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Saturday, 24 November 2007

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I tend to agree with your assessment, both for
black & white and color. However, just as
color inkjet prints have overcome the best
of the past, I think black & while may well
become the best also. We are only now seeing
multiple paper manufacturers putting significant effort into papers for monochrome printing. As the papers get better, they will
encourage ink makers to improve also. Five years ago it would have been hard to find anybody who would predict that digital color would be the best possible.

Mike you are completely right on this one.

Mike, did you write this before or after reading Brooks Jensen's editorial in Lenswork #73? (I seem to recall you mentioning that you subscribe.) In it, he has a 10 page essay in which he argues pretty well that the quality gap between silver gelatin prints and what can be produced by commercial offset printing has narrowed to just about zero.

A few months ago I attended an event for which I was a 'hired hand' photographer. One of the 'Diva' Opera singers showed up, and as I raised my camera to take her photo, she said "Is that digital? I hate the way that I look in digital. Please don't take my photo."

Some may pass this off as arrogance on her part (it wasn't, she was quite nice about it), and it left me thinking. After a while I started to agree with her. This is a woman that gets photographed everywhere she goes, so she is accustomed to seeing photographs of herself. And she hates her photos in digital.

I don't think there is an experienced photographer that wouldn't agree that images from digital look different from those from film. And the difference is specially noticeable in people photography.

Maybe a well scanned film capture, printed digitally, would solve that 'problem', but I don't think so. Digital prints can be 'too perfect', missing the 'soul' that analog printing seems to have. Mechanical -vs- magical?

I haven't shot a single frame of film in two years, so I'm not some kind of Photography Luddite. But there is something that makes the whole film workflow intrinsically different that digital may never be able to reproduce.

Jensen actually argues that some prints made by commercial printers are *better* than darkroom silver prints; and his arguments seem pretty good.

I think the best B&W prints from the top-end pigment printers are now definitively better than most darkroom prints, and that you would actually have to screw up pretty badly not to get a better color print from a top Epson, HP or Canon than you can get from a darkroom. I have a hard time looking at C prints anymore, because it always seems (to my eye) that there's something out of whack with them, with the colors; they look "runny." Plus, of course, their lifespan is a fraction of that of pigment prints.

Another key thing with pigment printers, even in B&W, are the amazing papers that are available. Papers make a huge difference in the way an artwork looks -- and silver printers never had papers like these.

JC

Mike,

Any chance you can expound on why you feel that color digital prints are so good, yet b/w suffers (compared to traditional prints)? As both are from the same sensor data, would this quality difference be due to printing technologies, or something inherent in the capture?

I've done all of the commercial color processes available for the last 60 years (except 4-color carbro), and agree with your assesment. I believe that Ctein is also on the bandwagon.

Send me a full-range B&W file from one of your scans (16-bit, 720ppi at size and unsharpened) and I'll show you what is possible today.

Stephen Best
Macquarie Editions

I don't have any experience with Canon and HP printers, but the Epson K3 inks now have deeper and richer blacks than silver prints—and I like deep, satisfying blacks.

For the type of digital prints I make, which are of the "35mm aesthetic" type, as opposed to large-format Ansel Adams type of prints, I now prefer digital prints—I've felt this way ever since I saw sixty Moriyama Daido 40x60 inch (100x150cm) prints at the Sydney Biennale about 18 months ago that were made on the Epson 9800, the printer that I use.

—Mitch/Paris

I shoot with film ( black and white 4 x 5 ) but I print with pigment ink jet and love the look of the new papers available to me. I used to print on fiber based paper in the darkroom.

Mike,
I was with you on the darkroom vs digital for bw prints up until a year ago. But today, assuming all the usual about top quality print production, and with the new papers now available, the gap is very very small indeed and mostly invisible under glass.

If there is a slight edge to the silver print it's in the touch: that creamy gelatin surface with the silver floating luminescently somewhere within.

But I dare anyone pick apart a framed print of the highest quality as the ones of Herman Leonard I saw at the Fahey/Klein last year: http://tinyurl.com/2ty3yy

And -- it's gotten even better since.

These days I believe it's only shooting with film that has an edge over digital. High-end digital BW printing may be difficult or expensive or "esoteric" by comparison to color - but no longer lacking in quality or longevity over the old darkroom.

