I bought another enlarger. It’s an Opemus 5 made in Czechoslovakia probably in the 1970s. Now I can print pictures taken with my Hasselblad on 120 film.
While testing the enlarger I made a print that I was quite pleased with. It was sharp with a nice bokéh and had rich blacks and clear details. But how does the analog print compare to a digital one? If you also need a digital image, should you scan the negative or the silver gelatin print?
My scanner (CanoScan 9000F) is not the best possible film scanner but it produces decent images. I scanned the same image from the negative and from the darkroom print and adjusted them to look as similar as possible.
This is the scan from the negative:
This is the scan from the silver gelatin print:
There is not much difference. You can get a decent digital image both ways. Dust removal is an issue in both cases. I found that the print scan needed a bit more work removing the dust.
For this picture, I wanted the background to be almost completely black. The original negative has more detail in the background and if I had wanted to show that in the digital image, it probably would have been easier to do with the negative scan. The analog print would have required more dodging and burning in the darkroom.
But what if you want to have the picture on paper? I also have an Epson Stylus Photo inkjet printer that can print decent pictures. I printed out the image scanned from the negative and compared that with the silver gelatin print. It doesn’t make sense to rescan the prints and show them here but what I found out was:
- The bokéh areas of the inkjet print seem to have some digital noise. Those look better in the silver gelatin print.
- The white of the silver gelatin print looks brighter.
- Both prints have rich black. The black from the inkjet printer looks even a bit darker but not pure black.
- The inkjet produces grey tones through mixing colors. If you look at the output in a tungsten light indoors it may not be so apparent but if you look at the pictures (inkjet vs. silver gelatin) side by side in the daylight, the difference is very clear. The darkroom print is truely monochrome while the inkjet print has a greenish tint. Certainly the inkjet output can be improved through color calibration but I think that the silver gelatin paper can outperform any amateur-level inkjet printer for b/w pictures.
- Probably related to the monochrome nature of the silver gelatin paper, the details in a b/w picture look sharper than from the inkjet.
Conclusion: I will continue scanning my negatives and happily share the scans online. But if I have a shot that I really like and want to hang on my wall, I will setup my darkroom and spend a lovely afternoon smelling the chemicals 🙂
(The picture was taken with Hasselblad 500C using a Carl Zeiss Planar 100 mm lens at f/3.5 on Kodak Tri-X 400. The film was developed in D-76 stock solution.)