This week's column by Ctein
I am returned from Minneapolis, sanity restored (well, as much as it's ever going to be, which is always subject to question), but I'm still a bit disorganized, so this'll be another catch-up column. More meaty ones are in the works (see the end notes).
DDB's RAW converter investigation
So, TOP's very own indefatigable, and perhaps masochistic, DDB (David Dyer-Bennet, for the uninitiated) has decided to experiment with six different RAW converters. He'll be posting his reviews piece-by-piece online at dd-b.net. A fine service to the community, and better him than me.
No doubt as installments get posted he will provide Mike with specific links and Mike will pass them on to you all (right, guys?—Hint, hint, Mike?) [Your wish is my command, good Sirs —Mike the Ed. a.k.a. Sancho Panza.]
An 'Is it plugged in?' printer problem
Just before heading out to Minneapolis I felt an overwhelming need for a few hours of "me" photographic time, so I went to work on some new photographs. Midway through printing the second photo, my Epson 3880 developed a massive clog on the photo-black print head. My 3880's been close to perfect that way, but life happens. I ran some ordinary cleaning cycles and it got worse and worse, until almost no photo-black nozzles were laying down ink.
Damn. Probably not fixable. The printer's under warranty so Epson will send me a new one, but first they're gonna want I run a power-cleaning cycle. I hate those—they eat up lots of money and almost never work for me. Still, they'll insist.
Double damn, my maintenance cartridge is too full! So, next morning (one day before leaving for Minneapolis, now, and I so do not need unscheduled shopping trips) I drive to Calumet and pick up a cartridge, plus a couple of inks, just in case some of them are too low to premit a power clean.
I get back home, swap in the new maintenance cartridge, and decide to swap any ink cart that looks less than half full. Might as well swap out the photo black, even though it's 60% full. Maybe it'll jar something loose in the ink line. Hey, one can always hope.
The cartridge in the printer is empty. I can tell, just from the weight in my hand. It's empty? It's EMPTY?!? The printer swears it's 60% full. I put it on a scale to be really sure. It's truly bone dry. Well, now, y'know, that just might explain the near-total lack of ink droplets coming from the photo-black print head. Ya think? Just maybe?
OK, pop in a black cart that really does have ink in it, run a nozzle check, and—everything's perfect! Yay, no ink-wasting power clean, no having to call Epson for a new printer, just a waste of some of my time and temper.
Best I can figure, the cartridge must've been underfilled to begin with, as the ink consumption looked entirely normal while I'd been using it.
I've never seen anything like this before. But, if I ever see a near-total head clog again, I'll check first to see if there's really ink in the printer...no matter what the control panel readout tells me.
SuperFocus rebate note
I found out from the SuperFocus folks that there's no limit to the number of times folks can use my referral discount, which saves you 10% on the order (not sure if it's just the special frames or the entire order, but it's a savings of at least $50) and gets me a rebate, so feel free to ask me for my serial number if you might be contemplating a pair for yourself.
Another printing surprise
Back in April, on my last visit to Minneapolis, I chanced upon a remarkable scene of a bird's impact on a downtown St. Paul window, preserved by the dust of the window and the powder from the bird's wings.
DDB and I noodled around with my photograph on his computer for a while, and it looked extremely promising. It was complex and subtle and detailed and compelling and lyrical and disturbingly dark all at the same time.
DDB and I both agreed that the big question would be whether it would print out decently. As I've written about in many previous columns, digital prints lose subtlety and fine gradation. I suspect the culprit is the rendering algorithms, as one sees it from all kinds of printers, and from all sorts of source material. It's why there is such widespread use of local contrast-enhancing techniques such as "clarity" sliders and wide-radius unsharp masking, and plug-ins like ContrastMaster. Without these, digital prints go unnecessarily flat.
Enhancing those delicacies so that they print as well as they look on a display is a tricky business. Occasionally it's easy; at other times it just doesn't work at all. I have a few photographs that simply failed to survive the translation from screen to print. I was most concerned about my bird photograph with its delicate visual intricacy. It might very well prove to be beyond my skills to print acceptably.
Two weeks ago, after I fixed my printer's "head clog," I decided to run out a test print of this photograph (from the file DDB and I had worked up) to see if it had possibilities or not. Might as well get it over with.
The first print out looked perfect. Actually, better than perfect; it was stunning. It eclipsed what I'd been seeing on the screen; it was so much better than that. I've never had that happen before. Always it's been as I said; printing wants to lose a little something and one works hard to make sure it doesn't get its own way.
It's not just me; several other folks have now seen both the screen and print versions, and we're all in agreement. The screen version, seen big on a high-quality monitor (not the dinky little 800 pixel JPEG you see here) is remarkable; the print is astonishing.
There's no question in my mind that it's one of my best works; I'd be thrilled if I made one photograph a year this good.
It'll be interesting to see if it sells. Not just because of the subject matter, but because although it looks pretty good on a computer screen, it doesn't look half so good as it does in a print. Time will tell.
• • •
So, what's coming up?
Next week should see the first column about my just-arrived IR-converted Olympus Pen. There'll be several over the next few months. I've done some good art in the past with digital IR (a medium near and dear to our 'steamed editor's heart [Note that I once wrote an essay called "Why I Hate Infrared." —Ed.]), vis:
We'll see if this new camera serves me as well. In the meantime it's almost too much fun, as DDB would say! (See top illustration.)
After that, another tea column about Jon Singer's and my visit with Bill Waddington, owner of TeaSource. Also, almost too much fun for all three of us, and Jon and I learnt some fascinating new things about the dark teas and the pu ers. (Meanwhile, you can find pictures of Singer and I hosting tea tastings at Fourth Street Fantasy here.
Then, possibly, a report on some informal tests of Olympus' Micro 4/3 40–150mm zoom and 60mm macro lenses. Or maybe more about the IR Pen?
Nah, that's thinking way too far ahead.
Back to preparing and shipping dye transfer prints.
Happy 4th, and don't detonate anything I wouldn't detonate.
©2013 by Ctein, all rights reserved
We catch up with Ctein every Wednesday a.m. on TOP, and one never knows what one will find.
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Craig: "I've learned not to trust printers when they tell me how much toner is left. It turns out some of them don't actually have sensors to tell them how much toner is in a cartridge; they just tell you that the toner is low every few months or every few thousand pages (whichever comes first) whether it is or not. For me, this would typically mean replacing a cartridge that was more than half full, but it's interesting that you had the opposite experience."
Gijs: "That is the most stunning image forming process I've seen! It's like a fossil of a bird strike. This reminds me of a snippit from the the Jim Jarmusch film Down by Law. In one scene, Roberto Benigni's character, who is sharing a jail cell with Tom Waits and John Lorie has drawn a window on the cell wall. He asks whether in correct English one looks 'out the window' or 'at the window.' John Lorie's answer is, 'in this case, I think we'll have to say looking at the window.' I'm going to be spending a lot more time looking at windows thanks to you, Ctein!"