In my practice of all kinds of photography, problems arise that you don’t always expect. I’m used to humidity issues with antique and historic processes like gum bichromate and platinum. Of course, any light-sensitive material has to be treated with respect or you’ll ruin it. But digital photography was billed as a sort of end-all solution to everything that plagued wet darkroom photography. You just insert the paper in the printer, hit ‘print’ and a couple minutes later, out comes your perfect print, all in room light, no odor, no chemistry, no fuss.
Well… it turns out humidity (something unavoidable in Washington DC for 2/3 of the year) which is a big plus for antique and historic processes and a non-issue for silver-gelatin and RA-4 wet color printing, is a major enemy for inkjet printing. I had a box of Brilliant Museum SilverGloss White paper which I had been using to print my big exhibition prints. It turns out that over time, the paper had swollen from what I can only assume was moisture absorption and would not go through my printer without head strikes and smeared ink in the corners of the prints. I was trying to finish up a print job for a sale I made of four prints, and I ruined the remaining sheets of Brilliant I had. I was in a bad jam because Brilliant was Calumet’s house brand, and Calumet is no longer a serious player in the US (two remaining stores in Chicago, and an absolutely worthless single-page web page saying “call us for what you want!”). Ordering from Calumet UK, who does carry it, is a really bad idea as the shipping cost would probably equal the cost of a box of paper, AND in the UK and the rest of Europe, their paper sizes are all based on the A notation instead of inches.
I loved the paper, but it is effectively no longer available here. So off to B&H Photo I went (virtually) and found the new Harman by Hahnemuhle Gloss Art Fibre paper. It’s virtually identical in weight (a gorgeous 300gsm heavy-weight fiber paper) and paper brightness. Another upside- a 30 sheet box is cheaper than a 25 sheet box of Brilliant! After having made two prints on it this morning, I can rest happy that I can keep printing my existing series of prints with it without any loss of quality. I’m also glad I can support a major player in the analog market (Ilford/Harman) with my digital purchases.
Ok – frustration time rears its ugly head again. Got all my software updated and connected together, and I even went out yesterday and splurged (there goes the rest of the tax refund!) on an Epson 3880 printer. Now that everything is wired up, I tried doing some scans with the new SilverFast AI8. Reflective scans at medium and even high res (1200 dpi) worked great. Scans from negatives worked up to 2400 dpi. The software allows you to input resolutions beyond 2400 dpi – I wanted to see what would happen at 4800 dpi because I was scanning a large negative (5×7 inch) to have it reproduced at very large size (30×42-ish, maybe even bigger). Well…… SilverFast AI8 choked on the request. The scan completed in a reasonable amount of time (maybe 5 minutes- SOOO much faster than on my old computer), but then took 20+ minutes to “process”, at the end of which, it failed. Again at 3200 dpi – same thing. At 2400 dpi, it worked just fine, so I’ll live with that, as A: technically that’s the optical resolution maximum of the scanner (anything higher is software interpolation I believe), and B: it’s still big enough a file (about 600mb) for the custom lab to work with.
I LOVE Kodak Portra 160nc film after this exercise though – it is VERY easy to scan (with decent software – with craptastic software no film scans easily) and it handles chaotically mixed lighting conditions with ease and aplomb. In the shot I was scanning last night, I had rainbow-colored neon, sodium-vapor streetlights, and fluorescent and incandescent interior lighting, at night, all in the same scene. The only thing I had to color correct for was a minor overall tint caused by sloppy processing at the lab I used at the time. Pretty amazing stuff. Now if they’d only charge less than $350 for a 50 sheet box of the stuff, I’d shoot it more often!
I do have to give SilverFast its props – I tried scanning the same negative with the EpsonScan software that came with the scanner – I had to do MAJOR color correction and density correction with the EpsonScan file. The SilverFast scan was almost dead-on on the first try, and I’ll just need to tweak to my taste, along with some dust and hair removal via the Healing brush. Figuring out how to do this myself saves $80-90 per image in scanning fees at the custom lab every time I want to make a print. Now, to figure out which paper surface(s) and brand(s) I want to use. I got a pack of Epson’s top-of-the-line premium glossy, along with a pack of the Calumet heavy-weight glossy paper to compare; the Calumet paper is dramatically cheaper than the Epson.