It's just hard to see the newest prints because there just aren't that many yet. But we are there. And soon getting beyond the venerable silver print.

I would be interested in understanding the qualities that you (and/or Bill Mitchell & Ctein or other experts) are looking at when making this assessment. Whilst not necessarily quantifiable, there must be specific features of prints that lead to such an assessment.

Ninety-plus percent of my work is done either in black and white (film) or with the ultimate intention of black and white (digital).
I cannot claim to be a master printer in the old wet/silver tradition, although I've done my share of printing and have certainly seen a lot of others' prints.
I can say that black and white digital printing is becoming a very, very compelling proposition, though, and I mean from the perspective of quality.
I've spent the last six months working hard at achieving the just results I want from an HP B9180 printer, and am pretty close to complete satisfaction.
It has been a hard slog, involving the whole production chain, from RAW processors to PS technique, to special PS plug-ins, to printer RIPs, and finally to paper, which is a moving target these days, improving rapidly all the time.
I think I can make a B+W print with my current setup that satisfies the most discerning eyes, and have the satisfaction of galleries and customers to testify to this.
That this is possible with a B9180, which is a very good digital printer, but not the ultimate printer speaks well for the capabilities of digital b+w printing, and speaks even better for the future.
I cannot imagine that in five years, to be conservative, wet processes will have any advantage at all, save for nostalgia.

You're absolutely right about color inkjet prints. I certainly haven't seen as many as you, but I can tell already that prints made today easily surpass the best of the older types. As for black & white, I think the technology just needs a little more time until it reaches traditional silver standards. In my personal work, I've reached a point where I can say my black & white inkjet print "reminds me" of a traditional silver print. Its not exactly the same, of course, but its getting there!

Mike,

Two months ago I would have agreed fully with your prejudices. But after printing with Harmon's new Fiber Based Glossy Baryta paper using Epson K3 inks and Roy Harrington's Quad Tone Rip, I'm not so sure I agree with your B&W assessment any longer. If you love the look of air dried, fiber based glossy silver prints, you should buy a few sheets of Harmon's paper and see what you think. Even if it doesn't change your feelings, I agree with others above that the major printer, paper and ink manufactures have finally turned their attention to B&W and the situation is changing rapidly for the better.

Charlie

After thirty years I've closed my black and white darkroom because I believe I'm now making better black and white prints digitally than I could make in a darkroom.

The latest inkjet baryta papers, superb inks and printers, stunning cameras and backs such as the Phase One P45+, and the filtration, latitude, and editing advantages of a digital workflow, have recently combined to produce that conclusion.

However, I personally don't celebrate the "digital-ness" of inkjet black and white. Producing a B&W photograph digitally is not the same as producing a digital B&W print.

I barely use any sharpening, and I almost always add silver-style grain to the digital capture. So in that respect I agree that traditional black and white work doesn't need improvement. The traditional "look" is optimised, but the means to that "look" isn't.

Consequently, I find I can produce consistently better black and white prints with a digital camera, PS3, Piezographic inks, and an inkjet, than I ever could using a Linhof and a darkroom.

I'm afraid digital is here to stay. Black and white papers have only gotten worse in the last 20 years, not better. Silver and cow hooves have had their run. Silver prints have been around for 100 years or so and haven't really improved that much like I said probably have only gotten worse. Let's give digital another 25 years or so and then compare the two.

Digital is still a baby; give it a chance to grow. Some of the newer papers for B&W inkjet printing are very close and under glass I would be hard pressed to tell if it's silver or inkjet.

Be patient, develop your skills and keep taking photos.

Without weighing in on what looks better, since it really come down to personal preference and, truly, prejudice, I just wanted to note how much I think aesthetic judgments are colored by the human cognitive capacity for nostalgic thinking.

Anthony Burgess commented in one of his autobiographical volumes on how some pretty nasty, greasy fried sausages of his Northern English youth seemed to have more and better flavor than healthier, more refined fare he chose as an adult and he wondered how much that had to do with memory and how much with "objective taste" [my quotes].

Or consider how much the music of our own youth, if it doesn't seem better than today's, at the very least has a glow to it that more recent favorite music lacks (recently, listening to The Band, I was struck by how far they'd sometimes go for a rhyme and wondered if I'd take to their music if introduced to it now for the first time).

