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Author Topic: How Important is Picture Print Size?  (Read 5541 times)
JimAscher
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« on: September 13, 2010, 11:35:54 AM »
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I don't know how better to formulate my query other than the somewhat inadequate phrasing above.  Please excuse.

I use an Epson Stylus Photo 1400 which prints with 1.5 picoliters for my black-and-white work.  (I do no color.)  I print in size about half a sheet of 8.5 by 11 inches, which averages usually 8.5 by 5.5 inches.  I am trying to emulate the size of a 5 by 7 inch film contact print, for mounting on 8 by 10 matt board for hand-held portfolio viewing.

With film contact printing one usually gets extremely fine definition and gradation.  However, within the limits of a picoliter printer, does one lose out in definition and gradation through printing the smaller size?  In fact, are definition and gradation possibly perceived as INCREASING with printing in larger sizes? 
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NikoJorj
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« Reply #1 on: September 15, 2010, 05:51:42 AM »
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In fact, are definition and gradation possibly perceived as INCREASING with printing in larger sizes? 
They definitely do up to a certain point... Especially taking into account that your 1400 doesn't have grey inks.
You'll have to test for yourself the optimal adequation between print resolution in ppi and output quality, but may end into the classical 200-400ppi territory.

More generally, B&W contact printing may still be challenging some inkjet technologies (and why wouldn't you convert your 1400 to pure B&W with grey inks?), see eg http://www.custom-digital.com/2008/09/bw-print-quality/ .
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Dick Roadnight
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« Reply #2 on: September 15, 2010, 06:01:06 AM »
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For quality monochrome printing you need a printer with several shades of grey.

On an Epson printer print at 360 or 240 original camera pixels per print inch
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John R Smith
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« Reply #3 on: September 15, 2010, 06:18:06 AM »
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This is a very interesting topic, and one which I have pondered a great deal in recent years. The whole issue has been clouded by the fact that most people seem to wish to print at HUGE sizes these days, and the small print is very much out of fashion. Which is a great shame, because I have always loved the jewel-like quality of a fine B/W contact print from 5x4 or 10x8 film. And small prints often suit the intimate nature of photography far better than trying to compete with painters and their huge canvases. Many of my own pictures would gain nothing worthwhile by printing them larger than my usual 9x7 ins plus border on A4 paper.

Unfortunately, small prints are precisely what ink-jet printers are worst at. The smaller you print the more detail and resolution you lose, because the resolution of the printer stays the same, and pixels simply get thrown away. Whereas in the darkroom, the detail gets smaller, but nothing is lost. Sadly, there is no simple answer to this, and the more megapixels your camera or DB has the worse the problem will be.

So for small prints, for those of us who love them, the silver-halide process still rules.

John
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« Reply #4 on: September 15, 2010, 06:42:22 AM »
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And small prints often suit the intimate nature of photography far better than trying to compete with painters and their huge canvases.
John
It is because I want to "try to compete with painters and their huge canvases" that I have ordered a 60Mpx H4D-60, that I can use shift-and-stitch on my Sinar.

I hate over-enlarged prints, but hope to get that "Jewell-like" quality even in single shot @ 360 original camera pixels per print inch @ 18*24"!
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JimAscher
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« Reply #5 on: September 15, 2010, 08:36:29 AM »
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I really appreciate the thoughtful responses I have so far received to my initial query.  I suppose I should have mentioned initially that my Epson 1400 is loaded entirely with different dilutions of black ink, but I have not yet achieved sufficiently satisfying results for myself in using all six dilutions in the same print.  I have so far found satisfaction in a curve combination of only two dilutions -- 100% and 9%.  This may very well be a result of my preference for small-size prints.  And while I have recently upgraded to cameras with larger sensor sizes, I am finding that many of my most favored prints are a result of using a point-and-shoot camera with a smaller sensor size.  Maybe for my type of work, trying for prints with finer resolutions and definitions beyond a certain point is a fruitless endeavor.     
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John R Smith
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« Reply #6 on: September 15, 2010, 09:10:34 AM »
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Jim

Unfortunately, you find yourself in the position of wishing to pursue a perfectly valid branch of photography for which there is almost no popular support. I have the same feelings of frustration myself, most of the time. Many times I have posted about a problem I am experiencing on this forum, and the response has been mostly one of polite puzzlement as to why on earth I would wish to do "x" in the first place. But as you have found, ink-jet printers are only absolutely wonderful and the complete bee's knees if you wish to make very large and mightily impressive colour prints. Which is what almost everyone seems to want to do.

