Dry Darkroom Equipment Recommendations

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I followed the dialog regarding Travis's question about Scanning vs. enlargers to be very interesting and informative. I too have been contemplating a move to the scanner-printer as an alternative to the wet darkroom. Can you make some brand recommendations regarding scanners and printers that would produce good results (especially in black and white) for a Leica M user? Is Photoshop essential software or are there other alternatives? Thanks for any advice. Dennis

-- Dennis Buss (dbuss@rider.edu), March 09, 2002


Not really an answer, but thought I'd add on to the question a little: since a number of us shoot a lot of rolls per project, how do you come up with a digital contact sheet? Scan the entire roll on a scanner that can handle that, or get a physical contact sheet and go from there, or use a flatbed, or ???

Thanks. I promise I'm not trying to hijack your thread, Dennis. :)

-- Derek Zeanah (derek@zeanah.com), March 09, 2002.

Derek, No problem, good questions that I would also like answered! Dennis

-- Dennis Buss (dbuss@rider.edu), March 09, 2002.

Epson printer with Piezo program, inks and paper (mentioned already in this forum) Scanners are harder to pin-point. But something with a good lens, film holders, 4000 dpi and 4+ d-max. ) Nikon. Polaroid, etc. I think Nikon allows batch scanning on their higher end model, which makes heavier work flow easier', but perhaps less precise in terms of variation from frame to frame. PhotoShop rules. It will take you the rest of your life to learn all that it can do. It has a super "no brainer" contact sheet feature that lets you select a file crammed with photos, and will systematically and automatically create " contact sheets to the size and order you tell it to. I go watch TV while it works its' ass off . There is also a "Picture Package" feature that will take one image and arrange various sizes of it on a single sheet. Oh joy, oh joy --Marc Williams

-- Marc Williams (mwilliams111313MI@comcast.com), March 09, 2002.

You will need 4000 dpi to get best quality and a top piezo printer - total cost in the UK about 5000.For the best quality 10x8 you can watch a whole episode of Friends whilst just one print is being made. Yawn ! But this will be very top quality. Archival inks are a bit pricey over here so a 10x8 in archival ink is about 4.

-- Tony Brookes (gdz00@lineone.net), March 10, 2002.

I'd re commend the Minolta Dimage Multi-Pro. It is a 4,800 dpi film scanner and is pretty fast. Results are good. It has both a FireWire and a Parallel interface. It has a small footprint - about the same size as a shoe box - much smaller than the Nikon 8000 ED.

For printging I'd recommend the Epson 1270, 1280 or 2000 Photo printers. Excellent results.

-- Phil Allsopp (pallsopp42@attbi.com), March 10, 2002.

If all you are scanning is 35mm, the Nikon Coolscan 4000 ED is getting good comments - $1649 @ Calumet. If you also need medium or large format film scanning, the choices become much more complicated, and even more expensive. Epson printers seem to have the edge at the output end for personal use. Check the Epson 1280 and 2000. There is also a growing availability of higher quality digital prints from various labs. Those with Frontier printers appear to have have the edge for most pro applications.

-- Ralph Barker (rbarker@pacbell.net), March 10, 2002.


I can not say enough good things about the Frontier system, or the Konica equivalent. It can accept input from slides, negs, CD ROMs Floppys or Compact Flash cards. It make prints up to 10 x 15 and usually $1/linear inch on the longer side.

It prints out at 400 dpi onto RA4 Crystal Archive paper- the best traditional silver chromogenic process there is IMHO. B&W is good, but not as good as colour, as it depends on the software setting if you have a digital source, and it still can not do selective exposure/ contrast control that one can do manually, but is is great if you have a neg that prints on a straight grade 2 or 3 paper.

Cheers Check out Galen Rowell's site www. mountainlight.com and see what his rpints look like and what he says.

-- RICHARD ILOMAKI (richardjx@hotmail.com), March 10, 2002.