I remember when I got my first Dolby device and it removed the hiss from my reel-to-reel tapes it sounded terrible, like all the high frequencies were missing - but that turned out to be a psycho-acoustic phenomenon - the hiss created an aural "envelope" which I missed. My initial response to CDs was similar, but recently a nice opera singer found me on Craigs List and took away all my LPs.

To come back to photography, I suspect that technology will some day make it hard to argue with the objective superiority of newer prints - that doesn't mean we won't (or shouldn't) prefer older ones.
Adam

Mike, I wish there was a practical way, with B&W film, to scan, edit in Photoshop or the like, and output as a negative, from the digital file, to print and process in the traditional darkroom. I absolutely love working on my B&W negatives in CS3. In the past, I never did get the hang of spotting B&W prints, not to mention all the manipulation limitations of wet printing.

I know that I have not spent any time in the past 6 years even attempting to print with any ink jet media. I was an early adopter of Epson pigment printers, but since the demise of my 2000P and an attempt at getting good prints from a 5000, I'd given up and have only had C prints made on Kodak Endura paper since then, I'm not a big fan of Fuji paper. Although I do like Fuji film.

I find these prints to be most satisfying for files scanned from film or directly from digital. There are no color gamut issues, what I give them in the file is what I get back. All of the interpretation is done in scanning or raw conversion and post processing, What I want from a print is not yet another layer of interpretation from a highly skilled technician who will then have to tweak and twist my image to fit the machine, ink and paper combination that he is using. What I want is a faithful reproduction of my file. I get that with C prints from my files as I have them printed without correction or adjustments. It's painless and does not add another layer of complexity.

I do agree that digital prints are quite beautiful as an object, and perhaps I should revisit the process with some of the newer and better media and machines to see what is happening out there. But I'm quite satisfied with what I'm getting, so why try to fix what already works well for me?

I was printing in a color darkroom for years before I switched to digital. And there are aspects of digital (aside from the quality of materials) that I think lead to digital color prints being better than chemical color prints.

First, I found it very difficult to process color with complete consistency, at least with equipment that I could afford. A run of three prints made with the same exposure and filter settings could have little color variations. And that fouls up the feedback process that is essential for mastery. Small changes in color balance can make a big difference in how many color images look, and with a process that doesn't deliver consistency it's hard to get that last edge of refinement.

The refinement process was also very slow - I had a lot of trouble producing more than 4 prints an hour.

The other thing is that the color darkroom involved a huge amount of janitorial work. I believe that with the color darkroom I was engaged in temperature control, processing timing, and washing and drying tubes almost more than I was involved with my images. With the computer the work time is all involvement with images instead of janitorial duties.

After working seriously with inkjet pigment prints for a couple of years I went back through a decade of chemical color prints and discovered that I could SEE that most of them were mediocre. I couldn't see my own quality level when I was stuck in the color darkroom, and I think it was because that color darkroom process does not facilitate learning. When I moved to the computer my learning accelerated enormously.

So I think it's not just the materials that are better (although that is also important), it's what the process does to the photographer that's better.

Digital B&W will equal (if it hasn't already) traditional darkroom print quality, maybe even surpass it. In even the finest traditionally printed B&W prints there is usually one little aspect of the print that could have been done a little better- a very small section that could have gone darker, lighter, etc. Digital can guarantee every millimeter of the print to absolute perfection, exactly what makes some digital B&W prints look so "artificial."

Mike: Nothing I, or anyone else, could write here will alter your opinion. But I will say that your prejudice against digital b&w prints, while well-founded until recently, is no longer based on durable foundations.

I completely agree with you about the qualiy of color when using digital capture and printing with skill and knowledge on pigment based inkjet printers.

And I'll defer to your much greater experience viewing prints over many years than mine.

But I will say that I've been using a (now old) Epson 2200 printer and an ImagePrint RIP to make black and white prints on fiber-based papers that have even die-hard, very experienced black and white silver halide printers gasping at the quality of my black and white prints. Particularly when printed on Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl with Photo Black. It goes without saying that shooting digitally, even when doing B&W conversions, provide much more control over the entire tonal range than shooting film ever did. I am particularly interested in trying out HDR conversions for black and white printing.

