Saturday, January 15, 2011

Test Prints

The enemy of photography is the convention, the fixed rules of 'how to do'. The salvation of photography comes from the experiment.
Laslo Moholy-Nagy, 1947

Prints arrive, Andrew D. Barron ©1/15/11
In this blog, I write a summary of my latest experiment with test prints, and a review a photography book by George E. Todd.

The photo comparisons are not direct.
company / type of prints / ordered / origin city / received / paper
Kodak Gallery    / 30@4x6 / 1.6.2011 / Emeryville, CA / 1.14.2011 / Kodak glossy
Costco Photo    / 11@5x7 / 1.11.2011 / Greenwood, SC / 1.15.2011 / Fujicolor Crystal Archive, glossy
Hipstamart Lab / 24@4x4 / 1.12.2011 / Santa Barbara, CA / 1.15.2011/ Fujicolor Crystal Archive, matte

Firstly, Kodak took way longer. Hipstamart was very fast, as was Coscto, considering their South Carolina source. I did not expect to see Fuji processing from both others. I am becoming a fan of Fuji; from paper to Velvia and instant films.

This round of tests started because there was FINALLY a sale at Kodak Gallery for 10¢ prints. I devised a way to arrange 'contact prints' from the very same JPGs I present on the blog. The 5:4 images fit 2 on 4x6 paper at 250dpi. These help me see if an image works, and especially it if works as a physical print. I feel that digital shooting generates too many images. You can get through more images scrolling through web pages than you can with an equivalent stack of prints. Can you imagine sitting down with 2010's 2,711 images published on this blog? I can't. Physical prints serve as a winnowing tool. I like the story telling aspect of a series of photos, but often they don't stand on their own.
5:4 prints 2 by 1 on 4x6, Andrew D. Barron ©1/15/11
(above) Each of the three black bars sideway were made to be the same thickness. The top/bottom were cut wrong. 16:9 images fit 3 on 4x6 paper at 300dpi (not shown but badly cut). In all cases, Kodak Gallery truncated the edges on the long (6") side. This has happened each time I've used Kodak. The last time hurt pretty bad, since I had taken loads of time to make a text bar with all the camera's settings (from 2009's print trials):
4x6 prints screwed up by Kodak Gallery, Andrew D. Barron ©1/15/11
That was really good show; I even recorded a bit of it.Vince Gill from 20 feet away in Nashville.
Kodak Gallery can't seem to handle 4x6 sized images and automatically crop as if from 4:3 digital camera without review (nor much recourse). There is an option called 'zoom and trim' but it doesn't seem to matter if it's on or off. They still screw it up. This is astonishing really, coming from the company with more than one hundred years of photography history.

My Hipstamatic-for-web images (436 pixels) fit six on a page at 218 dpi, but the upper and lower margins are totally gone. I'm drifting 'below the line' a bit here, but I think it's important to give my honest opinion about Kodak Gallery. I endeavor to find other, more careful places to have my images printed. The prints themselves look good. At this point, handling care matters more to me than per print pricing.
Hipstamatic test prints mildy ruined by Kodak Gallery, Andrew D. Barron ©1/15/11
The Hipstamatic backstory goes like this, but is entirely fictional, as confirmed in the Wausau City Pages, just two weeks after I bought the Hipstamatic 185. However and whatever happened, there is a hugely popular, fun and useful iPhone camera app with a built-in, closed-loop printing service. I've worn out the keyboard saying things about the Hipstamatic already, so now for the Hipstamart Printlab.

The Hipstamart Print Lab was a hands-down winner with attention to detail and quality of presentation. All for cruddy iphone pics. They have a distinct advantage in optimizing for only 3 cameras (3G, 3Gs, 4G) generated by the software they wrote.
Hipstamart package, Andrew D. Barron ©1/15/11
I tried to use my iPhone for the order, but did not succeed. I wanted the 24 pack, yet the only way I could figure was to upload stacks, themselves limited to 9. They automatically put the stack into a 9 print pack order. So I used the computer, but their web ordering allows only one image upload at a time. There's some kinks I guess. In the end, the perfectly cut 4", matte-finish prints are some fine looking digital prints.
Hipstamart prints Hipstamatic images, Andrew D. Barron ©1/15/11
The crappy iphone lens makes it lot like instant film cameras. At 47¢ per shot it's only half the price of Fuji FP-100C or Instax Wide. I will definitely order more prints from the Hipstamart. It would be nice to have the 3GS or 4G phone to consider the 7" or 10" prints; the 1200 pixel images I get with a 3g at 'High Quality' wouldn't hold up to that size.

