Sunday, October 18, 2009

Whitewall Photolab Review

If you want to make large prints, it really makes sense to use medium format film (or even view cameras). Well exposed and sharp 135 film or DSLR images do not look any different to medium format images when printed small. Sure, 20 MP full frame digital cameras and medium format digital backs will also be fine, but medium format film is a very inexpensive method to obtain the same—or even better—results.

For a high quality and impressive print, the image of course needs to be sharp and well exposed.

I chose Whitewall because I saw images printed by Whitewall in a Lumas fine arts gallery - and I was impressed. Whitewall is the photo-lab which does all the printing for Lumas—and certainly for many other galleries.

Their prints are usually mounted on a backing board (aluminum di-bond) and are often covered with acrylic glass. I chose acrylic glass mounting for three of five prints and went without acrylic glass for the remaining two. You can mount the images directly to you wall and do not need a frame. And for my favourite pictures I did not want any disturbing frame.

Whitewall offers printer profiles on their website, so you can see what you will get on your monitor before submitting the image (if your monitor is calibrated). They also consider included color profiles.

You can choose any size and aspect ratio you like.

In my first test, I uploaded a DSLR image and chose only a small print. I was mainly interested if the color was accurate. The color was almost perfect and matched my screen. Only the black parts were a bit too dark, but they were okay if the print was brightly lit.

Then I uploaded 4 square medium format scans and ordered different sizes
  • 50 cm x 50 cm with acryl (20 x 20 square inches) = € 86
  • 65 cm x 65 cm with acryl (25 x 25 square inches) = € 136
  • 80cm x 80 cm without acryl (32 x 32 square inches) = € 126
So you pay about € 3,20 to € 3,44 per 10 cm x 10 cm (becomes a bit cheaper for larger areas).

This is the 50 cm x 50 cm image:

Beach Chairs

The original 8500 x 8500 pixels translate to 435 dpi when printed at 50 cm x 50 cm. I could have printed it more than 1 m wide (3 feet) with 200 dpi!

I ordered those two hand-held shots 65 cm x 65 cm:


Hohes Ufer
And finally I ordered this one in 80 cm x 80 cm:

Beach Chair

Tone and color reproduction are perfect (almost exactly as shown on my screen). On the wall, they look like this:


The images above look a bit more saturated here than they really are. A 100 % view from the upper right corner gives you a better impression on how the aluminum di-bond and acrylic glass look like (I did not make another shot, I simply cropped a full image. The bad quality of 100 % vieved DSLR images becomes apparent here):

The dimensions are exactly as stated in the order but Whitewall does not print 100 % of your file. I found they print 99 % of the image. This means that 2.5 mm of each side are missing on my 50 cm wide print (= about 50 pixels). This is no problem since other labs print 95 %, which means that 1.25 cm are missing on each side.

Whitewall makes very high quality prints, has a good website, good service, and a careful packaging. They even offer a proof print of a part of the image so you can be sure what color and tone you will get before you order a huge and expensive print. They are not really cheap but the results are worth it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Slide versus Negative (Fujifilm Velvia 50 vs Fujifilm Pro 160S)

Beach Chair
For this comparison, I shot the same subject first with Fujifilm Pro 160S and then with Velvia 50. It was made on July 14th, 2009 at 10 pm using a 80mm lens. I shot a backlit and high-contrast scene because I was curious about the larger latidude and tonal range that low contrast negative film like Fuji 160S is said to offer.
I took an incident reading at the beach chair in camera direction. For negative film, I reduced the exposure by a little more than one stop because of the back lighting and larger exposure latitude. I shot the 160 ASA negative thus at f/16 and 1 second (EV 8). The 50 ASA slide was shot at f/16 and 8 seconds (EV 5) without compensation because I shot it a little later and the sun was already set. The shot with Velvia 50 is shown above. The result with negative film is shown below.
The subject contrast is too large for both, slide and negative film. The negative still captures the sea, the sun and the sky. In the slide, the beach chair and the beach itself are exposed correctly, but the sky and the sea are intentionally overexposed. The slide is completely white here. Looks like there is nothing beyond the beach which looks much more interesting to me than a dull sun, sea and sky visible in the negative film.

The following comparison shows a crop of the left side of each image, scaled to 50 percent. Upper part: negative, lower part: slide. Velvia looks much more vivid but not sharper. There is more shadow detail due to the over exposure but negative film does not have any better highlights.

The next example shows part of the beach, the sea and the beach chair (click to see original file). Some clipped highlights are visible at the top of the beach chair but again the color looks much more vivid. I also increased the contrast of the image from the negative film by adjusting the curves, but I was not able to obtain the same or even similar result as with Velvia. Therefore it cannot be contrast alone which makes the image appear brighter and more detailed.

Negative film is able to capture high contrast scenes and still shows detail in the shadows and highlight but this does not mean that the image looks any better. To me, slide film looks much better in this case. Sharpness is the same, both in 50% and 100% view. These and some more images are collected in this Flickr album.