disappointment with Ilfochrome prints

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I'm totally disappointed with the results of the first ilfochrome prints that I've received from the lab after giving them a 4x5 slide (Fuji Velvia). I considered the slide tacksharp when examining it on the light table with a 6x loupe. The colours were beautiful and natural. The slide shows a river with its banks deeply covered with snow. All of this was in a dark blueish shade at the bottom of a narrow valley. It was a very clear day. Only the mountains at the end of the valley were in sunlight. I used a 3 stop Tiffen GND Filter to darken the sunlit mountainside.

The ilfochromes don't seem very sharp and the colour of the blueish snow in the valley has a nasty greenish cast. What might have gone wrong in the lab? Am I simply expecting too much from Ilfochrome? Should I give it another try with an internegative?

-- Tom Castelberg (castelbergthomas@hotmail.com), January 25, 2000


Get a better lab! But seriously, what size print, was it custom done, is the lab known for good Ilfochrome work, did it need a contrast mask? These are some variables, but even good labs can make bad prints. You need to talk with their QC people and demand better work. A good Ilfochrom should at least be sharp, and have a similar color balance to the original chrome WHEN VIEWED WITH A 5000K HIGH CRI light source. Contrast build up is expected, and if it is a problem, most good labs will suggest a contrast mask. By the time you start costing contrast masks, you need to begin investigating digital reproduction using drum scanners and LightJet printers.

-- Glenn C. Kroeger (gkroeger@trinity.edu), January 25, 2000.

Go digital and get Lightjet prints made. See for the best scans and service. They have an article on their web site explaining why they went digital, and how some of the photographers who exhibit in the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite N.P. gave away a bunch of their Ilfochromes after seeing the same images printed on a Lightjet.

-- Darron Spohn (
dspohn@photobitstream.com), January 25, 2000.

Sorry. Forgot to close the href tag. I hope the forum moderator can fix this soon.

-- Darron Spohn (dspohn@photobitstream.com), January 25, 2000.

I have some limited experience with Ilfochromes and am still experimenting so I'll offer what I've learned.

Firstly, if the color balance is off (e.g., greenish snow), then the lab screwed up and you should take back the transparency and the print and have them do it over.

The sharpness issue is one I have not figured out yet. I have had the same slide printed by two different labs and found that it came out much sharper at one than the other. I can't understand why this would be, unless one lab had a crappy enlarger lens or something like that? Anyway, I've found that the lightroom (www.lightroom.com) does pretty sharp prints and they will follow your instructions regarding cropping and burning/dodging and color balance pretty well. The biggest problem with using them is that I've found it to be more difficult to give written printing instructions than it is to describe in person. I suppose you could call them up, but then you don't have the transparency in front of you, which is just as hard.

-- Lanier Benkard (lanierb@leland.stanford.edu), January 25, 2000.

Tom, I think you are not the first to be desappointed with Ilfochrome prints. I also recommend you find a better lab, one that uses contrast masks on a regular base. But even in a good lab, you will come to some dissatisfaction with some prints that are hard to reproduce the way you saw the picture. If you are serious about your prints, an improvement will come as Glen suggests through high end scans and LightJet or Lambda Ilfochrome (or Fuji Christal) laser prints. But you may want to master the whole process yourself at some point and the way to go if you are not yet a keen conventional darkroom user, is to get yourself a Mac and Photoshop. There are some "affordable" scanners on the market (if 4K$ is a possible investment) but these scanners will only treat well slides that are normally contrasted (by opposition to a dark and contrasty sheet of Velvia). A good alternative is to have the slides scanned on a high end drum scanner with a Dmax capability of 4.2 or higher and to treat them on your computer where you will be able to correct contrast, spots, color shifts, crop as you like and add a little bit of sharpness if desired. It may take a few trails until you find the right settings for your final print but eventually, you will almost always get what you see and that's a great feeling when you depended upon the mood of a lab operator for a while!

-- Paul Schilliger (pschilliger@vtx.ch), January 25, 2000.

Drum scans have gotten enough good press that I have little doubts of their quality, though I've yet to see one. But these prices seem a little out of reach for many of us. It looks like from Darron's post that the original scan would be $80. plus the print. I guess if you can sell, if it's a especially supurb photo, or have other use for multiple prints this might be OK. What would be the full cost of a drum scan plus, say, a 16X20 photo (without the 4K computer)? Is it really worth it over carrying a few holders loaded with print film?

-- rrouch@msn.com (rrouch@msn.com), January 25, 2000.

Some labs don't even bother to carefully focus the enlarger. If the print is clearly fuzzier than the slide under a magnifier, then its probably time to find a better lab. At one local "professional" lab I ordered a custom print: the results were clearly out of focus, it had a magenta cast and they handed my negative back to me by holding the middle surfaces of the unsleeved negative in bare hands. I never went back there!

-- Michael Briggs (MichaelBriggs@earthlink.net), January 25, 2000.

Good Lightjet prints from good scans have better color fidelity and tonal separation than prints from negative films. The total cost of a good 16x20, scan, digital cleaning and contrast tweaking and printing on Fuji Crystal Archive paper start as low as $85, but $150 is more typical. The big advantage is that reprints, exact matches, can be made for about $70... forever... that digital file is the ultimate archive of the image.

-- Glenn C. Kroeger (gkroeger@trinity.edu), January 25, 2000.

Tom - I have had some experience with Ilfachrome and can tell you it's wonderful stuff, yielding vivid colors and great sharpness, so long as you can work within it's limitations. It is has lots of contrast so your best off printing of contrast chromes or images that will "work" with the shadows blocking up. In fact, I've heard that for certain images/subjects, a slightly over exposed chrome may make a better print (I don't print but know people that do, and this is what they say).

I agree with the others, it's the lab. I'd stay away from labs and try to find a custom printer (and individual who only does printing; where you can talk to the person doing the printing). Labs will charge $60-70 for a 16x20 and it will be lousy compared with what a custom printer will deliver. Expect to pay more than the labs though.

The other important thing is contrast masking, which is essential for getting the most out of a chrome, especially one on the contrasty side. I wouldn't bother with anyone who doesn't mask.

Haven't done any digital, but supposedly it's the rage and delivers the goods (look at Joseph Holmes) ... and will basically bring about the death of film photography in the not too distant future. Enjoy the glory days while you can!


-- todd Tiffan (drsarvis@hotmail.com), January 25, 2000.

When I shoot for a client, I usually shoot BOTH color transparencies and color for prints. The client gets the transparencies (to use for publication or whatever) and I keep the negative film on file for print orders (so I can control the quality of the printing at my custom lab, and to keep samples on hand). If you know you are going to end up with prints, why not shoot color negatives in the first place? I have had reversal prints made from some of my transparencies, and have always been (a little) disappointed in the contrast gain. I love all the subtle tones you can get from a good color negative on glossy paper from a good lab.

-- Skot Weidemann (SWeidemann@aol.com), January 29, 2000.

Just print them yourself in a home darkroom. It doesnt take much- a decent but cheap enlarger with a good lens, a drum, some chemicals, and print viewing filters. And, unless you are doing very high volume printing, its cheaper than having a lab do them. You dont need digithis or digithat, just a plain old darkroom works fine

-- Wayne (wsteffen@mr.net), June 24, 2000.

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