If you haven't tried or seen some of the prints now available using these new F-surface type and baryta-based fiber papers and the new Epson K3 inksets, you owe to yourself to get out and find some to look at. Greg Gorman's black and white print portrait of Sharon Stone that was on display at the Epson booth at MacWorld SF last January was, in a word, jaw-dropping. It was simply stunning. While I might have agreed with your comments about black and white printing using film silver halide-based fiber paper printing two years ago, my opinion has now reversed. Digital capture, B&W conversion, and B&W printing, when performed by someone of appropriate skill and understanding using these new inksets and fiber-based materials surpasses traditional silver halide printing.

Until ten years ago, I spent a double-digit percent of my life in a darkroom (well it seemed like it to friends and family anyway). I worked to print as well as was possible in black and white and in color. My B&W prints pleased me, satisfied me. But even though I tried lots of C-41 and Ciba, the results were did not compel me to pursue color photography seriously. The results just were not as satisfying.

Ten years ago I got my first scanner and four years ago I got my first digital camera. I have gone through several generations of scanners and digital cameras, without once going back into the dark room. I am finding enough of my digital color prints satisfying to keep me hooked on color.

It seems that, in theory, conventional film and chemical darkroom prints should be superior to digital (short dynamic range of digital, etc). But even my best color prints fell short of that theoretical capability of chemically produced color prints. I have concluded that although LESS is theoretically possible with digital workflow, we nevertheless can get closer to that theoretical capability using digital technology.

A musical comparison is apt. Harrmony in music is deeply satisfying, whether in Bach, The Mamas and the Pappas, or Radiohead. If one instrument, one voice, is not “on” the perfect note for harmony, the music isn’t just less sublime, it is completely distressing.

In digital photography we can “tune” the individual colors and the overall pallet of the photograph. We can eliminate colorcasts from the whole print, from portions of the print, or from important shapes and spaces in the print. In short, the colors and tones of the final print can be pure and “right.” (The artist photographer will know what that “right” color is, and with digital workflow, is more likely to attain it. See the earlier TOP forum on the definition of “art” and “artist”).

So I agree completely with you Mike, that digital technology is providing the “All-Time Best Color Medium in Photography.”

But I also learned a heck of a lot about my “analog” B&W prints when I crossed into the digital realm. Since I didn’t have a large enough transparency scanner for my medium format B&W negatives, I scanned my B&W prints on a flatbed and reprinted them digitally. True, I didn’t have Ilford Gallerie or Oriental to print on. But having gotten used to using the histogram and curves in Photoshop to optimize the print, I found that I could improve all of my previous “best prints.” And I was a good B&W darkroom printer – honest !!

Thanks for another great topic Mike.

Mike, in response to your addendum:

I think everybody responds to completed photos by others in a holistic manner -- you don't have any choice, because you don't see the techniques, you see only the print. And looking at B&W prints...I think the best are now better (holistically) than the best silver prints.

When you talk about the filters on the sensor as being Rube Goldberg...excuse me, that's a little goofy. When I push the button on my D2x, I don't experience anything different than I do on an F5. I mean, if you want to talk about Rube Goldberg, try figuring out Kodak's chemistry for putting together layers of color film.

I think one reason that more people responded to your B&W discussion is that this is where people really feel the "purity" of photography. Color has always been a little iffy, because most people realized that the colors weren't that good, even in good color prints. For one thing, they shifted, and rather rapidly -- a lot of top color prints from the 70s and 80s can only be preserved by keeping them in dark museum drawers, and even then, the colors are changing. In 25 more years, we will not be able to experience the colors the artists intended as late as 1980.

Color in digital is better in almost every way: simple as that.

It's in black and white that film still challenges on a number of aesthetic grounds: would war photography be better without grain and with eye-beating ISOs? I don't know. I just got a perfect copy of Life's Picture History of World War II, printed in 1950, and there are pictures in there that, of their kind, I don't think will ever be surpassed, because the film capture itself, completely aside from the image, expresses in its faults the urgency and fear and darkness of what was happening. So film still challenges in a way: but in terms of pure technical image quality, digital is already better and pulling away.

