Print Sharpness, Scanned Negative vs. Wet Print

Discussion in 'Wet and Dry Hybrid prints' started by Loren Sattler, Nov 6, 2017.

  1. Loren Sattler

    Loren Sattler Subscriber

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    This question is directed to people who have experience wet printing negatives and dry printing scanned negatives.

    I have an Epson V600 photo scanner and a darkroom. Recently I scanned some 35mm negatives and sent the digital files to Meijer for printing. I have done very little negative scanning but I was pleased with the results.

    When I compare the digital prints to darkroom prints from the same negatives I find that the digital prints are sharper, and the difference is not subtle. There is considerable more detail in the digital prints especially away from the center of the print. Even in the center, sharper results in the digital print.

    I am using a glass negative holder in a Focomat IC so the film is being held flat. It appears that the enlarger lens is not capable of accurately reproducing the detail in the negative. For comparison, I printed a negative on the Focomat with original Leitz lens (old for sure) and on a 23C Beseler enlarger with a 50mm Rodagon lens (bought new in the 1980's). The two enlargers produced similar results. I also used two different grain focusers to eliminate that variable. If there was a focusing issue, I believe the soft focus would be uniform across the print.

    Has anyone else had similar experience? Your input would be appreciated.
     
  2. RPC

    RPC Member

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    I only wet print my negatives, but mine are as sharp as any digital prints I have seen, if not sharper, regardless of the size, and from edge to edge. I use Schneider six-element enlarging lenses and a glassless carrier.

    Often prints I see from labs look sharp, but artificially so. Software in digital printing systems can sharpen images, but close-up they do not look as natural as my wet prints.

    I can't say though, that I have ever looked at a print from a scan and wondered why my prints weren't that sharp.
     
  3. rayonline_nz

    rayonline_nz Member

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    Interesting. I don't have a wet print system yet. I have a Epson V700 as well as the Better Scanning holder with 120 film or just the standard holder with 35mm. Anyway, to me there isn't any difference at all if the film is flat so I just use the Epson holder, for a one off scan I might use the Better Holder.

    That said. I do find a dSLR is sharper than both the 120 and 35mm film though with the Epson. 120 is a lot more pleasing than 35mm. In the future I hope to get some Imacons scans done and will recompare. FWIW also, a Nikon Coolscan that I once had working with 35mm film. I found the Epson with 120 film better than the CS.

    At my camera club there is a old timer who has been doing b/w printing in his own darkroom in his home for decades. He doesn't even own a digital camera. I might ask him to do a straight print so I can compare. After all it is summer approaching now ... here.
     
  4. Richard Man

    Richard Man Member

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    You are preaching to the anti-choir ;-) The traditional APUGgers would of course disagree the assessment.

    In any case, I think the sharpness from a darkroom print is different from the sharpness from a scan, and if you think the Epson scan is sharp, try it with a Nikon scanner with a glass carrier, or a Flextight or drum scan, it would be multiple times better, in terms of resolution and the dynamic range.
     
  5. twelvetone12

    twelvetone12 Subscriber

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    I we-print my negatives but I also print scans for my logbook. My scanner is not the best (a canon 9000f II) but I get the same degree of details if both wet and digital prints, albeit "sharpness" and the overall look is quite different.
    Are you sure your enlarger is well aligned? Particularly if only the center appears sharp.
     
  6. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    There's two issues here. I've always made darkroom prints but I've been scanning images for i'd guess over20 years. With wet prints paper surface can impact on visual sharpness, I found this quite noticeable when scanning B&W prints the best sharpness (with no added sharpening) and finest detail was with Glossy resin coated prints, air dried fibre based prints are noticeably less sharp, this is far less apparent at normal viewing distances.

    The second issue when scanning negatives (or prints) is the degree of post sharpening that's applied. so it's far easier to make a scanned image appear sharper. I do scan my negatives for reproduction etc and have also made Digital Inter-negatives for Alternative printing processes as well as doing some trial digital prints on FB papers which matched the wet prints extremely well.

    Printer drivers themselves can add sharpness and the algorithms they use can greatly enhance a finished print so it's a murky world when it comes to true comparisons..

    Ian
     
  7. Richard Man

    Richard Man Member

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    Exactly. Neither is significantly better, but rather that each is different. For example, to make extreme enlargement, or alternative processing (especially from small negs), or even color prints done in any decent large sizes, clearly the scanned route is the preferred method. I think the important thing is that, as an artist, which workflow and which output gives us the most joy. Process-fundamentalists are as distasteful like other fundamentalists.
     
  8. Bob Carnie

    Bob Carnie Subscriber

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    the only difference that I can see on this particular discussion is when you make a wet silver print from an inkjet negative vs a digital silver negative... the result is far superior from the digital silver negative .