Tony Brookes wrote 'You will need 4000 dpi to get best quality and a top piezo printer - total cost in the UK about 5000' Tony, I'm sorry to contradict you, but a 'dry darkroom' with state of the art scanner and printer can be had for less than 1100. My recommendation for a 4000dpi scanner would be the Canon FS4000US or the Nikon Coolscan IV (4), the Canon retails for about 460. Then the best printer is going to be the new Canon S900, for about 350, or for A3 prints the S9000 for about 600. Both are the best photo quality available, and even my older S800 can do a full quality A4 print during the ad break in Friends. Both the scanners come with PhotoShop LE software.

-- Steve Barnett (barnet@globalnet.co.uk), March 10, 2002.

Steve. You can certainly buy your set up for the prices you mention but that would not produce top quality prints approaching wet standards.

At the recent show I went to - I mentioned it in answer to another question question - the difference in quality between a wet print and digital, both colour and B&W, was as clear as crystal when you put them side by side. On their own your set up would produce a good digital print. To get anywhere near a good wet print you would need much better equipment. Prices are coming down fast so that a Minolta dimage multi pro, for example. will be 500 in a year or so(its currently 2,250). Then you will be able to get closer. They are also going to speed up printing but at present the time is unaaceptable except for very special pics.

-- Tony Brookes (gdz00@lineone.net), March 10, 2002.

Tony I accept that it is often easy to differentiate between a digital, and 'wet' print, but as the question was 'recommendations regarding scanners and printers that would produce good results...' I think my response is valid. I understand that the Minolta scanner you mentioned costs over 2000 simply because it will scan larger formats (up to 5x4)than Leica's 35mm, but I could be wrong? What equipment would you recommend to answer the question?

-- Steve Barnett (barnet@globalnet.co.uk), March 10, 2002.

Photoshop is a good program if you are doing desktop publishing. But for the digital darkroom, Photoshop is NOT essential or even, in my view, desireable! I quit using it about a year ago; I've found Picture Window Pro to be a better PHOTOGRAPHERS tool. Their support is also much better. Take a look at http://www.dl-c.com/

Try this simple test - scan/import a really good image at max resolution into both programs. Do not "process" either photo; look at the screen/printed results. Then make your decision. That's what I did and I removed Photoshop from my system that day. PW pro produced a "cleaner" base image.

Also take a look at http//www.normankoren.com That is where I first heard about PW Pro.

-- MikeP (mike996@optonline.net), March 10, 2002.

Mike's solution re PW Pro works if you've sold your soul to MicroSoft. PW only works in the horrible Windows shell--there are no plans to port it to Mac. PW itself is fine--I used it for years. It's a basic basic photo editor. I personally switched to Mac about 18 months ago & have never regretted it. Finally a stable platform! As an aside, the majority of photo pros use Macs, & there's a reason... Not I intended to start a Win vs. Mac debate!

-- Patrick (pg@patrickgarner.com), March 10, 2002.

I'm getting excellent results with a Nikon LS-4000ED, Photoshop 6 and an Epson 870.

I print quite neutral b&w using the Epson colour inks, on Epson's Premium Luster Photo paper. The performance of this approach is totally paper-dependent. I've seen the output of the 2000P in colour, and I'm less than impressed with the gamut and saturation compared to the dye inks of the 870/1270. I'm less interested in archival capability than good colour, so I prefer the dye inks to pigments.

I'm waiting for the next generation of printers before I jump to a wide-body model. I'm specifically waiting to see what the new Epson PM-4000PX is like compared to the Canon S9000 (if the Epson makes it to North America). I may add a printer for Piezography B&W, but I don't shoot enough B&W yet to make it a priority, especially given that the results I'm getting on the 870 satisfy me.

I have Picture Window Pro on my system, but never use it. I'm a confirmed Photoshop user, and I'll be upgrading to version 7 when it comes out. As far as I'm concerned, Photoshop is much more flexible and capable than PW - especially when it comes to colour management and layers. It's the gold standard of image editing programs for a bunch of very good reasons.