JC

Speaking further about B&W digital prints, I neglected to say that large, or rather, huge prints, like the 40x60 inch (100x150cm) Moriyama prints that I mentioned above, are much better made digitally because of the dispersion of light by enlargers, which introduces some fuzzines, when printing at this size. A couple of years ago I saw a Marc Riboud exhibition in Paris with a couple of silver prints this size, whose quality, for this reason, were nowhere near those of the Moriyama prints.

Mike, on your Rube Goldberg comment on digital sensors, it seems to me that scanning film is Rube Goldberg squared because what one is then doing is re-photographing the negative, thereby introducing deterioration in terms of loss of sharpness. The only issue on digital capture, it seems to me is, the difficulty with highlights.

—Mitch/Paris

My dream for B&W 35mm printmaking today would be to have a scanner, like the Nikon V or the 5000, that could scan negatives as usual, but with the added capability of importing a digital file from Photoshop, maybe via the same USB cable, and burning a film negative from that file. Now you have a negative that's been spotted, adjusted in Photoshop, ready for the wet darkroom, and you'd be positioned to make the best possible print just by adjusting exposure.

So Mike, do you think you could use your pull to get Nikon to build some of us a film scanner/ film burner? Thanks. :)

Mike,
The key point you make is digital B&W "hasn't yet achieved its own distinctive aesthetic or integrity."

Traditional B&W gelatin silver prints are just that...traditional.
Current B&W digital prints are still evolving very quickly; too fast to have permitted an aesthetic to develop. So we of necessity compare them to traditional prints.

Enjoy the journey.

The fine control that photographers are able to afford within a digital workflow, both working from digital capture or from a scan cannot be matched by traditional chemical printing.
I believe nobody could argue about that.
In my opinion this puts more responsibility on the photographer, since he has to learn and master the variables of the new instruments to fully accomplish this.
And this in no easy task.
I beg your pardon for my poor english, too...

WRT producing negatives from digital files: Dan Burkholder's book "Making Digital Negatives for Contact Printing" and the newer book "Digital Negatives: Using Photoshop to Create Digital Negatives for Silver and Alternative Process Printing" by Brad Hinkel and Ron Reeder, both describe this process.
HTH
Alan

Reading these comments, I get the feeling of Deja Vu all over again. Several commenters said that compared to two-years ago... You know, we've heard that before. Two years ago people were claiming that Digital B&W had "arrived".

So which is it? Did it arrive two years ago? This year? or in two more years will we again be saying that the two-year-old technology is inferior?

Personally, I believe that the "look" of traditional B&W has less to do with the technology than the technique. To me, most digital B&W images lack sublety as well as the feeling that comes with the imperfections of film.

"In reality all digital cameras are black and white only. CCD and CMOS censors cannot sense color whatsoever. Digital camera sensors all have an RGB filter arranged in a Bayer Pattern in order to allow the censor to produce color. The sensors then have an additional filter to eliminate moiré patterns. The combination of these filters results in a fuzzy image. That’s why you need unsharp-masking.

But if the filters are removed from the sensor, or not placed on the sensor in the manufacturing process, then you get a sharp crisp image, comparable to medium format film."

www.souleyes.com

Do I see a slight concession in the addendum? Is an inkjet print of a scanned b&w negative as good or better than a silver gelatin print?

Back to color, when you said "color prints made from digital files" in the third paragraph, did that include scans of color film? Or was that just files from digital cameras?

Mike, I agree with you whole-heartedly on digital color and more-or-less on B&W. However I've recently had an experience that had shaken my traditional silver soul.
In 2004 I traveled to England. One stop was at Stonehenge, where I shot 4 rolls of 120 Tri-X in an old Rollei tlr on a tripod. I waited so long for just the right light that the tour bus nearly left without me which would have distressed my wife and given my college-age kids a huge laugh.
At home, I developed the film, made contact sheets, and sat down with a magnifier. One negative was clearly a winner. It was a distant view of the site, backlit, with dramatic clouds. Even though I had overexposed slightly and underdeveloped a tad, the contrast range was long. Worse, the negative appeared to be unevenly developed. I set out to print a 10x10 from that neg. I've been printing silver since 1971, printing every day for many years as a news photog, making archival exhibition prints for my fine art work, teaching B&W printing at a local university. In short, I have the chops.
However I could not make a good print from this negative no matter how hard I tried. After multiple attempts and over 100 bucks worth of paper I gave up.
A month ago I made a high-resolution digital scan from the Stonehenge negative that looked pretty lousy, opened it in Photoshop and went to work on it. About 2 hours later I finished. The second print from the Epson R2400 and I had it. Spectacular, IMHO.
The whole point of this verbose reply is that I would not have that B&W image, that says exactly what I want it to say, without digital B&W imaging.