On the other hand, from my personal point of view, why on earth would I want to do that? I can put 10x8 or smaller prints, sleeved, in albums which I can pick up and browse. I can frame them to a maximum size over the frame of 11x14 ins, which are quite practical to hang in my tiny cottage with very little wall space. If I was printing 20x16 or larger, what could I do with the damn things? I certainly have no space to hang them, so they would just sit in a portfolio where I and no-one else would ever see them.

The other serious problem with even the very best ink-jets, which you have not so far mentioned, is that if you examine the prints with a loupe you will see that they cannot deal with very subtle highlight gradations. This is because, even with a light-light black ink eventually as the highlight approaches the uppermost zones, the printer can no longer lay down continuous tone but has to resort to spacing the dots wider apart. Unlike a silver-gelatine print, which is truly continuous tone even in the lightest highlights.

John
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« Reply #7 on: September 15, 2010, 09:37:54 AM »
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John:  Inadvertently, you have hit upon one of my key problems in trying to extend gradation through use of all six of my ink dilutions.  I quote you as follows:

The other serious problem with even the very best ink-jets, which you have not so far mentioned, is that if you examine the prints with a loupe you will see that they cannot deal with very subtle highlight gradations. This is because, even with a light-light black ink eventually as the highlight approaches the uppermost zones, the printer can no longer lay down continuous tone but has to resort to spacing the dots wider apart. Unlike a silver-gelatine print, which is truly continuous tone even in the lightest highlights.

This is precisely the area of my key difficulty.  In those maximum highlight areas, all I get is a smooth light-gray tone (smudge?).  When I don't try to get (or expect) definition in those areas, through use of my two-dilution approach, I can achieve an otherwise satisfying, but less defined, print.  Does this make sense?  I don't know how else to put it.  In other words, what I have been satisfied with in the past are small prints with pronounced compositions which can be nicely achieved on the basis of significant ink contrast.  And this is probably the approach I'd best stick to.   
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John R Smith
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« Reply #8 on: September 16, 2010, 07:05:11 AM »
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Jim

I did quite a lot more thinking, calculating and examining my own darkroom contact prints last night. I can give you the accurate figures if you like, but roughly it goes like this -

For a 5X4 ins digital print (representing a 5x4 film contact) there is no point in using a sensor with more than 3MP if you are using an Epson printer whose native resolution is limited to 360 dpi. Any additional information in your digital file will simply be discarded. And to get the same quality as film for a 645 contact print from my 39MP DB you would need about 3,500 dpi from the printer!

There is an absolutely shocking difference between film contact prints and the same scanned negative printed to the same output size even at my R2400's best output resolution. Viewed through an 8x loupe the inkjet print is just rubbish by comparison. The reason most people never notice this is that they never print small.

Sadly, we seem to be in a tiny minority of those who actually love small B/W prints. Notice how little interest this thread has generated? Which I don't really understand. Some years ago, my wife made a wood engraving of the lighthouse on St Agnes, Scilly. It is just two inches square, and framed with a very generous mat it is one of my favourite pictures.

So, with the current state of technology, if you wish to print small very high-quality B/W photographs, the darkroom is still the undisputed king. Shoot 5x4, 5x7 or 10x8 film in a field camera and contact-print the resultant negative. The results will be streets ahead of anything you could manage using digital cameras and ink-jet printing.

John
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« Reply #9 on: September 16, 2010, 09:07:06 AM »
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John:  The results you report of your latest investigative effort are discouraging for me indeed.  Have you formed yet any thoughts on the efficacy of making digital negatives from higher pixel camera output for darkroom contact printing? 
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« Reply #10 on: September 16, 2010, 09:23:36 AM »
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John:  The results you report of your latest investigative effort are discouraging for me indeed.  Have you formed yet any thoughts on the efficacy of making digital negatives from higher pixel camera output for darkroom contact printing? 

Jim

As far as I am aware, the only labs who do this laser-scan digital images to 35mm film. Now 35mm is just too small for the work we would like to do. So what we need is a lab that could laser-scan to 5x4 sheet film (or larger). There may be someone here on the Forum who has more knowledge of this process and could enlighten us further?

John
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« Reply #11 on: September 16, 2010, 09:33:36 AM »
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John:  Somewhere recently in one of the other forums I monitor -- and I can't recall which one -- there was an informative discussion of making digital negatives ourselves through printing on transparent film with our printers.  Does this method ring any bells for you?   Jim
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« Reply #12 on: September 16, 2010, 09:56:13 AM »
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John:  Somewhere recently in one of the other forums I monitor -- and I can't recall which one -- there was an informative discussion of making digital negatives ourselves through printing on transparent film with our printers.  Does this method ring any bells for you?   Jim

Well, you can, but then you are limited by the same dpi issues we have already discussed. All you gain is the ability to print on silver-gelatine paper, but you get the same inkjet quality of output.

