Episode 2 of our Podcast, Scary Stories to Tell in the Darkroom
Large format is where it’s at. It just is. When I first saw enlargements that my peers in college were doing with their 4x5 cameras, my brain basically exploded (thus explaining my GPA). When saw my first Alec Soth show at the Minneapolis Art Institute, I knew I was hooked. There is no conventional imaging medium that even comes close. Phase One can pack as many megapickles as they want into a 6x4.5 sensor, I’ll take a sheet of 4x5 film any day of the week.
But alas, the workflow totally sucks. The cameras are a bit…finicky, to put it mildly. It’s incredibly unforgiving. We used to have this stuff called Polaroid that allowed you to at least preview your shot, but they took that away from us. And labs want you to pay $20 bucks per sheet (!!!) for them to give you an Imacon scan of your mistakes.
No thank you, I think there is a better way.
This summer I embarked on an editorial project for Maine the Way, shooting 4x5 portraits on Provia 100F at a couple of Maine State Prison locations. These images were going to go into publication in a large magazine, sometimes requiring double page spreads. I knew I wanted scans that represented the image the way I would have printed 4x5 in the darkroom. That means all the edge material had to be intact. Imacon scanners can’t really do this. Flatbed scanners are laborious to use and often let you down, and drum scanners are prohibitively expensive.
I decided to try something new.
Using repro techniques that rely on high resolution camera capture, Nikkor macro lenses, and a high CRI Rosco light source, I can quickly and efficiently make high resolution scans of these films that are printable up to 20x25 without up-res’ing.
And now, you can too.
These scans come in at roughly 6063x4048 pixels, which translates to about 25mp. You can hit 20x25 by printing at 240ppi, or 16x20 at 300ppi. Careful upresing will push it even further. They’re incredibly detailed, the files have enormous latitude and potential in the editing process. For C41 the color conversions are based on Fuji Frontier color science, and thus meet the industry favorite profile you have come to expect from Portra & Ektar films (Fuji films being largely extinct in sheets save for their E6 stocks).
You might say, 25mp? That’s crazy, the scans I’m used to are measured in the hundreds of megapixels. That’s true! Traditional drum scans or even properly done flatbed scans are massive, and can be printed to mural sizes. These scans are not meant to compete with a drum scan. In fact, the great thing about film is that it can always be re-scanned when you go to exhibition or a book project. These scans are meant for your day-to-day project work with large format. Whether you be an enthusiast who just wants to try an old Speed Graphic, or you are in the midst of a long term documentary project on 4x5 and you need affordable scans to proof your ideas. These scans are perfect for that.
Inmate, Warren Facility
For this image, I lit the scene with a single strobe held over-head and behind. My inspiration was 1940s era Kodachromes of factory workers during WWII. Shooting 4x5 allowed me to instill a matter of fact visual style, that instantly gives the image the feel of a historical document.
Chamonix 45N-2 - Schneider 150/5.6 APO Symmar - Provia 100F
In fact, I might argue that they’re perfect for 95% of large format applications. If Gerhard Steidl calls you up on the phone and says “Yo Gutentag! We gotta go to press with these sweet photographic gems!” It may be time to order drum scans. Until that happens, these files will edit incredibly well, print large, and allow you to share or proof whatever you may be working on.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating as they say, so I’ve included a couple full resolution JPGs of two scans I did while working on the project for Maine the Way. Check them out here.
4x5 Dev Scans are available now.
Slide film, or 'chromes' were once the undisputed champion of color photography. Professionals stuck with chrome long after consumers had moved on to the more flexible color negative options. On the light-table, the reasons were obvious. You get finer grain, pure color, and unrivaled contrast. Plus no need for an intermediary to view your film. It’s right there for the eye to see and understand.
For years though they've been neglected by photographers who use the hybrid film shooting workflow that labs like Northeast Photographic support. If you have shot a roll of Velvia in the past few years and had it scanned on a Fuji Frontier or Noritsu, you may know why. Washed out colors, noise, blown out highlights. Just a lot of bleh! Whereas your original on the light-table remains beautiful. What happened? Lab scanners are incredible for negative films, they were built for this singular purpose. Chromes were a dying medium, an afterthought. Pros who shot it used drum scanners or dedicated desktop models only. It’s a laborious work flow, and if you’re doing drum scans, quite expensive.
