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Wednesday, 25 April 2012


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Well, I'm in for one.

Firstly, without knowing anything else, that's a superb photo and ... what a price! 20 bucks with shipping!! That's only a couple of coffees or magazines.

I only wish I was now American! *grin*

Good luck with the sales guys -- I really hope you guys are successful with this one because I if I could, I would.


Dear Ctein, your position is very logical but I'm frustrated. Globalization still has its limits. Too bad to lose a real reference point!


I can see those barcode lines Mike rants about in you picture just below the mane cable of the bridge :-).

Greetings, Ed

Just one question:
I'm in Europe and I use the service "Shipito" to give you a mail adress in the US.
This is not the adress that is in my Paypal info. Is this ok?
Paypal account and email adress are the same, of course, so you can match order and payment.
Thank you very much for this great print offer!

Too bad you aren't accepting checks as Michael did with the Turnley prints. I refuse to use Paypal for ANYTHING after having my account hacked and emptied.

I'd buy one, if somebody orders a pack for redisttribution in Germany.


Well, I'm afraid that I can't tell from this image whether I want to purchase it or not. That's not a subjective, artistic decision - it's just that as the sort of experiment that this offer embodies, I'd need to see more of the actual image before participating.

And I suppose it begs the question - if we could see the full size image, does the notion of having to see it printed make any difference to the premise of the exercise - that small sensors/cameras can produce great images? Why do you have to print it?

Or is the purpose of the experiment how post processing makes a difference?

I'm confused about this whole exercise. Is Ctein trying to prove that he can manipulate a small sensor image to produce a good print? Or that it is inherent in the capabilities of the medium?

I should add that I've had many images from so-called consumer digicams printed by professional labs that have already answered this question, for me, at any rate.

Nothing makes me angrier than a so called international site that starts dishing out US only offers. Guaranteed to make the rest of the world angry. I'm not sure why in this case, because I don't actually want a print. I'm therefore seething for no reason, so please continue about your business.

I'm sure there will be a chorus of these sorts of comments, but that's a great photo, and $19.95 is a ridiculous price for a big print on good materials by a master printer, even if it is unsigned; I've paid more for crappy posters, fercrissakes. I'm not sure how Ctein's time is getting priced here, but I have the suspicion that he's working for perilously close to free, and that the ToP community owes him about 1,000 drinks.

As a m4/3 user myself (one who just recently parted with his beloved E-P1 in favor of the smaller models), I will be quite interested to see what the apotheosis of m4/3 technical quality looks like.

Two questions (that might very well be answered in Friday's post): Was the camera on a tripod, and if not, was IS turned on?

I live in Toronto and am interested in a print. May I suggest that all Canadian TOP readers who also would like one email me.

I will coordinate us and arrange for the mailing if we reach 25 orders. And if someone else wants to take on the mailings that's fine too of course.

Email me at selenizone ath yahoo Doth ca ? (h's added to fool bots.)

Wow, great 'instructional material' picture. And with such a low price, I imagine you'll sell 1000 within 24 hours.

cool. Got my order in.

The geek in me said yes!

The cheapskate in me said HELL YEAH! and placed an order so quickly PayPal is still wondering what hit it.

Thanks Kuh-tein!

OK, this is hoping someone in Canada will be interested in being the 25-print re-shipper. Count me in that hypothetical case.

Limits make sense, but you have me curious. Why no signature? Is it a worry about devaluing your other work?


I work in Daly City. Would it be possible to pick up the print directly from you?


please don't take this the wrong way - I know how scratchy I get if someone tells me how to do my business. This is really a question about USPS and not your choices.

Why is is so hard to deal with international orders from the US? I have come across this time and again on the internet - I wanted a titanium case for my Palm Pilot (circa 2003) that was made by a company in Casper Wyoming, and they wanted nearly double the price of about $80 to ship it to England. I've worked for 2 US companies as their representative in the UK - I could never get marketing materials shipped to me in time. Many websites use those drop down lists of US states when asking for postal information, and do not even allow the option of free text for me to type in "Cambridgeshire".