    When making pt pd and gum prints on watercolour negatives the paper itself is the defining factor so either inkjet or silver negative works well.

    This is actually the only reason I have kept my Durst Lambda, to make digital negatives and direct silver prints from digital files.

    I have done this test over and over and I feel scanned vs enlarger is a neutral position.
     
  9. jim10219

    jim10219 Member

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    The reason the digital scan appears sharper is likely because of sharpening applied to the photograph in software. That can make the image appear more sharp. It can also cause artifacts and other issues. I often see photographers over sharpen their images without knowing it. They just see the sharpness. Their eyes aren't attuned to the digital noise it creates when you do this. But once you learn how to see it, you can't unsee it, and it's extremely distracting. A good photo editor knows how far they can push it before it becomes a distraction. Another downside to the scanned method is the pixel versus grain. With pixels (or more accurately, dots), they're never random. Each one occurs at the same size and same interval. You obviously can't see it from far away, but it's weird up close.

    With a wet print, the grain is random in both size and location. That gives it a more organic feel. Also, with a wet print, there's a lot of skill involved. There's more than just the focus of the lens. There's also the type of lens, type of light, type of paper/chemicals, etc., and how they're all used. For instance, you loose some sharpness with a glass negative carrier. Sure it holds the film flatter, but it diffuses the light some. The advantage to a wet print is that if done properly, you can get away with less actual sharpness, but more apparent sharpness. It may not look as sharp close up, but it can look sharper from further away. Also, a wet print will stay truer to the original negative. It doesn't add information and interpolate things like a computer can, for better or worse.

    So either method is good. Scanning gives you more control. It's my primary method, if for no other reason than it's cheaper and easier to do. But a scanned print will never have the look or value of a wet print. I can sell wet prints for several times the price of an inkjet print because people value the rarity, time, and skill involved with a darkroom more than they do with a program like Lightroom. I can literally make inkjet prints in my sleep, which is why they don't hold a ton of value. But then again, that might not be what you're after.
     
  10. Richard Man

    Richard Man Member

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    Jim, I bet most traditionalists would just read your first paragraph and say "aha, digital/hybrid workflow people oversharpen!" when of course the workflow allows people to oversharpen and goddess knows that some people oversharpen, but of course it is a choice by the users, and not all users crank the clarify/sharpness to 11.

    I do like what you said quoted above: I think whatever reasons that make this phenomena true, also applies to digital vs. film images (which could be scanned) in general as well.
     
  11. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Subscriber

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    If sharpness is your mantra, get drum scans. These usually do not require any USM post-scan work and will carry over the same inherent sharpness of the negative or transparency. These scans are more commonly used for transparencies/slides rather than negatives.

    In my experience negatives printed in the darkroom look better than scans produced from negatives. Negatives and positives have never seen eye-to-eye in terms of like/comparable sharpness, and in that regard, negatives will always appear sharper than positives. Also, the larger the negative, the better the results. The small 35mm format has always required more work than the larger MF and LF formats.

    Epson V-series desktop scanners require quite a bit of USM in post and when this is not done competently it can give the resulting prints are very artificial look in terms of sharpness. Betterscan holders can improve the results considerably, but they are still desktop scanners and nothing else. The typical range for USM in post is 10% to 15% @ 1.5pix radius, but sometimes as high as 25% (which is close to excessive). Sharpening must always be done in the raw or subsquent tif file and never in a jpg file remodelled back to tif, because this results in abnormal artefactual make-up. Sometimes a scanned negative/transparency digitally printed to quality media (and we are spoilt for variety and quality) can be indistinguishable from one produced in a darkroom, and have comparable if not better archival qualities.

    Despite occasonal past vociferous displays akin to the Salem witch trials, a great many people here on Photrio happily use both methods of reproduction for print as suited to the circumstances.
     
  12. Mr Bill

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    Hi, I'm paying attention to the specific word "detail," as opposed to "sharpness." An obvious lack of detail suggests to me that something is amiss (your camera lens was good enough to deliver that detail to the film, but your enlarging lens is not good enough to transfer it from negative to paper?). This doesn't necessarily prove that something is wrong - we (at least I) generally do expect slight losses, but the fact that it is readily noticeable, especially near the center, is something I don't expect.

    I'd be looking at possible focus issues with the enlarger, I think. First I would set both of those focusing aids aside, and try focusing directly on the easel (using a handheld loupe, or whatever works). If this doesn't show a difference, but fine detail is still lacking, I'd try a more conclusive focus test - the simplest is probably just a tilted easel, such that focus is obviously lost at either side. Focus critically at one spot, then see if the developed paper is sharpest at the exact point where you focused.

    If this can't be done conclusively, an alternative method would be a series of "focus brackets." Essentially, focus precisely (one time) with your focus tool, then make a set of test strips with the easel height changed. (Stacking magazines under the easel is an easy way to precisely control height; to move easel lower simply start with an elevated position, then gradually reduce thickness.)