Mike -

Bread & butter digital b&w, just shot and printed, no fancy techniques, doesn't have the ability to capture as great a brightness range as generously exposed and conservatively souped b&w negative film.

Manufacturers are sort of upping the bit count - and that sort of helps. And it would be nice to have a digital camera like some of the early Kodak digitals that just shot b&w, that's an efficient way to use those pixels and bits.

For a lot of folks, b&w digital is just fine as it stands. And in many cases these possible improvements wouldn't show up in their photographs. So I don't know if it's worthwhile for a manufacturer to produce a digital camera whose main goal is to produce killer black-and-white. "No color and it costs more?"

Nonetheless, if you hear of one, let me know. And if I hear of one, I'll let you know.

Pierce,
It's a deal.

Mike J.

Regarding getting 'traditional' BW silver prints from digital files... Earlier this year I met the guys from Monolab (based on the south coast of England) who have a DeVere darkroon set up to deliver exactly that. 100% digital input - I sent them high-res files: some digital capture, others created from film scans and then worked on in PS. 100% 'traditional' output - beautiful hand prints processed in Ilford warm/cool tone (your choice). Superb quality, certainly more subtle and clearly more tones than I can get on my HP ink-jet set up. Proven archival too. It seems that Monolab has support from Ilford for this project as they shared the corporate Ilford booth at a recent UK photo exhibition.
An interesting diversion in the dark vs light room discussion.
Regards.
Richard Kent

As soon as saw the subject of the post, I knew that the comments were going to be varied and interesting.

I got into the photography and digital print-making game in the last three years. I never had the fortune (or hassle, depending on how you look at it) of working in the darkroom. I tried, but my wife wouldn't let me convert the guest bathroom in our tiny condo to that purpose. I'm also not big on chemicals. But I digress. So I am part of a growing percentage of printmakers who do not have and probably never will have darkroom experience and therefore have little basis for comparison when evaluating prints in terms of which is better: silver or digital.

My personal opinion is that this is the wrong way of looking at things. They are both different and perhaps equally good ways of making prints. One should not necessarily try to emulate the other. Why should we judge a digital print based on how accurately it resembles a traditional silver print? If you want the look of a silver print, then expose film, head into a darkroom and get to work. But digital prints can have a unique beauty that is all their own. You may like, or not. But acknowledge that they are two different outputs. To evaluate digital prints purely against the criteria of resembling traditional silver prints is missing the point.

I pretty well agree with you, Mike, but I when I see a beautifully made C-print-- perhaps by someone like Bob Korn--it still makes my heart go pitty-pat. There is an understated nuance in the best C-prints that really speaks to me. When negative and print material are well matched, all the intricate distinctions in tone and color just seem to fall in place. However, excellent C-print requires consistent chemistry, and that entails more production volume than most can manage. Digital is just more doable, and if one's camera chops aren't perfect, you can patch things up afterwards. I miss the more direct feedback of darkroom work, but it's obvious that digital is the future.

Elevator Digital, in Toronto is on the forefront of digital wet printing, being the lab that tested Ilford's new paper specifically designed for digital enlargers like the Devere and Durst Lambda.

There are a number of people working with digital negatives either from scanned film or digital originals to make traditional prints of various sorts. Some of the best I've seen are platinum and three color gum prints made by Keith Taylor for Cy DeCosse. Info at http://keithtaylorphoto.com/gum.html. There are a few people working on these kinds of processes active at hybridphoto.com.

On the DeVere digital enlarger, which uses an LCD panel in place of the negative and can make some pretty good prints up to around 20x24": I saw color and B&W prints from this at PMA in Las Vegas last year, and they have the tonal values of good traditional prints, since they are on ordinary traditional papers, though the visual texture can be a bit odd, particularly with small-format digital originals which are smooth and grainless like a larger format, but have the longer DOF of a smaller format. For the right subject, this kind of combination can work.