I used the Polaroid SS4000 before I bought the Nikon, and it's a very capable scanner. Now that it has been updated with greater bit depth and a Firewire connection it should be even better. However, I love the Nikon's infrared cleaning capability, and I find it to be noticeably sharper than the Polaroid. The Nikon's problem with lack of depth of field in the scanning lens is real, and you need to be judicious in placing the focus point within the image (or blend two scans with different focus points if you're very picky). I use Vuescan exclusively with all my scanners.

I'm souping my own b&w film, but that's the closest I'll ever get again to a wet darkroom. Digital is already very, very good and it's only going to get better from here on.

Oh, and about operating systems? I recently switched to XP Pro, and I'm bowled over by the stability of my system. Much, much better than Win98 - maybe even as good as a Mac :-)

-- Paul Chefurka (paul@chefurka.com), March 10, 2002.

I had the polaroid ss4000, I didn't like the results, I found them "higly two dimensional", and I didn't like the colors, I liked polaroid's service, but not the fact that I had to use it constantly. I ended up getting all my money back after 7 month of using it (much of it, actually, the machine was at Polaroid). It is remarkable for Polaroid service, but not a good thing to need it. I got the Nikon CL4000, and I really love it. I like the colors much better,and I scanned all of the "important" pictures again. As to printers, the epson are good, but I would recommend the archival 2000p, over the 1280. I have the 1270, which is the nearly as the 1280, but in some cases I noticed fading. I worked with the 2000, and the colors are good enough.

-- Rami (rg272@columbia.edu), March 10, 2002.

btw, Deltainternational list nikon's 4000 for 1172USD

-- rami (rg272@columbia.edu), March 10, 2002.

For Tony & Steve: For B&W, there is no question that quality b&w prints cannot yet be done with a six color (Epson or Canon) photo printer; the dedicated piezo b&w printers, though, are another story. Color, though, is quite a different kettle of fish. I've seen side by side comparisons of Ilfochrome and Epson prints, and everyone that saw this comparison, much prefered the Epson print, not the least of which is the fact that contrast was much improved. The Ilfochrome print was a 16x20, and the Epson print was 13x19, and done with pigmented inks, which gives a colorfast life of 100+ years, rivaling Ilfochrome. I was also to Photo Expo, NYC, this past fall, where Epson showed an atonishing array of Photo Printers ranging from $100 to $10000 (US). I know people have their own brand loyalities, but the truth is that with either an low priced Epson or Canon six color printer, and a 4000 dpi scanner, one has the ability to challenge any Pro Lab using a wet process in terms of print quality. My printer & scanner set me back approximately $850 (US). The quality is outstanding, and more than one person has asked which lab I use. Of course I have no problem with buying discontinued items.

-- Glenn Travis (leicaddict@hotmail.com), March 10, 2002.

digital contact sheets


-- ken kwok (kk353@yahoo.com), March 10, 2002.

Glenn. You are quite right but we in the UK suffer from higher prices than you. I accept your point about the Minolta being for medium format but of course at the same dpi the quality is comensurately better. Things digital are improving at an astonishing rate. I dont think I will be tempted until they can get digital cameras producing 36 x 60mb images on a card.

-- Tony Brookes (gdz00@lineone.net), March 10, 2002.

Tony wrote 'I dont think I will be tempted until they can get digital cameras producing 36 x 60mb images on a card.' Why wait Tony, you can get 36x 60+mb (120mb at 48 bit!) scans using a 4000dpi scanner from a standard neg or slide film. And you can use your Leica! Go for it!

-- Steve Barnett (barnet@globalnet.co.uk), March 10, 2002.

Thanks everyone. I'm printing out your responses so that I can absorb all of this. Your ideas are very encouraging. Dennis

-- Dennis Buss (dbuss@rider.edu), March 10, 2002.

Although you asked for brand recommendations, and we all pretty much zeroed in on our respective favorites, there are a couple of underlying issues to keep in mind that have been reflected in the previous responses.

Resolution: the optical resolution obviously controls the number of pixels possible in the scan, and, thus, the maximum size that can be printed from the scan. Some printers, however, will interpolate pixels when printing, so that's another consideration. My old Epson 1200 (non-archival) printer, for example, does nice 11x14s from a 300DPI image, due in part to that interpolation.