If I wanted to ship a roll of a photographic print to France, or South Africa, or anywhere else in the world including the US, I'd take it to the Post Office, they would weigh it and ask about airmail or sea mail, and tell me the shipping price. It would be a different price than the other 20 rolls I had for addresses in the UK, but it is hardly difficult. Why do the USPS make life difficult for you?

Thinking a little further, could you do a second run for international addresses, charging say $39.95, and openly declaring "it's twice the price of the US edition, but I have to make sure I cover the increased postal charges. I'm not giving different prices for the UK, Canada and Bolivia because it's too much effort, so just one price. Take it or leave it".

I like the picture by the way!

I just ordered mine, a bargain for a photograph by an artist I have admired for so many years. Recently I took part in a printing experiment for those with Epson 3880 printers, we were e- mailed a file and returned a print with serial number and date of purchase of printer.
Was the test related to this offer?
If not please satisfy my curiosity as to the purpose.

Just put in my order. I feel like I've seen good prints in all traditional processes so this will be a great reference for me. Thanks Ctein.

Also, regarding international shipping. People should blame the U.S. Postal Service. As an occasional ebay shipper I've stopped shipping internationally too. In addition to each shipment needing a handwritten customs declaration there is no way to mail internationally with any sort of tracking or signature required unless you go to a premium service that I believe starts around $27. I see ads on ebay all the time for items from the UK using a Royal Post signed for service to anywhere in the world for reasonable rates but the U.S. Post Office has nothing comparable.

Cool print offer. Thank you, Ctein & Mike for making it possible.

Gotta love PayPal - they just sent a receipt showing I paid some guy going by the name of "Ctein Ctein". "-)

Just ordered! Thanks Ctein and Mike. I figure the materials and shipping are approaching $10 so you're doing the readership a big favor here. Much appreciated.

When I sell, I only ship domestic - I can do every last bit of my shipping online if it's to a US address. Packages go in a drop box or on the counter if they don't fit.
International shipping would require that I go to an understaffed Post Office during business hours (which happen to be my business hours as well), wait in line and fill out a customs form. It's simply not worth the time for those few international sales I'd make.
That's for one item - if ctein had to do it for hundreds of orders, he'd be tied up for a long time.

Ordered mine - I'm excited to see a ctein print in person and I'll be able to frame it for my father (who grew up in San Jose/SF) to put in his office.

If 24 UK based (or even mainland europe) people mail me via the blog link then I will do a UK distribution. Onward post and packing at cost, which I can't yet evaluate. But I won't make a profit.


Thank you, Ctein and Mike for making this sort of thing possible. Much appreciated.

This print has the potential, I suspect, to create quite a buzz about how much one has to spend on gear in order to produce quality prints. It seems that nearly all debate on the web about gear wanders around in technical mumbo jumbo, but never offers proof.. as in A PRINT! I mean, that's the test, right?

If Ctein's print looks as good to my eye as I suspect it will, my lusting after the next bigger, better sensor-ed camera will come to a screeching halt. I'll know that I can trust these micro four thirds cameras to give me everthing I need. That will be a real 'coming home' of sorts for me. Hallelujah!

As I posted above, I am willing to coordinate the shipping from a bulk order to Canada. Having said that, I have often ordered items from the US to Canada, from ebay and from various second hand book resellers. Never had any problems. Never had sellers talk about difficulties. Only once had to pay a large fee for 'cross-border brokerage' and that was when UPS was used. The other times USPS was just fine.

I suppose the ctein did not want to make an exception for Canada because then that would open the door to one more exception and another one...

Wasn't going to talk about international posting, but other comments have prompted me to wonder what is so difficult in the US? Here (in Switzerland) the only difference between sending prints to Berne or New York is that in the latter case I fill in a little green sticker with Description, Value and Weight and sign it. And pay a bit more, of course.

For this price it's a steal. I live outside the US, but I understand that there are limitations and I guess there's bureaucracy involved with sending abroad (here there isn't, but in the US...)

Anyway, thanks for offering this to the (US) community :-)

I placed an order for a couple of reasons, most of all is that I don't actually know what a good print looks like.

Thank you both. Ordered mine the minute my computer turned on this morning.

I'm looking forward to holding onto my first print from a professional printer.