There is a headshot lab in New York that has two of these enlargers. They need to print retouched 8x10's with text superimposed--which is easier with digital--by the 100, which can be done much more quickly with wet processing than with inkjet.

Lesson number one: Don't believe the hype

Lesson number two: We are being strung along by all of these companies while they do everything they can to take our hard earned buckaroos.

They have existing technologies that they keep in their secret pockets. At the meetings, they decide which of these will be included in their latest release and which of these will be the next carrot on the stick. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a ten year plan to make us buy things, that we shouldn’t ought to buy, is all written up, graphed out in power point, and being implemented on our needy asses as we speak.

They are actively involved in one of the most egregious, pre-meditated schemes, using the age-old business model of planned obsolescence, which we will ever witness in the history of photography. The internet is the perfect ally for them. They can bait us with leaks and official expert’s documents. The testimonial never was more powerful. The internet has a tendency to make everything look real, honest, factual and up and up.

Do I sound paranoid? I am paranoid, no biggy. I'm tired of being fed a bunch of crap by marketers.

http://www.digitalphotopro.com/studio/the-ultimate-black-and-white.html

That article, linked above, is a perfect example of it.

Epson’s ABW is basically a toy. The K3 inks have yet to bowl me over the way Cone's Piezo bw system bowled me over when I first saw it. Yes, IMO, Cones was crippled by it's limitations with regard to having an ink set that could only be used with matte papers. I love how that article suggests that the K3 ink set and ABW are the state of the art. It was the first real offering by Epson as far as serious BW printing goes. Imageprint leaves it in the dust and had been doing so for years. Cone's Piezography, despite it it's limitation to matte paper and clogging issues, also leaves it in the dust.

That article is only one example of the type of hype we are having our necks crammed with. All of the companies associated with digital photography are feasting on this state of limbo we are in.

Has digital BW arrived? It's pretty close but I won't be happy until I'm finished spraying prints with funky, spray driven cans of goop.

Photographers are, in many ways, in various states of denial about where we are right now...if you're really critical, it's not there for black and white. If you aren't then it is here, awesome to be in that state. When you are dropping stacks of cash on stuff, over and over, it’s easy to build systems in the back lot of your brain that assist you in creating the illusion of complete satisfaction. I'm done with it and I've drawn a line as far a spending my money. I'm shooting and making work prints only. I'm done tossing my money at hyped products that do not deliver. When it's here, I'll know it and move towards making final, exhibition and collection grade prints.

I want products that I can live with and be comfortable with for longer than a year or two. It plain sucks that we can't have this. I love my old, beat to death, view camera and my old hasselblad & 35mm film cameras because they still do one thing, very well. I'm learning to like my digital cameras and printers but it sure as hell, with specific attention to black and white, is not love and bliss, yet.

The appreciation of a real, chemical black and white print is not nostalgia; it's being able to admit that our collective, flat butt, laziness is not buying us anything that's better in a particular sense, still to many artifacts in the ink prints...

"You won't notice THAT once it's under glass."

That is unabashed denial and photographers in the digital age use all sorts of phrases like this to convince themselves that things are right and ready. Why do you think everyone who gets the new, next best thing fires that printer up and starts to re-print everything that they have already re-printed 5 times before, with all the other printers they’ve owned? There is always a nice honeymoon period before people actually start to notice the undesirable baggage in the printers/papers. The shills make us believe, and we do believe that it’s ok, for a while. Don't light that cigar while your spraying away that bronzing and gloss differential!! You'll blow up, reeeal good. The cigar might be coming soon but, for now, I’m shooting film, scanning and making work prints on my inkjet printer.

Mike,

I know this thread has pretty much run it's course, but I only had this realization within the past couple of hours.

Could it be that your bias for traditional b/w printing has to do with the fact that all of the currently regarded "masters" used traditional processes? Digital b/w printing is quite new. There are no Ansel Adams, Westons, Doisneaus, or Maplethorpes....yet. I cannot believe that the thousands of photos you have seen, printed by these legendary photographers (and their peers) hasn't somehow biased your attitudes. It would only be natural.

Anyway, just a parting thought.

The standard method to make a bad print good is to mat and frame it and put it under glass. The photographic print medium has the lowest rate of good to bad work compared to any other visual art medium out there. 99.9% of photographic prints aren’t worth looking at—the print quality poor and content dull. What with the ubiquitous color inkjet spewing realms every day and the B&W aficionados seemingly more tuned to their craft, one needs to view numerous color prints before finding the one that you unconsciously gaze at in delight, or as a previous poster described, makes the heart go pitter-patter.

