Further Thoughts on Color Negs vs Slides, and Dig Printing

Discussion in 'Color: Film, Paper, and Chemistry' started by gbenaim, Sep 30, 2005.

  1. gbenaim

    gbenaim Member

    Nov 3, 2004
    8x10 Format
    Hi, All

    Nicole's recent thread on choosing color film is just up my alley, as I've been looking for a good color neg for those high contrast situations, mostly landscapes. I usually shoot velvia in 6x6, and have been very pleased w the results. On my most recent trip I also took along some 35mm equipment w 400asa color and b&w. I used superia extra 400, and was very pleased w the color rendition and general look of the film. I've only just got the prints back, so at 4x6 it's hard to comment on grain and res, but they look great as far as they go. I used 120 color neg on my previous trip, sometimes for the same scene as velvia, and the results were very washed out color, even compared to the 35mm I just did. The films used then were kodak nc 400&160, and I've also used their fuji equivalent.
    I also really like the look of michael Seewald's work in color (he has a website under his name), and he works exclusively w color neg and usually a polarizer. He also prints it himself up to 16x20, which brings up the fly in he ointment, as far as I can tell: most of us are printing digitally from color neg or pos, and it seems a lot of control is happening at that stage, be it noritsu or drum scanner. So I guess I'm wondering whether the printing stage, now out of most photographer's control for color, is really much more important than the kind of film we use. I'm very interested in hearing how each of you has gone about dealing with this question. I'm also on my way to 4x5 (have lenses, film, holders, just waiting for the right sinar) so the question of cost will also be coming into play. Cheers,

  2. Mick Fagan

    Mick Fagan Subscriber

    Sep 13, 2005
    Melbourne Au
    Multi Format
    I'm not really sure just what the question is, because I think you seem to be asking do we do prints via scanning, or do we do prints from negs in a darkroom.

    I myself do prints from a darkroom setup and my own experience is that it is really easy to get colour prints, a little difficult to get good colour prints, very exacting to get fantastic colour prints. It is however, very dooable using an analogue system from go to whoa.

    I have seen a few negs come into my darkroom with a cry of help from the author. Their machine print, which these days is digitally scanned then printed/enlarged is usually very good, although often a little high on the sharpness and contrast.

    I have always been able to get better, and so I should as I'm spending time coupled with my experience and money isn't a factor.

    When I shoot my own film (35mm and rarely 120) I take great care with developing the film as accurately as possible, then I extract as much as possible, technically, from the neg for a print.

    I am really satisfied with my home darkroom, in that I get what I want and desire from my film. I have sold a more than reasonable amount of prints, from the few weddings I have done, all of which was colour. So using that as a standard, I have acceptable results from the buying public.

    I have found that I can get extremely good prints up to about 12x16" out of 35mm. If someone has a colour neg scanned and then gets it enlarged, it too can also be extremely good, but it won't look the same, even if it's printed onto photographic paper.

    I know that if I wasn't printing my own negs then I would not be very happy, no matter what film I use. If someone else is printing your film then it is their version of the image you will see.

    As far as different films and their characteristics are concerned, I think they are still important in that they will convey a set of grain/dye, contrast parameters that are unique to each one. Whilst you can print or scan, then fiddle, either on a computer or in the darkroom, the intangible things that make us like a certain film, will always come out in the end. An X factor I presume!

    Assuming of course that you haven't altered the image so far from the original, that it cannot be recognised as anything like the original!

  3. steve

    steve Member

    Sep 12, 2002
    I will assume your color negatives were exposed correctly and show correct density (not underexposed). After that, printing needs to be done by either you or a custom color lab.

    Anything with a machine print involved (whether it's a Frontier or minilab) will be only as good as the operator - which can range from good to awful. Most of what I see you could put in the closer to awful category.

    I am lucky in that I have a custom pro lab that will do contact prints from which I can edit and then go to final custom prints when I want a wet darkroom color print.

    I also have an Imacon scanner from which I can make digital files that I can take to a local lab with a LightJet. Lastly, I have an Epson 9800 if I want to make inkjet on rag paper prints.

    The key to a good color print from a negative is to define what you want the print to look like (hand printed wet darkroom, Lightjet, inkjet) and then setup your workflow to get to that point.

    Transparencies are easier judge because you know what the positive image looks like. Negatives are more difficult in that you need a proofing stage from which you can judge the image. 4x6 prints from a machine really aren't a very good proofing method unless they're from a pro level lab that takes the time to do things correctly.

    My wife shoots negative film and drops it off at a local Walmart - and the prints range from good to bad depending upon which employee is working the photo area. Me, I take mine film to a local pro lab for development, then to another pro lab for proofing. But, I shoot medium and large format, she shoots 35mm and is happy with snappies.

