Big prints for cheap

Speed Graphic

Graflex Speed Graphic stripped and restored

Let’s say you wanna print big, really big. Big like wall size print.

Maybe you shot landscapes, or maybe you follow the Christo’s footprints and you want to wrap the Colosseo in a picture of yours. So you start shopping for the best top grade digital cameras out there, and you buy a Canon 1Ds or a Nikon D3x.

Then you put on paper the fruit of your effort, and the print sucks. Well, not really. But it is only really really good, but not great.

Disappointing, after you have spent big bucks.

Wait. IF your bread and butter are portrait pictures or cityscapes one of the above cameras can be enough.

But if you like shoot landscapes instead they will not suffice over a 50x70cm, not really if you have a critical eye. So you start looking at the medium format digital backs, but their prices are really scaring. There is not a solution at this dilemma?

Yes, there is. Actually there are two, and both have one thing in common. The secret is to shoot big, really big. Large format is the answer.

Solution 1

The simplest solution has a strange name: drum scanner.

Drum scanners are a kind of scanners that permit to extract the maximum possible quality out of your negatives, till the grain. No details are left behind. So if you shoot on 4×5″ film and drumscan it you may be able to output prints whose measures are in meters wide.

But this solution has two faults.

First: is costly. A drumscan vary between 40€ and 80€ for EACH frame.

Second: more often than not you will be forced to delivery by postage your precious negatives to a lab around the country, unless you are not so lucky to live near a drum scanner service.

Solution 2

A good flatbed scanner, like the Epson 4990 or the V700 and V750, deliver a scan that is not comparable to one made on a drum scanner. But, for my own tests, sharpness wise it’s like step down one format. I mean that if you scan on a good and focus calibrated flatbed a 4×5″ film you end up with a result that show the sharpness of a 6x7cm film drumscanned. Sure, the drumscanned film will almost certainly have more details in the shadows and in the highlights, but as for sharpness it will be a tie.

So the strategy is: if you want the quality of a 4×5″ drumscanned, but without the costs involved, shoot on 5×7″ and scan on a flatbed.

And by the way if you are able to find a really good pre-press flatbed the results will be vastly superior respect a consumer flatbed like the Epson models, so the gap with the drum scanners will be even closer. This way I’ve discovered I can print 4×5″ film to almost 130cm wide with great quality. Now I use often a 5×7″ camera, and as soon I will can get my hands on one of this I will start using an 8×10″ for the near-car landscapes.