Concerning alt color processes…the 4-color carbon print is still pretty interesting. And for quality, a loupe isn’t needed to see the beauty in a large format contact print. However, neither substitutes for interesting subject, even with the right frame.

I was no slouch in the darkroom. I spent hours and hours to get a B&W silver print. I mixed my own chemistry, finding the right balance -- metol for delicacy, hydroquinone for punch. Or perhaps using more esoteric formulas. I carefully picked through a huge stock of different brands and grades of paper to find the right tonal resonance. Then endless passes through the trays adding in burning and dodging sequences.

Now, it's not so very much easier to pull a print from the mac and epson. I still have a big stock of paper from which I run test strips, though paper choice is a bigger issue for color. I test, try again. Sometimes after I get it, a nozzle will clog and waste yet another sheet or more, and ink. I doubt it's cheaper.

The surface of the Harman Gloss is very nice.

In the end, I'm sure I'm getting better prints now. I still have old prints from the darkroom I can compare, piles of them.

As for color, yes, with digital it's easy to do much better than a cibachrome or a C print. I'm not sure we can get the color gamut, even using the Pro Photo color space, that Dye Transfer could produce.

With dye transfer, color "purity" is not the final outcome. The purity of the dyes produces an (as far as I know) unequaled gamut. That's a lot of what we see in a dye transfer print.

Dye transfer prints, though dark-stable, will fade in the light. A modern pigment ink print will beat that.

My biggest beef with digital is the specific failure mode of specular highlights. Blown-out sensor sites have a blotchy and unrefined look. This effects both color and black and white. Some images from digital are unusable to me because of this, but many other images wouldn't have worked on film, or I would have already run out of film, or it might have gotten ruined or scratched in the darkroom, or fogged in the view camera, or any of a myriad of damn film problems.

All in all I'm really happy with the state of things, and the cascade of improvements. I'm not going back into the darkroom, either to print silver-gelatin or to make dye transfer matrix films.

As far as first rate quality goes, I am inclined to the view that those that were skilled and patient with it could achieve three color carbon prints during the 30's & 40's. Of course a single print that took the effforts of more than one person and perhaps 5-10 workdays and costs well beyond $10,000 to the lab customer was completely unhelpful. When I see some of the advertising prints in old magazines they still are, to my eye, very impressive.

Another process that was not much used and for which I maybe using the wrong name was the Flexichrome process. This was akin to painting with dyes on a b&W print which my memory tells me was very nice. These effects were much different that conventional oil or pencil coloring.
I have not seen one of these prints since about 1962.

Kodak actually made a B&W only version of one of their Nikon/Canon-based bodies, but I can't remember exactly which one. I'd love such a thing, but I am also somewhat philosophical about it.

I think it's true that digital capture and printing can't obtain the *same* look as well printed film capture. On the other hand, a lot of the time the look is just *different*.

Shots I get from my 35mm-style D200 don't have the same tonality and texture as what I used to get from Tri-X or the slower Ilford films, but what they lose in tonality they more than gain back in subtle detail and this overall impossible level of smoothness even at large sizes and high ISO. I can make 12x18 nearly unprocessed prints from a D200 frame at Costco that are simply astounding to look at, except that they don't look like fiber prints.

So I think my take home message is: get over it. If you want that fiber look, go into the darkroom and get it. I'd *like* to, but I don't have the time and I don't feel like dealing with the chemical rash and breathing problems that I used to get. So I have to say that on balance I'm happy with the digital look. I can see why people would not like it as much, but I don't think the question is all that relevant.

If only I could find some paints that would make my canvases look like those cave walls in Lascaux.

As for the idea of making negatives for use in the darkroom from digital files: a friend-of-my-blog Jim Larimer creates cyanotype prints with gum bichromate in the darkroom based on digital files. You can read about the process he used for a print he made for my wife and I as a wedding present on my blog here: http://jasondmoore.com/blog/2007/10/25/pp-workflow-11-cyanotype-with-gum-bichromate/

Enjoy!
Jason

Check out the Epson R 2400 printer!!

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