That particular status quo isn't quite good enough for us, which is why we are introducing our new scanner to our chrome workflow. Using Nikkor's best reproduction lenses, and CMOS capture technology, we are able to accurately reproduce all the detail, color, and contrast present in your slide. So impressed have we been with our early results, that we can confidently say we think we offer the best full roll scans of E6 films in the business.
These comparisons speak for themselves.
It should be noted that these are from 35mm Ektachrome. Medium format looks even better. Honestly if you are shooting 120, you’ll never lust after medium format digital again.
This new way will be our standard method for scanning chromes. We can honestly say that for full roll scanning, no-one else in the business is providing this level of quality. And we’re not raising prices!
This post is not about how and when to shoot slide film, we will save that for later. This is about letting you know that if you use NP, you’re getting scans that actually bring to life the potential of your film.
Cropping is for farmers, as my former professor Dan used to say. Sadly in the hybrid workflow era cropping has become somewhat standard. This is because the scanner technology we use is generally not designed to include those nice black borders we know and love from our favorite printed photographs.
This was never acceptible to me. A border is not only a great way to indicate the edge of an image, show that you did your composing in camera, and advertise the film stock or camera you may have used, it's also just simply super cool! Those iconic Hasselblad notches are there for a reason. You want people to know that you shot Ilford FP4+ damn it! (Not flippin HP5+, duh)
Well as Justin Timberlake might say if he was a photographer, I am bringing sexy borders back.
Using the same technology that we use to make the best E6 scans in the business, we can also overscan your film frames to include the border. This works in every format all the way up to 4x5, and it's even possible to scan to the edge of the sprocket holes in 35mm. You will also benefit from a higher maximum resolution over a Frontier scan.
Because this is a style primarily associated with B&W images, we are starting the roll out of this service as a Monochrome only option for full rolls. 4x5 film will always be scanned with the border regardless of process type, of course.
However, we aren't totally leaving color photographers out in the borderless cold. Full border scans are available as single frame scans, and if you've processed your film at NP we will do these scans at a discounted rate. You could think of our simple scans as your contact sheet, and your bordered scans as final prints.
What’s more, our conversions are based on Fuji Frontier color. We are quite pleased with the results. While not a perfect match, we actually prefer our manual conversion.
You can order bordered scans for your B&W film right now! We’ll roll out color within a few days once we work it into the framework of our online store.
Happy New Year folks! Please enjoy this pilot episode of the podcast we’re launching. We plan to release new episodes every 2 weeks, covering topics such as film, the lab, photography gear, photographers we love, interviews etc. It’s not all about analog either, we have no fear of discussing digital techniques and cameras, which mostly gives me the opportunities to trash them.
Hope you enjoy! We’ll be releasing the first proper episode soon.
-Mark & Brennan
New large file option for Simple Scans!
We are happy to introduce a minor change to our order form and services, with the option to upgrade your scan size! As you may know we designed the scan options around simplicity, and avoided the nickel and dime practice of charging for file size alone. However, if you're a Simple Scan customer you may still want a bigger file, but not want to outsource your editing. Now you can just check the "Biggah Scans" box. When you do that, we will scan your rolls at the resolution generally reserved for Pro Scans. Going up in resolution on the Fuji Frontier does more than just increase pixel count, you get a cleaner image generally. 35mm benefits the most from this resolution, and you'll really see that format bridge the gap between it and 645. You will have to pay an additional $3 dollars per roll for this service, but that's still much cheaper than Pro Scans themselves. If you want this option for some, but not all rolls on an order, just make a note of that on the order form.
During the last few weeks of 2017, Michael Gilroy (Gil) of Frontier approached me with 75 slides and negatives from his travels, which took place in the late 1980s and early 90s. He wished to do an exhibition of his work, with many prints ranging in sizes near 20x30 and 40x50. Knowing that the scans were intended for large scale print, we used our Fine Art scanners to create 5000ppi files from the vast majority of slides and B&W negatives. For the color negative film, we simply used our Fuji SP-3000 at it's Pro Scan resolution. The results? Large, beautiful prints, without a hint of pixelation!
