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Photography Question 
John D. Jones

Digital vs. Darkroom BW Printing

I'm just about reading to invest in a darkroom with a Variable Contrast Enlarger. Now, with a new computer, I'm investigating digital scanning and printing. There's considerable debate on the web about whether ink jets can do excellent BW printing.

I'm not wild about maintaining two printers -- one for color and BW;

I want the option of printing up to 11*14.

Any takers on the relative merits of digital vs traditional/darkroom BW printing? thanks,

John Jones

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6/24/2002 6:22:51 PM

Jeff S. Kennedy   I think b&w is still an area where digital has a ways to catch up with traditional techniques. Scanners don't handle b&w film as well as color and printers seem to struggle as well. Not that there aren't ways to get good results. I've seen some pizeograph prints from digital files that look very nice (check out I've even seen some b&w lightjet prints on Fuji Crystal Archive that were pretty good. I print b&w and color on my little Epson C80 and get decent results. But in the end I still don't think digital can touch traditional b&w printing that is done well.......yet.

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6/24/2002 8:58:52 PM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  My take on it:

Most of the finest gallery and museum grade prints are still done on optical enlargers. I routinely have 11x14 and 11x16 exhibition (a.k.a. display) prints made. If made from a transparency or negative that has the requisite level of detail these prints can withstand extremely close scrutiny without "falling apart" including examination with a 5X loupe. The enlarger and print are part of a "system" that starts with making the photograph in camera; it also requires extremely fine-grain film, excellent camera optics, critical focusing and zero camera shake.

Whether or not a "digital" print is acceptable depends on what you want and expect from a print that size. Standing alone, digital prints that size can look "very good." You have to see what is possible from an optical enlarger to fully understand "superb. A side-by-side "A" vs. "B" comparison can be telling. Even though the pixels may not be recognizably visible to the unaided eye (no magnification), they often "look" different with the optically enlarged print appearing more lifelike with exceptional detail level, smoother tonal gradation, and not quite as "harsh."

Again, the entire system of creating the print is only as strong as the weakest link. No enlarger of any type can extract what isn't present on film.

-- John

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6/25/2002 2:36:34 AM

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