D-Max: is, perhaps, even more important than resolution. The dynamic range of the scanner determines how much of the image data in the original transfers to the scan. Thus, the higher the D-Max spec, the better. My old Epson Expression 800 Pro scanner (which scans up to 8x10), has a D-Max of 3.2 - barely acceptible, but a reasonable trade-off as I need to scan up to 4x5. The latest Nikon models have a D-Max of 4.2 - much better at transferring the rich tonality of Leica slides and negs to the scan.

Focus: not all scanners allow you to adjust the focus manually. Some have fixed focus (the surface of the glass on flatbeds, for example), and some auto-focus. For optimum results, having the ability to manually focus the scanner seems to me to be a significant advantage.

Software: what you can control in the scanning process is naturally determined by the scanner software. The software that comes free with the scanner isn't always the best. SilverFast (a Photoshop plug-in) and VueScan (a standalone shareware program) are popular alternatives that often give better results than the manufacturer's software.

Ultimately, I think, the choice one makes is a balance between these factors and the available budget. The Imacon Flextight Precision II, for example, is a superb scanner touted by many professionals. It scans up to 4x5 film at a resolution of up to 5760 dpi, and has a D-Max of 4.1 - but, it costs $9,995 at Calumet. Ouch!

-- Ralph Barker (rbarker@pacbell.net), March 10, 2002.

I started with wet darkroom and was never really good at it. I got a decent film scanner ((Minolta Scan Elite, printer (Canon S800 replaced sice by Epson 1290) and Picture Window Pro.

For colour, as others have said, digital home processing rocks.

For B&W, I've just got a Focomat V35, have started to learn how to properly expose, develop and print. I'm only at the start of the learning curve (it has been 2 months), but I already get much better results than whatever I got after 1 year of digital practice. That includes my new much better exposed negatives, and even XP2 super negs, which print much better in wet than in digital. Much much better. I may add that I do not (yet) use fancy papers and chemicals. Just regular Ilford Multigrade RC with Ilford developper.

The irony is that, with the Focomat, I am now faster than with the scanner. Nothing beats an enlarger to get a contact sheet, and I manage to print 5-7 proofs per hour in the wet darkroom, to a quality standard that would take quite some work in digital and take much more time.

-- Stephane Bosman (stephane.bosman@2ci.net), March 11, 2002.

As an M user you can limit yourself to 35mm film scanners - and I think the Nikon ED4000 is the top of the pile at the moment. It's ability to handle colour neg is second to none (a software hardware combination) I always put Epson Photo printers in pole position - each generation an improvement on the previous but Canon is a serious challenge if not better with it's current photo printer series. I would for the best results advocate 2 printers - one for colour and another converted to quad or hex tone B&W. The biggest hurdle is not the equipment - it's the knowledge of Photoshop and the whole digital process. There are easier programes out there for the first time user who wants to get a result quickly but when you want ultimate control there is no challenge to this bit of software. Why not start with a wet/dry combo. A cheap 600x1200 dpi A4 flatbed and an A4 photoprinter will cost very little - scan your prints and learn photoshop to start with this way. When you have got the hang of this you can move on to scanning film and incorporate and elaborate on the skills you have learned. This way you are not up against such a steep learning curve.

-- John Griffin (john.griffin@millerhare.com), March 11, 2002.

Steve - I've tried it using a Polaroid 4000 and my Leica negs. It's just that it's a halfway house although it has its attractions. Maybe I'll re-visit when I can borrow the polaroid again. I'm waiting a digital camera giving 60mb pics - now that will be something. Come on Panasonic if your so good !

-- Tony Brookes (gdz00@lineone.net), March 11, 2002.

PW Pro question. I downloaded it and tried it out but could not figure out how to use adjustment layers, or if it even had them. So, does PW pro have layers and if so, were do you acess them?

-- Mark (acerview76eus@yahoo.com), May 06, 2002.

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