The 35mm slides were a mix of Ektachrome and Kodachrome. They were a real treat to examine on the light table. Kodachrome is legendary for its unique color palette and long term stability. However, even the Ektachromes showed little, if any, signs of deterioration. I employed techniques such as multi-exposure and multi-sampling to get the best possible file possible, which enabled a surprising amount of shadow recovery with low noise. The resulting images showed a remarkable level of detail for a 35mm frame, with the same vivid colors you see through the loupe, with much less grain than you might expect.
For the color negative film, I decided that the Fuji SP-3000 was the right choice. While it's true that our Fine Art Scanners create a file that, on paper, would seem to be far superior, I know from experience that the Fuji scanner tends to interpret color in an immediately more pleasing and accurate way. The SP-3000 yields a file that is just over 19 megapixels and from my testing these enlarge very well. The print on the wall showed rich color, fine detail, and in fact the grain pattern looked extremely close to what you see organically when the film is enlarged in the darkroom. These files are no different from those we deliver every day to our Pro Scan clients. It's great to know how far you can push the files.
As for Frontier itself, it's a fantastic space in Brunswick, Maine. They have a theater for film screenings, a coffee shop and a restaurant. We sat down for lunch and the meal was delicious! If you're in Maine, I highly recommend you stop by and see the show. They also have a good selection of drinks and craft beer. I got to have my personal favorite Maine beer, "Lunch" IPA by Maine Beer Co. Yum!
It was a real pleasure to help Gil make this show possible. These images are very illustrative of the reason why I love film so much. After all those years in an archive they were ready to be scanned and printed with the latest technologies. What's more, pigment prints have far greater stability than most traditional printing materials. What will your Lightroom gallery of .NEFs look like 30 years from now? If you can make a beautiful large format print from 30 year old slide film, imagine what you can do with the very latest emulsions like Ektar 100?
Also, shouts to Zero Station for making the prints.
Go check it out! And Make Real Pictures.
2018 will be the 2nd operating year of this new little lab, and we have some great plans and services to introduce over the course of the year. We're working on solutions for higher-resolution scans straight from the Fuji Frontier, custom printing, and more.
The outpouring of support from clients and interested photographers has been amazing! Obviously we couldn't do this without your support, and we hope to hit our lab capacity this year to ensure that Northeast Photographic is a sustainable business for the duration. After that, we can expand, and double our capacity, adding more services along the way such as 8x10 processing and large format printing. (We really want to get a drum scanner AND an Imacon 848).
Giving back to our clients is a big part of Northeast Photographic's modus operandi. If you can afford to shoot more film, you're keeping the art alive and hopefully trusting us to process it for you. With that in mind, I'm happy to announce that all clients who've achieved Pro Scan discount tiers will have their current level carried forward into 2018! Even if you haven't yet reached tier 1 of the loyalty program, the rolls you shot in 2017 will be counted toward this year. Normally the program will reset every year, but as a way to say thanks, and to account for the fact that we weren't yet open for half of 2017, we're giving you a break. Maybe you'll factor more film into your shooting budget this year, or maybe you'll have more for your wine & beer budget.
And now for some housekeeping updates and adjustments.
- Some clients have recently requested TIFFs, so we added this option with a small data transfer related fee. You can request them in the notes section of the order form.
- Due to low volume, E6 will now be run once a month in batches. If volume increases (which may happen when Ektachrome is re-introduced), we will increase our processing schedule.
- With the wedding season still many weeks away, our turn around time remains very fast. 2-3 days for most orders.
- We had more than a few custom print orders, and hope to continue providing high quality printing to those who inquire. Request a quote in our contact section. Expect a formal ordering procedure later in 2018.
Two non-holiday lab closures to announce: Jan 9th - Jan 16th & April 28th - May 5th. During the closures the lab will still be accepting all deliveries, but they won't be invoiced until we re-open. Thanks in advance for accommodating the small delay in processing during those breaks.
Again, if you're an NP client you have our thanks, and if you're curious please, drop a line! Remember new Pro Scan clients still get 50% off the first order, there is a 25% off kickback for referrals, and on top of that our prices are the best in the business.
Happy New Year!