certain thresholds to form a digital signal). Although it's size may vary with the light captured, those "shades of gray" are built with several layers of grain. A typical B+W Film has between 20 and 40 layers of grain. Combined with the grain size, a tiny spot on the film may be able to differentiate much more than 256 levels of gray and at a certain macroscopic level, film is a continuous tone recorder, as the density-curves in the data sheets do visualize.

But what is it all about, if a human being is not able to differentiate much more than 500 levels of gray under optimum conditions? Well, the answer lies in the Positive Process, something which Digital not only lacks "The Sprit of Soul", but definitely has shortcomings today.
Conventional  film leaves it up to you, how and when you will spread or compact densities onto the paper. A Gradation "5" is able to differentiate the tiniest density- changes on the film. This might open new perspectives for partial enlargements - often years after the the shot has been taken with a specific "picture" in mind. Although Digital Sensors are able to record more than 256 levels of gray, it is still much more cumbersome and limited to retrieve specific gradation effects (not to speak about partial enlargements at all) even in 16-Bit-Mode of Photoshop, because each operation causes a recalculation of the whole image data - a negative, on the other hand, is always the same source. Or have you ever tried a Splitgrade in Photoshop? Of course, some things are easier to achieve in a Digital Darkroom (e.g. masking), but some other are not. Regards,

-- Thilo Schmid (, January 14, 2002.

Thilo, it has been a while since I studied solid state physics, and I beleive you are correct, with the developer action the grains will show as black or none, with the layers creating the grays. nevertheless from your post I think you do agree with me that the simuation of grays by a CCD is analogous to the layers you mention, thus, an array of CCD has to simulate those layers of silver grain you mention.I beleive that those layers of silver grain are capable of depicting way way more than 225 shades of gray, so I am still convinced that Pete Andrews's statement was incorrect. OTH thanks for shedding light (pun intended)on the subject.

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (, January 14, 2002.

I was going to reply, but it's like banging your head against a wall with some people.

-- Pete Andrews (, January 15, 2002.

On second thoughts, I can't let this pro-film babble go unchallenged.
Jorge, a typical scanner CCD 'pixel' size would be around 6.5 microns square, and in a digital camera it's probaly closer to 5 x 5 microns. In monochrome, each of those pixels will show 255 different levels of brightness when displayed on a computer monitor - fact. As anyone with the slightest knowledge of digital imaging will tell you.
Now, have a look at a 6 x 6 micron area of B&W film through a decent optical microscope, and tell me how many shades of grey you can see. I have, and I can only see TWO shades; black, or transparent. And it doesn't matter how many totally opaque grains you stack up over each other.

-- Pete Andrews (, January 15, 2002.

You know Pete I agree with you it is like banging your head against a wall.....Ok, you want to compare apples and oranges so I will follow your lead, so now that you have decided ok, CCD has 225 shades in your one pixel, and a negative only black or clear, now take that resolution you are talking about and try to show it to some one, well as you stated on your response you have to see it on a monitor! what is the resolution of a monitor? I will let you tell me that, but what ever it is, is no where near that of a contact print, so if we compare apples to apples, on a complete cradle to grave procedure where you take the picture, process it and DISPLAY it, then your one ccd has to simulate all those layers Thilo explained, and then you don't even have an appropriate medium in which to display your product, or at least one that mantains the same reslution you are so impressed with. So you see, the poster and his primary complain was that you digital people sort of pick and choose your arguments without see the ENTIRE PICTURE. Sure lets agree you CCD is wonderful and the best thing to come since sliced bread...but what the heck you do with it?

I know probably your next answer will be, ah the industry is young, we will get there and surpass the film industry etc, but that is not what this thread was about, it was about the ridiculous hype you people in the digital field keep braying about, without the true facts of the pros and cons I said before, everytime I hear of this new and improved digital gizmo, I wait six months, go check it out and it is same outrageous claims that never come true.

So look, you want and compare CCD and film, fine, but if you really want to compare digital VS film, why dont you give us an overview of the entire process and compare cost, display medium, durability of both the print and the equipment,etc. And you will see digital medium claims are exagerated at best and outlandish most of the time..

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (, January 15, 2002.

Jorge. For what it's worth. I agree with you that digital imaging has quite a way to go, especially at the cheaper end of the market, but its failings are mainly in the area of output, not capture devices. Affordable printers, capable of decent monochrome output, just aren't available. However, this is an entirely different argument from that of the fundamental difference between film grain and pixels.
Opening up and diverting the argument doesn't change anything. The fact remains that B&W film is not some magic medium capable of storing an infinite number of analogue tones. To pretend that it is, is detrimental to progress in understanding the strengths and weaknesses of both digital and film photography.
I'm persuing this argument in the interest of just making some plain facts known, not for the sake of pushing digital down anybody's throat.

Thilo is mistaken in assuming that film grain is in any way transparent. He is also mistaken in guessing that 20 to 40 layers of grain can exist in a modern film emulsion. In reality, actual observation of film grain, through a microscope, reveals that each grain is opaque; so the number of grains stacked over each other is irrelevant anyway. Furthermore, the reduced thickness of a modern film emulsion precludes 40 grains from existing in the depth of the emulsion. Again, actual microscope observation, by differential focus, shows there to be an average depth of maybe 4 or 5 grains in a midtone exposure on a modern medium speed film.

If you still doubt my word, take a look at this article from Kodak.

-- Pete Andrews (, January 16, 2002.

I don't know where the failures in pixelography really are. All I know is that judging a photograph from a computer screen is a waste of time, especially in B&W. That I have not yet seen inkjet prints that match the 8x10 contact print. That the digital cameras that are 'better' than film can't take an 8 hour photo of star trails. If pixelography is your thing, use it & push it, just don't tell me it is 'better' than what I use for most of my work. It is not better nor is it worse. It is what it is and nothing more.

-- Dan Smith (, January 16, 2002.

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