When I'm forging your signature how big a run of prints should I claim it to be?

"I work in Daly City. Would it be possible to pick up the print directly from you?"

Dear Andy,

Ahh, okay, why not? So long as people realize they're not going to get more than 10 min. of my time (I'm going to be awfully busy), anyone who wants to pick their print up for me instead of me shipping it can do so. In that case, DON'T send me your name and address in the e-mail, just write "I will pick up my print" and I'll e-mail you to let you know when it's ready and we can coordinate schedules.

pax  \  Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
--     Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
--     Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Jeff K. asked, "Why no signature?"

I wouldn't want to sign my name 1,000 times because it's boring, tiring, tedious and not necessary.

Is that a crop from the full image? Being in Scotland, I'd be an inernational customer but the pic isn't to my taste so that's all right then!

Dear Mark,

Shipping to a different address is no problem, no matter what your PayPal account says. I only use the PayPal email notifications as sales receipts; I check the name or e-mail address on the PayPal notification against the e-mail you send me with your shipping name and address to confirm that you've paid, and then the PayPal notifications get dumped in a separate folder and I never look at them again. You don't have to worry about any disagreement between addresses.

The only time I will need to take a closer look at the PayPal notification is if the print is being paid for using an entirely different name and e-mail address than the one in the e-mail you sent me. Then you need to tell me the one that's on the PayPal receipt so I can match them up.


Dear John,

Are you aware that I not only accepted personal checks on my previous sales, I encouraged it? (BTW, I never wait for a personal check to clear; no one has ever sent me a bad check, so I see no reason to make everyone suffer “just to be safe.”) By avoiding the PayPal fees, Mike and I have made more than an extra thousand dollars on previous sales. In the future I will continue to express a preference for personal checks.

But this time it doesn't work. If you want a print that badly, surely you have a friend with a PayPal account who can order it for you. I don't care whose account the money comes from.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 


Just out of curiosity, what would you charge to make a "perfect as possible" print out somebody's else's file? In other words, if I worked over a print of my own in Lightroom, and emailed it to you, how much would you charge as a custom printer to make a print from that? Or do you do that, on a retail basis?

Dear Richard,

The article that will be published Friday may help you make a decision, but fundamentally this is an unsolvable problem. Even on my calibrated studio monitors, a screen image doesn't look the same as the print, either in technical particulars or in aesthetic impact. Bludgeoning that same screen image into a small JPEG for the website removes it even further from the appearance of the print.

So, the basic answer to your question is that I can't make the technical/artistic point and convey the information satisfactorily without showing people a print. That is the reason for pricing it at $19.95: it allows people to engage their curiosity and see what a real print looks like. If you're not sufficiently curious, then it's not for you. If you don't particularly like the photograph, it's not for you. If you're already a believer, it's not for you.

As Friday's article will make clear, while I did my usual superb custom printing job (he said immodestly) this is no trickery. The processing I did to turn this into a fine print is pretty straightforward; it is about what is inherent in the medium. It's just ordinary Ctein custom printing magic, not how clever I can be at manipulating pixels. I'm not trying to win some argument by hook or by crook, here. So far as I'm concerned, I won that argument years ago. I'm only giving people an opportunity to see for themselves instead of having to take my word for it.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

"Just out of curiosity, what would you charge to make a 'perfect as possible' print out somebody's else's file?"

I can answer that...as per Ctein's Custom Printing page, anyone can buy a 17x22" print from a file they provide for $250 for the first print and $100 for additional prints made at the same time as the first print.

I've had Ctein print my files on occasion.


Dear Tom,

That entirely depends upon you. How many prints do you plan on forging my signature on? That would be the size of the run, right? [grin]


Dear Lubo,

Canada is less expensive to ship to than other countries and requires less paperwork, but it still requires a special customs form, and it still requires hand-checking the package at the post office, and it still requires me to set up a separate workflow and divide the orders into two categories and so on.

In other words, it still doesn't fly at $19.95. It crashes more gently than shipping to other countries, but crash it does. Unfortunately.


