Who has gone digital and what are your complaints about it if any.

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As I am looking for a new (used) enlarger, I thought before purchase I'd ask the forum members who have moved into the 4x5 digital realm using scanners, what their impressions are as related to the positives and negatives. (forgive the pun) Is digital good enough for you? I know that a drum scan is always possible, giving far greater resolution, but what of flatbed output for smaller stuff.

-- Wayne Crider (waynecrider@hotmail.com), June 05, 2002


I use a flatbed to scan the final prints, but the real thing looks better to me. It is nice for playing with different cropping efforts, and for sharing with more people though. As always, the better the print is, the better the scan will be.

-- Steve Gangi (sgangi@hotmail.com), June 05, 2002.

I've started scanning 4x5 and 8x10 black and white negatives on a Linoscan 1400 flat bed scanner, manipulating them in Photoshop, and printing with MIS inks in an Epson 1160 printer. I've been very excited about the degree of control that I can achieve over the final prints using this method, much more ability to control the look of the final print than can be achieved in the darkroom even with things like flashing, masking, etc. I also like the fact that I don't need to block out three or four hours as I do when I go in the darkroom, I can sit down at the computer for an hour here and there and work on prints. I've also been very pleased with the tonal range and detail that I can achieve (though I only enlarge to 10x16 maximum and I'm scanning 4x5 and 8x10 negatives so I guess it isn't surprising that the detail is very good. I think the detail is at least as good as I get from enlarging in the darkroom but not yet (for me at least) as good as 8x10 contact prints. And of course "spotting," fixing scratches, "toning," etc. is far easier and more effective when done digitally. However, the prints don't look like "real" photographs, they have a look all their own. I like the look o.k. but I still plan to use my wet darkroom when I have a negative that I really like. One myth I've found is the idea that digital manipulation and printing is quick and easy. Because there is so much you can do, I find that I spend at least as much time making a digital print as I do a traditional print and I've always spent a lot of time - usually several hours, sometimes more- making a final print in the darkroom.

-- Brian Ellis (bellis60@earthlink.net), June 05, 2002.

I am a basket case on this issue.

I had a darkroom for years. Before that I rented a darkroom in which I could do BW, color negatives, and cibachrome. I developed my own BW and printed in all three.

Eight years ago my cool home darkroom ended up at what suddenly became The Ex Wife's Place, and is now a playroom with a big sink and light tight windows.

Two years ago I invested seriously in a digital darkroom. I decided to develop BW in the sink and then scan negatives, manipulate in photoshop, and print on an Epson. I have found that scanning is a craft unto itself, that photoshop manipulation is SO MUCH better than darkroom manipulation...especially with the peskiest of things like dust spotting and very localized contrast control, and I have found that digital prints do indeed have their own look that is cool if you have an open mind.

Then last night I rented a darkroom and printed two 6x12 color negative landscapes as 9x18 prints. It had been so long since I had made a "real" print, they took my breath away. There is a quality to the prints that epson prints just don't approach. It's as simple as that.

I now plan to scan and print for casual prints and for emailing photographs, and to optically print photographs for walls.

This is extremely long winded but as I seem to have already started the journey you are considering, perhaps it's relevant.


-- David G Hall (dhall@premiereradio.com), June 05, 2002.

We do digital at work (mostly scanning negs) with an Imacon. Film for me is still the way to go and for my personal work, I'm still and will be for a long time, a film guy! I prefer to get in the darkroom both at work and at home. Digital is used at work because we have to supply the client with digital files for their presentations. The Imacon we have is great for this and is very powerful. I have a Microtek 4 at home and scan my personal stuff (usually 4"x5" @ 300dpi) and it comes out great for my submissions via email. For me, digital does have it's place but I would still recommend the wet darkroom!

-- Scott Walton (walton@ll.mit.edu), June 06, 2002.

