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Do you yearn for the old days of the darkroom or are you glad that it is a thing of the past for all but the most diehard devotees?
I used to love the darkroom days but I shudder when I remember all the setting up that was required and the difficulty in keeping chemicals to the right temperature on cold winter nights and then the clearing up afterwards, I am glad that I can now process my images sitting on a comfortable chair at any time of the day or year - I never had the space for a permanent darkroom so most of my processing was done in the darker months.
However, there was something magical about watching a print appear in the dish and wondering if all your dodging and burning had achieved the desired result. I am glad that I was able to participate in that era of photography but would never want to return to it as, in my view, digital has opened the door to so many more people being able to participate in a wonderful hobby and to create work that only the very, very best of darkroom workers could ever have imagined.
What are your memories of the darkroom and do you miss it?
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From my parents' box room, window blacked out, in the 1970s:
-Paterson developing tanks with a central 'agitator' that you had to twirl by hand
-Bromide and Bromesko paper (Bromesko for that warmer look)
-Ilford FP4 film (bought in a roll which you hand cut in the darkroom and loaded into cassettes)
-The smell of the fixer solution
-The little red light hung on a coat hook
-MOST OF ALL - watching that image 'appear' in the developer tray!
-and quite a lot of others!
Used to enjoy the process once it was set up but the results weren't great on my Paterson Kit and the hassle of it all makes me never want to have my own setup again. To be honest I had access to a university purpose built developing suite for a couple of years but after a bit of excitement none of us really bothered using it as it still meant an afternoon for a few mediocre prints and everything cost money :o( I still have old film and have just sold off my leftover paper.
Cibachrome was the "The Best" paper for printing transparencies.
So I was led to believe.
Could never get consistent results with regards to filtration and wasted so much paper & chemicals and was on the point of giving up printing.
Then, I discovered Fuji's R3 paper.
A couple of test prints with a couple of transparencies and I had a good filtration set.
Consistent results, pack to pack, batch to batch and in different sizes.... ALL with the same filtration.
Did have a slight issue with one image that had loads of different shades of yellows... just one reprint fixed that !
Then Fuji decided to discontinue the product, so that was the end of colour printing as I was not even going to try the now named Ilfrachrome.
I have no yearning to return to the darkroom where I could never match the quality I can now obtain with digital printing.
That said there is still a differnce easily spotted between a well produced wet print and a digital one.
Fine art printing in the darkroom is a skill that would take years of experience using high qua;lity enlargers and lenses.
It did teach skills that easily carried over to digital.
I never got into colour printing as it required very accurate temperatures and you had to work without a safelight. It was also very expensive. I did eventually own a Rollei colour enlarger which was good for working with black and white multigrade papers as you could alter the colour filtration to get the grade you wanted.
Printing has always been an expensive business and it still is today with ink being totally unrealistically priced, but you don't need as many goes to get things right with a digital print so there isn't as much waste.
It seems that a demand still exist for wet printing
The darkroom was OK up to the point our second child was born as I had a dedicated darkroom. After that, having to set up in a shower room then clear everything away was a pain. The colour chemicals had a short life once opened so I tended to have several consecutive long evenings which could be very tiring after a full day at work. At any one time I could only use a limited range of techniques whereas now I have an almost infinite range of techniques available. I do not think I found the darkroom magical. I was a scientist and I was only witnessing a planned photo-chemical reaction over which I had control. As in current digital processes it was just tools to produce photographs. My interest was always the final images as it is now.
I love the darkroom, always did, always will. There is no substitute for large format printing.
I used to teach processing and printing (and studio, all in the same building) and still get the magic of seeing the image appear in the soup.
You can get some great results printing B&W from digital, but by and large, you will never get the range and depth of tones as a well developed fibre print.
For me, there will always be something magical about darkroom work, although it's 7 or 8 years since I last did any. I still remember the first time that I saw the image emerge in the developer tray, back in November 1956.
But digital printing is a lot more convenient and there are no nasty chemicals that need expensive disposal. Our last batch of spent RA4 bleach/fixer, around 800 litres, would have cost us just into 4 figures to have taken away if they hadn't paid us for the silver content.
Quote: You can get some great results printing B&W from digital, but by and large, you will never get the range and depth of tones as a well developed fibre print.