    What I'm trying to chase here is a possible focus shift due to the paper being sensitive to light we don't see (into the UV zone) which may have a slight focus shift. I might also try a UV-cut filter just to rule this out (traditionally color printing would keep a Wratten 2B in the light path, if you don't have one a camera skylight filter comes close.)

    I've occasionally chased down "loss of detail" problems in lab "copy and restoration" systems. I liked to start out with some of the old-style 3-bar resolution targets; this lets you put a number on detail being delivered at different stages.

    I don't know if you might also be having some slight vibration going on, or possibly both of your enlarging lenses are faulty, or perhaps you are out of their optimum magnification range. Just some ideas. But something sounds "not quite right" to me. Best of luck.
     
  13. Ko.Fe.

    Ko.Fe. Member

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    It doesn't have to be drum scanner, serviced Nikon scanner is superior to flatbed for sharpnes as the main thing on the print.
    If it is, here is no point of don't it on 135 format film at all. Get digital FF camera with macro or just modern lens with aspherical elements and it is shaper than film scans.
    I do wet prints for different than sharp reasons.
     
  14. OP
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    Loren Sattler

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    I have uploaded two scans to demonstrate the sharpness issue brought up with this post. img835.jpg img836.jpg First scan is of a 4 x 6 digital print (scan of a digital print, 400 DPI scanner setting). This was printed at Meijer's from a scan of a 35mm Tri-X negative. Second scan is a 5 x 7 wet print (again scanned at 400 DPI) from the same negative as the first scan.

    Note the difference in sharpness. You will also see a difference in brightness which you can ignore. The wet print was printed darker than the digital print (not intentional)

    I am very baffled by this. Wet print looks universally softer (in focus) than the digital print. The detail in the digital print rivals that of a contact print from a large format negative.

    Problem is not unique to this one photo. Can anyone offer an explanation?
     
  15. michr

    michr Member

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    The wet print is much lower in contrast, so to get closer to the look of the digital, you need to print with a filter to add some contrast. The acutance of dry prints (as you call them) is going to be higher. Add to that the fact that it's very easy to add additional acutance in post with digital, and you can get sharper looking prints. For the wet prints, make sure your image is in critical focus with the grain focuser, don't forget to put a piece of paper under the focuser. Step through the apertures on the lens and find the sharpest aperture, then look at the edges and make sure the image is in focus there. Also, better lenses create sharper prints. Is the lens focal length long enough to provide ample coverage (I like 80mm for a 35mm negative, 135mm for a 6x9, basically the diagonal of the next largest image format).
     
  16. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    There is definitely more detail in the wet print.
    The digital print has more contrast, and the appearance of the edge details has been artificially enhanced in order to create a false but pleasing appearance of sharpness.
    That false but pleasing appearance of sharpness has then been enhanced by digitizing the result in the print scanning process and then again artificially enhancing the result.
    "Apparent Sharpness" is a complex subject. It is made up of several components, including acutance, micro-contrast, macro-contrast and resolution. We tend to perceive those different components differently and much of apparent sharpness is subjective. Acutance (essentially "edge contrast") tends to have the highest effect on our perception of sharpness, while resolution tends to have the lowest effect on that perception. Digitization of an image is inherently destructive of acutance, but the digital tools offer excellent ways of artificially building acutance back in.
     
  17. Mr Bill

    Mr Bill Member

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    I concur with Matt.

    Just for kicks, I enhanced your scan of the wet print (lightening and some "unsharp mask" sharpening); not too awfully different than what was done in your digital print. When comparing at larger than "full size" (100%), it's pretty clear that your wet print scan is carrying more detail than the digital print scan.

    I base this mainly on things like the more-realistic texture of the stones, or of the gravel or dirt, etc. The digital print scan is starting to get that look of "empty magnification" while the (sharpened) wet print scan is still showing a more realistic grittiness.
     
  18. Andrew O'Neill

    Andrew O'Neill Subscriber

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    Print an in-camera negative with an unsharp mask. Digital scan or digital negative doesn't come close. Just my opinion.
     
  19. OP
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    Loren Sattler

    Loren Sattler Subscriber

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    Andrew, please explain your suggestion in detail, I am not familiar. Loren
     
  20. Andrew O'Neill

    Andrew O'Neill Subscriber

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    In detail would take several paragraphs, but in a nutshell, low contrast, slightly out of focus film positive is made by contact printing a negative on top of another piece of film (both emulsion side up). Then the resulting soft positive is taped on top of the negative, and then printed. Benefits are: luminous shadows. increased sharpness.
    Howard Bond wrote a couple of excellent how to articles for the now defunct Photo Techniques on the subject. I'm sure if you google, you should be able to find information on unsharp masking.
     
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