I ordered a handful of 5x7 images. I can now say definitely that I don't like the aspect ratio. I just started playing with 5:4, directly equivalent to 8x10s. My Nikon shoots in 3:2 natively, so I started to like 4x6 shape again. 5x7 is not enough like either of these. I haven't summarized aspect ratios before. Like this:
5:4  | 1.25 | 4" x 5"
4:3  | 1.33 | Old TV, nonstandard print (though native digital camera sensor size on my Sony and tons of others)
7:5  | 1.4 | 5" x 7"
3:2  | 1.5 | 4" x 6"
16:9  | 1.78 | Nonstandard
2.35 is a cinema aspect ratio from prior to 1970 that I often incorporate. What about instant film?
99:62 | 1.60 | Instax wide
95:73 | 1.30 | FP-100C/100B/3000B

I've said little about Costco. I ordered only 5x7s, mostly black and white. They were very fairly priced, coming to just 60¢ apiece shipped. However, the process of choosing b+w enlargements began my recent processing improvements for b+w and I'd do it differently already. The prints have an unappealing 'black and white as color print' vibe to them. One fun thing was to enlarge my instant shots from last week, and they look good. In 2009 I concluded that Costco's 1 hour prints were not as sharp or balanced as prints from Kodak. At this point, I may try Costco again for my 'contact prints' and choose a matte finish, demonstrably thumbprint resistant. For black and white, I'll next try Digital Silver Imaging. On Ilford paper and at a similar price point to Kodak's pro services, it's an easy choice. An at-home, 8x10 photographic printing solution for digital images in b+w is in my future.

The little Hipstamart package was in my pocket when I went to the Ophir School turned junkthrift store. The photographer grandma demonstrated my point about thumbprints. Letting go. Letting go.
Hipstamatic prints through the gauntlet of thumbs, Andrew D. Barron ©1/15/11
Houndstooth in a cheap old picture frame.
Houndstooth in a cheap old picture frame, Andrew D. Barron ©1/15/11
I checked out some abandoned Kodak instant prints. I detailed Kodak's instant film demise and marvel at the long, historically pointless struggle of Edwin Land. Did it matter that Kodak infringed on copyrights if by 2008 Polaroid would be no more? Instant film never caught on with the masses. I personally think this is because the cameras built for it were of poor quality for the price of the film. It got to a point in the 1980's where the damn thing flashed ALWAYS. They even marketed as a feature, 'A piece of the sun inside'. "Turns bad light into good pictures." Criminey. If only more people could have seen the SX-70 doing what it does. Gee, watching that advert makes me want to shoot the SX-70 every time. Truly a masterpiece of function and form. My SX-70 waits for 2011's experimental films available only (aside from ebay expired film) from the $2/shot Impossible Project. In the meantime, there will be other new experiments. There's a dude that inspires me. Thanks to the FPP for posting. The photographer is curiously mute about his work.

Anyway, the historical Kodak instant prints I've looked at seem more durable than Polaroid. They have a thick image surface and a matte texture called SATINLUXE: (cool sample).
Kodak instant film, Andrew D. Barron ©1/15/11
It's a little sad to see people's forgotten lives in the bottom of a junk box at my own forgotten elementary school, 6-7-8th grade classroom, no less. The rain poured.
Ophir mud puddle, Andrew D. Barron ©1/15/11
Port of Gold Beach orange truck, Andrew D. Barron ©1/15/11
I found a wonderful book at the library. George E. Todd's Elements of Black and White Photography has been great to page through. There's always 'that thing' with other photographers. Though I had never seen page 16 of his book:
Elements of Black and White Photography by George E. Todd©2001
Here's a shot of mine from 12/2/09.
Jake's, Chico, CA, Andrew D. Barron ©12/02/09
He writes (p.84), Empty chairs too are just as fascinating; for me they symbolise times past, present, and the future. I listened to Alex De Grassi today:

In the book, there's a lengthy description of using Polaroid Type 55P/N film for image duplication and enlargement (pp.122-125). The book is a wealth of analog photography techniques and perspectives. This chart alone answers a ton of my questions about Wratten filters. Missing from the list and online camera stores (except 2" here) is a #29 deep red equivalent used by Mr. Adams on his 1927 Monolith, The Face of Half Dome. Mr. Adams says, "This was one of the most exciting moments of my photographic career." (See image). If I have to try it, perhaps solved with a telescope filter and ring adapter?
Elements of Black and White Photography by George E. Todd©2001
I do not have permission to use these images.

Found this image while digging for the chair shadow.
Up! Butte Creek Canyon, CA, Andrew D. Barron ©12/19/09

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