I am afraid that this is a myth. I had a long conversation with several of the members of Cotswold Monochrome at their national monochrome Salon last summer. Many of their members still work in silver though most but not all of those use digital as well. Even 5 years ago silver entries for this specialist monochrome Salon were at least equal in numbers to digital but have since fallen away. However, the stats show that success in digital or silver is almost identical as a percentage. I asked the silver gurus about this and they said that there is very little to choose between a very good quality silver print and a very good quality digital print. They suggested that in terms of tonal quality and detail that it is almost impossible to say that one is better than the other though one might suit a particular subject. They could all see the difference as they have slightly different characteristics. One thing that they were all agreed on was the the composition, lighting, subject, exposure, mood etc. was the main difference between any photographs and the very minor differences between silver and digital were insignificant. Remember that these guys are competing at national level and are very experienced.
Sorry to disagree with you, but however many tones a digital print can generate, it will still be discrete step changes, as opposed to the continuous transition nature of the silver halide.
I never said digital wasn't good, but exactly the same picture taken and developed digitally and using film, the analogue version will contain more information (until the number and quality of pixels matches or exceeds the number of grains in the film).
What you are talking about is subjective, however high a level these people are working. To all intents and purposes, there may be no practicable difference to the eye, but you cannot argue with the physics of it. I am talking about the whole process, not just the printing, as most people these days are using digital prints even from film (which is TBH defeating the point of shooting film in the first place!).
Plus, how archival are digital prints? I doubt their longevity as compared to fibre-based prints.
While a digital print will be limited to a discrete number of tones, the human eye/brain can only discern a limited number and my own digital printing process exceeds this. The other thing which is also relevant is that the analogue film (or silver paper) process is not a continuous transition process. It is limited by the fairly random grouping of silver halides which limits the resolution and quality. It is difficult to compare silver and digital as they are very different media and many comparisions are biased based on prejudices and incorrect facts. In making comparisions one important characteristic is information theory; how much information can each media transmit. This is based on Shanon's Law and is dependent on signal to noise ratio. Digital is certainly limited by electronic noise in the sensor and film ( and silver paper) is limited by the random distribution of the silver halides. With recent full frame digital SLR cameras, the signal to noise ratio is much better than the best silver equivalent for 35mm. Of course film can benfit much from using an even larger format though this is not seen as practical for most photographers.
As descibed and demonstrated to me by the experts at Cotswold Monochrome, the high quality digital images look sharper and cleaner (no visible noise) and this can suit detailed subjects in particular. The high quality silver images are softer and Grain (noise) is often visible in plain areas. Some find this more pleasing for certain subjects including some landscapes and some portraits.
If you would like to read more about the technical comparision between film and digital have a look at the work by Dr Roger Clark
At the end of the day these comparisions will always be open to some interpretation because comparisions between two different media will remain difficult.
Your comment on archival properties are interesting as we do not really know what the future will bring. It could be argued that images in digital format will survive in archives and libraries because they will be converted to to new formats as they emerge (providing they are lossless formats). On the other hand recent history suggests that prints and books are more likely to survive than films. The print I produce on my printer may have a life limited to 20 to 70 years depending on who you believe but so what, the digital files may survive but what do I care. Just recently someone was praising the new book facility in LR4 and suggesting that once you die your relatives will probably throw away your old prints and erase or destroy your computer files (and negatives). However, if you leave a high quality photobook, they are unlikely to throw it away.
Nick once you past a certain level of quantisation then the level steps become irrelevant. In the print system you will get fluctuations in the film and the paper so are the digital level steps important? The people involved in Cotswold Monochrome generally know their stuff and I would have thought they were in a good place to judge relative merits. I would have thought the two technologies have evolved to the point where its a negligible difference
As for life, a lot of that comes down to chemistry, both medium have ageing properties I would have thought for the best materials there would not be a lot in it.
Quote: Sorry to disagree with you, but however many tones a digital print can generate, it will still be discrete step changes, as opposed to the continuous transition nature of the silver halide.
Does make you think actually - how many people have really seen high quality film based dark room developed prints? Although I know I have seen plenty of film based photographs the majority would have been reproduced in magazines so reduced down to the printing process of the magazine rather than an original print.
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