    If your images were washed out, and the film density is correct, then it's a printing problem. You need to investigate better print proofing alternatives which can include something as simple as a flatbed scanner so that you can do a digital contact sheet.

    Let me also make the observation that one of the things I have done with wet darkroom prints is to make a color corrected inkjet "proof" that shows how I want the image to look in the final print. It saves time and gives the lab a visual guide.
  4. Helen B

    Helen B Member

    Jul 1, 2004
    Hell's Kitch
    Multi Format
    This question seems a little outside APUG’s intended subject matter, so I’ll try to answer briefly. Digital processing of a film original frees you from the more-or-less fixed relationship between the original and the print. This means that the characteristics of colour film are much less important when using digital processing than using traditional methods. Colour response and accuracy, saturation, graininess, sharpness and contrast are all easily controllable during digital post-processing.

    Ten or so years ago EK produced a colour negative motion picture film (‘Primetime’, EI 640) that could not be printed traditionally with any degree of colour accuracy – it could only be viewed as video (or printed via a digital intermediate). That was an excellent example of the decoupling of the response curves of the original from those of the ‘print’, and of the visual character of the image being largely determined during post-processing. Where you place the exposure on the film in relation to the film’s response curve still matters, of course, as does the film’s ability to record the scene brightness range in the first place.

    As I mentioned in my reply to Nicole’s question, Kodak Ultra 100 is one of my favourite films for landscape. It has very low graininess, can cope with around 13 stops of scene brightness range, and it is capable of giving accurate colours with normal saturation. I scan and print all my own work, and do the same custom work for a few other photographers

  5. mark

    mark Member

    Nov 13, 2003
    This really sounds like a question for another site like Pnet or the LF forum which are decidedly all for digital everything. This is an analog site. There are lots of folks here who do not discuss their digital output because this is not the place for it.

    I assume you want to print digitally otherwise you would know that there are quite a few places and people who are making color prints in the wet darkroom. I do some printing digitally because it is silly easy as long as the neg/transparency is exposed correctly and lets face it easy is nice sometimes. On the other hand when I want things done right I send them off to a wet darkroom to get a print made.
  6. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

    Apr 19, 2005
    Rochester, NY
    Multi Format
    I won't respond to the digital aspects of the original post, as that is not appropriate.

    I can respond to the differences in color negative vs color reversal.

    Color reversal has built in limits in the ability to capture the full range of 'dark to light' in a given scene, based on a dmin of about 0.2 and a dmax of about 3.0 and a contrast in the mid scale of about 1.7. It cannot correct color inaccuracies beyond a certain point and can only enhance sharpness and grain up to a point.

    Color negative has built in capability to go beyond a dmax of 3.0 and the ability to capture a huge tonal range, far beyond that of any transparency material. It also has color masking built in to correct for color errors and it has DIR and DIAR couplers incorporated into the coating to enhance sharpness and grain. Therefore, color negative has the built in capacity to give the most accurate color over the longest range of 'light to dark' in a scene.

    The transparency is built to exaggerate color in the original scene, while the negative film is built to accurately reproduce the color and tonality of the original scene.

    In the final analysis, a transparency made from a negative embodies the highest form of rendition, photographically, of the original scene, as it can reproduce the original at a dmax up to 4.0 or 5.0, having none of the limitations of the transparency films, but unfortunately these print films no longer exist. It achieves this only through being a 2 step reproduction process with separate films and processes to achieve the optimum positive image.

    In the final analysis, the proof comes from the fact that major motion pictures do not use reversal films, even though high quality reversal motion picture films exist. It is just that the negative equivalents are technically far superior as are the prints for the reasons given above.

    Generally, people like looking at slides, as the tone scale of a paper print severly restricts the ability of the 'system' to appear to reproduce the original as well as a slide, not that the slide is tecnhically superior. Demostrations of prints, illuminated with high intensity lights next to slides projected on a screen illustrate this well showing that the print is as good or better than the projected slide.

  7. roteague

    roteague Member

    Jul 15, 2004
    Kaneohe, Haw
    4x5 Format
    Yes, it would actually be better in the "Grey Area" subforum.

    However, I shoot almost exclusively 4x5 Velvia, have them drum scanned (Heidelberg Tango), the result is PS'd to look like the original transparency, then printed on a Chromia printer to Fiju Crystal Archive.

    As much as I would love to go into the darkroom it isn't practical for me, given the expenses (rents are very high here), unavailablity of chemicals for E6 or Ilfochrome (I would have to bring them in as freight by boat). The resulting prints are quite stunning, and I can get prints up to 40x50 inches simply by calling the lab and telling them which image to print.