I don't shoot 4x5, but do 6x6, 6x7 and 6x9 B&W. I agree with Scott, don't quit the wet darkroom, but do try digital. I'm doing both and photoshop is loads of fun, particuarly for color and B&W variations. With digital you can print on almost any paper. I enjoy doing both B&W and color on water color paper and rag paper. But for real punch, a well executed fiber B&W print is still where it's at for us non professionals, who do not want to pay big bucks for top of the line B&W digital.

I was orginally quite taken by digital about a year ago, when I got a 35mm scanner and a 8 1/2 inch printer. But now I seem to be moving back to the darkroom. FWIW.

-- Gene Crumpler (hassieguy@att.net), June 06, 2002.

The issue for me isn't so much resolution of the scanner as the way the prints look. I've seen some very nice digital B&W prints, and Photoshop offers a great deal of control, but digital prints look different from wet prints. The surface has a different kind of reflectivity, and the pattern of tonal gradation is different. I don't see myself going digital any time soon for B&W, though it is handy for putting images up on the web.

On the other hand, LightJet output for color is excellent, and since the prints are done on the same material that would be used for conventional color prints, the issues of surface and tonality don't obtain, and the additional control available without time-consuming processes like contrast masking, is a big advantage.

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), June 06, 2002.

I have printed b/w LF for about 20 years and still do. Last year I began scanning my b/w negs on an Epson 1640 U, the predecessor to the Epson 2450, manipulating them in photoshop 6, and outputting them on an Epson 1160 with Piezography inks. Along the way i took a good correspondence course on digital printing, and have talked with a local commercial photographer who has gone from jobo to digital with a D-1 and an Epson 10000. results: Photoshop makes traditional darkroom manipulation pale by contrast. When I heard John Sexton speak at a Calumet seminar about the procedures he had used to print one of the images from his latiest book, i couldn't help but think--John, with your talent and funds you could do this digitally so much easier!

results/output. With some images I cannot achieve the same dynamic range digitally as I can in the chemical darkroom. I have yet to match paper and image really well. Scanning: A demon lives inside my scanner, rewarding me with really good scans most of the time, and newton's rings, garbage, and junk some of the time. I think the latter has to do with the Epson not going into a save/rescue/sleep mode. If the scanner has been on (I mean the light) for a lengthy time, and the glass heats up, my scans go south. If I could i would get a dedicated 4x5 scanner, but they are far too expensive at this juncture. So i have learned to scan a few images, work on them, restart the scanner and do some more..

results--images; Digital output has a distinctive look and feel that I don't think you can get with a chemically created print. Not worse or better--just different. I like it, but I am not ready to sell the enlarger, cameras, etc and go fully digital. In color, however, I think the digital output and the ability to manipulate in a lightroom is superior. The 20x24s made on my friend's epson 10000 are stunning. Even the smaller ones my students are grinding out on Epson 820s are neat as hell.

When my new LF camera arrives later this month, I will learn its use and immediately shoot both in color and in B/W, soimething i rarely have done before. So far I have found the learning and the cost of the digital darkroom positive experiences, at least for me. Bob

-- Bob moulton (bobmargaretm@insightbb.com), June 06, 2002.

I'd like to add to the confusion of the traditional/digital "debate".

After working in photojournalism for 20 years, and having made the switch to digital several years ago, I'd like to point out that it really isn't an either/or situation. I realize that economically it's better to make a decision, but I've approached the whole debate on digital as a method and knowledge that is an ADDITION and not a REPLACEMENT.

Just as paper selection will determine how a final print "feels"-- along with film choice, development choice, karma..etc--so should the decision to shoot and print traditionally, or inserting a digital step into your scheme. Scanner selection will make a difference in an image. Software selection will partly determine the final look and feel. Injet selection will also alter everything.

I've found the best way to deal with this is to be more patient than I thought possible and try different methods. I'm going very slow on this, and some of the people who contribute to this list can tell you I've emailed them with some fairly basic, sometimes silly questions.

