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Thread: Paper Negatives and Scanning

  1. #1

    Paper Negatives and Scanning

    Hi All -
    Been a long time since I've been here. Life got in the way for a while, but I'm excited to get back behind the pinhole again. So, I was thinking, and looking at some of the awesome paper negative work done here - what's the better result for paper negatives: scan and print digital or contact print?

    With contact printing it seems I'd run into issues with sharpness and lack of burn/dodge control. But it seems to be inferred as the preferred method.

    Also, if you've had good results scanning and printing digitally, do you print at the same size of the paper neg? Or are you able to get reasonable enlargements?

    Sorry if this is a dead horse, I did some poking around and didn't see anything definitive.


  2. #2

    Paper Negatives and Scanning

    It depends upon whether you want a digital or darkroom print. I've never had a sharpness issue with contact printing (and that should not be an issue with pinhole <g&#62. If you are going to print digitally then you can print whatever size you wish, obviously depending upon the resolution of your scan.

    Personally, I like the darkroom so I do all fun stuff in there. I seldom use paper for the negative - if I am going to go that route I normally use orthochromatic film, as it is much easier to work with.

    Cheers -


  3. #3

    Paper Negatives and Scanning

    I'd much prefer to print digitally. I don't have an enlarger nor the room for one, barely room for a few trays to process the paper negs. I have some really old 4x5 ortho film I might play with also, but not sure how well it scans.

    Anyone know how good the digital prints are that can be made from paper neg scans? Should I expect any different from film neg scans?

  4. #4

    Paper Negatives and Scanning


    If you scan a 4x5 negative at 1200 dpi, you will get a 28MPixel image to play with. I find that paper negatives can resolve much more than 1200 dpi, but not as much as film could in practice. For using paper negatives with lenses, I will occasionally go to 2400dpi in a scan if I am only scanning a smaller crop of the negative, but at that point, tiny specular highlights are spreading across pixels so I gain very little. With a 600dpi scan of 4x5, you will have about a 7Mpixel image. For printing purposes, many prints are made at 150dpi and that would equate to a 16x20 image. In practice with a 1200dpi scan, it will be the ability of your printer to do a photo-quality print that matters.

    My printer has 5 colour inks and one black so all the grey tones have to be augmented by adding in the coloured inks. It does then make it a bit tricky to get a print that looks like a neutral transition of tones of grey as there is often some mid-tone that has a slight colour cast compared to other tones. A printer with multiple black/grey inks would be ideal. The resolution of inkjet printers also only specifies the pitch of the individual colour dots; you need a good clump of coloured dots to make a convincing tone so most only really have a maximum practical resolution of 300 to 600 dpi; for example, my printer runs at 2880 dpi, but if I wanted a 4x4 grid of dots per pixel to get an ok range of tones, that would equate to the input image being at 720 dpi. If I wanted 16x16 grid of dots per pixel, then that would be an equivalent of 180dpi. In practice of course, if I sent a 300dpi image to the printer, it would 'overlap' the dot clouds so it is worth sending a higher res image out.

    The big advantage of paper negatives is that they are very easy to scan. My scanner can do up to 120 film, so for 4x5 and up, I usually make a contact print from the film and then scan the contact print.

    Best regards,


  5. #5

    Paper Negatives and Scanning

    Evan -
    That's some great "in the field" knowledge there. Thanks! Knowing the practical dpi limits and therefore print sizes makes for realistic expectations.

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