Dear Jamie,

I have a friend who just bought the Fuji X-Pro, which has a half-scale sensor (it is essentially identical in size to micro four-thirds, no matter what Fuji's misleading press release says). He is so happy with it that he is beginning to wonder if it is worth keeping his Contax and Phase One 30 back. No kidding. Not that the latter doesn't produce visibly better results (I should hope so!), It's just that the small sensor camera is so good that it may very well be good enough for most of the work he was doing in medium format (which was overkill).

I've used his Phase 1 equipment, against my Olympus, and oh my yes, it is a big step up in quality. But it's not such an astonishingly big step as I would've thought, especially considering the twentyfold difference in price. I could (and did) make some wonderful photographs with the Phase 1 back that I could not have done with the Olympus. But then I made a whole lot of others…

To quote my oft-used analogy, there is definitely wonderful stuff you can do with an 8 x 10 view camera that you would have no possibility of doing on 35mm film. That didn't stop a lot of pros from being extremely happy with the work they could do on 35mm film.


Dear Richard,

The printing experiment was not related to the sale. It was an investigation of product variability, which is something that is normally very hard to research. I do plan to turn it into a column in the foreseeable future. Your efforts did not go to waste; thanks!

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Dear Bruce,

Had to go check the DNG file... it's uncropped. Unusual for me. While I compose within the constraints of my camera and lens, so I don't routinely do more than a little cropping, I rarely get it exactly right in-camera.

I'm not one of those full-frame-with-borders types; it's never been my aesthetic. But I've always been the sort to use as much of the film/sensor real estate as I could.

pax / Ctein

Borderlinx or Bogo are expensive, indeed. Estimated costs about 50-100 $ just for the service (US-address plus shipping). So, if anybody in Germany ...

Dear folks,

Two more notes:

–– 25 prints is the minimum for a bulk order, but I have no problem if you want to order more. The price will simply scale up proportionately, by another $16 per print for US resellers and $17.60 per print for out-of-country resellers. E.g., 32 prints would cost $512 for US resellers and $563 for out-of-country resellers.

–– It seems to me the least I can do for the folks willing to take on this task is give them a free print by way of thanks. You're doing all of us a kindness. You deserve some reward, modest though it may be. E.g., if you order 25 prints, I'll actually ship you 26

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Dear Ctein,
What a wonderful effort to actually show on such a grand scale not only what a small sensor can do, but also what a well-made print can do - as opposed to a monitor image. A great mission indeed!
By the way, would you kindly elaborate a little on your statement about the X-Pro sensor 'being essentially identical in size to micro four-thirds'? Something to do with it the different sites-array?


what a great service you provide here for us! Thank you very much.
I'm really looking forward to seeing this print.
All the questions and your answers here... this is a way of communication and commerce on the internet that I'd like to see way more often.
And I do hope you still make some money with this print sale, even with this low price!
What a pity that I'm here in Germany and you're over there... I'd really like to thank you face to face.
Live long and prosper!

I'm an international reader and I think it makes perfect sense what you are doing as regards pricing etc. I think it is a wonderful print offer and a demonstration of how much the readership of this blog is valued. Those of you who can part take should consider yourselves lucky. It is a pity I cannot part take in this however there things I can do in Sydney that I'm sure not many people in the USA can do,
Maybe I'll have a surf before work tomorrow and balance in (my) universe will be restored

Ctein, are you saying the Fuji X-Pro 1 is not an APS-C sized sensor? Just curious.

Timing couldn't be any worse! I have to leave for my home country today, so I don't stand a chance to order this print.
I agree with people who commented that the print seems to be ridiculously low-priced, and I appreciate Ctein's gesture here too.
Hmmm...now I just have to find a friend here in the US who should be able to receive the print for me and then ship it to me at his own time. :-)


Ooh, was I not supposed to buy one, since I'm already a believer? :-)

I see it as "exceptional bargain", myself. (I do like the photo; and I don't have to like it as much as I did some of the previous ones I've bought to justify the price.)


Is the 17x22 decision an economic one (to meet a price point) or a technical one (the largest print you feel you could make with that combo)?

Hans & David:

Once you normalize the two sensor formats (i.e., crop the 3:2 APS-C format sensor to match the m4/3 sensor's 4:3 format), the difference in their size is considerably less and, IMO, not nearly as significant.