You see, essentially the problem goes like this -

I have a Haselblad CFV-39 digital back which I use on my lovely old 500 C/Ms. This gives me stunning 39MP files from a sensor which my Zeiss lenses might just out-resolve (on a tripod, with every care taken) but only just. It's pretty much state-of-the-art for old lenses like these. But here is the catch - at 360 dpi (the native resolution of my Epson) the optimum print quality is achieved at 16x20 ins (or A2). If I print any smaller than this, I am throwing image quality away. Whereas in the darkroom, it is effectively the other way around. I lose image quality (through diffraction etc) the bigger I print.

John
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« Reply #13 on: September 16, 2010, 10:11:14 AM »
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John:  Your cogent explanation should of course have been obvious to me.  In either case, we are limited by the resolution native to our printers.  But on that subject -- printer limitations -- and here I must display my ignorance, when all six (or fewer) ink jets in the printer are pumping away with different ink dilutions, isn't there some ink over-lap to fill in the pixel gaps, in order to provide smoother gradation?  Jim
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« Reply #14 on: September 17, 2010, 02:20:00 AM »
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John:  Your cogent explanation should of course have been obvious to me.  In either case, we are limited by the resolution native to our printers.  But on that subject -- printer limitations -- and here I must display my ignorance, when all six (or fewer) ink jets in the printer are pumping away with different ink dilutions, isn't there some ink over-lap to fill in the pixel gaps, in order to provide smoother gradation?  Jim

Jim

Yes indeed, and this is what is called dithering. Otherwise you would need 255 ink cartridges in your printer to render the 256 gray scale from an 8-bit B/W file. And keeping track of the ink levels in 255 cartridges would be a bit of a pain. But I am no expert on these technicalities. To get into the nitty-gritty of this stuff, you need to be talking to someone like Ernst Dinkla over in the printing section.

Some of this article is now rather dated, but it forms a good starting point -

http://www.scantips.com/basics3b.html

John
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« Reply #15 on: September 17, 2010, 09:27:06 AM »
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John:  Thanks for referring me to the very informative article.  I am the wiser for it, but not much encouraged.  I've been asking myself whether a dye sublimation printer could not provide me more of what I seek.  They are of course primarily color printers (but some users report good black-and-white results) and are more costly per photo than from ink jet printers.  Also, while the resulting photos are reportedly less sharp at the edges, the tones are smoother.  Anyway, as you can see, I'm sort of thrashing around seeking a better solution to my needs in the small print realm.  Jim
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« Reply #16 on: September 17, 2010, 05:57:11 PM »
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In my experience the problem is matte papers, not inkjet dithering. If you print with a current-generation inkjets and high-quality photo-black papers such as the newer fiber-gloss and baryta papers, you won't see dithering.

I have 24mp images printed at 6x9", which comes out to just over 600ppi. Using the 16-bit Canon plug-in with my ipf6300 and printing on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Baryta, the resulting print is continuous-tone as far as the eye can tell, even for monochrome. Put a 10x loupe on it, and it starts too look a little grainy, but you don't see actual dither pattern; and wet prints are going to look grainy under a loupe too, unless they're 8x10 contact prints. Personally I don't much care what my prints look like under a loupe anyways.
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« Reply #17 on: September 17, 2010, 06:12:18 PM »
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As a (relatively) inexpensive experiment I've found and ordered from eBay a highly regarded, but discontinued, Kodak 1400 dye-sub printer for $85 plus shipping (from Texas), which is little more than the cost of the paper-package I'll need to also purchase to use it.  I expect I'll initially be printing in glossy (although matte finish paper is also available, which is my preferred finish for my ink-jet printing, but few users seem to like in dye-sub).  I think that if it doesn't work usefully for me, my wife will love it for her color snapshot work.  So it's possibly a win-win situation for me.     
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« Reply #18 on: September 17, 2010, 07:53:43 PM »
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It was mentioned here that there is almost no technical support/info available for printing with black and various dilutions of gray.  I subscribe to a great Yahoo Group in their Digital Photography section.   It is called   DigitalBlackandWhiteThePrint.   It averages 200 to 500 messages a month, and has a massive amount of expertise and experience available.

If you're not aware of it, it will be worth your while taking a look.

Brad
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« Reply #19 on: September 17, 2010, 08:31:09 PM »
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Brad:  Many thanks.  I am in fact not only aware of it (and its QTR companion) but have also posted on it and had private email contact with several of its leading contributors.  It is indeed a wonderful resource for those like myself interested in black-and-white photo printing.  But it nevertheless has to date not provided much of a significant solution to the problem I've elicited here regarding inherent ink-jet limitations for small photo printing.  With the current technology of otherwise excellent ink-jet printers it appears just not to be possible.
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