Home-darkroom silver-gelatin prints from digital images

Started Apr 24, 2016 | Discussions thread
OP tim baker Forum Member • Posts: 79
Re: Home-darkroom silver-gelatin prints from digital images

Here's the draft of a piece about the enlarger. It gives a rough sketch of how it works. I'll be posting links to photos and drawings too. Private message me if you have comments, suggestions or questions. If your eager to get started on your own I'll be glad to zap you pix and drawing and detailed information.

Shoot digital, perfect the image in Photoshop, convert to negative, reverse the image, display that image on a high resolution monitor--I use the 5k Retina-screen Imac. Photograph that monitor image using a large "camera", using photo paper instead of a negative, paper of whatever print size or shape you want. Develop the print in a traditional 3-tray wet darkroom, as if from a film/enlarger, and you have a film-enlarger-like print.

The roughly $2,000 cost of the 5k monitor is almost 90% of the cost of the system. A new or used 300mm process lens most of the rest. The "camera" body and accouterments cost little, if self made. An econo version can use a 4k monitor, owned by many already, obtainable used for $500 and up. See more below.

The first, proof-of-concept test version I made cost about $10 is materials, used a lens from a #3 pair of eyeglasses, with an 8-bladed iris made with black tape. A regular computer screen was used for the negative image, having a vertical resolution of about 900 dpi. Resolution of the first 4x5 test prints was about 260 dpi, and looked shockingly good, considering. That primitive, essentially free, rig could have served for making small print forever.

I've made several versions of the "camera" used to expose the print. Some surprisingly simple, cheap, and easy to make. The version I presently use projects the image to a horizontal 11x14 four-blade easel. Very handy for making prints of different sizes, with borders of different sizes. I'll supply pix and drawings of each type, and step-by-step how-to for anyone interested. You can be making real prints in just hours or days from now.

But how good is the print? It's superior to a 35mm film/enlarger print in one way, equal in another: It's superior because its tone curve can be fine tuned in Photoshop as film's never could, the look of the print perfected as not possible with film. It's equal in real-life sharpness because even though a negative has greater potential resolution an enlarger-made print's resolution falls far short of that. The 5k screen is not being enlarged, it's being reduced, with essentially lossless resolution via a process lens and 8x10 "camera". The image on an 8x10 print with a half-inch border, for example, has been reduced from the screen's 13" 2880 vertical resolution to 411dpi on the print. In short, the 8x10s I'm getting with this system are superior to those gotten via film/enlarger during my long film-shooting pro career, 11x14s abut as good, and 16x20 in some cases.

But apart from such details, the main plusses here are being able to make real prints again, prints that look and feel like real prints, made with your own hands, with any type paper you wish, to any size and shape you wish, fine-tuning the look as you wish, having perfect prints in your hands minutes after shooting, prints that can outlast present sad fade-destined alternatives by generations.

A 4k screen, already owned by many and purchasable for $500 and up, can be used for an econo version of this setup. An 8x10 with a 1/2" border = 308dpi. A rare film-era print netted out that sharp. My favorite print type is the matted look, effected by wide white borders. 1 1/2 inch borders on an 8x10 = a 432 dpi image. That's sharp enough to cut your fingers.

More later.

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Tim Baker

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