I recently had a b&w 4x5 neg drum-scanned and an inkjet proof made. The results were both stunning and expensive. However, that print doesn't have the same look and feel as a tray-developed print. It's just different. I'll have to learn an ADDED previsualization when making pictures from now on. I can't wait to see the the 16x20 inkjet.

I've also thought about a table top scanner and I'm waiting until the high ends get a little higher. Technology is both wonderful and frustrating, but I think it will all get to a price and quality we can all appreciate in the immediate future.


-- John (jflavell@zoomnet.net), June 06, 2002.

As others have pointed it out, there is a significant difference between color and B&W. I am a color photographer. I've been using the lighjet for printing for several years, and apart from the higher cost, I see nothing to regret about the Ilfochromes. With inkjets, the results are more mixed. It's still difficult to make a good archival print on glossy paper (there are all sorts of issues), and on matter paper, the look is quite different.

-- Q.-Tuan Luong (qtl@ai.sri.com), June 06, 2002.

I want to add that everything I said above is a big ditto for Bob Moulton's contribution.

-- John (jflavell@zoomnet.net), June 06, 2002.

I operate a digital studio with a Phase One Lightphase Scanback riding on an Arcus 5X4. This is pretty well state of the art, giving enough pixel res for an A3 size image at 300ppi (repro quality). It gives beautiful images - straight to the computer screen, then into Photoshop for manipulation. Proper colour circuits are embedded. It IS the current solution for high end product shots, - nearly instant- final optimised image checked, sized, masked, optimised and dropped into Quark within minutes -no processing, no scanning. But -taking time is 4 minutes (no portraiture!), and those tungsten lights are hot! Another issue is that the notional minimum speed is 1/15th sec - 800asa. This does create DofF probs with some shots (If I use film I can gain several stops). -Love the setup (and to be diplomatic I'd probably love a Toyo even more) Don't even think about flatbed scanners if fine quality is an issue; drum scans will give res, colour depth and balance though. Flatbed - even high-end)are okay for Fun only. Anyway, here's the 'rub'. I wandered onto this site via the Mamiya site -because I shoot film too. I have a really sweet M645 that I'm also using, and recently did a direct comparison -same shot with the 645 and Phase One digital. The film was drumscanned and compared directly. The film wins! -not by much, but just has an edge in colour depth and luminosity. (Yes I could use Photoshop to close the gap, but not completely (by the way I also teach PSD). I've also compared images using a Sony Cybershot 3.3 megapixel, and whilst it's a terrific little camera it's just not in the same league as film. I would also be wary of the digital backs for Medium format IF ABSOLUTE QUALITY is your aim; they are too expensive at this time. Digital vs Film is all about the end use of the job and the budget. Ultimately you want both (life's like that!). As you can see, I'm in the fortunate position of having use of an absolutely state of the art digital system, yet I still WANT to shoot film. So.... Can anyone advise me of a Rollfilm Back for the Arcus -I have to buy cheap (used) I'm also on the lookout for a suitable 150mm (or thereabouts) lens for the Arcus 5x4- No shutter required! I need good glass, but with the Phase One, the lens is left open all the time, you just adjust aperture. Could I adapt a Componon repro camera lens that I have? Any Ideas? -Julian Whittaker. Melbourne

-- Julian Whittaker (julian@netconnect.com.au), June 07, 2002.

Digital is extremely attractive because of the incredible control it gives over manipulation of the image. As one very skilled wet dark room printer I know who has gone over to digital said, going back to the wet darkroom after working digitally makes him feel like he is working with boxing gloves on.

But if you prefer the "look" of a B&W silver print, all the advantages of digital will be irrelevant. I think it is mainly an issue of matte versus glossy papers. If you like the look of platinum prints, for example, you should like digital ink jet prints which can look very similar.

-- Chris Patti (cmpatti@aol.com), June 08, 2002.

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