And this is exactly what I do with the 3:2 format files from the Fuji X-Pro 1, as I'm a big fan of the 4:3 format, whereas 3:2 is quite possibly the format I like least.

And at the risk of dragging this comment even further off topic, Yes, the X-Pro 1 is that good that in many ways, it does give my Contax/P30+ outfit a run for the money. It's not perfect, of course, and it does have more than a small number of quirks, but there's no doubting the quality of its files and I absolutely love working with a camera that has old-school character!

Dear David and Hans,

I said that about the Fuji X-Pro because...

... I was wrong!

Somehow I got two cameras' sensor sizes swapped in my head. Never mind what or how. I've simply had it wrong about the Fuji.

My booboo.

Not that it much matters; what's impressive are the pictures it turns out, from the VERY little I've seen.

pax / confused Ctein

I was with Ctein when he made this photograph. We had just visited the wonderful visual experience of Pier 24. Walking along the Embarcadero, the bridge was beautiful. The afternoon light behind us was modulated in a very nice way by the incoming marine layer off the Pacific. That light described the bridge in a special way. Ctein pulled out his diminutive camera. (I believe he changed lenses.) He proceeded to make some photographs. A few minutes later we were on our way. I was quite taken by how compact his body and two lens kit was in comparison to my 5D Mk II kit that requires an integrated water bottle just to stay hydrated lugging it around. His kit allowed a moment of photographic work taking advantage of special light. The revelation was much later when I came to realize that it was much more than just a casual snapshot. At the photographers gathering that I host, Salon 564, Ctein brought a full size print. In front of this print I was suddenly back at the Embarcadero enjoying that special light. I had not witnessed casual photography--it was serious photographic work that made possible a quite wonderful object. You do need to see this print in order to understand.

Stay radiant,


Dear Jason,

Short question, long answer [smile].

From a technical point of view, this photograph could go larger. Definitely to 20" x 24" (most of the photographs in my portfolio that are offered as 17" x 22" prints could go to 20" x 24"; it's not that much bigger). Probably 24" x 30" and still look fine. Haven't tried it, not sure. I'm certainly comfortable taking my technically-best photographs to 17" x 22"; I haven't had to reject a photograph yet because it fell apart too much at that print size.

Economics? Yes, but that turned out to be counterintuitive. My original plan had been to crank out 20" x 24" prints on my Epson 9800. The paper and ink are substantially cheaper for that printer than my 3880. A 20" x 24" print from the 9800 costs me 10% less than a 17" x 22" print from the 3880. Plus, I could just load up a 100 foot roll and come back at the end of the day when 60 prints had been cranked out.

Then I looked at the secondary costs. I use archival, acid-free paper for blotting the prints (necessary to remove residual ink solvents and oils) and for interleaving/wrapping them. I can get 18" x 24" paper in drawing pads for about $.12 a sheet, so I'm consuming $.25 worth of paper per print. The moment I start looking for paper larger than that, the cost skyrockets. For the bigger prints, I'd be spending close to one dollar on blotting/interleaving paper.

The mailing tubes got substantially bigger. I can use 18 inch tubes for the small prints. I'd need 24 inch tubes for the large prints, because the curl of the roll paper is along the long axis of the print (I *can* cross-roll paper, but it's tricky and prone to failure). Hence, the price and weight of the mailing tubes went up and so did the postage.

When I added up all the numbers, delivering 20" x 24" prints wound up costing about 20% more than 17" x 22" prints. Since there's not a huge difference in the appearance of the prints with that modest size change, I decided to stick with the smaller prints.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Cool! I am setting up a scanning and printing station in my basement. This will be the perfect motivator.

Dear Nicholas,

No to tripod, yes to image stabilization, but neither was relevant to this situation. It was a sunny day; the exposure time was 1/320 sec. I can handhold that and get pixel-level sharpness, no problem.

pax / Ctein

I have read quite a bit about ink jet printing, but have not heard of blotting the prints before. So could you write more about that. How long do you let it dry before blotting? About how many blots do you get out of your blotting paper?

Dear John,

24 hours.

At less than 15 cents/sheet of paper, one.

Use it, recycle it.

pax / Ctein

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