Darkroom quality from digital?

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Can you achieve the same black and white qualities from the 'digital darkroom' as you can from using standard chemicals?

Ive been developing my own film, printing my own pictures but have tired from the use of chemicals and have realized I have health problems related to using them.

I work with 'fine art', landscape, macro and abstract.

My question is can you get the same solid blacks, the ranges of middle greys, and bright whites?

I aim for high sharpness, high to medium contrast, and high detail. At least I would want this flexibility.

I have been researching this for weeks, but still dont understand some of the more important details. I'm willing to buy a film scanner, printer, flatbed, digital camera, if its required for the level of quality that a darkroom can produce. But I have not seen black and white print samples, not one. I have color samples from canon, hewlett packard, epson and lexmark. And since some are acceptable (canons bjc-6000, epson 720 and epson ex, lexmark 3200 jetprinter, etc) I have assumed so far that if you can achieve a decent color picture, the same should be possible for black and white.

For example, is the complete 'tonal range' of black and white available in the 'digital darkroom'?

I am aware of tips, for example using a film scanner instead of a flatbed; highest bit, density range of 3.6 as a min., etc; 64ram or more...

But I have seen nothing to prove it. I've seen impressive bw online, but output is where it counts.

Archival properties is a whole different matter I'm not concerned with.

But say someone is willing to spend $500 for film scanner, $300 for a printer, some paper, ink, can they expect a darkroom with a mouse with no quality lost? I would also spend say, $500 for a nikon coolpix 700 with its resolution at 1600x1200, one of the highest possible.

-- Michael Anderson (andersonphoto90@hotmail.com), August 01, 1999


You're on the right track here Michael, but the $500 scanner just isn't going to cut. You budget is about $69,500 less than it takes to get a scan with enough detail to allow you to equal a darkroom print.

Digital black-and-white is coming on fast, as Luminos and other companies release quad-tone inks for Epson's inkjet printer. You listed $300 for a printer, which is enough to buy a printer that can produce excellent 8.5x11 prints. At those sizes you can get by with less scanner, which will reduce your scanner budget to about $2,500. But you still won't be able to duplicate what you can do in a darkroom because scanners in that price range do not have enough Dmax (think of it as exposure latitude) to reach into the shadows while retaining highlight detail.

The best way to duplicate darkroom quality is to use your $500 scanner as a proofing device and take your best negatives to a service bureau with a Tango drum scanner. This is more expensive than darkroom work, and assumes you already have a computer with too much RAM, a huge hard drive, an excellent monitor, a color calibrator (even for black-and- white), and you know PhotoShop inside-out and sideways.

It is a different way of working and requires different skills. Darkroom experience does help with learning PhotoShop because you at least know where you want to go, you just need to figure out how to get there.

When I finish a major project I'm working on now, and when Luminos starts shipping their quad-tone inks, I'm going to start doing black- and-white on my computer. After a couple months experimenting I'll write an article for Black-and-White World letting people know what I've learned.

If you aren't in a huge hurry to make the jump wait for my article. If you are in a hurry, e-mail me directly and I'll give you some particulars on what I know now.

-- Darron Spohn (dspohn@clicknet.com), August 12, 1999.

I'm curious, what type of health problems are you having with your B&W chemistry?

-- Gene Crumpler (nikonguy@worldnet.att.net), August 17, 1999.

I must agree with Darron. A high resoulution scan with a Photo Multiplier Tube is the only hope of reproducing the subtle tonal variation in a fine B&W print. I have access to a high quality imagesetter that can print on photo paper at 3350 dpi (spot size). It uses the Harliquine RIP with has extented tonal gradations which are used to reduce banding with the limited 256 gray scale of Postscript 8 bit files. I output 300 line screens which are extremely fine. My problem is the inability to find a paper with a deep rich black emulsion color.The paper I have, made to be imaged by red lasers (740 nanometers), are proofing papers similar to the old Velox. If any one knows of better roll papers sensitive to red lasers, let me know.

-- Jim Steel (jimrs@gte.net), September 24, 1999.

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